Afghanistan has always been of strategic importance in the Asian sphere, it being well-positioned at the crossroads , connecting the west to the east and potentially providing northern countries – first Russia, then the Soviet Union, and now the various “-istans” – with access to the Arabian Sea. As such, starting with the Aryan people in 1500 B.C., it has been invaded often – by the Persians in the sixth century B.C., by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C., then by Kushans of central and southern Asia. The Kushans were defeated and replaced by the White Huns in the fifth century. The Arabs came in the sixth century, and were followed by Turkic-speaking people in the 10th century. Genghis Khan and his Mongols came through in the 13th century. From the mid 16th century to the early 18th century Afghanistan was host to wars between Persian Safavids and Mughals from India.
Contemporary Afghanistan only came into being in 1747, when Ahmad Shah Abdali united the Afghan tribes in a confederacy. But by 1819, the tribes were back at war. They were united again in 1826 under the leadership of Dost Muhammad Khan, whose family continued to reign until 1973.
Afghanistan’s role acquired global significance beginning in the late 19th century, as Britain and Russia battled over control of Central Asia. Amazingly, the seeds for the current conflict can be traced back more than a century to this political struggle. Britain wanted to thwart Russia from gaining access to the Arabian Sea and threatening its hegemony over India. British tacticians saw two possible options – control Afghanistan, or else make sure it is inaccessible to anyone else.
The first stage of this struggle would establish Afghanistan’s reputation as a graveyard for foreign invaders . The British tried to occupy Afghanistan first in the war of 1839-1842, called the first Anglo-Afghan war, and again in the second Anglo-Afghan war in 1878. When military tactics failed, Britain turned to political tactics, recognized Abdur Rahman Khan’s authority over the country and stealthily overtook Afghan foreign relations. They then proceeded to catalyze Afghanistan’s isolationist strategy, which would keep foreigners out and allow the country to maintain its independence – but concurrently kept the positive influence of modern technology and science away.
Internal strife continued from 1919 and through World War II, with several monarchs forced off the throne under sometimes religious, sometimes military pressure. Following the War, in which Afghanistan had no active role, and with British pressure all but gone, the country chose to begin opening up to external influence. This marked Afghanistan’s transition from a buffer, limiting access across its lands, to a gateway – facilitating access through the country.