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This presentation consists of a brief history of Afghanistan, from the Persian Empire to the early 20th Century, as well as images of related maps from the collections of the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Persian Empire to Mughul Dynasty
Afghanistan was an important crossroads, dominated by other civilizations throughout its history. By 522 BC. Darius the Great extended the boundaries of the Persian Empire into most of the region. By 330 BC. Alexander the Great conquered Persia and Afghanistan. Buddhism was introduced in 50 AD, when Afghanistan became part of the Kushanid Empire. Hephtatlites (White Huns) invaded in the 5th century and destroyed the Buddhist culture. From 225 to 600 AD, Sassanians (Persians) established control. The first Muslim-Arab conquests occurred from 652 to 654. A succession of dynasties, the Ghaznavid, Ghorid and Timurid ruled the area from 997 to 1506 AD. Babur, the founder of India’s Mughul Dynasty governed Kabul in 1504 and in time much of the territory that is present day Afghanistan.
17th Century to the Early 19th Century
Khushhal Khan Khattak, a famous Afghan warrior poet, led a rebellion against the Mughul Dynasty in the 1600s. Mir Wais Khan Hotaki revolted against Safavid rule and took over Kandahar in 1708. By 1736 Afsharid ruler, Nadir Shaw, gained control of the region. In 1747 Nadir was assassinated. Later that year Ahmad Durrani was elected king by a council of tribal leaders. During the 1760s, Ahmad Shah Durrani extended Afghanistan’s borders into part of India. The nation of Afghanistan finally began to take shape under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Durrani after centuries of invasions.
Timur, Ahmad Shah Durrani’s son, succeeded to the throne in 1773. He ruled Afghanistan until his death in 1793, leaving over 20 sons. Timur’s descendants were later engaged in a struggle for power. His son Zaman Shah became king in 1793. Zaman Shah’s brother Mahmud captured the throne in 1800. In 1803, another brother Shah Shuja reigned after replacing Mahmud. Mahmud forced Shuja to flee in 1809 and remained king until he was driven from the throne in 1817. From 1818 until 1826, Afghanistan disintegrated into a group of small units each ruled by a different Durrani leader. During this time the “Great Game” between Great Britain and Russia was beginning to be played out. “The Great Game” involved not only the confrontation of two great empires whose spheres of influence moved steadily closer to one another until they met in Afghanistan, but also the repeated attempts by a foreign power to impose a puppet government in Kabul.
First Anglo-Afghan War
The next leader, Dost Muhammad, ascended to the throne in 1826. Concerned about growing Persian and Russian influences, the British, along with former King Shuja, invaded Afghanistan in late 1838 while Dost Muhammad was still in power. Shuja was killed a few years later and the British were defeated. Dost Muhammad returned to the throne in 1843.
Treaty of Peshawar
During the years after the First Anglo-Afghan War the Russians, interested in the territories of Central Asia, advanced southward. The British, hoping to stop Russian advances, resumed relations with Dost Muhammad in 1854. In 1855 the Treaty of Peshawar proclaimed respect for Afghanistan’s and Britain’s territorial integrity and declared each to be friends of each other’s friends and enemies of each other’s enemies. In 1856 the Anglo-Persian War broke out and the Qajar Dynasty took Herat back into its control.
Second Anglo-Afghan War
During the 1860s the Russians intensified their southeastern advances. “The Russian foreign minister claimed the Russian movements in Central Asia were taken simply to unite Russia, not to oppose any other government.” In 1872, Russia signed an agreement with Great Britain consenting to respect the northern boundaries of Afghanistan. King Sher Ali permitted an uninvited Russian delegate to enter Kabul in July 1878. Hoping to retain the British influence, British Viceroy Lord Lytton ordered a diplomatic mission to travel to Kabul on August 14th. When no reply was received the British sent a military force to cross the Khyber Pass. Afghan authorities refused the British permission to cross. This incident triggered the Second Anglo-Afghan War. On November 21, 1878 approximately 40,000 British soldiers entered Afghanistan. The British withdrew two years later after facing strong resistance from the Afghan forces.
Treaty of Gandomak
At the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, the Treaty of Gandomak was completed between the British government and Amir Yaqub Khan. The treaty was to establish peace and friendship between both countries. It provided amnesty for Afghan collaborators with the British occupational forces and committed the amir to conduct his foreign relations with advice from the British Government. Great Britain, in exchange, promised to support the amir against any foreign aggression.
Russian Advances 1885
Abdur Rahman Khan ruled Afghanistan from 1880-1901. He modernized the country, formed a strong army, brought in foreign professionals and imported machinery. “Caught between the Russians and the British, Abdur Rahman turned his formidable energies to what turned out to be virtually the creation of the modern state of Afghanistan, while the British and the Russians, with the Afghans as bystanders, determined the borders of the Afghan State.”
Russian forces seized the Merve Oasis inhabited by the Turkoman people in 1884. In 1885 they took possession of the Panjdeh Oasis. Afghan attempts to retake the territory failed. In 1886 the Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission agreed on a border along the Amu Darya River. The Russian-British agreement resulted in a permanent northern frontier, however, much territory was lost in the Panjdeh region. 
The Durand Line
On November 12, 1893, Abdur Rahman Khan, and the Foreign Secretary of the Colonial Government of India, Sir Mortimer Durand, agreed to mark the boundary between Afghanistan and British India. The Durand Line cut through Pashtun tribal areas and villages. It was a cause of dispute between the governments of Afghanistan and British India and later between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Early 20th Century
Abdur Rahman’s son, Habibullah, reigned from 1901-1919. In 1904 a boundary commission determined the border between Iran and Afghanistan. The boundary was accepted by both countries. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 divided Afghanistan into areas of Russian and British influence. Habibullah wanted full Afghan independence and Great Britain’s assistance in an attempt to regain lands taken by the Russians. “Britain far more interested in the European power struggle and the defense of India through an Afghan buffer state was uninterested in such a scheme.” Habibullah was assassinated in 1919. His son Amanullah succeeded him. During his reign the month long Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919 resulted in complete Afghan independence. Amanullah established diplomatic relationships with Russia in 1919, Iran in 1921 and Great Britain in 1922.
Images of other historical maps of Afghanistan and Southwest Asia are available on Map Collections 1500-2004, www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap. Additional maps will be added periodically.
1 Adamec, Ludwig W. Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. 2nd ed. London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997. 122, 125, 198, 331-332.
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