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Backgrounder: Afghanistan's struggles have long history

Lesson Plan

October 23, 2001 Posted: 5:25 PM EDT (2125 GMT)
The Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan as seen from the air  

(CNN) -- Afghanistan -- a nation conquered by Alexander the Great in B.C. 329 and again trounced by Genghis Khan and his Mongol army in 1219 -- is again at the crossroads of history.

United States and British bombs pound the rocky Afghan terrain daily as international calls for the Taliban, the nation's ruling regime, to produce suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden go unheeded.

War and economic upheaval is nothing new to this ancient land.

Gallery: View more photos from Afghanistan 
Timeline: The history of Afghanistan 
Afghanistan region (political and topographical) 
Afghanistan's Civil War 
What is Afghanistan's future? 
Ramadan looms large in Afghan strikes 
CNN's Christiane Amanpour was in Kabul when the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital. Here is her 1996 report

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Girls in northern Afghanistan say the country's civil war is about their right to learn, which the Taliban denies them. CNN's Matthew Chance reports (October 21)

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Macedonian-born Alexander the Great led his armies through Persia and Afghanistan in B.C. 329. While Greek rule continued for the next two centuries, civil unrest and revolts were common.

In 962 the rise of the Ghaznavid Dynasty ushered in the Islamic era, and gave Afghans more of a political and cultural role in Islamic civilization. But the dynasty was short-lived, unraveling less than 100 years later.

Genghis Khan and his Mongol army embroiled Afghanistan in their epic and bloody march westward in 1219 as the famed warrior merged nomadic tribes into a unified Mongolia and extended his empire to the Adriatic Sea.

In 1273 explorer Marco Polo crossed northern Afghanistan on his voyage from Italy to China. Soon the nation became a critical, if dangerous, stop on the "Silk Route" -- an ancient trade route that linked Rome and China. Not only were silk, gold and silver exchanged using this road, but ideas behind Christianity and Buddhism were freely exchanged as well.

Hinduism was introduced into Afghanistan in 1504 when the founder of India's Moghul dynasty, Babur, took control of much of Afghanistan including the modern-day capital city of Kabul.

In 1836 the British, along with former Afghan king Shah Shuja, invaded Afghanistan. The invasion was in response to a growing Russian and Persian influence in the region, and Shuja regained the throne in 1839. He was killed three years later, and Afghan forces fought bitterly with British troops. By 1843, Afghanistan reasserted its independence.

In 1973, the Afghan Communist Party and its leader, Daoud Khan, overthrew the ruling Afghan government's long-time king Mohammad Zahir Shah. Daoud, the former king's cousin did away with the monarchy and instituted economic and social reforms. Daoud was killed and his government fell in a bloody Communist-backed coup. Mass killings, arrests and tortures ensued, and the Afghan guerrilla (Mujahedeen) movement was born.

The Soviets invaded the nation and installed a puppet regime in the capitol of Kabul after anti-Communist forces took control in 1979. A long, weary guerilla war between various Afghan resistance groups and Soviet forces ensued. In 1984, the United States and other nations began supporting the Mujahedeen, and in 1992 the resistance group successfully took over Kabul and declared Afghanistan liberated.

Children play on the turret of a Soviet tank  

The liberation would be short-lived.

In 1996 the Taliban militia seized control of the capitol city and implemented fundamentalist Islamic law, barring women from work and education. Islamic punishment was introduced including amputation and death by stoning. The Taliban offered Saudi militant Osama bin Laden refuge in Afghanistan.

The United States suspected bin Laden was behind bombings in two of its embassies in Africa, and in 1998 launched missiles at suspected bin Laden bases. The United Nations froze Taliban assets in 1999 in hopes the Taliban would hand over bin Laden for trial.

On September 11, 2001 hijackers seized four commercial airliners in the United States and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania, killing thousands. The U.S. linked Osama bin Laden to the attacks.

• Afghanistan Online

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Updated September 21, 2002

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