A wheat field in Afghanistan (Courtesy of Cassandra Nelson)

Afghanistan is a rugged, landlocked nation in central Asia. Historically, the area has been a crossroads, connecting China, central Asia, south Asia, and the Middle East.

Many centuries of regional migration, trade, and continuous invasions by outsiders produced a proud and independent society of many races, tribal groups, and languages. But years of political upheaval and war brought little but enduring hardship, starvation, and poverty for the majority of Afghan civilians. In the late 1900s, occupation by the Soviet Union (1979–89) and civil wars among various Afghan tribal groups weakened the central government. Neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran, became more influential in Afghanistan's internal affairs.

In 1996, the Taliban, a radical Islamic group supported by Pakistan, gained control over most of Afghanistan. But in 2001, the United States and its allies went to war against the Taliban for harboring members of the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Afghanistan has since been ruled by a temporary interim government supported by the United Nations.

History and Government

Afghanistan has known many conquerors and many rulers. With each invasion came new peoples and new influences. Great cities were built, and a prosperous agricultural economy based on irrigation was developed. But these achievements were destroyed by invading Mongols in the 1200s and 1300s. The last foreign rulers of Afghanistan were Babur, the founder of India's great Mogul Empire, in the 1500s and Nadar Shah of Persia (now Iran) in the 1700s.

The Struggle for Control. Between 1979 and 1989, more than 100,000 Soviet troops were engaged in Afghanistan, battling Afghan resistance forces called mujahideen (meaning, in this context, "one who struggles for independence"). The economy was devastated, and more than 5 million Afghans fled the country, most settling in refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, a struggle for control began between the mujahideen and the Soviet-supported Communist government in Kabul, led by President Najibullah. In 1992, Kabul was occupied by mujahideen forces, and Afghanistan was declared an Islamic state. A struggle for power then broke out among mujahideen factions, and in 1996 a new force, the Taliban (supported by Pakistan), captured Kabul. Najibullah was executed, and strict laws in the name of Islam were imposed throughout much of the country. These laws offended most mainstream Muslim people.

Most international governments, including Muslim states, condemned the Taliban and refused to recognize its government, citing the Taliban's harsh treatment of women, its destruction of hundreds of non-Muslim art treasures, and its harboring of terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States, killing thousands of people. The attackers were linked to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian citizen by birth and Muslim militant living in Afghanistan under the Taliban's protection. After the crisis, U.S. president George W. Bush declared war on terrorists and warned the Taliban that if they did not turn over bin Laden to the proper international authorities, they would risk the same fate as the terrorists themselves.

When the Taliban failed to respond by October 7, U.S. and British forces initiated air strikes against them and bin Laden. The regime finally collapsed on December 7, although bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar had not yet been captured.

Various anti-Taliban Afghan leaders, including the exiled king, agreed to share power until a new constitution could be written. Pashtun tribal leader Hamid Karzai was named head of the transitional authority until a fully representative government could be elected. The new government's first priorities were to settle internal differences, distribute humanitarian aid, and rebuild Afghanistan's devastated economy. Meanwhile, warfare continued within Afghanistan's borders. In 2002 a series of earthquakes left thousands more homeless.

Reviewed by Alam Payind
Jennifer Nichols
Middle East Studies Center
The Ohio State University

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Why did most governments refuse to recognize the Taliban as the leaders of Afghanistan? To learn more, explore the links below.

Learn more about Afghanistan in these selected Web sites:
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Afghanistan for Kids
http://www.public.asu.edu/~apnilsen/afghanistan4kids/index2.html
Learn about Afghan food and dress, and read traditional stories.

Ethnic Groups of Afghanistan
http://www.afghan-network.net/Ethnic-Groups/
Learn about Tajiks, Uzbeks and people of other ethnicities who live in Afghanistan.

A Modern Wedding
http://afghanland.com/culture/wedding.html
This site explains a recent wedding. It includes pictures and personal stories.