Landlocked and rugged- ¾ of the land is mountainous
Smaller than Texas
Borders China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
Divided by high passes restricting travel- 72 hours by road from Jalabad to Peshawar before the tunnel
Continental extremes in temperature- -25 to 46
Ethnic and Religious Divisions
Afghanistan is made up of many different ethnic and religious groups- Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara
People of different races and faiths
Islam is the main religion- divided into Sunnis and Shi’as
Political rather than religious division
Branches of Islam
The division between Sunnis and Shi'as is the largest and oldest in the history of Islam.
They both agree on the fundamentals of Islam and share the same Holy Book (The Qur'an), but there are differences mostly derived from their different historical experiences, political and social developments, as well as ethnic composition.
These differences originate from the question of who would succeed the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the emerging Muslim community after his death. To understand them, we need to know a bit about the Prophet's life and political and spiritual legacy.
When the Prophet Muhammed died in the early 7th century he left not only the religion of Islam but also a community of about one hundred thousand Muslims organised as an Islamic state on the Arabian Peninsula. It was the question of who should succeed the Prophet and lead the fledgling Islamic state that created the divide.
Branches of Islam
The larger group of Muslims chose Abu Bakr, a close Companion of the Prophet, as the Caliph (politico-social leader) and he was accepted as such by much of the community which saw the succession in political and not spiritual terms. However another smaller group, which also included some of the senior Companions, believed that the Prophet's son-in-law and cousin, Ali, should be Caliph. They understood that the Prophet had appointed him as the sole interpreter of his legacy, in both political and spiritual terms. In the end Abu Bakr was appointed First Caliph.
Muslims who believe that Abu Bakr should have been the Prophet's successor have come to be known as Sunni Muslims. Those who believe Ali should have been the Prophet's successor are now known as Shi'a Muslims. It was only later that these terms came into use. Sunni means 'one who follows the Sunnah' (what the Prophet said, did, agreed to or condemned). Shi'a is a contraction of the phrase 'Shiat Ali', meaning 'partisans of Ali'.
The area is ruled by warlords and unstable due to conflict between rival ethnic groups- physical geography means establishing overall control is near impossible.
Inequalities exist between ethnic groups- i.e. Hazaras are persecuted by Pashtuns and used in slavery
19 th Century: British interests in the territory lead to the Anglo-Afghan war
20 th Century- country is secular and forward thinking. Kabul is compare d to Paris. 1978- becomes a republic.
Social, economic and political inequalities persist for the Hazara- e.g. in the 1940’s an exclusive Hazara tax was enforced.
Of Mongol descent- possibly from Gengis Khan
Name means 1000- from military past
Occupy mountainous areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran
Hazarajat is main area of settlement in Afghanistan
Secular (like most of country) until the late 1970’s
1979- the new Republic courts left-wing communist ideals
US are anti-communist- see McCarthyism – as they fear the influence of Russia- the largest communist state
US (and Pakistan) bankroll and support the right-wing and Sunni Mujahideen
US use the Mujahideen to fight against Russia in the escalating Cold War
Focus on young, Islamic fundamentalists
Soviet Union intervene and send 100,000 troops to invade
Afghanistan is an unstable patchwork of tribes who can’t agree on leadership
Soviet occupation resulted in the killing of between 600,000 and 2,000,000 Afghanis
More than 5,000,000 fled to Pakistan and Iran
The Emergence of the Taliban
Soviets realise the terrain has beaten them and withdraw in 1988, leaving a power vacuum
Seen as a victory by the US and their Mujahideen. They leave the country to internal fighting to resolve the leadership crisis
Elites and intellectuals flee the civil war as warlords battle for control
1994- 10,000 die in Kabul alone
The Taliban from the Mujahideen. They finally take Kabul in 1996 and establish a state- The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
By the end of 2000, they control 95% of the country and its resources
7 year reign of terror
Taliban gain control of unstable country through enforcement of strict Sharia law
Cultural icons not Sunni Islamic destroyed- e.g. Bamiyan Bhuddas
Shi’as as seen as infidels and persecuted
Living under the Taliban
Sharia ( Arabic : ' شريعة Šarīʿah) is the body of Islamic religious law . Sharia deals with many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics , economics , banking , business , contracts, family , sexuality , hygiene , and social issues.
Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country … Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”
Living Under the Taliban
Muslims feel that Shariah has been misunderstood by Christians, who have tended to concentrate on the demands for harsh punishments such as amputation of a hand or foot for theft and public flogging for people caught drinking alcohol.
Under the Shariah laws in Afghanistan, the Taliban's religious police, formally known as the Department for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, enforce the Shariah laws.
For example, a man’s beard must be long enough to protrude from a fist clenched at the base of the chin. If it is not, he is subject to punishment.
Women are not allowed to work in any field except the medical sector.
Women should not go outside their residences with the exception of those working in the medical sector.
It forbids women from wearing jewelry and make-up and from making noise with their shoes when they walk. If a woman does work outside the home, she is forbidden to sit beside the driver when traveling to and from work. Stylish dress and decoration of women is forbidden.
Persecution of the Hazara
One the Taliban have turned their focus from expelling the Soviets, they turn to Hazara ethnic nationalism
Hazaras form the Northern Alliance, and try to defend themselves. Leader killed by Taliban in 1996. They are isolated from the world and targeted by the Talib state.
“ Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shi’a. They are kafir (infidels). The Hazaras killed our force here, and now we have to kill Hazaras…If you do not show your loyalty, we will burn your houses, and we will kill you. You will either accept to be Muslim or leave Afghanistan…Wherever you go we will catch you. If you go, we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair.” 1998, Incitement of Vilence against Hazaras by Govenor Niazi.
August 8, 1997, as vengence for earlier ethnic conflict, Taliban massacre 8000 Hazaras
Hundreds suffocated in crates
Shot in homes and on street
Hospital patients killed in their beds
House to house searches
Throats slit- “the Halal way”
Children packed into a crate
News leaks out a year later
2001 Taliban refuse to hand over Bin Laden and West invades
2001 Shi’as kill 2000 Pakistani Sunni soldiers left behind by the fleeing Taliban- in Mazar-i Sharif
War continues in present day but Taliban influence is much reduced, much of country is released from Taliban rule and is a democracy