Archeological evidence indicates that, after migrating from the north approximately 50,000 years ago, Afghanistan’s earliest settlers lived as hunters in the caves of the northern Hindu Kush range. As they grew in number they relocated to the warmer plains, forming tiny villages and domesticating animals.
The subjugation of the wider region by Darius I of Persia in the 6th century BCE inaugurated a pattern of invasion and conquest which came to dominate Afghanistan’s long recorded history, ushering in a succession of ruling dynasties which included the Graeco-Bactrians, the Kushanas, the Sasanians, the Samanids, the Ghaznavids, the Ghorid, the Timurud and the Mogul. On each occasion traders and pilgrims followed the warriors and the inevitable flow of ideas that accompanied them bequeathed to the region a rich and varied culture. A variety of religious traditions were also adopted during this period, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and latterly Islam. During the medieval period the demand for luxury goods by kingdoms to the east and west allowed Afghanistan to become a centre of great cultural and economic importance that declined only in the 16th century with the development of faster sea routes and yet more invasions from neighbouring states. The country was finally unified in 1747 under Pashtun tribal leader Ahmad Shah Durrani. The country’s modern borders were shaped largely by competition between British and Russian imperialism during the 19th century.
Afghanistan remained an absolute monarchy until 1922, when a state assembly and legislature were organised and ministers were appointed to a cabinet under the presidency of King Amanullah Khan (1919-1929). Constitutions affording ever-increasing freedoms were written in 1923, 1931 and 1964. However, the more western ideals of Amanullah Khan and his successor Zahir Shah threatened the power of religious leaders, giving rise to armed resistance. In 1973 the monarchy was overthrown and a pro-communist secular administration set up under Mohammed Daoud. This was followed in 1979 by a Russian invasion in support of the beleaguered government. Factional fighting continued after the Russian withdrawal in 1989 and in 1996 a group of Islamic ethnic Pashtun fighters known as the Taliban seized control of Kabul, implementing their own harsh interpretation of Islamic law and conduct.
In the context of the post-September 11 'War Against Terrorism', the US-led international military intervention of 2001 led to the fall of the Taliban. UN talks in Bonn in November-December 2001 were followed by the establishment of an Afghan Interim Authority (AIA). Since the convening of the Loya Jirga (‘Grand Council’) of April 2002 an interim government has been set up, headed by Dr Hamid Karzai. A new constitution has been drafted and elections are now scheduled to take place in October 2004.