Afghanistan is a country in Central Asia and is often included as a part of the Middle East. It is bordered by Iran in the west, Pakistan in the south and east, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the easternmost part of the country. It is among the poorest countries in the world.
Between the fall of the Taliban after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 Loya jirga, Afghanistan was referred to by the West as the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan. Under its new constitution the country is now officially named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The name Afghanistan derives from the alternative name for the Pashtuns: Afghan, being the founders of modern Afghanistan. The remainder of the name originates from the Persian word stān (country)
Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, has had a very turbulent history. Through the ages, the region today known as Afghanistan has been occupied by many forces including the Persian Empire, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. The Afghanistan nation-state as it is known today came into existence in 1746 under the Durrani Empire, but control was ceded to the United Kingdom until King Amanullah acceded to the throne in 1919.
The historical rulers of Afghanistan belonged to the Abdali tribe of the ethnic Afghans, whose name was changed to Durrani upon the accession of Ahmad Shah. They belonged to the Saddozay segment of the Popalzay clan or to the Mohammadzay segment of the Barakzay clan of the ethnic Afghans. The Mohammadzay furnished the Saddozay kings frequently with top counsellors, who served occasionally as regents, identified with the epithet Mohammadzay.
The last period of stability in Afghanistan lay between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. However, in 1973, Zahir's brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud launched a bloodless coup. Daoud and his entire family were murdered in 1978 when the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan launched a coup and took over the government.
Opposition against, and conflict within, the series of leftist governments that followed was considerable. In August 1978 the American government commenced funding anti-government mujahideen forces with the intention of drawing the Soviets into intervention; with the government in danger of collapse, the Soviet Union intervened on December 24, 1979. Faced with mounting international pressure and losses of approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers as a result of mujahideen opposition trained by the United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments, the Soviets withdrew ten years later in 1989.
Fighting subsequently continued among the various mujahidin factions. This eventually gave rise to a state of warlordism. The chaos and corruption involved in warlordism in turn spawned the rise of the Taliban in reaction. The most serious of this fighting occurred in 1994, when 10,000 people were killed from factions fighting in the Kabul area. Backed by Pakistan and her strategic allies, the Taliban developed as a political/religious force and eventually seized power in 1996. The Taliban were able to capture 90% of the country, aside from Northern Alliance strongholds primarily in the northeast. The Taliban sought to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. The Taliban gave safe haven and assistance to individuals and organizations that engaged in terrorism, especially Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.
The United States and allied military action in support of the opposition following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks forced the group's downfall. In late 2001, major leaders from the Afghan opposition groups and diaspora met in Bonn and agreed on a plan for the formulation of a new government structure that resulted in the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) on December 2001. After a nationwide Loya Jirga in 2002, Karzai was elected President.
In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out remaining al-Qaida and Taliban elements, the country suffers from enormous poverty, rampant warlordism, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines.