Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked and mountainous country in south-central Asia.
It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast. The territory now forming Afghanistan has been an ancient focal point of the Silk Road and human migration. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation from as far back as 50,000 BC. Urban civilization may have begun in the area as early as 3000 to 2000 BC.
The country sits at an important geostrategic location that connects the Middle East with Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, which has been home to various people through the ages. The land has witnessed many military conquests since antiquity, notably by Alexander the Great, Chandragupta Maurya, and Genghis Khan. It also served as a source from which local dynasties such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Timurids, Mughals and many others have established empires of their own.
The political history of modern Afghanistan begins in the 18th century with the rise of the Pashtuns, when the Hotaki dynasty rose to power at Kandahar in 1709 followed by Ahmad Shah Durrani's conquest in 1747. The capital of Afghanistan was shifted in 1776 from Kandahar to Kabul and part of the Afghan Empire was ceded to neighboring empires by 1893. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the "Great Game" between the British and Russian empires. On August 19, 1919, following the third Anglo-Afghan war and the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi, the nation regained control over its foreign policy from the British.
Since the late 1970s, Afghanistan has experienced a continuous state of war, including major occupations in the forms of the 1979 Soviet invasion, a Pakistani military intervention in support of the Taliban in the late 1990s and the October 2001 US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban government. In December 2001, the United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to help maintain security and assist the Karzai administration. The country is currently being rebuilt slowly with support from the international community while dealing with the Taliban insurgency and widespread political corruption.
Los Angeles Times: Osama bin Laden dead, but Afghans fear war will go on
Reactions are varied in Afghanistan, but many say Osama bin Laden's death won't affect insurgent operations in the nation. A Taliban field commander in southern Afghanistan says: 'Why would this make us stop?'
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
May 2, 2011, 8:37 a.m.
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan— There was relief and rejoicing, apprehension and anger. But although the death of Osama bin Laden unleashed a gamut of emotions among ordinary Afghans, few here believe that his demise signals an end to a grinding, nearly decade-long war.
In a country where virtually every aspect of daily life has been marked by the long repercussions of the Taliban movement's fatal entanglement with Al Qaeda and its chieftain, many saw his killing by U.S. forces as long-delayed justice.
Photo gallery: Reactions to Osama bin Laden death
"He paid for his crimes," President Hamid Karzai told an audience at a rural development conference.
At military bases across Afghanistan, there was fist-pumping satisfaction and a swell of pride among U.S. troops — some of whom were still in elementary school when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place. But the news provided little respite from the prosecution of a war that has grown markedly bloodier in recent weeks.
Western military deaths are marching ever higher, with April's fatality toll jumping by one-third over the same month a year earlier. Last month, 52 NATO troops were killed, compared with 34 in April 2010, according to the website icasualties.org. As has long been the battlefield trend, the bulk of last month's military deaths — 45 — were Americans.
How much of a blow the death of Bin Laden will be for the Taliban movement is already being debated. Many believe that his leadership of Al Qaeda had little meaningful relationship with the day-to-day conflict between NATO forces and insurgents.
"Here in the south, especially, it won't affect operations by the Taliban; he wasn't the one running things," said Mohammad Omari, a Kandahar man in his 30s. "Just look what is happening here every day."
Kandahar, the Taliban heartland, has been rocked in recent weeks by violence and a surge of insurgent activity, including a prison break that freed hundreds of Taliban and the assassination of the provincial police chief.
A Taliban spokesman refused comment on the death, saying the movement did not know whether the American account of Bin Laden's killing was true. A Taliban field commander in southern Afghanistan, reached through intermediaries, said his fighters would redouble their efforts to kill coalition troops.
"Why would this make us stop?" he said.
There were early signs too that the Taliban would seek to portray the killing of Bin Laden as an attack on all Muslims, despite President Obama's explicit declaration that the act of hunting down and killing the Al Qaeda leader did not represent a war against Islam.
"It's a big, big loss for all good Muslims," said Abdul Hai, a turbaned, bearded Kandahari who looked grimly furious when asked about the death.
Senior U.S. officials sought to dispel any impression of an anti-Muslim vendetta and challenged the folk-hero status that Bin Laden enjoyed in some quarters here.
"Afghans have suffered as much as any other nation from the campaign of terror that [Bin Laden] and his extremist followers undertook," U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry said in a statement. "His victims — Afghan, American and from many other nations — will never be forgotten."
Many fear retribution, at a time when insurgent attacks are already maiming and killing unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians.
"This will have a very bad effect on the morale of the insurgents, and they will try to retaliate, probably more aggressively," said Noor-ul Haq Ulomi, a military analyst and former parliamentarian from Kandahar.
Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan has long been fraught by its neighbor's sheltering of insurgent figures. Ulomi, like many others, said the circumstances of Bin Laden's death pointed up the need to clear militant havens on the Pakistani side of the border.
"Osama bin Laden is dead, but terrorist forces, terrorist infrastructure and terrorist setups still exist in Pakistan," he said. "The death … proves to the world that terrorist centers are in Pakistan, and Pakistan intelligence is behind and supporting them."
It was morning in Afghanistan when the news broke, with many people on their way to work or school when Obama's announcement was made. The news spread less quickly here than elsewhere, because Internet access is not widespread, particularly in the countryside. But by midmorning, many passersby were wearing broad grins.
"The people of Afghanistan are very happy today," said Rahim Sardar, a 26-year-old physician. "They're thinking that this might help Afghanistan become a better and more peaceful country."