Country Listing

Afghanistan Table of Contents



Richard S. Newell, Author

SINCE 1973 AFGHAN SOCIETY has experienced a series of shocks which has shattered its political institutions, devastated the physical infrastructure supporting its economy, decimated and scattered its population, and left open to question its prospects for government and even survival as a national community. There is no longer a monarchy presiding over a confederacy of Pushtun tribes and ruling over several culturally distinct minority communities. Political usurpation, foreign occupation, war and civil war have left Afghanistan in chaos, with a leadership incapable, so far, of initiating a process of recovery.

Intimately linked to Afghanistan's tragedy was the Soviet Union's collapse at the end of 1991. Its demise released the mostly Muslim peoples of Central Asia from the captivity of Cold War politics. Their governments have been freed from proxy service in superpower causes. European imperialist manipulation of the region which had shaped its politics since the early nineteenth century had suddenly come to an end.

Afghans now confront neighbors who are awakening to new opportunities. Afghans struggle with the irony that the anarchy which has followed their successful defiance of a superpower could lead to their dissolution as a nation. Interference by neighbors became a major factor in Afghan politics before the Soviet military withdrawal. It became profoundly destabilizing with the collapse of the Kabul Marxist regime in 1992.

Afghanistan's vulnerability to fragmentation has since become acute. Its internal rivalries have become increasingly identified with regional communities which it shares with neighboring nations. Every kilometer of its borders is a product of British or tsarist Russian imperial policy. The writ of those great powers having dissolved, such historical artifacts could also disappear in a new era of regional tumult and change. This chapter will focus on the forces and events which have led to Afghanistan's break with its past leaving it exposed to a profoundly uncertain future.

Data as of 1997