The complex history and politics of this poor and remote country on the crossroads of Central, South and West Asia have been shaped by ethnic fragmentation, Islam and interference of major countries. Subject to major powers since the IV–III millennium BCE, united since 1747 and independent from the British Empire in 1919, Afghanistan was susceptible to both communism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Afghanistan was untouched by the Second World War and attempted some democratization after 1949, but could not avoid internal conflicts caused by tribal rifts and economic instability or the Soviet Union’s interference in its domestic policy. A short constitutional monarchy experiment ended in 1973 with a moderate leftist coup that culminated in 1978 with the emergence of a communist regime loyal to the Soviet Union.
Before the Afghan War, few records were kept on Soviet interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, repressions and revenge attacks between leftist groups, but conservative estimates indicate that the number of pre-war communism-related deaths was close to 50,000. After the Soviet Red Army invaded Afghanistan on 25 December 1979 to support local communists, a decade of anti-Soviet guerrilla warfare claimed the lives of at least 1 million, but possibly as many as 1.5–2 million Afghans, of whom 90% were civilians. Some 4–6 million Afghans were wounded or maimed in the communist-inflicted war that also generated the largest refugee crisis in recent history. Of the pre-war Afghan population of some 15 million, more than 5 million fled to neighbouring countries.