The Islamic conquest of Afghanistan (656-870 CE) began after the Islamic conquest of Persia, when Arab Muslims shattered the might of the Persian Sassanians at the battles of Walaja, al-Qādisiyyah and Nahavand. The Arabs then began to move towards the lands east of Persia and in 652 captured the city, Herat.
The invasion of Persia was completed five years after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and all of the Persian territories came under Arab control, though pockets of tribal resistance continued for centuries in the Afghan territories.
During the 7th century AD, Arab armies made their way into the region of Afghanistan with the new religion of Islam. At this point in time the area that is currently Afghanistan had a multi-religious population consisting of Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jews, Kafirs, as well as others. The Arabs were unable to succeed in converting the population because of constant revolts from the mountain tribes in the Afghan area, which may have been recognized as Sind. In 870 AD, Yaqub bin Laith as-Saffar, a local ruler from the Saffarid dynasty of Zaranj, conquered most of present-day Afghanistan in the name of Islam. From the eighth century to the ninth century, many inhabitants of what is present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and areas of northern India were converted to Sunni Islam. However, pockets of pre-Islamic people such as the Hindus as well as the Kafirs of Kafiristan (modern Nuristan) managed to remain untouched by Islam. It is surmised from the writings of Al Biruni that some Pashtuns living in Pakhtunkhwa (present-day western Pakistan) had not been completely converted. Al Biruni, writing in Tarikh al Hind, also alludes to the Pashtun tribes of Pakhtunkhwa as being neither Muslim nor Hindu, but simply Afghans which may mean that they practiced Pashtunwali.
During the end of the ninth century, the Samanids extended its rule from Bukhara to as far south as the Indus River and west into most of Persia. Although Arab Muslim intellectual life was still centered in Baghdad, Shi'a Islam, predominated in the Samanid areas at this time. By the mid-tenth century, the Samanid Dynasty had crumbled in the face of attacks from Turkish tribes to the north and from the Ghaznavids, a rising Turkic dynasty in Afghanistan.
The Ghorids controlled most of what is now Afghanistan, eastern Iran, Pakistan, and northern India, while parts of central and western Iran were ruled by the Seljuk Turks. From 1200 to 1205 some of the Ghorid lands were conquered by the Shah of the Khwarezmid Empire, whose empire would, in turn, be defeated by the Mongols in 1220.
Followings years of conquest in China and Central Asia, the Mongol Empire had emerged as a major world power of its day and attempted to co-exist with some of their neighbors including the empire of the Khwarezmia Shah and sent emissaries to establish diplomatic and trading links. As either a bluff to dissuade the Mongols from aggression or as simply a haughty sign of disrespect, the Khwarezmia Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II had the diplomats executed and sent their heads back to the Mongols and this prompted a military confrontation. In 1220, the Islamic lands of Central Asia were overrun by the armies of the Mongol invader Genghis Khan (ca. 1155-1227), who laid waste to many cities and settlements and created an empire that stretched from China to the Caucasus. The Mongols under Genghis Khan responded with great severity to the insults they had taken from Muhammad II and took out their revenge against the inhabitants of Khwarezmia including, for example, exterminating every human being in the cities of Herat and Balkh. This devastation had severe consequences for the natives of Afghanistan as the destruction caused by the Mongols depopulated many of the major cities and caused much of the population to revert to an agrarian rural society. Thus, Afghanistan became dominated by cattle breeding tribes who also specialized in horseback riding. Genghis Khan failed to extinguish or even particularly hamper Islam in Central Asia, if that was even his intent, as the religion continued to define many local inhabitants culturally. In fact, by the end of the 13th century, Genghis Khan's descendants had themselves become Muslims (many speculate that the Hazaras of Afghanistan are in fact the descendants of Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes) and even the title of 'khan' became a not so uncommon name adopted by many local inhabitants. From the death of Genghis Khan in 1227 until the rise of Timur Lenk (Tamerlane) in the 1380s, Central Asia went through a period of fragmentation.
A product of both Turkish and Mongol descent, Timur claimed Genghis Khan as an ancestor. From his capital of Samarkand, Timur created an empire that, by the late fourteenth century, extended from northern India to eastern Turkey. The turn of the sixteenth century brought an end to the Timurid Empire when another Central Asian ruler of Turkic-Mongol extraction, Muhammad Shaybani, overwhelmed the weakened Timurid ruler in Herat. Shaybani (also a descendant of Genghis Khan) and his successors ruled the area around the Amu Darya for about a century, while to the south and west of what is now Afghanistan two powerful dynasties began to compete for influence.
Early in the sixteenth century, Babur, who claimed descent from Timur on his father's side and from Genghis Khan on his mother's, was driven out of his father's kingdom in the Ferghana Valley (which straddles contemporaryUzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) by the Shaybani Uzbeks, who had wrested Samarkand from the Timurids. After several unsuccessful attempts to regain Ferghana and Samarkand, Babur crossed the Amu Darya and captured Kabul from the last of its Mongol rulers in 1504. In his invasion of Delhi Sultanate of India in 1526, Babur's army of 12,000 defeated a less mobile force of 100,000 at the First Battle of Panipat, about forty-five kilometers northwest of Delhi. The Delhi Sultanate was itself ruled by ex-patriot Afghan/Pashtun rulers, the Lodhi dynasty. Although the Mughal Empire would shift largely to India, Babur's memoirs, as related in the Baburnameh stressed his love for Kabul - both as a commercial strategic center as well as a beautiful highland city with an "extremely delightful" climate and was the Mughal Empire's first capital until being moved to Lahore and Delhi by later emperors.
Although Mughal rule technically lasted in parts of Afghanistan until the early 18th century, it came under constant challenge from local Pashtun tribesmen. The Mughals originally had come from Central Asia, but once they had taken India, the area that is now southeastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan was relegated to a mere outpost of the empire as even the name of a prominent Afghan city, Peshawar literally translates from Persian to City on the Frontier. Indeed, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, much of Afghanistan was hotly contested between the Mughals of India and the Safavids of Iran. The Safavids had held Herat and much of western and northern Afghanistan during the same time period that the Mughals controlled Kabul, Kandahar, and Peshawar. Just as Kabul dominates the high road from Central Asia into India, Kandahar commands the only approach towards India that skirts the Hindu Kush. The strategically important Kabul-Kandahar axis was the primary focus of competition between the Mughals and the Safavids, and Kandahar itself changed hands several times during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Safavids and the Mughals were not the only contenders, however. Less powerful but closer at hand were the Uzbeks of Central Asia, who fought for control of Herat in western Afghanistan and for the northern regions as well where neither the Mughals nor the Safavids were able to effectively challenge them. Many of the Uzbeks of Afghanistan arrived during this phase of northern Afghanistan's history.
The Mughals sought not only to block the historical western invasion routes into India but also to control the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes who accepted only nominal control from Delhi in their mountain strongholds between the Kabul-Kandahar axis and the Indus River - especially in the Pashtun area of the Suleiman Range. As the area around Kandahar changed hands back and forth between the two great empires on either side, the local Pashtun tribes exploited the situation to their advantage by extracting concessions from both sides. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Mughals had abandoned the Hindu Kush north of Kabul to the Uzbeks, and in 1622 they lost Kandahar to the Safavids for the third and final time.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, as the power of the Safavids waned, native groups began to assert themselves in Afghanistan. Early in the eighteenth century, a clan of the Ghilzai Pashtuns, later known as the Hotaki dynasty, overturned Safavid rule in Kandahar by 1708, and subsequently took-over and ruled most of Safavid Persia and Afghanistan from 1722 until 1736. The Ghilzai Pashtuns managed to briefly hold the Safavid capital of Isfahan, and two members of this tribe ascended the throne before the Ghilzai were evicted from Iran by the Turko-Iranian conqueror, Nadir Shah, who became known by some in the West as the "Persian Napoleon."
Nadir Shah conquered Kandahar and Kabul in 1738 along with defeating a formidable Mughal army in India, plundering Delhi, and massacring thousands of its people. He returned home with vast treasures, including the Peacock Throne, which thereafter served as a symbol of Iranian imperial might. Nadir Shah, as a Sunni Muslim, had surrounded himself with other Sunnis most notably those of Turkic and Pashtun background. One notable military officer was Ahmad Shah Durrani, an ethnic Pashtun who would come to shape the modern history of Afghanistan following the end of Nadir Shah's reign in 1747.
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