Hafizullah Amin – a summary

A former teacher, Hafizullah Amin was another Afghan president that met an untimely death. Instrumental in the overthrow of the first Afghan republican president, Mohammad Daoud Khan, during the ‘Saur’ Revolution of April 1978, Amin served in various capacities within the new communist government, headed by Nur Muhammed Taraki, eventually becoming prime minister.

In March 1979, Mujahedeen rebels staged an uprising in the city of Herat. Chanting ‘God is great’, they killed and flayed alive hundreds of Afghans and Soviet advisors and their families. Panicked, the Afghan president, Nur Mohammad Taraki, appealed to his Soviet backers for help. But the Politburo declined to be drawn in, fearing that intervention would only commit the USSR to a ‘Soviet Vietnam‘.


As Taraki’s prime minister, Hafizullah Amin led the reprisals against the Mujahedeen, killing thousands in Herat and sending the Soviet-backed Afghan army out into the villages to mete out immediate punishment to anyone suspected of insurgency. Amongst the thousands killed were children, tortured and killed in front of their parents who were then similarly dispatched. Entire villages were wiped-out.

Continue reading

Mohammed Daoud Khan

Mohammed Daoud Khan was the first of five Afghan republican presidents that served between the fall of the Afghan monarchy in 1973 and the establishment of the Islamic state in 1992. Four out of the five, including Daoud, met untimely deaths.

Born 18 July 1909, Mohammed Daoud Khan served as the Afghan prime minister from 1953 to 1963 under the king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, his cousin and brother-in-law. During his decade in office, and under his influence, Afghanistan drew closer to the Soviet Union, becoming dependent on Soviet imports and assistance. But tension between Afghanistan and its neighbour Pakistan forced Mohammad Daoud Khan into resigning in March 1963. The following year the King instituted a new constitution which prevented members of the royal family holding ministerial posts, thereby blocking Daoud’s plans to re-enter politics.

The new Republic of Afghanistan

However, in 1973, while the king was detained in Italy undergoing an eye operation, Mohammed Daoud Khan staged a coup. But rather than naming himself the king’s successor, he declared Afghanistan a republic with himself as its first president.

Continue reading

Nur Mohammad Taraki

Being the president of the Republic of Afghanistan, between the fall of the Afghan monarchy in 1973 and the formation of an Islamic state in 1992, was a risky business: four out of the five presidents (excluding interim presidents) met untimely deaths. We have articles on Mohammad Najibullah, charting his rise and grisly end at the hands of the Taliban, and also former presidents Mohammad Daoud Khan and Hafizullah AminHere, we look at the life of another to die while in office, Nur Mohammad Taraki .

Following the Saur Revolution on 28 April 1978, and the disposal and killing of Afghanistan’s first republican president, Mohammed Daoud Khan, the pro-Soviet and communist Nur Mohammad Taraki proclaimed himself the new president and renamed Afghanistan the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, introducing a red Afghani flag not dissimilar to the hammer and sickle flag of the Soviet Union. Daoud’s death was not publicly announced and Taraki announced that former president Daoud had “resigned for health reasons”.

Continue reading

Osama bin Laden – a summary

History In An Hour offers a brief summary on the life and death of Osama bin Laden.

Born 10 March 1957, Osama bin Laden was one of 52 (or more) siblings born to his billionaire father, Mohammed, and his 22 wives. Osama’s mother, Alia, was 14 when she married Mohammed, his tenth wife, and 15 when she gave birth to Osama (‘young lion’ in Arabic). Osama was the only product of this union. His parents divorced soon after his birth.

Mohammed bin Laden had built from scratch a large building empire in Saudi Arabia and when, in 1968, he died in a helicopter crash – his vast fortune was distributed amongst all his children.

Osama bin Laden stood 6ft 5in tall and married the first of his four wives, a 14-year-old, when he was 17. He had 19 children, of whom his 22-year-old son, Khalid, was killed in the US attack that killed Osama in May 2011.

Continue reading

The Afghan Wars: History in an Hour

In June 2010 America’s war in Afghanistan surpassed the Vietnam War as the longest war in America’s history. American, British and coalition forces have been fighting in Afghanistan since October 2001, a month following the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. By the end of the year the war seemed won. But a decade on the ongoing conflict seems far from over.

Today’s conflict has historical parallels – in the nineteenth century Great Britain twice invaded Afghanistan, in 1839 and 1878. Both times they had seemingly defeated the Afghan forces only to find the Afghan soldier, not knowing the meaning of defeat, fought back inflicting on the mighty British Empire humiliating retreats.

A century later, the Soviet Union, technologically and militarily superior, also discovered to its cost that the Afghan was a tenacious foe, impossible to defeat. After a decade of conflict the Soviet Union withdrew, its military reputation in tatters.

Afghanistan has been in a state of constant conflict for almost four decades. When not fighting external enemies its people have fought against each other. The Civil War of 1990 to 1996, during which the Taliban emerged, was ferocious in its intensity.

The coalition forces of today are embroiled in an equally unending war. But why are we still fighting in Afghanistan? What are the lessons of history? Who are the Taliban; who are the Mujahedeen, and why was Osama bin Laden so significant?

These, in an hour, are the Afghan Wars.

Only 99p. Buy now from iTunesAmazonB&N and other online stores.

Also available as downloadable audio and as an app for the iPhone / iPad


  • The First Anglo-Afghan War
  • The Second Anglo-Afghan War
  • The Third Anglo-Afghan War
  • The ‘Saur’ Revolution
  • The Communist Era
  • The Soviet War in Afghanistan
  • The Afghan Civil War
  • The Taliban
  • Afghanistan Under the Taliban
  • 9/11
  • The Afghanistan War
  • The Taliban Insurgency
  • The Death of Osama bin Laden

Readers’ reviews:

Easy to read concise, history of recent wars in Afghanistan. Perhaps our ex-P.M. should have read it! Explains how we and the Russians have spent a lot of time and money – not to mention lives – trying to influence this country.”

“If you are curious, and have an hour, this is perfect. Plus you cannot beat the price!”

Very succinct and interesting book on contemporary history and the current Afghan conflict would recommend to anyone interested in the current conflict and the history behind it.”

Very good coverage of the history of the wars in Afghan. Opened my eyes. Very easy to follow. Overall great book.”

“This book gives an excellent and factual account of a war that let’s be honest we’ll never ever win. I always try to rate my books and this is no exception so I rate it 10/10.”

Very well written concise version of events – easy to follow and some interesting information.” (GoodReads)

Alexander Burnes – hacked to death in Afghanistan

‘British diplomat hacked to death in Afghanistan’ – it would make a shocking headline. Yet on 2 November 1841, this is exactly what happened.

Britain was entrenched in Afghanistan, much as it is today, but the situation was seemingly stable. The British had just defeated the Afghans in the First Anglo-Afghan War, ousted a ruler they considered anti-British and replaced him with one more compliant to their needs. All was well. But on 2 November 1841, a mob of Afghans murdered the British political envoy living in Kabul, Sir Alexander Burnes. It was the start of an ignominious end to Britain’s foray in Afghanistan.

The Dandy Scot

Alexander Burnes, born in Montrose on 16 May 1805, was the epitome of a nineteenth century adventurer cum dandy – dashing, intelligent and courageous.

In 1831, the British government in Delhi ordered a survey of the Indus River, unchartered since the time of Alexander the Great. The man they entrusted this mission to was Alexander Burnes. A journey of over 1,000 miles, Burnes, a natural linguist, charmed the usually antagonistic tribal leaders he came upon, and eventually reached Lahore, his reputation greatly enhanced.

His next adventure took him to Afghanistan, dressed as a native having discarded, in his words, ‘the useless paraphernalia of civilization; we threw away all our European clothes, and adopted, without reserve, the costume of the Asiatic… groaning under ponderous turbans.’

Continue reading

Mohammad Najibullah – a summary

On 27 September 1996, Mohammad Najibullah, the last Soviet-backed president of Afghanistan, met a violent death at the hands of the Taliban.

Trained as a doctor, Mohammad Najibullah rejected medicine for politics and, as an 18-year-old in 1965, joined the Afghan communist party, the PDPA. But once the PDPA came to power, Najibullah fell out with the new president, Hafizullah Amin, and went into exile within the Eastern Bloc.

Following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Najibullah returned to his country and was appointed by Babrak Karmal, the new Soviet-backed president, as head of the secret police, a position that Najibullah, the ex-boxer, relished, overseeing the torture and execution of thousands of Afghans.

Najibullah appointed president

Continue reading

Mikhail Gorbachev and the Cold War

Born 2 March 1931, Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union. Rupert Colley offers a summary of Gorbachev’s role in ending the Cold War.

The Youngest First Secretary

Gorbachev was an up and coming star in the Communist Party and, following the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, became a protégé of the new Party leader, Yuri Andropov. But on Andropov’s death in February 1984, the post of First Secretary fell, not to Gorbachev, but to the ageing Konstantin Chernenko. However, Gorbachev spread his influence further so when Chernenko died after only thirteen months as leader, the post finally fell to him. Aged 54, Gorbachev was the youngest First Secretary in Soviet history, and the first to be born after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

His youth and progressive ideas alarmed the Communist hardliners, whose fears were confirmed when Gorbachev ushered in a reformist programme, and introduced into the political lexicon the wordsperestroika (reconstruction) and glasnost (openness). The Soviet’s system inept handling of the Chernobyl crisis highlighted the need for reform.

“I like Mr Gorbachev”

The international community welcomed the appointment of a man who seemed open and not ruled by cloak and dagger diplomacy and mistrust. Margaret Thatcher said of him, “I like Mr Gorbachev, we can do business together.”

Continue reading