Afghanistan is not the Graveyard of Empires. There is not one Empire in the history of humankind that has ended specifically because of Imperial Adventures in Afghanistan.
To the contrary, Empires have rarely attempted to conquer Afghanistan. Parts of modern day Afghanistan have been co-opted into various Empires. Afghanistan has been used as a stepping stone to other conquests. Most often, the lands that are now called Afghanistan have been worthless in and of themselves. Instead, Afghanistan is a crossroads of Empire. No one has ever wanted to rule the people here. They’re far too stubborn and unruly or they used to be.
Now, the people of Afghanistan have become bastardized miniaturized versions of Islamic takfirin or salafis. They aren’t quite certain what it means. Most of them have no idea of their owns history. Many who strive to live peaceably, do so with a bent towards the Western world and our Globalist, consumerist homogeneity. Still others have been fatigued by decades of war with the Soviet Union, Mujahideen, the Paki-Saudi birthed Taliban, America and the West or the various insurgents, Taliban, al Qaeda and IS movements within the country. A very small minority will fight to the last man, yours or theirs, until they are simply left alone to be what they wish to be without interference from a foreign created, centralized State.
No great Afghan Army has ever defeated a foreign power. They have won key battles only to lose the larger war. This has happened with every incursion into their territory. More often than not, foreign armies simply lose interest in the area as it loses its momentary geographic importance or various empires declined and withdrew their forces from the region for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with the people of this historical crossroads.
If we were to compare the region to other historical crossroads, the most apt comparison would the the Levant. Empires arose. Empires conquered the area as they moved through. Empires fell. The people of the Levant rarely ruled anyone but were ruled by everyone.
Afghanistan has been the same. Empires have risen and entered the region. Perhaps, they stayed for a while as did the Greeks when they created the Bactrian civilization. Empires fell and withdrew through the same route leaving the area called Afghanistan to its petty, metropolitan potentates who rarely ruled anymore than 100 miles from the cities which they ruled. The tribes have been co-opted into Imperial Armies and then left to fend for themselves as these same Empires fell away to be replaced by others.
I can think of few Great Empires which bothered to conquer the area we now call Afghanistan.
The Brits did not try to conquer Afghanistan (it didn’t exist). The Brits came in and created a buffer zone between their Brit Raj and the Russian Empire. Yes, they had set backs. All in all, they accomplished what they set out to accomplish.
The Soviets would more than likely still be in the Stan if the US and Saudi Arabia had not funded the Muj and given them modern arms.
The Greeks established a lasting culture in the Stan. We can still see the remains of it. The Pathans didn’t defeat Alexander. Legend has it that Qandahar (Iskandhar) was originally settled by Alexander and named for him [by him]. The Bactrian Civilization, created by Greek settlers and soldiers, lasted for hundreds of years. Remnants of this civilization can be seen today.
The Mongols kicked ass in the Stan. It was never a case of the Mongol Empire(s) being unable to hold this land. They crushed the Islamic rulers in the Stan. Absolutely crushed the bastards. The Mongols who settled and ruled the area eventually converted to Islam. They weren’t defeated. They simply became one and the same. The Hazara, said to be the descendants of the original Mongols, are still in the Stan as a lasting legacy. Balkh is still a ruin as a lasting legacy of the power of Jinghiss Khan and his progeny.
Tamerlane came in and took the joint then ignored it.
The Moghuls led by Babar Khan conquered the Stan and kept it until the British Raj weakened them. One can visit Babur’s grave and the mini-Taj built for him by his grandson Shah Jahan.
The Sassanids held Khorasan for quite a long time.
There were other conquerors who passed through.
What is now Afghanistan has never been valuable as a whole. Khorasan was a center of Islamic learning for hundreds of years. It was said to be the most beautiful city and the most learned city in this part of the world. It is one of the few cities that was an actual center of learning FOR WOMEN in the Islamic World thanks to the wife of Timur the Lame.
There were others.
This is not the graveyard of empires. This is a place that has always been on the periphery of empires because there has, historically, been nothing of value that empires desire except for the ability to pass through on the way to the conquest of India, China, Eurasia, Europe, Persia, etc.
There has been no Empire which has fallen specifically because of that Empire’s adventures in the land of the Pathan.
I so wish that the media would stop perpetuating this inane nonsense.
Even so, I still love the cartoons that the myth produces.