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Afghanistan Celebrates Nine Decades of Independence

On this day 90 years ago, Afghanistan formally gained its independence from the British Crown. This year's celebration also comes one day before Afghanistan's second ever presidential election, a momentous event in the country's history.

In a message to President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people, U.S. President Barack Obama recognized the celebration of the restoration of Afghanistan's independence. "On behalf of the people of the United States, I congratulate you and the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the significant occasion of your Independence Day on August 19," he said.  "Although challenges remain before us, our countries' strong relations demonstrate our peoples' shared commitment to a democratic and prosperous future for Afghanistan. I extend to you my best wishes for a secure and peace-filled future for all the people of Afghanistan."

Though Afghanistan's history dates back some 5,000 years, the country was subject to European imperial battles through much of its contemporary history. Starting in the early 1800s, the British Empire began to show interest in Afghanistan, signing a treaty with Shuja Shah Durrani in 1809. Unfortunately, Afghanistan became the center of conflicts between the Russian and British empires during a period known as the "Great Game," lasting until 1907. During that time, Afghanistan fought two wars with the British, the First Anglo-Afghan War between 1838 and 1842 and the Second Anglo-Afghan War between 1843 and 1880.

On August 19, 1919 Afghanistan formally gained its independence from the United Kingdom, ending decades of direct British control of Afghan affairs. It was in May of that year that Amir Amanullah Khan led a surprise attack against British forces in India, sparking the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Tied down by its commitments in World War I, the British signed the Treaty of Rawalpindi in early August, agreeing to give Afghanistan full control over its foreign affairs.

From that point on, Afghanistan developed in relative peace. Though not free from periodic political turmoil, the country experimented with democratic rule, developed government institutions and lay the foundations for a functioning economy. In 1958, a journalist wrote of Afghanistan: "After centuries of poverty-ridden isolation, Afghanistan is again becoming the crossroads of Asia." The Soviet invasion in late 1978 led to decades of conflict, though, and the resulting rule of the Taliban isolated Afghanistan internationally and destroyed what was left of its institutions and economy.

Since 2001, the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and its international partners have attempted to bring peace to the country, kickstart its economy and establish a democratic government of justice and equality. There have been numerous successes, such as a new constitution and elected president and Parliament, dramatic increases in public education, an expanded healthcare network and the renewed participation of women in Afghanistan's political and social development.

On August 20, the Afghan people will continue the path towards peace, pluralism and prosperity when they vote in the country's second ever presidential election. The election follows in the path set by those who claimed the country's independence - for a country in which peace and opportunity are available to all.

Related News: Afghanistan Celebrates Independence Day and Presidential Election

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