Like a tortoise shell on Asia's back, Afghanistan lies athwart the spiny Hindu Kush mountains, sloping northward to the Oxus River and Russia, eastward to the Khyber Pass. Perhaps no land has been so trodden upon by history and yet kept its independence. Darius, Alexander, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Babur all invaded it. In the 19th century the British Empire, following a northwesterly course, approached the Hindu Kush and southward-marching Russians. In the end, Britain and the Czars, fearful of what might happen if their armies met, agreed to keep Afghanistan as a buffer state.

Chafed Afghanistan's Amir Abdur Rahman: "This...

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