Afghanistan lies at the heart of Asia. Landlocked and mountainous, its neighbours are Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It also shares a short border with China. The territory consists mainly of dramatic mountain ranges, with plains in the north and southwest, and large areas of sandy desert near the southern border with Pakistan.
The tumultuous recent history of Afghanistan forms the backdrop to The Kite Runner. For much of the twentieth century, it was an independent kingdom and then republic. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and remained as an occupying force until 1989. During that decade, Afghanistan became a proxy battleground for the Cold War empires of America and Russia.
A period of infighting between various warlords and factions followed until the Islamic Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996. The Taliban imposed a deeply oppressive rule on Afghanistan until the US invasion in 2001, following the Al Qaeda attacks on 11 September. Since then, Afghanistan has been under the precarious military control of NATO. The Taliban continue to oppose Western occupying forces, and attempts to build a stable civilian government have so far largely failed.
The city of Kabul is over 3,000 years old. Historians date its establishment to between 2000 and 1500 BCE. Kabul has always been considered a prize, due to its strategic location on the trade routes of Southern and Central Asia. In 1504, Babur made it the capital of his Mughul Empire. Finally, in 1776, Timur Shah Durrani made it the capital of modern Afghanistan. The city's population is multicultural and multi-ethnic, reflecting the diversity of Afghanistan as a whole.
Today’s images of Kabul are of a rubble and destruction, physically deformed by war. But earlier photographs show a pleasant and prosperous city.
Darulaman Palace was designed for King Amanullah by a French architect in the 1920s. When he became king in 1923, Amanullah took vigorous steps to modernise Afghanistan. He was overthrown in 1929, very soon after announcing that Afghan women were going to abandon the burqa. Darulaman Palace was originally intended to be the home of the parliament, but it later became the Defence Ministry, and was the military headquarters during the Russian occupation.
Fremont is a city of 200,000 people in San Francisco's Bay Area. 46% of the population is of Asian origin, and Fremont holds the largest concentration of Afghans in the United States. The city lies close to Palo Alto and San Jose, and is considered part of Silicon Valley. The Coyote Hills Regional Park lies between Fremont and the Bay.
An early home to the movie industry, Fremont was the location of several Chaplin movies, including The Tramp.