The Taliban intend to replace the Afghan national flag with their white banner bearing the Shahada “La ilah ila Allah, Mohammad rasoul Allah” (There is no god besides God and Muhammad is God’s messenger) after recapturing the country on Sunday.
The removal of the Afghan flag has sparked protests in at least two Afghan cities, killing at least three people in the eastern city of Jalalabad during an anti-Taliban protest. In a video that went viral on social media, protesters in Jalalabad tried to place the government flag on a crowded street pedestrian bridge after it was replaced with the Taliban banner.
This is not the first time Afghanistan’s flag has been changed.
Since the Emirate of Afghanistan became completely independent from Britain more than 100 years ago, its flag has changed at least 18 times.
Here is the story of how the flag of Afghanistan has evolved over the last 100 years.
Habibullah Khan controls the Emirate of Afghanistan, a British protectorate. He modifies his father’s solid black flag with a seal depicting a mosque over two crossed swords, surrounded by a wreath.
The Emirate of Afghanistan becomes completely independent of Britain under Prince Amanullah Khan. The mosque in the middle of the seal is a recurring symbol, as are the crossed swords. Amanullah replaces the wreath with a radiant octagram and makes the swords smaller.
King Amanullah declares the Kingdom of Afghanistan in 1926. The flag and emblem change. The octagram is replaced with a wreath, the swords are removed, and the mosque now highlights the mihrab (prayer niche) towards Mecca. Amanullah has flag several times during his reign.
Amanullah escapes from a rebellion against him and crowns his brother, who abdicates a few days later. Afghanistan becomes an emirate under Habibullah Kalakani. The flag changes to a tricolor resembling a flag flown by invading Mongolian forces in the 13th century.
Amanullah’s cousin Mohammed Nadir Shah leads a tribal uprising and once again declares a kingdom under him. The flag returns to a tricolor flown briefly below Amanullah, black for the past, red representing the blood shed for freedom, and green, prosperity. Amanullah’s original seal is in the center.
Nadir is assassinated, his son Mohammed Zahir becomes king, bringing stability. He keeps his father’s last flag. In it, the seal changes, with the mosque from the kingdom’s first flag over the Hijri year, when Nadir’s rule began, surrounded by wheat slices.
Zahir’s cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrows him in a military coup and turns Afghanistan into a republic under him. For almost a year, the flag remains largely the same, with the removal of Nadir’s dynastic date.
The flag of the Republic changes, keeps the colors, but changes their orientation. An eagle in the corner spreads its wings to show the mihrab on its chest and is surrounded by slices of wheat.
Daoud is killed in a communist coup, Nur Mohammad Taraki becomes president. First the seal is dropped from the flag, then it changes to a red flag with a seal in the corner. The word “Khalq” (humans) is surrounded by wheat and a ribbon praising the coup below. Aside from praise, people are dissatisfied with their rulers and the country becomes unstable.
Taraki is killed in September 1979 by Hafizullah Amin, who takes over. The USSR invades in December to “support” the communist regime, making Babrak Karmal president. Flag and seal change in 1980. The new seal is a sun that rises above a mihrab on a green field with open book. A red communist star and a gear representing the industry are on top of a wheat wreath.
Karmal removed, Mohammad Najibullah becomes president of a Soviet puppet state. Opposition to the government and the Soviets is growing within a force of about 90,000 Mujahideen fighters. The seal changes, removes the red star and book (believed to be the communist manifesto) and moves the gear down.
Three years after the Soviets left, Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Mujahideen occupies Kabul. In June, Burhanuddin Rabbani becomes president of an Islamic state. In December, the flag changes. The colors resemble flags from many other Muslim countries, the seal is Amanullah’s mosque and Nadir’s wheat, sword representing a Mujahideen victory, surrounds it, and Shahada is on top.
Dissatisfaction with Rabbani’s rule is growing, and a coup is attempted in January, weakening his government. The Taliban show up in October and promise peace. It soon occupies the southwest and marches towards Kabul.
The Taliban conquer Kabul after two years of fighting, declare Afghanistan an Islamic emirate and change the flag to solid white at first, then add the Shahada written in black a year later.
In 1997, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan and became close to Tallahan leader Mullah Omar.
Hijackers crash four commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
The United States blames al-Qaeda and demands bin Laden from the Taliban, who says it will give him a neutral country. The United States refuses and, along with Britain, begins bombing Afghanistan in October.
The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, including Rabbani’s government, is conquering Kabul from the Taliban. Rabbani’s flag and seal are reinstated with Shahada added in blue. The Taliban is withdrawing to carry out a long campaign against Western forces and the Kabul government.
One month after Hamid Karzai was elected to lead the US-backed transitional government for two years, the flag returns to the colors of the Zaher era and the emblem of the 1992 emblem with the swords removed. A Loya Jirga (Afghan Grand Assembly) in June turns the emblem into gold instead of white.
Karzai becomes president after controversial elections. Afghanistan has been declared an Islamic republic with an almighty president. He wins another controversial election in 2009.
Towards the end of Karzai’s rule, a tweaked flag is revealed. The white emblem is larger and overlaps the black and green ribbons, and some details were added.
Ashraf Ghani becomes president after two rounds of voting bitterly contested by his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The scenario will be repeated in September 2019.
The United States and the Taliban signed an “agreement to bring peace” to Afghanistan after more than 18 years of war.
U.S. and NATO forces begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July, leaving a power vacuum that facilitated a Taliban advance. In August, Ghani flees Afghanistan. The Taliban is reintroducing its white banner.