Why has every superpower tried to conquer Afghanistan, even though the country has nothing special like oil, coal, natural gas or valuable minerals?
First Britain tried (during their rule on sub-continent), then Soviet Union tried in the 1980's. Now America, with NATO forces, is marshaling all its resources to conquer Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a region of rocky mountains with no economy, unskilled and uneducated laborers, living in poverty. Why has every powerful authority from Alexander the Great until today tried so hard to conquer the land of Afghanistan?
Answer by Harold Kingsberg:
Actually, this question is founded on a faulty premise: Afghanistan is fantastically wealthy in terms of natural resources. I'm serious here: in 2010, roughly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral resources were found in Afghanistan. The more accurate phrasing of the question is therefore "Why did superpowers invade Afghanistan even though they were completely ignorant of Afghanistan's natural resources?"
The bottom line is that Afghanistan is very strategically located, and drew wealth from that location. Let's go to the map:
To the southeast, you have the Indian subcontinent. Go due east, you'll hit China. Head west and you hit Iran and head north, you'll go to what was until 1991 the Soviet Union and before that the Russian Empire. In short, for most of Afghanistan's history, it was the frontier between mighty empires. This also meant that it was a crossroads of trade. Cities such as Bactra – now Balkh – were important stops on the Silk Road, and Herat, Kandahar and Kabul sit on wealthy trade routes. Controlling the trade routes means being able to tax the traders and collect a steady revenue stream.
To put it another way, Afghanistan had wealth not so much because of anything about the land itself, but rather, because of where the land is. And we're not talking negligible wealth, either: Afghanistan's trade routes made it sufficiently wealthy that none of the empires that bordered it wanted any of the others to get it.
Afghanistan managed to retain its independence in two ways:
- It played the empires that bordered it off each other.
- When invaders did come, the people of Afghanistan would fight guerrilla-style in the most defensible regions of the country and exact a sufficiently high price that the invaders had to leave.
Of course, now that the country's infrastructure is incapable of supporting a modern trade network, Afghanistan's ability to make money off of trade routes has gone down substantially. However, a country poised on the borders of India, Pakistan, Iran, China and the oil-wealthy 'Stans still matters a great deal, which is why the country still periodically sees invasions, even if conquest isn't the goal, which it wasn't in the US 2001 invasion.
 Which, being filled with mountains and caves, strongly favor the defenders.