The most renowned ruler of medieval Afghanistan, Mahmud of Ghazni (971?–1030), was the Turkish creator of an empire stretching from Ray and Isfahan in Iran to Lahore in India (now in Pakistan) and from the Amu Darya (Oxus) River to the Arabian Sea. Zahir ud-Din Babur (1483–1530), a Timurid prince of Ferghana (now in the former USSR), established his base at Kabul and from there waged campaigns leading to the expulsion of an Afghan ruling dynasty, the Lodis, from Delhi and the foundation of the Mughal Empire in India.
Many eminent figures of Arab and Persian intellectual history were born or spent their careers in what is now Afghanistan. Al-Biruni (973–1048), the great Arab encyclopedist, was born in Khiva but settled in Ghazni, where he died. Abdul Majid Majdud Sana'i (1070–1140), the first major Persian poet to employ verse for mystical and philosophical expression, was a native of Ghazni. Jalal ud-Din Rumi (1207–73), who stands at the summit of Persian poetry, was born in Balkh but migrated to Konya (Iconium) in Turkey. The last of the celebrated Persian classical poets, Abdur Rahman Jami (1414–92), was born in Khorasan but spent most of his life in Herat. So did Behzad (1450?–1520), the greatest master of Persian painting.
The founder of the state of Afghanistan was Ahmad Shah Abdali (1724–73), who changed his dynastic name to Durrani. He conquered Kashmir and Delhi and, with his capital at Kandahar, ruled over an empire that also stretched from the Amu Darya to the Arabian Sea. Dost Muhammad (1789–1863) was the founder of the Muhammadzai (Barakzai) dynasty. In a turbulent career, he both fought and made peace with the British in India, and unified the country. His grandson, Abdur Rahman Khan (1844–1901), established order after protracted civil strife. Amanullah Khan (1892–1960), who reigned from 1919 to 1929, tried social reforms aimed at Westernizing the country but was forced to abdicate. Muhammad Nadir Shah (d.1933), who was elected king by a tribal assembly in 1929, continued Amanullah's Westernization program. His son, Muhammad Zahir Shah (b.1914), was king until he was deposed by a coup in July 1973. Lieut. Gen. Sardar Muhammad Daoud Khan (1909–78), cousin and brother-in-law of King Zahir, was the leader of the coup and the founder and first president of the Republic of Afghanistan. Leaders in the violent years since the 1978 "Saur Revolution" have been Nur Muhammad Taraki (1917–79), founder of the PDPA; Hafizullah Amin (1929–79), Taraki's successor as president of the Revolutionary Council and secretary-general of the PDPA; Babrak Karmal (1929), leader of the pro-Soviet Parcham group of the PDPA and chief of state from December 1979 until May 1986; and Dr. Najibullah (1947–96), former head of the Afghan secret police who was brutally executed by the Taliban militia after they seized control of Kabul.