Afghanistan (// ( listen); Pashto/Dari: افغانستان, Pashto: Afġānistān [avɣɒnisˈtɒn, abɣɒnisˈtɒn], Dari: Afġānestān [avɣɒnesˈtɒn]), officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located within South Asia and Central Asia. The country has a population of 33 million, making it the 42nd most populous country in the world. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far northeast. Its territory covers 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 sq mi), making it the 41st largest country in the world.
|Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Motto: لا إله إلا الله، محمد رسول الله
"Lā ʾilāha ʾillā llāh, Muhammadun rasūlu llāh"
"There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God. (Shahada)
Anthem: Millī Surūd
and largest city
|Ethnic groups||Pashtun, Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch and others|
|Government||Unitary presidential Islamic republic|
|House of Elders|
|House of the People|
|19 August 1919|
|9 June 1926|
|17 July 1973|
|30 April 1978|
|24 April 1992|
|27 September 1996|
|7 October 2001|
|26 January 2004|
|652,864 km2 (252,072 sq mi) (40th)|
• Water (%)
• 2016 estimate
|49.88/km2 (129.2/sq mi) (150th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2016 estimate|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2016 estimate|
• Per capita
|HDI (2014)|| 0.465
low · 171st
|Time zone||D† (UTC+4:30 Solar Calendar)|
|Drives on the||right|
|ISO 3166 code||AF|
|Internet TLD||.af افغانستان.|
Human habitation in Afghanistan dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Era, and the country's strategic location along the Silk Road connected it to the cultures of the Middle East and other parts of Asia. The land has historically been home to various peoples and has witnessed numerous military campaigns, including those by Alexander the Great, Mauryas, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, British, Soviet, and in the modern era by Western powers. The land also served as the source from which the Kushans, Hephthalites, Samanids, Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Khiljis, Mughals, Hotaks, Durranis, and others have risen to form major empires.
The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Hotak and Durrani dynasties in the 18th century. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the "Great Game" between British India and the Russian Empire. Following the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, King Amanullah unsuccessfully attempted to modernize the country. Afghanistan remained peaceful during Zahir Shah's forty years of monarchy. A series of coups in the 1970s was followed by a series of civil wars that devastated much of Afghanistan which began when the country became a socialist state under the influence of the Soviet Union during the Soviet–Afghan War. Following the departure of the Soviet forces, the country became an Islamic state under the Peshawar Accord but much of its territory was then held by the Islamic supremacist group the Taliban, who ruled the country as a totalitarian regime for almost five years. Following the 2001 September 11 attacks in the United States, the Taliban was forcibly removed by the NATO-led coalition, Afghanistan's previous political structure was replaced with a more pro-Western, democratically-elected government.
Afghanistan is a unitary presidential Islamic republic with Islam as an official state religion. It is a member of the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Group of 77, the Economic Cooperation Organization, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Afghanistan's economy is the world's 108th largest, with a GDP of $64.08 billion; the country fares much worse in terms of per-capita GDP (PPP), ranking 167th out of 186 countries in a 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund.
The name Afghānistān (Pashto |افغانستان) is believed to be as old as the ethnonym Afghan, which is documented in the 10th-century geography book Hudud ul-'alam. The root name "Afghan" was used historically in reference to a member of the ethnic Pashtuns, and the suffix "-stan" means "place of" in Persian and Hindi. Therefore, Afghanistan translates to land of the Afghans or, more specifically in a historical sense, to land of the Pashtuns. However, the modern Constitution of Afghanistan states that "[t]he word Afghan shall apply to every citizen of Afghanistan."
Excavations of prehistoric sites by Louis Dupree and others suggest that humans were living in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming communities in the area were among the earliest in the world. An important site of early historical activities, many believe that Afghanistan compares to Egypt in terms of the historical value of its archaeological sites.
The country sits at a unique nexus point where numerous civilizations have interacted and often fought. It has been home to various peoples through the ages, among them the ancient Iranian peoples who established the dominant role of Indo-Iranian languages in the region. At multiple points, the land has been incorporated within large regional empires, among them the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Indian Maurya Empire, and the Islamic Empire.
Many empires and kingdoms have also risen to power in Afghanistan, such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Kabul Shahis, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khiljis, Kartids, Timurids, Mughals, and finally the Hotak and Durrani dynasties that marked the political origins of the modern state.
Archaeological exploration done in the 20th century suggests that the geographical area of Afghanistan has been closely connected by culture and trade with its neighbors to the east, west, and north. Artifacts typical of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Afghanistan. Urban civilization is believed to have begun as early as 3000 BCE, and the early city of Mundigak (near Kandahar in the south of the country) may have been a colony of the nearby Indus Valley Civilization. More recent findings established that the Indus Valley Civilisation stretched up towards modern-day Afghanistan, making the ancient civilisation today part of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In more detail, it extended from what today is northwest Pakistan to northwest India and northeast Afghanistan. An Indus Valley site has been found on the Oxus River at Shortugai in northern Afghanistan. There are several smaller IVC colonies to be found in Afghanistan as well.
After 2000 BCE, successive waves of semi-nomadic people from Central Asia began moving south into Afghanistan; among them were many Indo-European-speaking Indo-Iranians. These tribes later migrated further into South Asia, Western Asia, and toward Europe via the area north of the Caspian Sea. The region at the time was referred to as Ariana.
The religion Zoroastrianism is believed by some to have originated in what is now Afghanistan between 1800 and 800 BCE, as its founder Zoroaster is thought to have lived and died in Balkh. Ancient Eastern Iranian languages may have been spoken in the region around the time of the rise of Zoroastrianism. By the middle of the 6th century BCE, the Achaemenids overthrew the Medes and incorporated Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria within its eastern boundaries. An inscription on the tombstone of Darius I of Persia mentions the Kabul Valley in a list of the 29 countries that he had conquered.
Alexander the Great and his Macedonian forces arrived to Afghanistan in 330 BCE after defeating Darius III of Persia a year earlier in the Battle of Gaugamela. Following Alexander's brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the region until 305 BCE, when they gave much of it to the Maurya Empire as part of an alliance treaty. The Mauryans controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush until they were overthrown in about 185 BCE. Their decline began 60 years after Ashoka's rule ended, leading to the Hellenistic reconquest by the Greco-Bactrians. Much of it soon broke away from them and became part of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. They were defeated and expelled by the Indo-Scythians in the late 2nd century BCE.
During the first century BCE, the Parthian Empire subjugated the region, but lost it to their Indo-Parthian vassals. In the mid-to-late first century CE the vast Kushan Empire, centered in Afghanistan, became great patrons of Buddhist culture, making Buddhism flourish throughout the region. The Kushans were overthrown by the Sassanids in the 3rd century CE, though the Indo-Sassanids continued to rule at least parts of the region. They were followed by the Kidarite who, in turn, were replaced by the Hephthalites. By the 6th century CE, the successors to the Kushans and Hepthalites established a small dynasty called Kabul Shahi. Much of the northeastern and southern areas of the country remained dominated by Buddhist culture.
Islamization and Mongol invasion
Arab Muslims brought Islam to Herat and Zaranj in 642 CE and began spreading eastward; some of the native inhabitants they encountered accepted it while others revolted. The land was collectively recognized by the Arabs as al-Hind due to its cultural connection with Greater India. Before Islam was introduced, people of the region were mostly Buddhists and Zoroastrians, but there were also Surya and Nana worshipers, Jews, and others. The Zunbils and Kabul Shahi were first conquered in 870 CE by the Saffarid Muslims of Zaranj. Later, the Samanids extended their Islamic influence south of the Hindu Kush. It is reported that Muslims and non-Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the Ghaznavids rose to power in the 10th century.
By the 11th century, Mahmud of Ghazni defeated the remaining Hindu rulers and effectively Islamized the wider region, with the exception of Kafiristan. Afghanistan became one of the main centers in the Muslim world during this Islamic Golden Age. The Ghaznavid dynasty was overthrown by the Ghurids, who expanded and advanced the already powerful Islamic empire.
In 1219 AD, Genghis Khan and his Mongol army overran the region. His troops are said to have annihilated the Khorasanian cities of Herat and Balkh as well as Bamyan. The destruction caused by the Mongols forced many locals to return to an agrarian rural society. Mongol rule continued with the Ilkhanate in the northwest while the Khilji dynasty administered the Afghan tribal areas south of the Hindu Kush until the invasion of Timur, who established the Timurid Empire in 1370.
In the early 16th century, Babur arrived from Fergana and captured Kabul from the Arghun dynasty. In 1526, he invaded Delhi in India to replace the Lodi dynasty with the Mughal Empire. Between the 16th and 18th century, the Khanate of Bukhara, Safavids, and Mughals ruled parts of the territory. Before the 19th century, the northwestern area of Afghanistan was referred to by the regional name Khorasan. Two of the four capitals of Khorasan (Herat and Balkh) are now located in Afghanistan, while the regions of Kandahar, Zabulistan, Ghazni, Kabulistan, and Afghanistan formed the frontier between Khorasan and Hindustan.
Hotak dynasty and Durrani Empire
In 1709, Mirwais Hotak, a local Ghilzai tribal leader, successfully rebelled against the Safavids. He defeated Gurgin Khan and made Afghanistan independent. Mirwais died of a natural cause in 1715 and was succeeded by his brother Abdul Aziz, who was soon killed by Mirwais' son Mahmud for treason. Mahmud led the Afghan army in 1722 to the Persian capital of Isfahan, captured the city after the Battle of Gulnabad and proclaimed himself King of Persia. The Afghan dynasty was ousted from Persia by Nader Shah after the 1729 Battle of Damghan.
In 1738, Nader Shah and his forces captured Kandahar, the last Hotak stronghold, from Shah Hussain Hotak, at which point the incarcerated 16-year-old Ahmad Shah Durrani was freed and made the commander of an Afghan regiment. Soon after the Persian and Afghan forces invaded India. By 1747, the Afghans chose Durrani as their head of state. Durrani and his Afghan army conquered much of present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Khorasan and Kohistan provinces of Iran, and Delhi in India. He defeated the Indian Maratha Empire, and one of his biggest victories was the 1761 Battle of Panipat.
In October 1772, Durrani died of a natural cause and was buried at a site now adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar. He was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah, who transferred the capital of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776. After Timur's death in 1793, the Durrani throne passed down to his son Zaman Shah, followed by Mahmud Shah, Shuja Shah and others.
The Afghan Empire was under threat in the early 19th century by the Persians in the west and the Sikh Empire in the east. Fateh Khan, leader of the Barakzai tribe, had installed 21 of his brothers in positions of power throughout the empire. After his death, they rebelled and divided up the provinces of the empire between themselves. During this turbulent period, Afghanistan had many temporary rulers until Dost Mohammad Khan declared himself emir in 1826. The Punjab region was lost to Ranjit Singh, who invaded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in 1834 captured the city of Peshawar. In 1837, during the Battle of Jamrud near the Khyber Pass, Akbar Khan and the Afghan army failed to capture the Jamrud fort from the Sikh Khalsa Army, but killed Sikh Commander Hari Singh Nalwa, thus ending the Afghan-Sikh Wars. By this time the British were advancing from the east and the first major conflict during the "Great Game" was initiated.
In 1838, the British marched into Afghanistan and arrested Dost Mohammad, sent him into exile in India and replaced him with the previous ruler, Shah Shuja. Following an uprising, the 1842 retreat from Kabul of British-Indian forces, and the Battle of Kabul that led to its recapture, the British placed Dost Mohammad Khan back into power and withdrew their military forces from Afghanistan. In 1878, the Second Anglo-Afghan War was fought over perceived Russian influence, Abdur Rahman Khan replaced Ayub Khan, and Britain gained control of Afghanistan's foreign relations as part of the Treaty of Gandamak of 1879. In 1893, Mortimer Durand made Amir Abdur Rahman Khan sign a controversial agreement in which the ethnic Pashtun and Baloch territories were divided by the Durand Line. This was a standard divide and rule policy of the British and would lead to strained relations, especially with the later new state of Pakistan.
After the Third Anglo-Afghan War and the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi on 19 August 1919, King Amanullah Khan declared Afghanistan a sovereign and fully independent state. He moved to end his country's traditional isolation by establishing diplomatic relations with the international community and, following a 1927–28 tour of Europe and Turkey, introduced several reforms intended to modernize his nation. A key force behind these reforms was Mahmud Tarzi, an ardent supporter of the education of women. He fought for Article 68 of Afghanistan's 1923 constitution, which made elementary education compulsory. The institution of slavery was abolished in 1923.
Some of the reforms that were actually put in place, such as the abolition of the traditional burqa for women and the opening of a number of co-educational schools, quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders. Faced with overwhelming armed opposition, Amanullah Khan was forced to abdicate in January 1929 after Kabul fell to rebel forces led by Habibullah Kalakani. Prince Mohammed Nadir Shah, Amanullah's cousin, in turn defeated and killed Kalakani in November 1929, and was declared King Nadir Shah. He abandoned the reforms of Amanullah Khan in favor of a more gradual approach to modernisation but was assassinated in 1933 by Abdul Khaliq, a fifteen-year-old Hazara student.
Mohammed Zahir Shah, Nadir Shah's 19-year-old son, succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. Until 1946, Zahir Shah ruled with the assistance of his uncle, who held the post of Prime Minister and continued the policies of Nadir Shah. Another of Zahir Shah's uncles, Shah Mahmud Khan, became Prime Minister in 1946 and began an experiment allowing greater political freedom, but reversed the policy when it went further than he expected. He was replaced in 1953 by Mohammed Daoud Khan, the king's cousin and brother-in-law. Daoud Khan sought a closer relationship with the Soviet Union and a more distant one towards Pakistan. Afghanistan remained neutral and was neither a participant in World War II nor aligned with either power bloc in the Cold War. However, it was a beneficiary of the latter rivalry as both the Soviet Union and the United States vied for influence by building Afghanistan's main highways, airports, and other vital infrastructure. On per capita basis, Afghanistan received more Soviet development aid than any other country. In 1973, while King Zahir Shah was on an official overseas visit, Daoud Khan launched a bloodless coup and became the first President of Afghanistan. In the meantime, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto got neighboring Pakistan involved in Afghanistan. Some experts suggest that Bhutto paved the way for the April 1978 Saur Revolution.
Marxist revolution and Soviet war
In April 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution. Within months, opponents of the communist government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by guerrilla mujahideen against government forces countrywide. The Pakistani government provided these rebels with covert training centers, while the Soviet Union sent thousands of military advisers to support the PDPA government. Meanwhile, increasing friction between the competing factions of the PDPA — the dominant Khalq and the more moderate Parcham — resulted in the dismissal of Parchami cabinet members and the arrest of Parchami military officers under the pretext of a Parchami coup.
In September 1979, Nur Muhammad Taraki was assassinated in a coup within the PDPA orchestrated by fellow Khalq member Hafizullah Amin, who assumed the presidency. Distrusted by the Soviets, Amin was assassinated by Soviet special forces in December 1979. A Soviet-organized government, led by Parcham's Babrak Karmal but inclusive of both factions, filled the vacuum. Soviet troops were deployed to stabilize Afghanistan under Karmal in more substantial numbers, although the Soviet government did not expect to do most of the fighting in Afghanistan. As a result, however, the Soviets were now directly involved in what had been a domestic war in Afghanistan. The PDPA prohibited usury, declared equality of the sexes, and introduced women to political life.
The United States had been supporting anti-Soviet Afghan mujahideen and foreign "Afghan Arab" fighters through Pakistan's ISI as early as mid-1979 (see CIA activities in Afghanistan). Billions in cash and weapons, which included over two thousand FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, were provided by the United States and Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.
During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Soviet forces and their proxies killed between 562,000 and 2 million Afghans, and also displaced about 6 million people who subsequently fled Afghanistan, mainly to Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province functioned as an organisational and networking base for the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance, with the province's influential Deobandi ulama playing a major supporting role in promoting the 'jihad'. Faced with mounting international pressure and numerous casualties, the Soviets withdrew in 1989 but continued to support Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah until 1992.
From 1989 until 1992, Najibullah's government tried to solve the ongoing civil war with economic and military aid, but without Soviet troops on the ground. Pakistan's spy agency (ISI), headed by Hamid Gul at the time, was interested in a trans-national Islamic revolution which would cover Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. For this purpose Pakistan masterminded an attack on Jalalabad for the Mujahideen to establish their own government in Afghanistan. Najibullah tried to build support for his government by portraying his government as Islamic, and in the 1990 constitution the country officially became an Islamic state and all references of communism were removed. Nevertheless, Najibullah did not win any significant support, and with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, he was left without foreign aid. This, coupled with the internal collapse of his government, led to his ousting from power in April 1992. After the fall of Najibullah's government in 1992, the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement under which all the Afghan parties were united in April 1992, except for the Pakistani supported Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the capital city Kabul, which marked the beginning of a new phase in the war.
Due to the sudden initiation of the war, working government departments, police units, and a system of justice and accountability for the newly created Islamic State of Afghanistan did not have time to form. Atrocities were committed by individuals of the different armed factions while Kabul descended into lawlessness and chaos. Because of the chaos, some leaders increasingly had only nominal control over their (sub-)commanders. For civilians there was little security from murder, rape, and extortion. An estimated 25,000 people died during the most intense period of bombardment by Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami and the Junbish-i Milli forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who had created an alliance with Hekmatyar in 1994. Half a million people fled Afghanistan.
Southern and eastern Afghanistan were under the control of local commanders such as Gul Agha Sherzai and others. In 1994, the Taliban (a movement originating from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan) also developed in Afghanistan as a political-religious force. The Taliban first took control of southern Afghanistan in 1994 and forced the surrender of dozens of local Pashtun leaders.
In late 1994, forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud held on to Kabul. Rabbani's government took steps to reopen courts, restore law and order, and initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation and democratic elections. Massoud invited Taliban leaders to join the process but they refused.
Taliban Emirate and Northern Alliance
The Taliban's early victories in late 1994 were followed by a series of defeats that resulted in heavy losses. The Taliban attempted to capture Kabul in early 1995 but were repelled by forces under Massoud. In September 1996, as the Taliban, with military support from Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia, prepared for another major offensive, Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul. The Taliban seized Kabul in the same month and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They imposed a strict form of Sharia, similar to that found in Saudi Arabia. According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), "no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment from showing their faces, seeking medical care without a male escort, or attending school" (this statement, though, was made in 1998, long before the advent of ISIS which has imposed even tougher and more violent sharia controls).
After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Massoud and Dostum formed the Northern Alliance. The Taliban defeated Dostum's forces during the Battles of Mazar-i-Sharif (1997–98). Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, began sending thousands of Pakistanis to help the Taliban defeat the Northern Alliance. From 1996 to 2001, the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri was also operating inside Afghanistan. This and the fact that around one million Afghans were internally displaced made the United States worry. From 1990 to September 2001, around 400,000 Afghans died in the internal mini-wars.
On 9 September 2001, Massoud was assassinated by two Arab suicide attackers in Panjshir province of Afghanistan. Two days later, the September 11 attacks were carried out in the United States. The US government suspected Osama bin Laden as the perpetrator of the attacks, and demanded that the Taliban hand him over. After refusing to comply, the October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. The majority of Afghans supported the American invasion of their country. During the initial invasion, US and UK forces bombed al-Qaeda training camps. The United States began working with the Northern Alliance to remove the Taliban from power.
Recent history (2002–present)
In December 2001, after the Taliban government was overthrown and the new Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai was formed, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the UN Security Council to help assist the Karzai administration and provide basic security. Taliban forces also began regrouping inside Pakistan, while more coalition troops entered Afghanistan and began rebuilding the war-torn country.
Shortly after their fall from power, the Taliban began an insurgency to regain control of Afghanistan. Over the next decade, ISAF and Afghan troops led many offensives against the Taliban but failed to fully defeat them. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world due to a lack of foreign investment, government corruption, and the Taliban insurgency.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government was able to build some democratic structures, and the country changed its name to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Attempts were made, often with the support of foreign donor countries, to improve the country's economy, healthcare, education, transport, and agriculture. ISAF forces also began to train the Afghan National Security Forces. In the decade following 2002, over five million Afghans were repatriated, including some who were forcefully deported from Western countries.
By 2009, a Taliban-led shadow government began to form in parts of the country. In 2010, President Karzai attempted to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban leaders, but the rebel group refused to attend until mid-2015 when the Taliban supreme leader finally decided to back the peace talks.
After the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, many prominent Afghan figures were assassinated. Afghanistan–Pakistan border skirmishes intensified and many large scale attacks by the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network also took place across Afghanistan. The United States blamed rogue elements within the Pakistani government for the increased attacks. The U.S. government spent tens of billions of dollars on development aid over 15 years and over a trillion dollars on military expenses during the same period. Corruption by Western defense and development contractors and associated Afghans reached unprecedented levels in a country where the national GDP was often only a small fraction of the U.S. government's annual budget for the conflict.
Following the 2014 presidential election President Karzai left power and Ashraf Ghani became President in September 2014. The United States war in Afghanistan (U.S. longest war) officially ended on 28 December 2014. However, thousands of US-led NATO troops have remained in the country to train and advise Afghan government forces. The 2001–present war has resulted in over 90,000 direct war-related deaths, which includes insurgents, Afghan civilians and government forces. Over 100,000 have been injured.
A landlocked mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest, Afghanistan is located within South Asia and Central Asia. It is part of the US-coined Greater Middle East Muslim world, which lies between latitudes 29° N and 39° N, and longitudes 60° E and 75° E. The country's highest point is Noshaq, at 7,492 m (24,580 ft) above sea level. It has a continental climate with harsh winters in the central highlands, the glaciated northeast (around Nuristan), and the Wakhan Corridor, where the average temperature in January is below −15 °C (5 °F), and hot summers in the low-lying areas of the Sistan Basin of the southwest, the Jalalabad basin in the east, and the Turkestan plains along the Amu River in the north, where temperatures average over 35 °C (95 °F) in July.
Despite having numerous rivers and reservoirs, large parts of the country are dry. The endorheic Sistan Basin is one of the driest regions in the world. Aside from the usual rainfall, Afghanistan receives snow during the winter in the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains, and the melting snow in the spring season enters the rivers, lakes, and streams. However, two-thirds of the country's water flows into the neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. The state needs more than US$2 billion to rehabilitate its irrigation systems so that the water is properly managed.
The northeastern Hindu Kush mountain range, in and around the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, is in a geologically active area where earthquakes may occur almost every year. They can be deadly and destructive sometimes, causing landslides in some parts or avalanches during the winter. The last strong earthquakes were in 1998, which killed about 6,000 people in Badakhshan near Tajikistan. This was followed by the 2002 Hindu Kush earthquakes in which over 150 people were killed and over 1,000 injured. A 2010 earthquake left 11 Afghans dead, over 70 injured, and more than 2,000 houses destroyed.
The country's natural resources include: coal, copper, iron ore, lithium, uranium, rare earth elements, chromite, gold, zinc, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, marble, precious and semi-precious stones, natural gas, and petroleum, among other things. In 2010, US and Afghan government officials estimated that untapped mineral deposits located in 2007 by the US Geological Survey are worth at least $1 trillion.
At 652,230 km2 (251,830 sq mi), Afghanistan is the world's 41st largest country, slightly bigger than France and smaller than Burma, about the size of Texas in the United States. It borders Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far east.
The population of Afghanistan was estimated at 29.2 million in 2017. Of this, 15 million are males and 14.2 million females. About 22% of them are urbanite and the remaining 78% live in rural areas. An additional 3 million or so Afghans are temporarily housed in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, most of whom were born and raised in those two countries. This makes the total Afghan population at around 33,332,025, and its current growth rate is 2.34%. This population is expected to reach 82 million by 2050.
The only city with over a million residents is its capital, Kabul. Other large cities in the country are, in order of population size, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Jalalabad, Lashkar Gah, Taloqan, Khost, Sheberghan, and Ghazni.
Afghanistan's population is divided into several ethnolinguistic groups, which are listed in the chart below:
|Ethnic group||recent estimate||Pre-2004 estimate|
|Tajik||27%||26% (of this 1% are Qizilbash)|
|Aimaq||4%||500,000 to 800,000|
|Others (Pashayi, Nuristani, Arab, Brahui, Pamiri, Gurjar, etc.)||4%||6.9%|
Pashto and Dari are the official languages of Afghanistan; bilingualism is very common. Dari, which is Afghanistan's Persian, functions as the lingua franca in Kabul as well as in much of the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, although many of them are also fluent in Dari while some non-Pashtuns are fluent in Pashto.
Thousands of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are also found in the major cities. There was a small Jewish community in Afghanistan who had emigrated to Israel and the United States by the end of the twentieth century; at least one Jew, Zablon Simintov, remained.
Afghanistan is an Islamic republic consisting of three branches, the executive, legislative, and judicial. The nation is led by President Ashraf Ghani with Abdul Rashid Dostum and Sarwar Danish as vice presidents. Abdullah Abdullah serves as the chief executive officer (CEO). The National Assembly is the legislature, a bicameral body having two chambers, the House of the People and the House of Elders. The Supreme Court is led by Chief Justice Said Yusuf Halem, the former Deputy Minister of Justice for Legal Affairs.
A January 2010 report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that bribery consumed an amount equal to 23% of the GDP of the nation. A number of government ministries are believed to be rife with corruption, and while President Karzai vowed to tackle the problem in late 2009 by stating that "individuals who are involved in corruption will have no place in the government", top government officials were stealing and misusing hundreds of millions of dollars through the Kabul Bank. According to Transparency International's 2014 corruption perceptions index results, Afghanistan was ranked as the fourth most corrupt country in the world.
Elections and parties
The 2004 Afghan presidential election was relatively peaceful, in which Hamid Karzai won in the first round with 55.4% of the votes. However, the 2009 presidential election was characterized by lack of security, low voter turnout, and widespread electoral fraud. The vote, along with elections for 420 provincial council seats, took place in August 2009, but remained unresolved during a lengthy period of vote counting and fraud investigation.
Two months later, under international pressure, a second round run-off vote between Karzai and remaining challenger Abdullah was announced, but a few days later Abdullah announced that he would not participate in 7 November run-off because his demands for changes in the electoral commission had not been met. The next day, officials of the election commission cancelled the run-off and declared Hamid Karzai as President for another five-year term.
In the 2005 parliamentary election, among the elected officials were former mujahideen, Islamic fundamentalists, warlords, communists, reformists, and several Taliban associates. In the same period, Afghanistan reached to the 30th highest nation in terms of female representation in the National Assembly. The last parliamentary election was held in September 2010, but due to disputes and investigation of fraud, the swearing-in ceremony took place in late January 2011. The 2014 presidential election ended with Ashraf Ghani winning by 56.44% votes.
Afghanistan is administratively divided into 34 provinces (wilayats), with each province having its own capital and a provincial administration. The provinces are further divided into about 398 smaller provincial districts, each of which normally covers a city or a number of villages. Each district is represented by a district governor.
The provincial governors are appointed by the President of Afghanistan and the district governors are selected by the provincial governors. The provincial governors are representatives of the central government in Kabul and are responsible for all administrative and formal issues within their provinces. There are also provincial councils that are elected through direct and general elections for a period of four years. The functions of provincial councils are to take part in provincial development planning and to participate in the monitoring and appraisal of other provincial governance institutions.
According to article 140 of the constitution and the presidential decree on electoral law, mayors of cities should be elected through free and direct elections for a four-year term. However, due to huge election costs, mayoral and municipal elections have never been held. Instead, mayors have been appointed by the government. In the capital city of Kabul, the mayor is appointed by the President of Afghanistan.
The following is a list of all the 34 provinces in alphabetical order:
Foreign relations and military
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of maintaining the foreign relations of Afghanistan. The state has been a member of the United Nations since 1946. It enjoys strong economic relations with a number of NATO and allied states, particularly the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Turkey. In 2012, the United States designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally and created the U.S.–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement. Afghanistan also has friendly diplomatic relations with neighboring Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China, and with regional states such as India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, and South Korea. It continues to develop diplomatic relations with other countries around the world.
United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was established in 2002 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1401 in order to help the country recover from decades of war. Today, a number of NATO member states deploy about 38,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Its main purpose is to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The Afghan Armed Forces are under the Ministry of Defense, which includes the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan Air Force (AAF). The ANA is divided into 6 major Corps, with the 201st Selab ("Flood") in Kabul followed by the 203rd in Gardez, 205th Atul ("Hero") in Kandahar, 207th in Herat, 209th in Mazar-i-Sharif, and the 215th in Lashkar Gah. The ANA also has a commando brigade, which was established in 2007. The Afghan Defense University (ADU) houses various educational establishments for the Afghan Armed Forces, including the National Military Academy of Afghanistan.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) is the nation's domestic intelligence agency, which operates similar to that of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Afghan National Police (ANP) is under the Ministry of the Interior and serves as a single law enforcement agency all across the country. The Afghan National Civil Order Police is the main branch of the ANP, which is divided into five Brigades, each commanded by a Brigadier General. These brigades are stationed in Kabul, Gardez, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Every province has an appointed provincial Chief of Police who is responsible for law enforcement throughout the province.
All parts of Afghanistan are considered dangerous due to militant activities. Hundreds of Afghan police are killed in the line of duty each year. Kidnapping and robberies are also reported. The Afghan Border Police (ABP) are responsible for protecting the nation's airports and borders, especially the disputed Durand Line border, which is often used by members of criminal organizations and terrorists for their illegal activities. A report in 2011 suggested that up to 3 million people were involved in the illegal drug business in Afghanistan. Attacks on government employees may be ordered by powerful mafia groups who reside inside and outside the country. Drugs from Afghanistan are exported to neighboring countries and then to other countries. The Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics is tasked to deal with these issues by bringing to justice major drug traffickers.
Afghanistan's GDP is around $64 billion with an exchange rate of $18.4 billion, and its GDP per capita is $2,000. Despite having $1 trillion or more in mineral deposits, it remains as one of the least developed countries. The country imports over $6 billion worth of goods but exports only $658 million, mainly fruits and nuts. It has less than $1.5 billion in external debt.
Agricultural production is the backbone of Afghanistan's economy. The country is known for producing some of the finest pomegranates, grapes, apricots, melons, and several other fresh and dry fruits. It is also known as the world's largest producer of opium. Sources indicate that as much as 11% or more of the nation's economy is derived from the cultivation and sale of opium.
While the nation's current account deficit is largely financed with donor money, only a small portion is provided directly to the government budget. The rest is provided to non-budgetary expenditure and donor-designated projects through the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations. The Afghan Ministry of Finance is focusing on improved revenue collection and public sector expenditure discipline. For example, government revenues increased 31% to $1.7 billion from March 2010 to March 2011.
Da Afghanistan Bank serves as the central bank of the nation and the "Afghani" (AFN) is the national currency, with an exchange rate of about 60 Afghanis to 1 US dollar. A number of local and foreign banks operate in the country, including the Afghanistan International Bank, New Kabul Bank, Azizi Bank, Pashtany Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and the First Micro Finance Bank.
One of the main drivers for the current economic recovery is the return of over 5 million expatriates, who brought with them fresh energy, entrepreneurship and wealth-creating skills as well as much needed funds to start up businesses. Many Afghans are now involved in construction, which is one of the largest industries in the country. Some of the major national construction projects include the $35 billion New Kabul City next to the capital, the Aino Mena project in Kandahar, and the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Town near Jalalabad. Similar development projects have also begun in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and other cities. An estimated 400,000 people enter the labor market each year.
A number of small companies and factories began operating in different parts of the country, which not only provide revenues to the government but also create new jobs. Improvements to the business environment have resulted in more than $1.5 billion in telecom investment and created more than 100,000 jobs since 2003. Afghan rugs are becoming popular again, allowing many carpet dealers around the country to hire more workers.
Afghanistan is a member of WTO, SAARC, ECO, and OIC. It holds an observer status in SCO. Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul told the media in 2011 that his nation's "goal is to achieve an Afghan economy whose growth is based on trade, private enterprise and investment". Experts believe that this will revolutionize the economy of the region. In June 2012, India advocated for private investments in the resource rich country and the creation of a suitable environment therefor.
Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution estimated that if Afghanistan generates about $10 bn per year from its mineral deposits, its gross national product would double and provide long-term funding for Afghan security forces and other critical needs. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimated in 2006 that northern Afghanistan has an average 2.9 billion (bn) barrels (bbl) of crude oil, 15.7 trillion cubic feet (440 bn m3) of natural gas, and 562 million bbl of natural gas liquids. In 2011, Afghanistan signed an oil exploration contract with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) for the development of three oil fields along the Amu Darya river in the north.
The country has significant amounts of lithium, copper, gold, coal, iron ore, and other minerals. The Khanashin carbonatite in Helmand Province contains 1,000,000 metric tons (1,100,000 short tons) of rare earth elements. In 2007, a 30-year lease was granted for the Aynak copper mine to the China Metallurgical Group for $3 billion, making it the biggest foreign investment and private business venture in Afghanistan's history. The state-run Steel Authority of India won the mining rights to develop the huge Hajigak iron ore deposit in central Afghanistan. Government officials estimate that 30% of the country's untapped mineral deposits are worth at least $1 trillion. One official asserted that "this will become the backbone of the Afghan economy" and a Pentagon memo stated that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium". In a 2011 news story, the CSM reported, "The United States and other Western nations that have borne the brunt of the cost of the Afghan war have been conspicuously absent from the bidding process on Afghanistan's mineral deposits, leaving it mostly to regional powers."
Air transport in Afghanistan is provided by the national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines (AAA), and by private companies such as Afghan Jet International, East Horizon Airlines, Kam Air, Pamir Airways, and Safi Airways. Airlines from a number of countries also provide flights in and out of the country. These include Air India, Emirates, Gulf Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, and Turkish Airlines.
The country has four international airports: Hamid Karzai International Airport (formerly Kabul International Airport), Kandahar International Airport, Herat International Airport, and Mazar-e Sharif International Airport. There are also around a dozen domestic airports with flights to Kabul and other major cities.
As of 2014[update], the country has only two rail links, one a 75 km line from Kheyrabad to the Uzbekistan border and the other a 10 km long line from Toraghundi to the Turkmenistan border. Both lines are used for freight only and there is no passenger service as of yet. There are various proposals for the construction of additional rail lines in the country. In 2013, the presidents of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a 225 km line between Turkmenistan-Andkhvoy-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kheyrabad. The line will link at Kheyrabad with the existing line to the Uzbekistan border. Plans exist for a rail line from Kabul to the eastern border town of Torkham, where it will connect with Pakistan Railways. There are also plans to finish a rail line between Khaf, Iran and Herat, Afghanistan.
Traveling by bus in Afghanistan remains dangerous due to militant activities. The buses are usually older model Mercedes-Benz and owned by private companies. Serious traffic accidents are common on Afghan roads and highways, particularly on the Kabul–Kandahar and the Kabul–Jalalabad Road.
Newer automobiles have recently become more widely available after the rebuilding of roads and highways. They are imported from the United Arab Emirates through Pakistan and Iran. As of 2012[update], vehicles more than 10 years old are banned from being imported into the country. The development of the nation's road network is a major boost for the economy due to trade with neighboring countries. Postal services in Afghanistan are provided by the publicly owned Afghan Post and private companies such as FedEx, DHL, and others.
According to the Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the 15th least developed country in the world. The average life expectancy is estimated to be around 60 years. The country's maternal mortality rate is 396 deaths/100,000 live births and its infant mortality rate is 66 to 112.8 deaths in every 1,000 live births. The Ministry of Public Health plans to cut the infant mortality rate to 400 for every 100,000 live births before 2020. The country has more than 3,000 midwives, with an additional 300 to 400 being trained each year.
There are over 100 hospitals in Afghanistan, with the most advanced treatments being available in Kabul. The French Medical Institute for Children and Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul are the leading children's hospitals in the country. Some of the other main hospitals in Kabul include the Jamhuriat Hospital and the under-construction Jinnah Hospital. In spite of all this, many Afghans travel to Pakistan and India for advanced treatment.
It was reported in 2006 that nearly 60% of the Afghan population lives within a two-hour walk of the nearest health facility. Disability rate is also high in Afghanistan due to the decades of war. It was reported recently that about 80,000 people are missing limbs. Non-governmental charities such as Save the Children and Mahboba's Promise assist orphans in association with governmental structures. Demographic and Health Surveys is working with the Indian Institute of Health Management Research and others to conduct a survey in Afghanistan focusing on maternal death, among other things.
Education in Afghanistan includes K–12 and higher education, which is overseen by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. There are over 16,000 schools in the country and roughly 9 million students. Of this, about 60% are males and 40% females. Over 174,000 students are enrolled in different universities around the country. About 21% of these are females. Former Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak had stated that construction of 8,000 schools is required for the remaining children who are deprived of formal learning.
The top universities in Afghanistan are the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) followed by Kabul University (KU), both of which are located in Kabul. The National Military Academy of Afghanistan, modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a four-year military development institution dedicated to graduating officers for the Afghan Armed Forces. The Afghan Defense University was constructed near Qargha in Kabul. Major universities outside of Kabul include Kandahar University in the south, Herat University in the northwest, Balkh University and Kunduz University in the north, Nangarhar University and Khost University in the east. The United States is building six faculties of education and five provincial teacher training colleges around the country, two large secondary schools in Kabul, and one school in Jalalabad.
The literacy rate of the entire population is 38.2% (males 52% and females 24.2%). In 2010, the United States began establishing a number of Lincoln learning centers in Afghanistan. They are set up to serve as programming platforms offering English language classes, library facilities, programming venues, internet connectivity, and educational and other counseling services. A goal of the program is to reach at least 4,000 Afghan citizens per month per location. The Afghan National Security Forces are provided with mandatory literacy courses. In addition to this, Baghch-e-Simsim (based on the American Sesame Street) serves as a means to attract Afghan children into learning.
Afghanistan is mostly a tribal society with different regions of the country having its own subculture. Their history is traced back to at least the time of the Achaemenid Empire in 500 BCE. In the southern and eastern region, the people live according to the Pashtun culture by following Pashtunwali (Pashtun way). The Pashtuns (and Baloch) are largely connected to the culture of South Asia. The remaining Afghans are culturally Persian and Turkic. Some non-Pashtuns who live in proximity with Pashtuns have adopted Pashtunwali in a process called Pashtunization, while some Pashtuns have been Persianized. Those who have lived in Pakistan and Iran over the last 30 years have been further influenced by the cultures of those neighboring nations.
Afghans are regarded with mingled apprehension and condescension, for their high regard for personal honor, for their tribe loyalty and for their readiness to use force to settle disputes. As tribal warfare and internecine feuding has been one of their chief occupations since time immemorial, this individualistic trait has made it difficult for foreigners to conquer them. One writer considers the tribal system to be the best way of organizing large groups of people in a country that is geographically difficult, and in a society that, from a materialistic point of view, has an uncomplicated lifestyle. There are various Afghan tribes, and an estimated 2–3 million nomads.
The nation has a complex history that has survived either in its current cultures or in the form of various languages and monuments. However, many of its historic monuments have been damaged in modern times. The two famous Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, who regarded them as idolatrous. Despite that, archaeologists are still finding Buddhist relics in different parts of the country, some of them dating back to the 2nd century. This indicates that Buddhism was widespread in Afghanistan. Other historical places include the cities of Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Zaranj. The Minaret of Jam in the Hari River valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A cloak reputedly worn by Islam's prophet Muhammad is kept inside the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar, a city founded by Alexander and the first capital of Afghanistan. The citadel of Alexander in the western city of Herat has been renovated in recent years and is a popular attraction for tourists. In the north of the country is the Shrine of Ali, believed by many to be the location where Ali was buried. The National Museum of Afghanistan is located in Kabul.
Classic Persian and Pashto poetry plays an important role in the Afghan culture. Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in the region, to the level that it has integrated itself into culture. Some notable poets include Rumi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Sanai, Jami, Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Khalilullah Khalili, and Parween Pazhwak.
Media and entertainment
Afghanistan has around 150 radio stations and over 50 television stations, which includes the state-owned RTA TV and various private channels such as Tolo TV and Shamshad TV. The first Afghan newspaper was published in 1906. By the 1920s, Radio Kabul was broadcasting local radio services. Television programs began airing in the early 1970s. Voice of America, BBC, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcast in both of Afghanistan's official languages.
Since 2002, press restrictions have been gradually relaxed and private media diversified. Freedom of expression and the press is promoted in the 2004 constitution and censorship is banned, although defaming individuals or producing material contrary to the principles of Islam is prohibited. In 2008, Reporters Without Borders ranked the media environment as 156 out of 173 countries, with the 1st being the most free.
The city of Kabul has been home to many musicians who were masters of both traditional and modern Afghan music. Traditional music is especially popular during the Nowruz (New Year) and National Independence Day celebrations. Ahmad Zahir, Nashenas, Ustad Sarahang, Sarban, Ubaidullah Jan, Farhad Darya, and Naghma are some of the notable Afghan musicians, but there are many others. Afghans have long been accustomed to watching Indian Bollywood films and listening to its filmi songs. Many Bollywood film stars have roots in Afghanistan, including Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), Aamir Khan, Feroz Khan, Kader Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Zarine Khan, Celina Jaitly, and a number of others. Several Bollywood films have been shot inside Afghanistan, including Dharmatma, Khuda Gawah, Escape from Taliban, and Kabul Express.
Telecommunication services in Afghanistan are provided by Afghan Telecom, Afghan Wireless, Etisalat, MTN Group, and Roshan. The country uses its own space satellite called Afghansat 1, which provides services to over 18 million GSM phone subscribers and over 2.6 million internet users. There are only about 105,310 fixed telephone lines and 295,078 CDMA subscribers in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's sports teams are increasingly celebrating titles at international events. Its basketball team won the first team sports title at the 2010 South Asian Games. Later that year, the country's cricket team followed as it won the 2009–10 ICC Intercontinental Cup. In 2012, the country's 3x3 basketball team won the gold medal at the 2012 Asian Beach Games. In 2013, Afghanistan's football team followed as it won the SAFF Championship.
Cricket and association football are the most popular sports in the country. The Afghan national cricket team, which was formed in the last decade, participated in the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier, 2010 ICC World Cricket League Division One and the 2010 ICC World Twenty20. It won the ACC Twenty20 Cup in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. The team eventually made it to play in the 2015 Cricket World Cup. The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) is the official governing body of the sport and is headquartered in Kabul. The Alokozay Kabul International Cricket Ground serves as the nation's main cricket stadium. There are a number of other stadiums throughout the country, including the Ghazi Amanullah Khan International Cricket Stadium near Jalalabad. Domestically, cricket is played between teams from different provinces.
The Afghanistan national football team has been competing in international football since 1941. The national team plays its home games at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, while football in Afghanistan is governed by the Afghanistan Football Federation. The national team has never competed or qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but has recently won an international football trophy in 2013. The country also has a national team in the sport of futsal, a 5-a-side variation of football.
Other popular sports in Afghanistan include basketball, volleyball, taekwondo, and bodybuilding. Buzkashi is a traditional sport, mainly among the northern Afghans. It is similar to polo, played by horsemen in two teams, each trying to grab and hold a goat carcass. The Afghan Hound (a type of running dog) originated in Afghanistan and was originally used in hunting.
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- See also: Afghanistan says Taliban leader Mullah Omar died 2 years ago
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