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Islamic State of Afghanistan

Dowlat-e Eslami-ye Afghanestan


FLAG: The national flag has three equal vertical bands of black, red, and green, with a gold emblem centered on the red band; the emblem features a temple-like structure encircled by a wreath on the left and right and by a bold Islamic inscription above.

ANTHEM: Esllahte Arzi (Land Reform), beginning "So long as there is the earth and the heavens."

MONETARY UNIT: The afghani (af) is a paper currency of 100 puls. There are coins of 25 and 50 puls and 1, 2, and 5 afghanis, and notes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 afghanis. af1 = $0.02000 (or $1 = af50) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, although some local units are still in use.

HOLIDAYS: Now Rooz (New Year's Day), 21 March; May Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 18 August. Movable religious holidays include First Day of Ramadan, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', 'Ashura, and Milad an-Nabi. The Afghan calendar year begins on 21 March; the Afghan year 1376 began on 21 March 1997.

TIME: 4:30 pm = noon GMT.


Afghanistan is a landlocked country in South Asia with a long, narrow strip in the northeast (the Wakhan corridor). Afghanistan is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, with a total area of 647,500 sq km (250,001 sq mi), extending 1,240 km (770 mi) nesw and 560 km (350 mi) senw. Afghanistan is bounded on the n by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, on the extreme ne by China, on the e and s by Pakistan, and on the w by Iran, with a total boundary length of 5,529 km (3,436 mi). Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul, is located in the east central part of the country.


Although the average altitude of Afghanistan is about 1,200 m (4,000 ft), the Hindu Kush mountain range rises to more than 6,100 m (20,000 ft) in the northern corner of the Wakhan pan handle in the northeast and continues in a southwesterly direction for about 970 km (600 mi), dividing the northern provinces from the rest of the country. Central Afghanistan, a plateau with an average elevation of 1,800 m (6,000 ft), contains many small fertile valleys and provides excellent grazing for sheep, goats, and camels. To the north of the Hindu Kush and the central mountain range, the altitude drops to about 460 m (1,500 ft), permitting the growth of cotton, fruits, grains, ground nuts, and other crops. Southwestern Afghanistan is a desert, hot in summer and cold in winter. The four major river systems are the Amu Darya (Oxus) in the north, flowing into the Aral Sea; the Harirūd and Morghāb in the west; the Helmand in the southwest; and the Kabul in the east, flowing into the Indus. There are few lakes.

Afghanistan has recorded more than 10 earthquakes since 2000. In March 2002, the most disastrous struck Baghlān near the Hindu Kush. The earthquake left nearly than 2,000 dead and 7,000 homeless. On 8 October 2005, Afghanistan was impacted by an earthquake centered in Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided by India and Pakistan. The earthquake measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, and recorded more than 140 aftershocks, one of which measured at a magnitude of 5.9. Over 50,000 people were killed in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Another earthquake struck the Shinkai district of Zabul province on 23 October 2005. There were five Afghan deaths and six injuries.


The ranges in altitude produce a climate with both temperate and semitropical characteristics, and the seasons are clearly marked throughout the country. Wide temperature variations are usual from season to season and from day to night. Summer temperatures in Kabul may range from 16°c (61°f) at sunrise to 38°c (100°f) by noon. The mean January temperature in Kabul is 0°c (32°f); the maximum summer temperature in Jalālābād is about 46°c (115°f). There is much sunshine, and the air is usually clear and dry. Rainfall averages about 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 in); precipitation occurs in winter and spring, most of it in the form of snow. Wind velocity is high, especially in the west.


There are over 4,000 plant species, including hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and fungi. The country is particularly rich in such medicinal plants as rue, wormwood, and asafetida; fruit and nut trees are found in many areas. Native fauna include the fox, lynx, wild dog, bear, mongoose, shrew, hedgehog, hyena, jerboa, hare, and wild varieties of cats, asses, mountain goats, and mountain sheep. Trout is the most common fish.


Afghanistan's most significant ecological problems are deforestation, drought, soil degradation, and overgrazing. Neglect, scorched earth tactics, and the damage caused by extensive bombardments have destroyed previously productive agricultural areas, and more are threatened by tons of unexploded ordnance. Afghanistan has responded to the fuel needs of its growing population by cutting down many of its already sparse forests. Consequently, by late 2002, between 1 and 2% of Afghanistan's land area was forest land. That represented a 33% decrease from 1979. Only about 0.3% of the total land area is nationally protected.

Another environmental threat is posed by returning refugees to Afghanistan, of which there were over 4 million in Pakistan, Iran, and other countries in 2002, who have migrated to Kabul and other larger cities instead of returning to destroyed villages and fields. This migration has placed stress on the infrastructure of those cities, causing increased pollution and worsening sanitation conditions.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 12 species of mammals, 17 species of birds, 1 species of reptile, and 1 plant species were threatened. Endangered species in Afghanistan included the snow leopard, long-billed curlew, Argali sheep, musk deer, tiger, white-headed duck, Afghani brook salamander, Kabul markhor, and the Siberian white crane. There were thought to be fewer than 100 snow leopards by 2002. The country's Caspian tigers have virtually disappeared.


The population of Afghanistan in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 29,929,000, which placed it at number 38 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 2% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 45% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 107 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.6%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 50,252,000. The population density was 46 per sq km (119 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 22% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 5.92%. The capital city, Kabul, had a population of 2,956,000 in that year. Other major population centers and their estimated populations include Qandahār, 349,300; Mazār-e Sharif, 246,900; and Herāt, 171,500. These figures are unreliable, however, because many city dwellers have left their urban homes for refuge in rural areas. Approximately 20% of the population is nomadic.

Two decades of near-constant warfare make Afghanistan's populationnever certain in any caseeven more difficult to assess. As many as three million Afghans are estimated to have died, and an additional six million sought refuge in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere in the world. The last official census was taken in 1988. As of 2006, the Afghanistan Central Statistical Office was preparing to undertake a new full census of the population.


Due to the US-led bombing campaign in 200102 carried out against the Taliban regime, a large Afghan refugee population was created in surrounding countries. The Afghan refugee population in Pakistan in 2002 was approximately 3.7 million, and, in Iran and the west, an additional 1.6 million. Since early 2002, there were many spontaneous returnees, but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began assisting refugees to repatriate in February 2002. As of October, more than 1.5 million had returned to their homes. In 2003, there were an estimated 184,000300,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) within the country.

In mid-2002, there was a daily influx of homeless migrants into Kabul, numbering approximately 300400 families a day. Seventy percent of Kabul's population was living in illegal structures.

In the summer of 2001, the majority of the over one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan had been driven off their land and into refugee camps by ongoing conflict and four years of drought. After 11 September 2001, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began to deliver shelter and nonfood supplies to help the IDPs survive the Afghan winter. It dispatched road convoys from Iran, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to destinations in Afghanistan, carrying blankets, winter clothing, tents, and other essential items. Following the winter, with the defeat of the Taliban and the beginning of the spring planting season, the IOM worked to return the IDPs to their villages from the refugee camps. The IDP families were offered wheat, seeds, blankets, soap, agricultural tools, and other items. In addition to the IOM and the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF were heavily involved in repatriating refugees. Despite their efforts, by the end of 2004 the number of repatriated Afghan refugees dropped by only 2% during the year. The Return of Qualified Afghans program, designed to bring back Afghan professionals living abroad, facilitated the return of 150 Afghans (14 female and 136 male) to take up assignments in Afghanistan consistent with their professional backgrounds by June 2005.

By the end of 2004, some 2.1 million Afghan refugees were reported by 78 asylum countries. Of the world's total refugee population in 2004, Afghans constituted 23%, continuing to be the largest country of origin of refugees under UNHCR care. Tajikistan closed its border with Afghanistan in 2004.

According to Human Rights Watch, as of September 2005 one million Afghanis were displaced within their own country, and 3.7 million refugees were in neighboring countries1.5 million in Iran and more than 2 million in Pakistan. All neighboring countries closed their borders with Afghanistan by September 2005. By mid-September 2005, the Pakistani government ordered the forcible expulsion of millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan's tribal areas. In the rush to meet the forced expulsion deadline dozens of children died. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated 21.43 migrants per 1,000 population.


About the middle of the second millennium bc, Indo-Aryans began to move into and through the present area of Afghanistan. Much later came other tribal groups from Central AsiaPactyes (from whom the present-day name "Pashtuns" derives), Sakas, Kushans, Hephthalites, and othersand a procession of Iranians and Greeks. In the 7th century ad, Arabs arrived from the south, spreading the new faith of Islam. In the same century, Turks moved in from the north, followed in the 13th century by Mongols, and, finally, in the 15th century by Turko-Mongols. This multiplicity of movements made Afghanistan a loose conglomeration of racial and linguistic groups.

All citizens are called Afghans, but the Pashtuns (the name may also be written as "Pashtoon", "Pushtun", or "Pukhtun," and in Pakistan as "Pathan") are often referred to as the "true Afghans." Numbering about 42% of the population in 2005, they are known to have centered in the Sulaiman range to the east; it is only in recent centuries that they moved into eastern and southern Afghanistan, where they now predominate. They have long been divided into two major divisions, the Durranis and the Ghilzais, each with its own tribes and subtribes.

The Tajiks, of Iranian stock, comprise nearly 27% of the population and are mainly concentrated in the north and northeast. In the central ranges are found the Hazaras (about 9%), who are said to have descended from the Mongols. To the north of the Hindu Kush, Turkic and Turko-Mongol groups were in the majority until 1940. Each of these groups is related to groups north of the Amu Darya; among them are the Uzbeks, who number about 9% of the population. Other groups include the Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, Farsiwans (Persians), and Brahiu. In the northeast are the Kafirs, or infidels. After their conversion to Islam at the end of the 19th century, they were given the name of Nuristanis, or people of the light.


Both Pashtu (or Pushtu) and Dari (Afghan Persian) are the official languages of the country. Pashtu is spoken by about 35% of the population while approximately 50% speak Dari. Although Pashtu has a literature of its own, Dari, the language spoken in Kabul, has been the principal language of cultural expression, of the government, and of business. Both Pashtu and Dari are written primarily with the Arabic alphabet, however, there are some modifications. The Hazaras speak their own dialect of Dari. The Turkic languages, spoken by 11% of the population, include Uzbek and Turkmen, and the Nuristanis speak some seven different dialects belonging to the Dardic linguistic group. There are about 30 minor languages, primarily Balochi and Pashai, spoken by some 4% of the population. Bilingualism is common.


Almost all Afghans are Muslims. Approximately 84% are Sunnis; 15% are Shias; others comprise only 1%. The Pashtuns, most of the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, and the Turkmen are Sunnis, while the Hazaras are Shias. Most of the Sunnis adhere to Hanafi Sunnism, but a fairly sizable minority of Sunnis adhere to a more mystical version known as Sufism. The country's small Hindu and Sikh population is estimated at less than 3,000.

In 1994 the Islamic militants who called themselves the Talibanliterally "the Seekers," a term used to describe religious studentsbegan to impose their strict form of Islam observance in the areas that they controlled. The Taliban, composed mostly of Pashtuns, were puritanical zealots. Women were ordered to dress in strict Islamic garb and were banned from working or from going out of their houses unless accompanied by a male relative. Some men were forced to pray five times a day and grow full beards as a condition of employment in the government. Under the Taliban, repression of the Hazara ethnic group, who were predominantly Shias, was severe.

With the fall of the Taliban and the adoption of a new constitution in January 2004, Islam remains the state religion; however, the new constitution does allow for religious freedom. The constitution does not indicate a preference for Sunnism and there are no references made in the document to the use of Shariah law in the legal code. The document does state that both the president and vice president must be Muslim. The Shia minority still faces some discrimination from the Sunni majority.


Many roads were built in the years prior to 1979 to connect the principal cities and to open up formerly isolated areas. As of 2003, Afghanistan had an estimated 34,789 km (21,604 mi) of roads, of which 8,231 km (5,111 mi) were paved. Roads connect Kabul with most provincial capitals and with Peshāwar in Pakistan through the Khyber Pass. The road from Herāt to Mashhad in Iran was completed in 1971. The Salang Tunnel through the Hindu Kush, completed with Soviet assistance in 1964, considerably shortened the travel time between Kabul and northern Afghanistan. The tunnel was modernized in the mid-1980s. However, in May 1997 the Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Masud, blew up the southern entrance of the tunnel in an effort to trap the invading Taliban forces. It was reopened in January 2002. The Qandahār-Torghundi highway in the south was completed in 1965. In 2003 there were 29,300 passenger cars and 22,500 commercial vehicles in use.

The Khyber Pass in Pakistan is the best known of the passes providing land access to Afghanistan. Transit arrangements with Iran provide an alternative route for its commercial traffic. However, the great bulk of the country's trade moves through the former USSR. At the same time, Afghanistan's highways are badly damaged from years of warfare and neglect. Land mines are buried on the sides of many roads. Over $1.2 billion in international aid was pledged to rebuilding Afghanistan's highways in 2002.

The only railways in the country in 2001 were a 9.6-km (6-mi) spur from Gushgy, Turkmenistan, to Towrghondi; a 15-km (9.3-mi) line from Termez, Uzbekistan, to the Kheyrabad transshipment point on the south bank of the Amu Darya; and a short span into Spin Baldak in the southeast. There are no navigable rivers except for the Amu Darya, on Turkmenistan's border, which can carry steamers up to about 500 tons. In 2004, there were an estimated 47 airports, 10 of which had paved runways, and 9 heliports (as of 2005). Ariana Afghan Airlines is the national carrier. Most of Ariana Airlines planes were destroyed during the civil war in Afghanistan. Ariana lost six of its eight planes in US-led air strikes against the Taliban. Kabul's international airport reopened to international humanitarian and military flights in late January 2002 after the UN's Security Council lifted the ban early that month, and it began international flight service to Delhi, India, soon after.


Afghanistan has existed as a distinct polity for less than three centuries. Previously, the area was made up of various principalities, usually hostile to each other and occasionally ruled by one or another conqueror from Persia and the area to the west or from central Asia to the north, usually on his way to India. These included the Persian Darius I in the 6th century bc, and 300 years later, Alexander the Great. As the power of his Seleucid successors waned, an independent Greek kingdom of Bactria arose with its capital at Balkh west of Mazār-e Sharif, but after about a century it fell to invading tribes (notably the Sakas, who gave their name to Sakastan, or Sistan). Toward the middle of the 3rd century bc, Buddhism spread to Afghanistan from India, and for centuries prior to the beginning of the 9th century bc, at least half the population of eastern Afghanistan was Buddhist.

Beginning in the 7th century, Muslim invaders brought Islam to the region, and it eventually became the dominant cultural influence. For almost 200 years, Ghaznī was the capital of a powerful Islamic kingdom, the greatest of whose rulers, Mahmud of Ghaznī (r.9971030), conquered most of the area from the Caspian to the Ganges. The Ghaznavids were displaced by the Seljuk Turks, who mastered Persia and Anatolia (eastern Turkey), and by the Ghorids, who, rising from Ghor, southeast of Herāt, established an empire stretching from Herāt to Ajmir in India. They were displaced in turn by the Turko-Persian rulers of the Khiva oasis in Transoxiana, who, by 1217, had created a state that included the whole of Afghanistan until it disintegrated under attack by Genghis Khan in 1219. His grandson Timur, also called "Timur the Lame" or Tamerlane, occupied all of what is now Afghanistan from 1365 to 1384, establishing a court of intellectual and artistic brilliance at Herāt. The Timurids came under challenge from the Uzbeks, who finally drove the them out of Herāt in 1507. The great Babur, one of the Uzbek princes, occupied Kabul in 1504 and Delhi in 1526, establishing the Mughal Empire in which eastern Afghanistan was ruled from Delhi, Agra, Lahore, or Srinagar, while Herāt and Sistan were governed as provinces of Persia.

In the 18th century, Persians under Nadir Shah conquered the area, and after his death in 1747, one of his military commanders, Ahmad Shah Abdali, was elected emir of Afghanistan. The formation of a unified Afghanistan under his emirate marks Afghanistan's beginning as a political entity. Among his descendants was Dost Muhammad who established himself in Kabul in 1826 and gained the emirate in 1835. Although the British defeated Dost in the first Afghan War (183842), they restored him to power, but his attempts and those of his successors to play off Czarist Russian interests against the British concerns about the security of their Indian Empire led to more conflict. In the second Afghan War (187779), the forces of Sher Ali, Dost's son, were defeated by the British, and his entire party, ousted. Abdur Rahman Khan, recognized as emir by the British in 1880, established a central administration, and supported the British interest in a neutral Afghanistan as a buffer against the expansion of Russian influence.

Intermittent fighting between the British and Pushtun tribes from eastern Afghanistan continued even after the establishment, in 1893, of a boundary (the Durand line) between Afghanistan and British India. An Anglo-Russian agreement concluded in 1907 guaranteed the independence of Afghanistan (and Tibet) under British influence, and Afghanistan remained neutral in both World Wars. Afghan forces under Amanullah Khan, who had become emir in 1919, briefly intruded across the Durand Line in 1919. At the end of brief fightingthe third Afghan Warthe Treaty of Rāwalpindi (1919) accorded the government of Afghanistan the freedom to conduct its own foreign affairs.

Internally, Amanullah's Westernization program was strongly opposed, forcing him to abdicate in 1929. After a brief civil war, a tribal assembly chose Muhammad Nadir Shah as king. In his brief four years in power, he restored peace while continuing Amanullah's modernization efforts at a more moderate pace. Assassinated in 1933, he was succeeded by his son, Muhammad Zahir Shah, who continued his modernization efforts, governing for 40 years, even though sharing effective power with his uncles and a first cousin, who served as his prime ministers.

In the 1960s, there was considerable tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a result of Afghanistan's effort to assert influence among, and ultimately responsibility for, Pashtu-speaking Pathan tribes living on both sides of the Durand Line under a policy calling for the establishment of an entity to be called "Pashtunistan." The border was closed several times during the following years, and relations with Pakistan remained generally poor until 1977.

In 1964, a new constitution was introduced, converting Afghanistan into a constitutional monarchy, and a year later the country's first general election was held. In July 1973, Muhammad Daoud Khan, the king's first cousin and brother-in-law, who had served as prime minister from 1953 until early 1963, seized power in a near-bloodless coup, establishing a republic and appointing himself president, and prime minister of the Republic of Afghanistan. He exiled Zahir Shah and his immediate family, abolished the monarchy, dissolved the legislature, and suspended the constitution. Daoud ruled as a dictator until 1977, when a republican constitution calling for a one-party state was adopted by the newly convened Loya Jirga (Grand National Assembly), which then elected Daoud president for a six-year term.

Afghanistan Under Communist Rule

On 27 April 1978, Daoud was deposed and executed in a bloody coup (the "Saur Revolution" because it took place during the Afghan month of Saur), and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan emerged. Heading the new Revolutionary Council was Nur Muhammad Taraki, secretary-general of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), assisted by Babrak Karmal and Hafizullah Amin, both named deputy prime ministers. The Soviet Union (which later broke apart in 1991) immediately established ties with the new regime, and in December 1978, the two nations concluded a treaty of friendship and cooperation. Soon after the coup, rural Afghan groups took up arms against the regime, which increasingly relied on Soviet arms for support against what came to be known as mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

Meanwhile, the Khalq (masses) and Parcham (flag) factions of the PDPA, which had united for the April takeover, became embroiled in a bitter power struggle within the party and the government. In September 1979, Taraki was ousted and executed by Amin, who had beat out Karmal to become prime minister the previous March and who now assumed Taraki's posts as president and party leader. Amin was himself replaced on 27 December by Karmal, the Parcham faction leader. This last change was announced not by Radio Kabul but by Radio Moscow and was preceded by the airlift of 4,000 to 5,000 Soviet troops into Kabul on 2526 December, purportedly at the request of an Afghan government whose president, Hafizullah Amin, was killed during the takeover.

The Soviet presence increased to about 85,000 troops in late January 1980, and by spring, the first clashes between Soviet troops and the mujahedeen had occurred. Throughout the early and mid-1980s, the mujahedeen resistance continued to build, aided by Afghan army deserters and arms from the United States, Pakistan, and the nations of the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO). Much of the countryside remained under mujahedeen control as the insurgency waged on year by year, while in Kabul, Soviet advisers assumed control of most Afghan government agencies.

By late 1987, more than a million Afghans had lost their lives in the struggle, while the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that some 5 million others had sought refuge in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere. Soviet sources at the time acknowledged Soviet losses of 12,00030,000 dead and 76,000 wounded. Soviet troop strength in Afghanistan at the end of 1987 was about 120,000, while according to Western sources, Afghan resistance forces numbered nearly 130,000.

In early 1987, Babrak Karmal fled to Moscow after being replaced as the head of the PDPA in May 1986 by Najibullah, former head of the Afghan secret police. Najibullah offered the mujahedeen a cease-fire and introduced a much-publicized national reconciliation policy; he also released some political prisoners, offered to deal with the resistance leaders, and promised new land reform. The mujahedeen rejected these overtures, declining to negotiate for anything short of Soviet withdrawal and Najibullah's removal.

International efforts to bring about a political solution to the warincluding nearly unanimous UN General Assembly condemnations of the Soviet presence in Afghanistanwere pursued within the UN framework from 1982 onward. Among these efforts were "proximity talks" between Afghanistan and Pakistan conducted by Under Secretary-General Diego Cordovez, a special representative of the UN Secretary General. After a desultory beginning, these talks began to look promising in late 1987 and early 1988, when Soviet policymakers repeatedly stated, in a major policy shift, that the removal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan was not contingent on the creation of a transitional regime acceptable to the former USSR. On 14 April 1988, documents were signed and exchanged in which the USSR agreed to pull its troops out of Afghanistan within nine months, the United States reserved the right to continue military aid to Afghan guerrillas as long as the USSR continued to aid the government in Kabul, and Pakistan and Afghanistan pledged not to interfere in each other's internal affairs.

The Russians completed the evacuation of their forces on schedule 15 February 1989, but in spite of continuing pressure by the well-armed mujahedeen, the Najibullah government remained in power until April 1992, when Najibullah sought refuge at the UN office in Kabul as mujahedeen forces closed in on the city.

Afghanistan after the Soviet Withdrawal

With the fall of the Najibullah government, the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) of the Islamic groups based in Pakistan moved to consolidate its "victory" by announcing plans to set up an Interim Afghan Government (AIG) charged with preparing the way for elections. Meanwhile, they moved to assert their control of Afghanistan, but their efforts to establish the AIG in Kabul failed when within ten days of Najibullah's departure from office, well-armed forces of the Hezbe Islami and Jamiat-i-Islamitwo of the seven SPA partiesclashed in fighting for the control of the capital. In July, Jamiat leader Burhanuddin Rabbani replaced Sibghatullah Mojaddedi as president of the AIG, as previously agreed by all the SPA parties but the Hezbe Islami.

Continued fighting between Jamiat and Hezbe Islami militias halted further progress. Rabbani's forces, under Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, dug in to block those under the control of interim "Prime Minister" Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezbe Islami and his ally, General Rashid Dostum (a former PDPA militia leader turned warlord from northern Afghanistan) from taking control of Kabul. In a 24-hour rocket exchange in August 1992 in Kabul, an estimated 3,000 Afghans died; before the end of the year, upwards of 700,000 Afghans had fled the city. Deep differences among the SPA/AIG leadership, embittered by decades of bad blood, ethnic distrust, and personal enmity, prevented any further progress toward creating a genuine interim government capable of honoring the 1992 SPA pledge to write a constitution, organize elections, and create a new Afghan polity. Despite UN attempts to broker a peace and bring the warring groups into a coalition government, Afghanistan remained at war.

Rise of the Taliban

By the summer of 1994 Rabbani and his defense minister, Ahmed Shah Masoud, were in control of the government in Kabul, but internal turmoil caused by the warring factions had brought the economy to a standstill. It was reported that on the road north of Qandahār a convoy owned by influential Pakistani businessmen was stopped by bandits demanding money. The businessmen appealed to the Pakistani government, which responded by encouraging Afghan students from the fundamentalist religious schools on the Pakistan-Afghan boarder to intervene. The students freed the convoy and went on to capture Qandahār, Afghanistan's second-largest city. Pakistan's leaders supported the Taliban with ammunition, fuel, and food. The students, ultra-fundamentalist Sunni Muslims who called themselves the Taliban (the Arabic word for religious students, literally "the Seekers") shared Pashtoon ancestry with their Pakistani neighbors to the south. The Taliban also found widespread support among Afghan Pashtoons hostile to local warlords and tired of war and economic instability. By late 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul, the capital, and were in control of 21 of Afghanistan's 32 provinces. When Rabbani fled the capital, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia officially recognized the Taliban government in Kabul. In areas under Taliban control, order was restored, roads opened, and trade resumed. However, the Taliban's reactionary social practices, justified as being Islamic, did not appeal to Afghanistan's non-Pashtun minorities in the north and west of the country, nor to the educated population generally. The opposition, dominated by the Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, and Turkoman ethnic groups, retreated to the northeastern provinces.

In May 1997 the Taliban entered Mazār-e Sharif, Afghanistan's largest town north of the Hindu Kush and stronghold of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum. In the political intrigue that followed, Dostum was ousted by his second in command, Malik Pahlawan, who initially supported the Taliban. Dostum reportedly fled to Turkey. Once the Taliban were in the city, however, Pahlawan abruptly switched sides. In the subsequent fighting, the Taliban were forced to retreat with heavy casualties. The forces of Ahmad Shah Masoud, Tajik warlord and former defense minister in ousted President Rabbani's government, were also instrumental in the defeat of the Taliban in Mazār. Masoud controlled the high passes of the Panjshir Valley in the east of the country. The opposition alliance was supported by Iran, Russia, and the Central Asian republics, who feared that the Taliban might destabilize the region.

By early 1998, the Taliban militia controlled about two-thirds of Afghanistan. Opposition forces under Ahmad Shah Masoud controlled the northeast of the country. Taliban forces mounted another offensive against their opponents in AugustSeptember 1998 and nearly sparked a war with neighboring Iran after a series of Shiite villages were pillaged and Iranian diplomats killed. Iran, which supplied Masoud's forces, countered by massing troops along its border with Afghanistan. Although the crisis subsided, tensions between the Taliban and Iran remained high. Masoud's opposition forces became known as the United Front or Northern Alliance in late 1999.

Despite attempts to broker a peace settlement, fighting between the Taliban and opposition factions continued through 1999 and into 2000 with the Taliban controlling 90% of the country. In March 1999, the warring factions agreed to enter a coalition government, but by July these UN-sponsored peace talks broke down and the Taliban renewed its offensive against opposition forces. By October, the Taliban captured the key northern city of Taloqan and a series of northeastern towns, advancing to the border with Tajikistan. Fighting between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces was fierce in early 2001.

In April 2001, Masoud stated that he did not rule out a peace dialogue with the Taliban, or even of setting up a provisional government jointly with the Taliban, but that Pakistan would have to stop interfering in the conflict first. He stated that elections would have to be held under the aegis of the UN and the "six plus two" countries, including Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, as well as Russia and the United States. The Northern Alliance was receiving financial and military assistance from its old enemy Russia as well as from Iran. In addition to Pakistan, the Taliban was recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Masoud was assassinated on 9 September 2001 by two men claiming to be Moroccan journalists. His killers were thought to have been agents of the al-Qaeda terrorist group acting in concert with the plotters of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

Post-11 September 2001

The 11 September 2001 attacks carried out against the United States by members of al-Qaeda marked the beginning of a war on terrorism first directed against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden and his forces. On 7 October 2001, US-led forces launched the bombing campaign Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. On 13 November the Taliban were removed from power in Kabul, and an interim government under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader from Qandahār, was installed on 22 December. In June 2002, a Loya JirgaGrand Assembly of tribal leaderswas held, and Karzai was elected head of state of a transitional government that would be in place for 18 months until elections could be held. More than 60% of the cabinet posts in the government went to Ahmed Shah Masoud's Northern Alliance. Masoud was officially proclaimed the national hero of Afghanistan on 25 April 2002, and he was mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. On 5 September 2002, Karzai survived an assassination attempt, and another plot against him was thwarted on 22 November. In September 2004, a rocket fired at a helicopter carrying Karzai narrowly missed its target: it was the most serious attack on his life since 2002.

In December 2002, Karzai and Pakistani and Turkmen leaders signed an agreement paving the way for the construction of a gas pipeline through Afghanistan, which would carry Turkmen gas to Pakistan.

In January 2004, a Loya Jirga adopted a new constitution providing for a strong presidency and defining Afghanistan as an Islamic republic where men and women enjoy equal status before the law. In October and November 2004, the first direct presidential election was held; Karzai was the winner with 55.4% of the vote. He was sworn in as president in December, amid tight security.

On 18 September 2005, Afghans went to the polls to elect a lower house of parliament and councils in each of the country's 34 provinces. The elections, which had been twice postponed, were part of the process of establishing a fully representative government. Some 12 million of an estimated 2528 million Afghans were registered to vote. There were about 5,800 candidates standing for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (House of Assembly) and for seats in the provincial councils. There were more than 26,000 men-only or women-only polling stations in 5,000 locations. There were 69 different types of ballot papers, all including the names, pictures, and symbols of the candidates, to enable voters who could not read to vote. Several candidates and election workers were killed in Taliban attacks. In advance of the elections, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) sent an extra 2,000 troops and a number of fighter jets to boost the 8,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) protecting the country. Nearly 3,000 observers and media representatives registered to monitor the election. Final results for the elections were delayed due to accusations of fraud, and were announced in November.

The results of the elections showed that women, who were guaranteed 25% of seats in parliament, won 28%. Most of the candidates for parliament ran as independents, and a clear majority was predicted to support Karzai. However, many of the winners were former warlords, mujahedeen fighters, ex-Taliban figures, and opium dealers. Centrist, reformist figures did less well, making the parliament predominantly socially conservative and religious.

In 200506, several thousand troops from the US-led coalition in Afghanistan (most of them American) were engaged in battles with Taliban fighters in the eastern regions of the country bordering on Pakistani tribal areas. The coalition forces also targeted members of the Hezb-e Islami group, whose leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has similar aims as the Talibanto fight a jihad (holy war) to remove the Americans from Afghanistan and unseat Hamid Karzai's government.


Between 1964 and 1973, Afghanistan was a constitutional monarchy for the first and only time in its history. The head of government was the prime minister, appointed by the king and responsible to the bicameral legislature. This system gave way to a more traditional authoritarian system on 17 July 1973, when Afghanistan became a republic, headed by Muhammad Daoud Khan, who became both president and prime minister. A new constitution in 1977 created a one-party state with a strong executive and a weak bicameral legislature. The communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) abrogated this constitution after they seized power in April 1978.

Between 1978 and 1980, a communist-style 167-member Revolutionary Council exercised legislative powers. The chief of state (president) headed the presidium of that council, to which the 20-member cabinet was formally responsible. A provisional constitution, introduced in April 1980, guaranteed respect for Islam and national traditions; condemned colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, and fascism; and proclaimed the PDPA as "the guiding and mobilizing force of society and state." Seven years later, a new constitution providing for a very strong presidency was introduced as part of the PDPA's propaganda campaign of "national reconciliation." Najibullah remained as president until April 1992 when he sought refuge at the UN office in Kabul as mujahedeen forces closed in on the city.

With the fall of the Najibullah government a Seven Party Alliance (SPA) of the Islamic groups announced plans to set up an Interim Afghan Government (AIG) charged with preparing the way for elections. However, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani co-opted the process by forming a leadership council that elected him president. Subsequent fighting among warring factions plunged the country into anarchy and set the stage for the emergence of the ultraconservative Islamic movement, Taliban, which ousted the Rabbani government and controlled all but the northern most provinces of the country.

The Taliban, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, formed a six-member ruling council in Kabul which ruled by edict. Ultimate authority for Taliban rule rested in the Taliban's inner Shura (Assembly) located in the southern city of Qandahār, and in Mullah Omar.

With the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, an interim government was created under the leadership of Hamid Karzai by an agreement held in Bonn, Germany. In June 2002 Karzai was elected head of state of the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan (ITGA) by the Loya Jirga convened that month. He named an executive cabinet, dividing key ministries between ethnic Tajiks and Pashtuns. He also appointed three deputy presidents and a chief justice to the country's highest court.

In January 2004, a Loya Jirga adopted a new constitution providing for a strong presidency and defining Afghanistan as an Islamic republic where men and women enjoy equal status before the law. Former King Zahir Shah held the honorific Father of the Country, and presided symbolically over certain occasions, lacking any governing authority. The honorific is not hereditary. The president is both chief of state and head of government. The president's cabinet is made up of 27 ministers, appointed by the president and approved by the national assembly. The president and two vice presidents are elected by a direct vote for a five-year term; a president can only be elected for two terms.

The legislative branch is composed of a bicameral national assembly. The lower house is the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, directly elected by each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces according to its population. Members serve a five-year term. Kabul province has the most seats with 33. Women have 68 seats guaranteed in the Wolesi Jirga, and two on each provincial council. The 102-member House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) is indirectly elected; one-third elected by the 34 provincial councils for a four-year term, one-third appointed by the president for a five-year term, and one-third elected by local district councils for a three-year term.

On rare occasions the government may convene the Loya Jirga on issues of independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity; it can also amend the provisions of the constitution and prosecute the president. It is made up of members of the national assembly and chairpersons of the provincial and district councils.

In October and November 2004, the first direct presidential elections were held; Hamid Karzai was the winner with 55.4% of the vote. In September 2005, elections for the Wolesi Jirga and provincial councils were held; although a majority of the members of parliament who won would support Karzai, many warlords, former mujahedeen fighters, ex-Taliban figures, and opium dealers also won.


The 1964 constitution provided for the formation of political parties. However, since the framers of the constitution decided that political parties should be permitted only after the first elections, and since the parliament never adopted a law governing the parties' operation, all candidates for the parliamentary elections of August and September 1965 stood as independents. Because a law on political parties was not on the books four years later, the 1969 elections were also contested on a nonparty basis. Throughout the 19641973 period, however, the de facto existence of parties was widely recognized. Subsequently, the framers reversed their plan to allow political parties. Under the 1977 constitution, only the National Revolutionary Party (NRP), the ruler's chosen instrument, was allowed.

The 1978 coup was engineered by the illegal People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had been founded in 1965. During its brief history, this Marxist party had been riven by a bloody struggle between its pro-Soviet Parcham (flag) faction and its larger Khalq (masses) faction. Babrak Karmal was the leader of the Parcham group, while the Khalq faction was headed until 1979 by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin. The factional struggle continued after the 1978 coup, prompting the Soviet intervention of 1979. Factional bloodletting continued thereafter also, with repeated purges and assassinations of Khalq adherents as well as bitter infighting within Parcham, this last leading to Babrak Karmal's replacement as PDPA secretary-general in May 1986 by Najibullah.

The Islamic resistance forces opposing the PDPA government and its Soviet backers in Afghanistan represented conservative, ethnically based Islamic groups which themselves have had a long history of partisan infighting (and repression by successive Kabul governments). They came together in the early 1980s to fight the common enemy, the communist PDPA and the Soviet invaders and, in 1985, under pressure from Pakistan and the United States, they were loosely united into a Seven Party Alliance (SPA), head-quartered in Peshāwar, Pakistan. By 1987, commando groups affiliated with one or more of these seven parties controlled more than 80% of the land area of Afghanistan.

With arms flowing in from outside the countrya flow not halted until the end of 1991the fighting continued, but with the final withdrawal of Soviet troops in February 1989, the SPA stepped up its military and political pressure on the communist PDPA government. However, President Najibullah proved to have more staying power than previously estimated, using Soviet arms supplies, which continued until the end of 1991 to buttress his position, while playing upon divisions among the resistance, embracing nationalism and renouncing communism, and even changing the name of the PDPA to the Wattan (Homeland) Party. It was only in April 1992, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, his army defecting from beneath him, and the mujahedeen closing on Kabul, that he sought refuge at the UN office in the capital, leaving the city in the hands of the rival ethnic and regional mujahedeen militias.

The leaders of the mujahedeen groups agreed to establish a leadership council. This council quickly came under the control of a professor, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was subsequently elected president by the council. Fighting broke out in August 1992 in Kabul between forces loyal to President Rabbani and rival factions. A new war for the control of Afghanistan had begun.

On 2627 September 1996, the Pashtun-dominated ultraconservative Islamic Taliban movement captured the capital of Kabul and expanded its control to over 90% of the country by 2000. The Taliban was led by Mullah Mohammed Omar. Ousted President Rabbani, a Tajik, and his defense minister, Ahmad Shah Masoud, relocated to Takhar in the north. Rabbani claimed that he remained the head of the government. His delegation retained Afghanistan's UN seat after the General Assembly deferred a decision on Afghanistan's credentials. Meanwhile, the Taliban removed the ousted PDPA leader Najibullah from the UN office in Kabul, tortured and shot him, and hung his body prominently in the city. General Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, controlled several north-central provinces until he was ousted on 25 May 1997 by his second in command Malik Pahlawan. Dostum fled to Turkey, but he returned that October. The Shia Hazara community, led by Abdul Karim Khalili, retained control of a small portion of the center of the country.

After the fall of the Taliban, various warlords, leaders, and political factions emerged in Afghanistan. Dostum, as head of Jumbish-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Movement), consolidated his power in Mazār-e Sharif. He was named interim deputy defense minister for the transitional government in 2002. Rabbani, as nominal head of the Northern Alliance, was also the leader of Jamiat-e-Islami, the largest political party in the alliance. Ismail Khan, a Shiite warlord of Tajik origin, earned a power base in the western city of Herāt by liberating it from Soviet control, and for a time in the 1990s kept it from Taliban control. Khan was thought to be receiving backing from Iran. Abdul Karim Khalili was the leader of the Hezb-e-Wahdat (Unity Party) and the top figure in the Shia Hazara minority. Hezb-e-Wahdat was the main benefactor of Iranian support, and the second most-powerful opposition military party. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the most notorious of the warlords who emerged from the fight against Soviet occupation, led the party Hezb-e Islami. Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani was a moderate Pashtun leader and wealthy businessman who was also the spiritual leader of a minority Sufi Muslim group. Gailani was supported by pro-royalist Pashtuns and Western-educated elites of the old regime. Former King Zahir Shah, a Pashtun, said he had no intention of returning to power, but volunteered to help build a power-sharing administration for the country. Younis Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik who was named interior minister for the interim government, had also been the interior minister in the country's previous interim administration in 1996, before the Taliban came to power; he opposed the presence of UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Abdullah Abdullah, of the Northern Alliance, was a close friend of Ahmad Shah Masoud.

The 18 September 2005 elections for the National Assembly were contested by candidates representing scores of political parties, pressure groups, and small monarchist, communist, and democratic groups. However, most of the candidates ran as independents.


Afghanistan was traditionally divided into provinces governed by centrally appointed governors with considerable autonomy in local affairs. As of 2006, there were 34 provinces. During the Soviet occupation and the development of country-wide resistance, local areas came increasingly under the control of mujahedeen groups that were largely independent of any higher authority; local commanders, in some instances, asserted a measure of independence also from the mujahedeen leadership in Pakistan, establishing their own systems of local government, collecting revenues, running educational and other facilities, and even engaging in local negotiations. Mujahedeen groups retained links with the Peshāwar parties to ensure access to weapons that were doled out to the parties by the government of Pakistan for distribution to fighters inside Afghanistan.

The Taliban set up a shura (assembly), made up of senior Taliban members and important tribal figures from the area. Each shura made laws and collected taxes locally. The Taliban set up a provisional government for the whole of Afghanistan, but it did not exercise central control over the local shuras.

The process of setting up the transitional government in June 2002 by the Loya Jirga took many steps involving local government. First, at the district and municipal level, traditional shura councils met to pick electorspersons who cast ballots for Loya Jirga delegates. Each district or municipality chose a predetermined number of electors, based on the size of its population. The electors then traveled to regional centers and cast ballots, choosing from among themselves a smaller number of Loya Jirga delegates, according to allotted numbers assigned to each district. The delegates then took part in the Loya Jirga.

The transitional government attempted to integrate local governing authorities with the central government, but it lacked the loyalty of warlords necessary to its governing authority. More traditional elements of political authoritysuch as Sufi networks, royal lineage, clan strength, age-based wisdom, and the likestill exist and play a role in Afghan society. Karzai relied on these traditional sources of authority in his challenge to the warlords and older Islamist leaders. The deep ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, tribal, racial, and regional cleavages present in the country create what is called Qawm identity, which emphasizes the local over higher-order formations. Qawm refers to the group to which the individual considers himself to belong, whether a subtribe, village, valley, or neighborhood. Local governing authority relies upon these forms of identity and loyalty.

The constitution established in 2004 provided for directly elected provincial councils, which have 929 members depending on population. District and village councils are directly elected for a period of three years. Municipalities administer city affairs.


Under the Taliban, there was no rule of law or independent judiciary. Ad hoc rudimentary judicial systems were established based on Taliban interpretation of Islamic law. Murderers were subjected to public executions and thieves had a limb or two (one hand, one foot) severed. Adulterers were stoned to death in public. Taliban courts were said to have heard cases in sessions that lasted only a few minutes. Prison conditions were poor and prisoners were not given food. Normally, this was the responsibility of the prisoners' relatives, who were allowed to visit to provide food once or twice a week. Those who had no relatives had to petition the local council or rely on other inmates.

In non-Taliban controlled areas, many municipal and provincial authorities relied on some form of Islamic law and traditional tribal codes of justice. The administration and implementation of justice varied from area to area and depended on the whims of local commanders or other authorities, who could summarily execute, torture, and mete out punishments without reference to any other authority.

After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's judicial system was fragmented, with conflicts between such core institutions as the Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court, and attorney general's office. In addition, the judicial system's infrastructure was destroyed; the absence of adequate court or ministry facilities, basic office furniture, and minimal supplies made substantive progress difficult. There were also tensions between religious and secular legal training with regard to appointments of new judicial personnel. Until Afghanistan's new constitution was adopted in 2004, the country's basic legal framework consisted of its 1964 constitution and existing laws and regulations to the extent that they were in accordance with the Bonn Agreement of 2001 and with international treaties to which Afghanistan was a party. The Ministry of Justice was charged with compiling Afghan laws and assessing their compatibility with international standards, but even it did not have texts of Afghan laws, which were largely unavailable, even among attorneys, judges, law faculty, and government agencies. While in power, the Taliban burned law books. There was no adequate law library in the country as of 2002.

The 2004 constitution established an independent judiciary under the Islamic state. The judicial branch consists of a Supreme Court (Stera Mahkama), High Courts, Appeals Courts, and local and district courts. The Supreme Court is composed of nine members who are appointed by the president for a period of ten years (nonrenewable) with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review. Lower courts apply Shia law in cases dealing with personal matters for Shia followers.


As of 2005, the national army/security services had an estimated 27,000 active personnel. Headquartered in Kabul, the force is intended to encompass all of the country's tribal and ethnic groups. However progress by the new Afghan National Army (ANA) had been hindered by high desertion levels and low enlistment rates, thought in part to be caused by the growing intensity of combat missions. Another factor was the growth of private security companies, which may offer a less stressful and more lucrative alternative to the ANA. In terms of equipment, most of the army's infrastructure, barracks, and depots were destroyed along with the Taliban. What equipment that has managed to survive years of war and the overthrow of the Taliban, was entirely of Soviet design and likely to be in a poor state of repair. In 2002, Afghanistan requested $235 million from the UN, for a 60,000-troop land army, an 8,000-member airforce, and a 12,000-guard border force. US foreign military assistance to Afghanistan in 2005 totaled $396 million.


Afghanistan has been a member of the United Nations since 19 November 1946. Within the United Nations, Afghanistan is part of several specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, FAO, and IAEA. The country also participates in WHO, IFAD, UNIDO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and IFC, and the ILO. Afghanistan is an observer in the WTO. Afghanistan is part of the Asian Development Bank, the Colombo Plan, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), G-77, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Other groups include WFTU and Interpol. Afghanistan is also a part of the Nonaligned Movement, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Nuclear Test Ban. In cooperation on environmental issues, the country is part of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the London Convention, and the UN Conventions on Desertification and Climate Change.


Afghanistan's economy has been devastated by over over three decades of war. Hampered by an unintegrated economy until relatively late in the post-World War II period, only in the 1950s did the building of new roads begin to link the country's commercial centers with the wool-and fruit-producing areas. Largely agricultural and pastoral, the country is highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats). Approximately 85% of the people are engaged in agriculture. Industrial activity includes small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement, and hand-woven carpets. The country has valuable mineral resources, including large reserves of iron ore at Hajigak discovered before the 30-year-old war, but only coal, salt, lapis lazuli, barite, and chrome are available to be exploited. The discovery of large quantities of natural gas in the north, for which a pipeline to the USSR was completed in 1967, increased the country's export earnings, at least until escalation of civil strife in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Since the outbreak of war in the late 1970s, economic data have been contradictory and of doubtful reliability. In September 1987, the Afghan foreign minister asserted that 350 bridges and 258 factories had been destroyed since the fighting began in 1979. By the early 1990s, two-thirds of all paved roads were unusable, and the countryside appeared severely depopulated, with more than 25% of the populationtwice the prewar levelresiding in urban areas. What little is left of the country's infrastructure has been largely destroyed due first to the war, and then to the US-led bombing campaign. Severe drought added to the nation's difficulties in 19982001. The majority of the population continued to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care as of 2006; these problems were exacerbated by military operations and political uncertainties. The presence of an estimated 10 million land mines also hinders the ability of Afghans to engage in agriculture or other forms of economic activity. Inflation, at 16% in 2005, remained a serious problem.

Opium poppy cultivation is the mainstay of the economy. Major political factions in the country profit from the drug trade. In 1999, encouraged by good weather and high prices, poppy producers increased the area under cultivation by 43% and harvested a bumper cropa record 4,600 tonscompared with 2,100 tons the year before. A ban on poppy production cut cultivation in 2001 by 97% to 1695 hectares (4188 acres), with a potential production of 74 tons of opium. Afghanistan is a major source of hashish, and there are many heroin-processing laboratories throughout the country.

International efforts to rebuild Afghanistan were addressed at the Tokyo Donors Conference for Afghan Reconstruction in January 2002, when $4.5 billion was collected for a trust fund to be administered by the World Bank. Priority areas for reconstruction included the construction of education, health, and sanitation facilities, enhancement of administrative capacity, the development of the agricultural sector, and the rebuilding of road, energy, and telecommunication links.

The Afghan economic base is so disjointed that it was almost futile for the government to undertake economic development. Nonetheless, the country's GDP grew from a meager $2.7 billion in 2000, to almost $6 billion in 2004; and, it was expected to grow further, to $7.1 billion, in 2005. Consequently, the GDP growth rates appear spectacular: 28.6% in 2002, 15.7% in 2003, and a more modest 7.5% in 2004. Apart from outside aid, the recent economic expansion was also helped by a good agricultural year in 2003.

The unemployment rate was estimated at 40% in 2005. Inflation dropped from 52.3% in 2002 to 10.2% in 2003, but rose again to 16.3% in 2004. In 2005, the inflation rate was expected to be around 10%. Despite the progress it registered in previous years, Afghanistan remains a very poor country, landlocked, dependent on foreign aid, and with a heterogeneous economic base (mostly agriculture).


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $21.5 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 16.3%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 38% of GDP, industry 24%, and services 38%. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $1,533 million.

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Afghanistan totaled $4.31 billion based on a GDP of $4.6 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that in 2003 about 53% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


As of 2004, Afghanistan's labor force was estimated at 15 million, with an estimated 80% of the labor force engaged in agriculture, followed by industry and services at 10%, each. However, it was estimated that 40% of the country's work force was unemployed, as of 2005. The textile industry is the largest employer of industrial labor; weaving of cloth and carpets is the most important home industry.

As of 2005, Afghan law offered wide protection to workers, but little is known about the enforcement of labor statutes. Workers are unaware of their rights and there is no central authority to enforce those rights. There is no legal right to strike, nor does the country have a history of real labor-management bargaining. There are no courts or mechnisms for settling labor disputes. Wages are entirely subject to market forces, except for government employees, whose wages are set by the government. Although child and forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, little is known about enforcement. By law, children under the age of 15 cannot work more than 30 hours per week, but there is no evidence this is enforced. According to UNICEF, it is estimated that there are one million children under the age of 14 in the workforce. Children as young as six years old are reportedly working to help sustain their families. The vast majority of Afghan workers are in the informal economy.


About 12% of the land is arable and less than 6% currently is cultivated. During peiords when external forces are not influencing the ability of farmers to grow crops, Afghan farmers grow enough rice, potatoes, pulses, nuts, and seeds to meet the country's needs; Afghanistan depends on imports for some wheat, sugar, and edible fats and oils. Fruit, both fresh and preserved (with bread), is a staple food for many Afghans. Agricultural production is a fraction of its potential. Agricultural production is constrained by dependence on erratic winter snows and spring rains for water; irrigation is primitive. Relatively little use is made of machines, chemical fertilizer, or pesticides.

The variety of the country's crops corresponds to its topography. The areas around Qandahār, Herāt, and the broad Kabul plain yield fruits of many kinds. The northern regions from Takhar to Badghis and Herāt and Helmand provinces produce cotton. Corn is grown extensively in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces, and rice mainly in Kunduz, Baghlān, and Laghman provinces. Wheat is common to several regions, and makes up 70% of all grain production. Aggregate wheat production in 2005 was estimated at 4 million tons, up from 1.6 million tons in 2001. Following wheat, the most important crops in 2004 were barley (400,000 tons), corn (250,000 tons), rice (145,000 tons), and cotton (18,507 tons). Nuts and fruit, including pistachios, almonds, grapes, melons, apricots, cherries, figs, mulberries, and pomegranates, are among Afghanistan's most important horticultural crops. Byproducts of orchard fruits, such as pomegranate rind and walnut husks, were traditionally used to dye carpets, as was the madder root, valued for the deep red hue it produces.

In some regions, agricultural production had all but ceased due to destruction caused by the war and the migration of Afghans out of those areas. The average farm size is 12 hectares (2.55 acres). Absentee landlords are common and sharecropping is expanding in most provinces. Opium and hashish are also widely grown for the drug trade. Opium is easy to cultivate and transport and offers a quick source of income for impoverished Afghans. Afghanistan was the world's largest producer of raw opium in 2003. In 2001, following the ban by the Taliban regime, an abrupt decline of poppy cultivation interrupted a 20-year increase. In 2003, there were 80,000 hectares (198,000 acres) of opium poppies under cultivation, with potential opium production amounting to 3,600 tons, the second-highest amount achieved in Afghanistan and accounting for over two-thirds of world production that year. Much of Afghanistan's opium production is refined into heroin and is either consumed by a growing South Asian addict population or exported, primarily to Europe. Replacing the poppy industry was a goal of the Karzai administration.


The availability of land suitable for grazing has made animal husbandry an important part of the economy. There are two main types of animal husbandry: sedentary, practiced by farmers who raise both animals and crops; and nomadic, practiced by animal herders known as Kuchis. Natural pastures cover some 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) but are being overgrazed. The northern regions around Mazār-e Sharif and Maymanah were the home range for about six million karakul sheep in the late 1990s. Most flocks move to the highlands in the summer to pastures in the north. Oxen are the primary draft power and farmers often share animals for plowing. Poultry are traditionally kept in most households.

Much of Afghanistan's livestock was removed from the country by early waves of refugees who fled to Pakistan and Iran. In 2001, the livestock population in Afghanistan had declined by about 40% since 1998. In 2002, this figure was estimated to have declined further to 60%. An FAO survey done in the northern regions in spring 2002 showed that in four provinces (Balkh, Juzjan, Sare Pol, and Faryab), there was a loss of about 84% of cattle from 1997 to 2002 (1997: 224,296 head; 2002: 36,471 head) and around 80% of sheep and goats (1997: 1,721,021 head; 2002: 359,953 head).


Some fishing takes place in the lakes and rivers, but fish does not constitute a significant part of the Afghan diet. Using explosives for fishing, called dynamite fishing, became popular in the 1980s and is common practice. The annual catch was about 900 tons in 2003.


Afghanistan's timber has been greatly depleted, and since the mid-1980s, only about 3% of the land area has been forested, mainly in the east. Significant stands of trees have been destroyed by the ravages of the war. Exploitation has been hampered by lack of power and access roads. Moreover, the distribution of the forest is uneven, and most of the remaining woodland is presently found only in mountainous regions in the southeast and south. The natural forests in Afghanistan are mainly of two types: (1) dense forests of oak, walnut, and other species of nuts that grow in the southeast, and on the northern and northeastern slopes of the Sulaiman ranges; and (2) sparsely distributed short trees and shrubs on all other slopes of the Hindu Kush. The dense forests of the southeast cover only 2.7% of the country. Roundwood production in 2003 was 3,148,000 cu m, with 44% used for fuel. The destruction of the forests to create agricultural land, logging, forest fires, plant diseases, and insect pests are all causes of the reduction in forest coverage. Illegal logging and clear-cutting by timber smugglers have exacerbated this destructive process.


Afghanistan has valuable deposits of barite, beryl, chrome, coal, copper, iron, lapis lazuli, lead, mica, natural gas, petroleum, salt, silver, sulfur, and zinc. Reserves of high-grade iron ore, discovered years ago at the Hajigak hills in Bamyan Province, are estimated to total 2 billion tons.

On average, some 114,000 tons of coal were mined each year during 197884. It is estimated that the country has 73 million tons of coal reserves, most of which are located in the region between Herāt and Badashkan in the northern part of the country. Production in 2003 amounted to 185,000 metric tons. In 2003, Afghanistan produced 13,000 metric tons of rock salt, 3,000 metric tons of gypsum, 5,000 metric tons of mined copper, and 120,000 metric tons of cement. Deposits of lapis lazuli in Badakhshan are mined in small quantities. Like other aspects of Afghanistan's economy, exploitation of natural resources has been disrupted by war. The remote and rugged terrain, and an inadequate transportation network usually have made mining these resources difficult.


Two decades of warfare have left Afghanistan's power grid badly damaged. As of June 2004, less than 10% of the population had access to electricity. In 2002, electricity generation was 0.745 billion kWh, of which 25.5% came from fossil fuel, 74.5% from hydropower, and none from other sources. Imports of electricity totaled 0.150 kWh in 2002. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 0.843 billion kWh. Total electrical generating capacity in 2002 stood at 0.385 million kW. Three hydroelectric plants were opened between 1965 and 1970, at Jalālābād, Naghlu, and Mahipar, near Kabul; another, at Kajaki, in the upper Helmand River Valley, was opened in the mid-1970s. In addition to the Naghlu, Mahi Par, and Kajaki plants, other hydroelectric facilities that were operational as of 2002 included plants at Sarobi, west of Kabul; Pole Khomri; Darunta, in Nangarhar province; Dahla, in Qandahār province (restored to operation in 2001); and Mazār-e Sharif. In 1991, a new 72-collector solar installation was completed in Kabul at a cost of $364 million. The installation heated 40,000 liters (10,400 gallons) of water to an average temperature of 60°c (140°f) around the clock. Construction of two more power stations, with a combined capacity of 600 kW, was planned in Charikar City.

The drought of 19982001 negatively affected Afghanistan's hydroelectric power production, which resulted in blackouts in Kabul and other cities. Another generating turbine is being added to the Kajaki Dam in Helmand province near Qandahār, with the assistance of the Chinese Dongfeng Agricultural Machinery Company. This will add 16.5 MW to its generating capacity when completed. Also in operation was the BreshnaKot Dam in Nangarhar province, which had a generating capacity of 11.5 MW.

Natural gas was Afghanistan's only economically significant export in 1995, going mainly to Uzbekistan via pipeline. Natural gas reserves were once estimated at 140 billion cu m. Production started in 1967 with 342 million cu m but had risen to 2.6 billion cu m by 1995. In 1991, a new gas field was discovered in Chekhcha, Jowzjan province. Natural gas was also produced at Sheberghān and Sare Pol. As of 2002, other operational gas fields were located at Djarquduk, Khowaja Gogerdak, and Yatimtaq, all in Jowzjan province. In 2002, natural gas production was 1.77 billion cu ft.

In August 1996, a multinational consortium agreed to construct a 1,430 km (890 mi) pipeline through Afghanistan to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, at a cost of about $2 billion. However US air strikes led to cancellation of the project in 1998, and financing of such a project has remained an issue because of high political risk and security concerns. As of 2002 the leaders of the three countries had signed an agreement to build the pipeline, but as of 2006, construction had not begun.

A very small amount of crude oil is produced at the Angot field in the northern Sare Pol province. Another small oilfield at Zomrad Sai near Sheberghān was reportedly undergoing repairs in mid-2001. Petroleum products such as diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel are imported, mainly from Pakistan and Turkmenistan. A small storage and distribution facility exists in Jalālābād on the highway between Kabul and Peshāwar, Pakistan. Afghanistan is also reported to have oil reserves totaling 95 million barrels and coal reserves totaling 73 million tons.


As with other sectors of the economy, Afghanistan's already-be-leaguered industries have been devastated by civil strife and war that began in the 1970s and left most of the country's factories and even much of the cottage industry sector inoperative. Still in an early stage of growth before the outbreak of war, industry's development has been stunted since; those few industries that have continued production remain limited to processing of local materials. The principal modern industry is cotton textile production, with factories at Pol e Khomri, Golbahar, Begram, Balkh, and Jabal as Saraj, just north of Charikar. Important industries in 2000 included textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement, hand-woven carpets, natural gas, coal, and copper.

Carpet-making is the most important handicraft industry, but it has suffered with the flight of rug makers during the civil war and since the 2001 US-led bombing campaign. Carpet-making is centered around the north and northwest regions of the country. Afghan carpets are made of pure wool and are hand-knotted, and women do much of the work. Production has fluctuated widely from year to year, increasing somewhat during the early 1990s with the establishment of selected "zones of tranquility" targeted for UN reconstruction assistance. Other handicrafts include felt-making and the weaving of cotton, woolen, and silk cloth. Wood and stone carving have been concentrated in the northeastern provinces, while jewelrymaking has been done in the Kabul area. The making of leather goods has also been a handicraft industry.

In 2004, industry was estimated to contribute 24.4% to the overall GDP (up from 20% in 1990) and to employ 10% of the working population; agriculture was considered to make up 37.2% of the GDP, and occupy 80% of the labor force; services provided work for 10% of the working population, and was represented with 38.3% in the GDP.


The Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, founded in 1979, is the principal scientific institution. As of 2002, it had about 180 members. Prospective members of the Academy must take a written exam, present samples of their work, and pass a proficiency exam in one of the official languages of the UN. Many Afghan scientists migrated to Europe, the United States, and Pakistan during 19702006. Under the Taliban, professors who did not teach Islamic studies were relieved of their duties.

The Department of Geology and Mineral Survey within the Ministry of Mines and Industries conducts geological and mineralogical research, mapping, prospecting and exploration.

The Institute of Public Health, founded in 1962, conducts public health training and research and study of indigenous diseases, has a Government reference laboratory, and compiles statistical data.

Kabul University, founded in 1932, has faculties of science, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and geosciences. Its faculty numbers close to 200. The University of Balkh has about 100 faculty members. Bayazid Roshan University of Nangarhar, founded in 1962, has faculties of medicine and engineering, its faculty numbers close to 100. The Institute of Agriculture, founded in 1924, offers courses in veterinary medicine. Kabul Polytechnic College, founded in 1951, offers postgraduate engineering courses. Kabul Polytechnic was the site of the June 2002 Loya Jirga, and the international community spent over $7 million to refurbish part of the campus for the assembly. Buildings on campus had suffered heavy bomb damage. During the 1990s, the campus was shelled and looted by mujahedeen groups, who fought amongst themselves for control of the capital. Boarding students studying under the rule of the Taliban lived in makeshift dormitories.


Kabul, Qandahār, Mazā-e-Sharif, and Herāt are the principal commercial cities of eastern, southern, northern, and western Afghanistan, respectively. The first two are the main distribution centers for imports arriving from the direction of Pakistan; the latter two, for materials arriving from Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Hours of business vary. The destruction of paved roads has severely constrained normal domestic trade in most rural parts of the country. Heavy fighting in Kabul completely destroyed the city's infrastructure.


Although the Taliban had brought a repressive order to the 90% of the country under its rule, it was unable to gain international recognition nor did it attract foreign investment. Hyperinflation had increased the number of Afghanis (the country's currency) needed to equal one US dollar, from 50 in the early 1990s to a virtually worthless 42,000 in 1999. On 7 October 2002, the first anniversary of the start of the US-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan, a new Afghan currency came into use. Also called the Afghani, the new notes were worth 1000 of the old notes, which

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 68.2 1,695.8 -1,627.6
Pakistan 45.6 35.3 10.3
Finland 7.1 7.1
Germany 5.7 7.2 -1.5
Saudi Arabia 4.3 14.4 -10.1
Belgium 2.1 0.5 1.6
Russian Federation 0.9 103.3 -102.4
United Arab Emirates 0.6 44.4 -43.8
India 0.5 25.4 -24.9
Yemen 0.5 0.5
Denmark 0.5 0.5
() data not available or not significant.

were phased out. The government will exchange the dostumi currency, which is used in northern Afghanistan and named after the region's warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, into new Afghanis at half the value of old Afghanis. Around 1,800 tons of old Afghanis were due to be burned or recycled.

The value of exports, including fruits and nuts, carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, and gems totaled an estimated $471 million in 2005 (not including illegal exports). Imports, including food, petroleum products, and most commodity items totaled an estimated $3.87 billion in 2005.

In 2004, exports (not including illicit exports or re-exports) amounted to $446 million; by 2005, the number had increased slightly, to $471 million. Imports almost tripled in the period 200105, to $3.87 billion. Carpets (47.5%), dried fruits (40.6%), fresh fruit (5.6%), medicinal plants (2.6%), and animal skins (1.2%) represented the bulk of exports, and they mainly went to Pakistan (which received 24% of the total), India (21.3%), the United States (12.4%), and Germany (5.5%). Imports primarily came from Pakistan (25.5%), the United States (8.7%), India (8.5%), Germany (6.5%), Turkmenistan (5.3%), Kenya (4.7%), South Korea (4.2%), and Russia (4.2%). Imports were machinery and equipment; household requisites and medicine; fabrics, clothing and footwear; food; and, chemical materials.


Between 1951 and 1973, Afghanistan's year-end international reserves were never lower than $38 million nor higher than $65 million. Development of the natural gas industry and favorable prices for some of the country's agricultural exports led to increases in international reserves, to $67.5 million in 1974 and to $115.4 million as of 31 December 1975. Exploitation of natural gas also freed Afghanistan from extreme dependence on petroleum imports and from the rapid increases in import costs that most countries experienced in 1973 and 1974. Increased trade in the late 1970s and 1980s resulted in a reduction of foreign exchange earnings, since trade surpluses are counted as a credit against future imports. Foreign exchange reserves declined from $411.1 million at the close of 1979 to $262 million as of 30 May 1987. Foreign exchange reserves were estimated at $1.3 billion in 2004, up from $426 million in 2002, and $815 million in 2003. The public foreign debt in 1997 stood at $5.49 billion. Reliable statistics are not available for the ensuing years However, the current account balance was estimated to have gone from -$2.3 billion in 2003, to -$2.7 billion in 2004.


The government central bank, the Bank of Afghanistan, was founded in 1939. In 1999, the UN Security Council passed a resolution placing the Bank of Afghanistan on a consolidated list of persons and entities whose funds and financial resources should be frozen, due to the fact that the bank was controlled by the Taliban regime. The Security Council agreed to remove the bank from the list upon a request from the Interim Administration of Afghanistan in January 2002..

All banks in Afghanistan were nationalized in 1975. In the early 1980s there were seven banks in the country, including the Agricultural Development Bank, the Export Promotion Bank, the Industrial Development Bank, and the Mortgage and Construction Bank. There is no organized domestic securities market.


The fate of the Afghan National Insurance Co., which covered fire, transport, and accident insurance, is unknown as of 2006.


The fiscal year ends 20 March. Budget breakdowns have not been available since 1979/80, when revenues totaled Af15,788 million and expenditures Af16,782 million. In 2002, the Interim and Transitional governing authorities were working with donor aid agencies to finance the rebuilding of Afghanistan's infrastructure and society. The Interim Administration was supported by the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, UNDP, and the World Bank. An Implementation Group was established to operate an Operational Costs Trust Fund for Afghanistan, to be effective when the UNDP Start-up Fund ceased, to cover expenditures normally financed by domestic revenue. The Operational Costs Trust Fund was scheduled to cease to operate when the situation in Afghanistan reached fiscal normality, when the government would be able to finance most or all of its own costs.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in the fiscal year 2004/05 Afghanistan's central government took in revenues of approximately $269 million and had expenditures of $561 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately - $292 million. Total external debt was $8 billion.


In the early 1980s, direct taxes accounted for about 15% of government revenues. The share provided by indirect taxes declined from 42% to 30%, as revenues from natural gas and state enterprises played an increasing role in government finance. Tax collection, never an effective source of revenue in rural areas, was essentially disabled by the disruption caused by fighting and mass flight. Under the Taliban, arbitrary taxes, including those on humanitarian goods, were imposed.

In 2005 the government introduced an income (or wage) tax. Employers with two or more employees were required to pay 10% on annual income over about $3,500 and 20% on income over about $27,000.


Before the turmoil of the late 1970s, customs duties, levied as a source of revenue rather than as a protective measure, constituted more than one-fourth of total government revenue. Both specific and ad valorem duties of 2035% were levied on imports. Other costs included service and Red Crescent charges; monopoly and luxury taxes; authorization and privilege charges, and a commission-type duty.

After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's warlords collected customs duties for themselves rather than transferring the funds to the Interim and Transitional authorities in Kabul. In May 2002, it was estimated that $67 million in customs duties were paid each month at Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan, very little of which went into the government treasury.


A 1967 law encouraged investment of private foreign capital in Afghanistan, but under the PDPA government, Western investment virtually ceased. Between 1979 and 1987, the USSR provided technical and financial assistance on more than 200 projects, including various industrial plants, irrigation dams, agricultural stations, and a new terminal at the Kabul airport. After 1990, reconstruction investments from Russia, Japan, and the United States were channeled through the United Nations. The Taliban called for Western support to help reconstruct Afghanistan, but Western donorsalready reluctant to support UN programs in the countrydid not respond. After the fall of the Taliban, head-of-state Hamid Karzai invited foreign direct investment (FDI) in Afghanistan, first to reach the people in the provinces who required salaries and owed taxes, and then to invest in businesses that would lead to industrial and technological development.

One of the main policies of the government as of 2006 was to create a business-friendly environment and to attract foreign, as well as domestic, investments. Both national and international observers realized that the economy of Afghanistan could not be sustained long-term on the benefits of donor-led reconstruction, and the trickle down effects of the opium economy. At the opening of the Hyatt Hotel in Kabul in April 2004, President Hamid Karzai declared that "Afghanistan is open for business."

The Afghan ministry of commerce calculated that between November 2003 and November 2004, $351 million in FDI made its way into the country. The investment amount was relatively small, but was a positive sign that the economy was orienting itself in the right direction. Most of the investments came from Pakistan, Iran, China, the UAE, EU countries, and the United States.


As of 2002, the World Bank was managing an Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) to assist the Interim Administration in funding physical reconstruction projects, including in the health sector, as well as managing expenses such as salaries for state employees. The ARTF began in May 2002, as a joint proposal of the World Bank, the UN Development Program (UNDP), the Asian Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank. It was set up to streamline international support to Afghanistan by organizing aid pledges within a single mechanism. Contributions to the ARTF totaled more than $60 million in the first year and were expected to exceed $380 million over the four subsequent years. As of November 2002, pledges of funding for Afghanistan reached more than $4.5 billion for the first 30 months.

The main growth engines of the Afghan economy are donor-led reconstruction, the opium business, agriculture, and carpeting. The first two cannot sustain the economy long-term, and Afghan policymakers faced a challenge to develop a strategy to grow other sectors of the economy. As of 2006, the country remained poor, landlocked, and dependent on farming, foreign aid, and trade with neighboring countries. Much of the population continued to live in abject conditions (without access to housing, clean water, energy, or medical care), and the labor market was far from dynamic. Its attractive 28-million person market was offset by the lack of good infrastructure, and by security problems that still loom outside Kabul. Policymakers were hopeful however, that political stability would enable the economy thrive and grow.


Social welfare in Afghanistan has traditionally relied on family and tribal organization. In the villages and small towns, a tax to benefit the poor is levied on each man. Social welfare centers in the provincial capitals exist to care for disabled people, but these are able to assist only a small number of those in need. Most other welfare activities are still unorganized and in private hands. In the early 1990s, a social insurance system provided old age, disability, and survivors' pensions; sickness and maternity benefits; and workers' compensation.

Traditionally, women had few rights in Afghanistan, with their role limited largely to the home and the fields. Advances in women's rights were made from 1920 onward, and by the 1970s, women were attending school in large numbers, were voting, and held government jobsincluding posts as cabinet ministers, and were active in the professions. The victory of the extremely conservative Taliban in 1996 reversed this trend. Strict limits on the freedoms of women were put in place. Under the constitution of 2004, the government provided for freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; however, serious problems remained in the area of human rights. Although the rule of law applied throughout the country, in practice its recognition was limited.

Violence, including rape and kidnapping, and societal discrimination against women and minorities persisted. Terrorist attacks and extreme violence continued. Extrajudicial and unlawful killings by the government or its agents and police still occurred. Civilians were killed as rebel forces battled. Torture and excessive use of force were reported. Detention conditions were inadequate.

With the end of the Taliban, women and girls were permitted to attend schools and universities, and the enforced wearing of the burka was ended. Men were allowed to shave, music and television were permitted, and a host of Taliban-imposed restrictions on society ended. Many women continued to wear the burka, or chadri, out of tradition, but also due to fear of harassment or violence. Reports claimed that trafficking in women and children for forced labor, prostitution, and sexual exploitation was increasing. The country was both a source and transit point for trafficking. Trafficking victims faced societal discrimination, especially with regard to sexual exploitation. There are no child labor laws or other legislation to protect child abuse victims. The law criminalizes homosexual activity.

Women in urban areas regained some measure of rights to public life, however lack of education under Taliban rule restricted employment possibilities. On the other hand, in 2004 regulations changed to allow married women to attend high school classes. Certain other restrictions on women were lifted in 1998. Women were allowed to work as doctors and nurses (as long as they treated only women) and were able to attend medical schools. Yet, women were denied adequate medical care due to the societal barriers discouraging them from seeking care from male health workers. Widows with no means of support were allowed to seek employment.


Starvation, disease, death, war, and migration had devastating effects on Afghanistan's health infrastructure in the 1990s. According to the World Health Organization, medication was scarce. Even before the war disrupted medical services, health conditions in Afghanistan were inadequate by western standards

In 2004, there were an estimated 18 physicians per 100,000 people. In addition, there were fewer than 3 pharmacists, 3 dentists, and 22 nurses per 100,000 population that year. Approximately only 29% of the population had access to health services. Few people had access to safe water and adequate sanitation.

In 2005, estimated life expectancy was 42.9 yearsone of the lowest in the worldand infant mortality was estimated at 163.07 per 1,000 live births, which gives the country the world's second-highest mortality rate for infants. The maternal mortality rate in 2002 was one of the highest in Central Asia, with 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The death rate in 2002 was 17 per 1,000 people. In 2002, some 80,000 children a year were dying of diarrheal disease. From 1978 to 1991, there were over 1.5 million war-related deaths. It is estimated that 3,767 civilians died because of US bombs in Afghanistan in the period 7 October7 December 2001. Approximately 300400 civilians were killed in the period October 2001July 2002.

As of 2002, Afghanistan had an average of four hospital beds for every 10,000 people. Most of the country's facilities are in Kabul, and those needing treatment must traverse the countryside to get there. Health care was being provided primarily by the international community. Some military field hospitals were set up as a result of the US-led coalition war. There are some medical facilities supported by the Red Cross operating in the country. In 24 of 31 provinces there are no hospitals or medical staff.


According to an official report, there were 200,000 dwellings in Kabul in the mid-1980s. The latest available figures for 198088 show a total housing stock of 3,500,000 with 4.4 people per dwelling. However, years of conflict have caused severe damage to the housing stock. In 2003, UN-Habitat reported that about 26% of all housing had been destroyed or seriously damaged. About 2025% of the population did not have access to piped supplies of safe water and about 84% of the population had no sanitary toilets.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been the leader in providing homes and shelter for returning Afghan refugees, internally displaced persons, and the extremely poor. From 200204, over 100,000 rural homes were built through the collaboration of UNHCR and the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. Others funding housing development included the UN Development Program, the International Organization for Migration, and CARE International, while the agencies implementing the programs are the Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) in Afghanistan, the United Nations Human Settlement Program (HABITAT), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and an assortment of international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Houses in farming communities are built largely of mud brick and frequently grouped within a fortified enclosure, to provide protection from marauders. The roofs are flat, with a coating of mixed straw and mud rolled hard above a ceiling of horizontal poles, although in areas where timber is scarce, separate mud brick domes crown each room. Cement and other modern building materials are widely used in cities and towns. Every town has at least one wide thoroughfare, but other streets are narrow lanes between houses of mud brick, taller than those in the villages and featuring decorative wooden balconies.


At the last estimates, the adult literacy rate was about 36% for the total population51% for males and 21% for females. Education is free at all levels. The primary education program covers six years. The secondary education (middle school and high school) includes another six-year program. About 29% of school-aged children are enrolled at the primary level. About 14% of all appropriately aged children are enrolled in secondary programs. Vocational training is provided in secondary schools and senior high schools, and approximately 6% of students are enrolled in the vocational system. Theoretically, education is compulsory for six years. The new constitution proposed to change the standard to nine years of compulsory education.

Boys and girls are schooled separately. In 2003, the average pupil to teacher ratio for primary school was 61:1. Children are taught in their mother tongue, Dari (Persian) or Pashtu (Pashto), during the first three grades; the second official language is introduced in the fourth grade. Children are also taught Arabic so that they may be able to read the Koran (Quran). The school year extends from early March to November in the cold areas and from September to June in the warmer regions.

In addition to the secular public education system, the traditional Islamic madrassa school system is functioning. At the madrassas, children study the Koran, the Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), and popular religious texts.

All teachers have civil service status. The educational system is totally centralized by the state.

The University of Kabul, which is now coeducational, was founded in 1932. In 1962, a faculty of medicine was established at Jalālābād in Nangarhar Province; this faculty subsequently became the University of Nangarhar. In January 2006, there were at least eight universities and three other institutes of higher education. An estimated 1,000 women throughout Afghanistan participated in university entrance examinations in 2002.


For centuries, manuscript collections were in the hands of the rulers, local feudal lords, and renowned religious families. Printing came fairly late to Afghanistan, but with the shift from the handwritten manuscript to the printed book, various collections were formed. Kabul Central Library is a public library (1920) with 60,000 volumes. The Khairkhona Library is the only other public library in Kabul. The library of the University of Kabul has about 250,000 volumes. There is a library at Kabul Polytechnic University with 6,000 volumes. A government library, at the ministry of education also in Kabul, houses 30,000 volumes. As of 2005, there were six provincial libraries, but in various stages of repair and reconstruction.

Prior to the devastating civil war, the Kabul Museum (founded in 1922) possessed an unrivaled collection of stone heads, bas-reliefs, ivory plaques and statuettes, bronzes, mural paintings, and Buddhist material from excavations at Hadda, Bamian, Bagram, and other sites. It also contained an extensive collection of coins and a unique collection of Islamic bronzes, marble reliefs, Kusham art, and ceramics from Ghaznī. During several decades of warfare, however, the museum was plundered by various armed bands, with much of its collection sold on the black market or systematically destroyed. In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas and sold the debris and the remains of the original sculpture. Small statues of the Buddhas in Foladi and Kakrak were destroyed. Most of the statues and other non-Islamic art works in the collections of the Kabul Museum were destroyed, including those stored for security reasons in the ministry of information and culture.

UNESCO has undertaken a plan to conserve the archaeological remains and the minaret at Jam, and to make it a World Heritage site. The minaret was built at the end of the 12th century and, at 65 m (215 ft) is the second-tallest in the world after the Qutub Minaret in New Delhi, India.

The National Archives of Afghanistan in Kabul was established in 1973. Holdings include government documents and ancient books, the most important being a 500-year-old Koran. Also in Kabul is the Kabul University Science Museum, with an extensive zoological collection and a museum of pathology. There are provincial museums at Bamyan, Ghaznī, Herāt, Mazār-e Sharif, Maimana, and Qandahār. Major religious shrines have collections of valuable objects.


Limited telephone service to principal cities and some smaller towns and villages is provided by the government. In 2003, there were an estimated 2 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 10 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people. In 2004, the CIA reported that there were 50,000 main phone lines and 600,000 cellular mobile phone lines in use (about 3 out of every 10 Afghans had a cellular phone). In 2005, four wireless telephone service providers were licensed.

The media in Afghanistan was severely restricted by the Taliban. Since the fall of that regime, freedom of expression has been provided for in the constitution. However, a 2002 press law contained an injunction against information that would be considered insulting to Islam and, while an independent media is beginning to grow, as of 2004, the state owned at least 35 publications and a majority of the electronic media.

The first television broadcast took place in 1978. There are at least 10 television stations, with the main central station in Kabul being operated by the government. In 2004, there were at least 40 radio broadcast stations (approximately equal numbers of AM and FM), with programming available in Pashtu, Afghan Persian (Dari), Urdu, and English. In 2003, there were an estimated 114 radios and 14 television sets for every 1,000 people. On 12 September 2004 the first independent radio station established entirely by private sector funds was inaugurated in Ghaznī province.

In 2004, there were approximately 300 publications in the country. Mazār-e Sharif alone had an estimated 50 publications. Major newspapers, all headquartered in Kabul, (with estimated 1999 circulations) are Anis (25,000), published in Dari and Pashto; Hewad (12,200), and New Kabul Times (5,000), in English. In January 2002, the independent newspaper Kabul Weekly began publishing again, after having disappeared during the period when the Taliban was in power. The first issue carried news in Dari, Pashto, English, and French.

News agencies include the state-operated Bakhtar News Agency and the privately owned Pajhwok Afghan News, Hindokosh, and Afghan Islamic Press.

In 2005, there were 25,000 people with Internet access.


Afghanistan has over 2,300 registered nongovernmental organizations and approximately 300 registered social organizations. Organizations to advance public aims and goals are of recent origin and most are sponsored and directed by the government.

The National Fatherland Front, consisting of tribal and political groups that support the government, was founded in June 1981 to bolster the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) regime and to promote full and equal participation of Afghan nationals in state affairs. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), established in Kabul in 1977, is an independent political organization of Afghan women focusing on human rights and social justice.

With political changes in the country throughout the past decade, a number of new women's groups have developed. The Women's Welfare Society carries on educational enterprises, provides training in handicrafts, and dispenses charitable aid, while the Maristun, a social service center, looks after children, men, and women while teaching them crafts and trades. These include the Afghan Women Social and Cultural Organization (AWSCO, est. 1994), the Afghan Women's Educational Center (AWEC, est. 1991), the Afghan Women's Network (AWN, est. 1995), the Educational Training Center for Poor Women and Girls of Afghanistan (ECW, est. 1997), the New Afghanistan Women Association (est. 2002 as a merger of the Afghan Women Journalist Association and the Afghan Feminine Association), and the World Organization for Mutual Afghan Network (WOMAN, est. 2002).

The Union of Afghanistan Youth is a national nongovernment organization representing the concerns of the nation's youth and young adults in the midst of transition and reconstruction. The organization serves as a multiparty offshoot of the Democratic Youth Organization of Afghanistan (DYOA), which has worked closely with the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Though the Scouting Movement of Afghanistan was disbanded in 1978, the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) began conducting seminars in July 2003 to encourage and support the rebirth of scouting programs. There are a number of sports organizations throughout the country, including those for football (soccer), tennis, cricket, and track and field; many of these are linked to international organizations.

The Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross, is active in every province, with a national chapter of Red Crescent Youth also active. Afghanistan also hosts chapters of Habitat for Humanity and HOPE Worldwide.

An institute, the Pashto Tolanah, promotes knowledge of Pashto literature, and the Historical Society (Anjuman-i-Tarikh) amasses information on Afghan history. The Afghan Carpet Exporters' Guild, founded in 1987, promotes foreign trade of Afghan carpets and works for the improvement of the carpet industry.


The tourism industry, developed with government help in the early 1970s, has been negligible since 1979 due to internal political instability. A passport and visa are required for entrance into Afghanistan. In 1999, the UN estimated the daily cost of staying in Kabul at $70. Approximately 61% of these costs were estimated to be the price of a room in a guesthouse. Travel was highly restricted in the country due to the US-led campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


The most renowned ruler of medieval Afghanistan, Mahmud of Ghaznī (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 (14831530), 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 (9731048), the great Arab encyclopedist, was born in Khiva but settled in Ghaznī, where he died. Abdul Majid Majdud Sana'i (10701140), the first major Persian poet to employ verse for mystical and philosophical expression, was a native of Ghaznī. Jalal ud-Din Rumi (120773), 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 (141492), was born in Khorasan but spent most of his life in Herāt. So did Behzad (1450?1520), the greatest master of Persian painting.

The founder of the state of Afghanistan was Ahmad Shah Abdali (172473), who changed his dynastic name to Durrani. He conquered Kashmir and Delhi and, with his capital at Qandahār, ruled over an empire that also stretched from the Amu Darya to the Arabian Sea. Dost Muhammad (17891863) 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 (18441901), established order after protracted civil strife. Amanullah Khan (18921960), 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 (190978), 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 after the 1978 "Saur Revolution" were Nur Muhammad Taraki (191779), founder of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA); Hafizullah Amin (192979), Taraki's successor as president of the Revolutionary Council and secretary-general of the PDPA; Babrak Karmal (192996), leader of the pro-Soviet Parcham group of the PDPA and chief of state from December 1979 until May 1986; and Dr. Mohammad Najibullah (194796), former head of the Afghan secret police who was brutally executed by the Taliban militia after they seized control of Kabul. Ahmed Shah Massoud (1953?2001) played a leading role in driving the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan; after the rise of the Taliban, he became the military leader of the Northern Alliance. Massoud was the victim of a suicide attack two days before the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States; some speculate Osama bin Laden had a hand in his assassination, to ensure the protection and cooperation of the Taliban. Hamid Karzai (b.1957) is the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. Karzai worked to overthrow the Taliban. After the regime's demise in 2001, Karzai became the chairman of the transnational administration and interim president until his election in the first direct election in the country, held in 2004.


Afghanistan has no territories or colonies.


Adamec, Ludwig W. Historical Dictionary of Afghan Wars, Revolutions, and Insurgencies. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Barry, Michael. History of Modern Afghanistan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Chayes, Sarah. Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

Misdaq, Nabi. Afghanistan: Political Frailty and Foreign Interference. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Rumer, Boris. Central Asia at the End of the Transition. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2005.

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Islamic State of Afghanistan

Dowlat-e Eslami-ye Afghanestan


US$150 million (1996 est.).



Afghanistan is located in southern Asia and shares a border with 6 countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Landlocked, with an area of 652,000 square kilometers (251,737 square miles), Afghanistan is a mountainous country dominated by the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan mountain ranges to the north and arid desert to the south. Afghanistan endures the most extreme temperatures on earth. Comparatively, the area occupied by Afghanistan is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. The capital city, Kabul, is located in the northeastern part of the country.


The 1976 census estimated the Afghan population at 16.6 million, but 4 years later, similar research put the population at 15.5 million. In 1999, a United Nations (UN) sponsored census, carried out by the Taliban (originally, a group of Afghans trained in religious schools in Pakistan) put the population at 23 million, indicating an annual population growth of 2.8 percent. Finally, the CIA World Factbook estimates the population in July 2000 at 25,838,797. Doubts about the true figures stem from the war that began as a result of the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union in 1979. Not only did this war result in the loss of approximately 1 million lives but an estimated 5 million Afghans went into exile abroad, to countries such as Pakistan and Iran, thus creating the world's largest refugee population. Mass migration from the rural areas to the urban centers occurred and the population of the capital city of Kabul more than doubled after 1979. Over one-third of Afghan families have migrated to Kabul since 1995 and the share of the urban population increased from 10 percent in the 1970s to over 30 percent in 1995. The return of the Afghan refugees began in April 1992, following the victory of the mujahideen (anti-Soviet freedom fighters; from the Persian word for "warrior"), and by the middle of 1996 over half of the refugees had been repatriated . However, when the United States began military strikes against Afghanistan for harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden in 2001, another wave of refugees fled the country.

The principal linguistic and ethnic group in Afghanistan are the Pashtun. These people represent just over half of the population and live mostly in the south or in the east. Persian-speaking Tajiks, who live in the eastern valleys, make up 20 percent of the population; another 10 percent of the population is of Turkmen and Uzbek origin, and they live on the northern plains. There are an additional 20 other different ethnic groups of which the Baluch, the Hazaras, and the Nuristanis are the most well known, and these groups speak over 30 different languages. The vast majority84 percentof Aghanis follow the Sunni Muslim faith, while a significant minority15 percentare Shi'a Muslims.

Following the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, a civil war has been fought largely along ethnic lines between the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, and the Hazaras.


Following the end of 40 years of peaceful monarchical rule in July 1973, Afghanistan was plunged into a war that continued into the 21st century. The end of the monarchy was followed by the setting up of a communist-style regime that collapsed when 100,000 Soviet troops invaded the country in December 1979. For 10 years Soviet forces occupied the country and dictated its governance, but local rebel forces, known as the mujahideen, drove the Soviets out in 1989. The victory by the mujahideen brought no peace to the troubled country, however. For the next several years fighting continued between rival mujahideen factions. By 1996 the sitting government had collapsed, and effective control of the country was seized by the radical Islamic Taliban faction. The Taliban remained in power until 2001 when U.S. attacks toppled the faction from power.

In economic terms, Afghanistan is among the world's poorest countries due to the incessant fighting that has placed the economy on the verge of collapse and taken hundreds of thousands of lives. Two decades of war and political strife left the country's infrastructure in ruins and its people almost entirely dependent on foreign aid. The majority of administrative, economical, and social institutions were wiped out due to the Soviet invasion, mass migration, and continued fighting.

The principal source of revenue in Afghanistan traditionally came from the agricultural sector, and under normal circumstances the country is capable of producing not only enough food to feed its entire population but surplus food to export abroad. But as of 2001 the country was able to produce enough food no longer. Given that the country is heavily dependent on subsistence agriculture, the decline in income levels and the increased lack of food security (a country's ability to feed its own people) increased poverty and caused other economic difficulties. Much of the land that was previously devoted to wheat farming began to be used to cultivate opium poppies, which are used in the production of heroin. The country's transport system was almost entirely broken down, as well as most industry and the agricultural infrastructure. These sectors were so seriously damaged that only sustained massive investment could salvage them.

Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, the economy was almost entirely controlled by the government of Afghanistan, with most investments taking place within the public sector . The private sector extended only to agriculture and trade. The past 2 decades have seen the dismantling of centralized governance and an increase in private sector participation. In 2000 the private sector played a major role in the country's traditional economic activities, and there was still much room for private sector investment in small-scale industries, provided that political stability was achieved. The Taliban emerged in the mid-1990s and swept through the country, taking control in a remarkably short period of time. Political stability was then entirely dependent on the future course the Taliban chose to follow and the economic policies they chose to pursue. The Taliban movement established nominal government in most parts of the country, but it was only recognized by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

The Afghan economy is famously dependent upon the decisions made by its neighbors' governments. In the past, the country was heavily dependent on economic relations with the former Soviet Union, and in 2001 it was sensitive to economic decisions made by the Pakistani government. An example of this dependency can be seen within the markets. An increase in the prices of essential commodities (basic foodstuffs such as bread and rice) in Pakistan led to an increase in prices of the same commodities in Afghanistan. In addition, when Pakistan de-valued its currency in 1998, the value of the Afghan currency was also reduced. Because of the lack of a governmental infrastructure, there were no reliable economic indicators available for such data as GDP, foreign trade, or national income.


Due to its strategic geographical position, Afghanistan has been invaded throughout history and conquered by the Persians, the Macedonians, the Parthians, the Kushan Empire, the Huns, and the Arabs. The only peaceful period in the country's recent past was between 1933 and 1973 when it was ruled by King Zahir Shah. However, following the dissolution of the monarchy in 1973, a communist-style regime was established. The watershed event in the modern era was the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union, which was launched in order to keep Afghanistan from becoming too independent. After a long, entrenched war which many have called "the Soviets' Vietnam," the USSR finally withdrew from the country in 1989. After that, the Taliban took control of most of the country, but a protracted war still continued with opponents of the Taliban, who practiced the same kind of guerilla warfare against the Taliban that they carried out against the Soviet Union.

Afghanistan has not had an effective central government capable of exerting its authority across the entire country because the population is structured by tribes. When the communist administration in Kabul crumbled in 1992, the religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences within the country deepened, leading to the fragmentation of Afghanistan into a series of fiefdoms controlled by warlords. The Taliban originated in the refugee camps on the Pakistani border towns and was initially comprised of religious students who blamed the failure of the previous government on its unwillingness to impose the tenets of fundamentalist Islam (the religion of the world's Muslims and the chief religion in the Middle East; Islam literally means "submission to the will of God"). The Taliban played cleverly on the deep divisions within the country, and in 2000 only 10 percent of the entire country was controlled by non-Taliban groups. This student militia ran the country in accordance with the strict Islamic principles laid out in Sharia Law (Sharia is the law of Islam, based upon the Qur-an, the Sunna, and the work of Muslim scholars in the first two centuries of Islam). Their rigid and often brutal interpretation of Islam caused the Afghan people tremendous suffering, especially among women who were entirely deprived of their rights. The Taliban's successful rise to power was attributed to the substantial help that it received from the Pakistani government combined with the inability of the opposing parties to organize themselves and join together to form an effective opposition. The main political figures within Afghanistan prior to the downfall of the Taliban were Mohammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, and Colonel Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the remaining opposition forces.

Afghanistan under the Taliban regime essentially had no central governmentno executive branch, no legislature, and no independent and impartial judicial system. Many critics of the regime charged that there was no rule of law, no constitution, no civil society, and no system in place to monitor human rights abuses or address grievances. The Taliban's distaste for the standards of international human rights was made clear to the international community. The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the Taliban in November 1999 under Security Council Resolution 1267. (Sanctions are imposed unilaterally or multilaterally by states onto countries that violate international norms of behavior and can take many forms, from denying government aid or other benefits to banning any form of trade.) The UN demanded that the Taliban hand over the terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of being involved in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the September 2001 attacks on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the World Trade Center in New York City. When the Taliban refused to comply, the UN declared that UN member states may not operate commercial aircraft in Afghanistan, and all known funds and other financial resources controlled by the Taliban outside of the country were frozen. With the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001, an interim government composed of tribal and Northern Alliance leaders was formed to restore stability to the country. However, fighting amongst the different leaders threatened the effectiveness of this new government. It is possible that lasting peace and stability will only come to Afghanistan under the watchful eye of an international peacekeeping force stationed in the country.

There has never really been a formal tax system in this essentially tribal country. Local tribal leaders often used to levy arbitrary taxes on commercial goods passing through their territory, but this revenue never reached Kabul. The Taliban tried to gain popularity by removing checkpoints erected for the collection of taxes, and local traders rewarded them with large donations.


Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, considerable investment from the United States and development agencies had been channeled into the reconstruction of the Afghan road networks. Over 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) of roads were built linking the principal cities, giving the country a distinctly modern feel. The long war has undone much of the work carried out by development agencies in the 1970s. In 1993, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimated that 60 percent of the 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) of paved roads needed to be totally rebuilt and that minor roads linking rural areas were in very poor condition. The country has just 21,000 kilometers (12,050 miles) of total roadways. Since 1993 the condition of the roads in Afghanistan has further deteriorated and hundreds of bridges have been destroyed, cutting off many remote mountain areas.

The telecommunications infrastructure has improved since 1999, and in 2001 it was possible to phone between 2 of Afghanistan's major urban centers, Kabul and Kandahar. Telephone calls were also possible to 13 foreign countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. All calls made to Afghanistan have to go through an operator, and calls out of Afghanistan must be made on satellite telephones. In 2000, the Taliban signed a contact with a company based in the United Arab Emirates to increase the number of telephone lines in the country to 1 million by September 2001. This project also aims to put the country in touch with over 99 other countries instead of just 13 within the same time frame.

The aviation infrastructure was almost completely destroyed by the war. Most of the national fleet of aircraft is now unusable or too dangerous to fly commercially. When the first round of sanctions were imposed by the United Nations in 1999, Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, was hit badly because its airplanes were no longer allowed to fly abroad. The country has only 14 airports with paved runways and another 32 dirt landing strips.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Afghanistan 29,000 (1996) N/A AM 7; FM 1; shortwave 1 (1999) 167,000 (1999) 10 100,000 (1999) 1 N/A
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
India 27.7 M (2000) 2.93 M (2000) AM 153; FM 91; shortwave 68 116 M 562 63 M 43 4.5 M
Pakistan 2.861 M (1999) 158,000 (1998) AM 27; FM 1; shortwave 21 13.5 M 22 3.1 M 30 1.2 M
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, energy consumption per capita was among the world's lowest. However, as a result of war and the Soviets' development of the country's gas reserves, consumption levels increased. In 1992 the authorities stated that Kabul's winter requirement was 300 megawatts even though the installed capacity was only 150 megawatts. Between 1992 and 1996, much of the capital had no power. In 1993 the UNDP estimated that over 60 percent of the gas transmission lines were not functioning. In July 2000, the Taliban initiated a project to build an electrical grid from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan; however, the project has not progressed due to a lack of funds. Reports coming out of the country in 2001 indicated that the severe winter had claimed hundreds of Afghan lives.


The economy of Afghanistan, one of the world's least developed, has never been properly documented. Prior to the Soviet invasion in 1979 the very few economic data were often wholly unreliable. Official statistics almost entirely ground to a halt in 1979 and have not been produced since the communist government fell in 1992. Nevertheless, the CIA World Factbook estimated that in 1990 the agricultural sector produced 53 percent of GDP while industry contributed 28.5 percent and services 18.5 percent. In 1980 it was estimated the 68 percent of the workforce worked in agriculture, 16 percent in industry, and 16 percent in services.

Over 2 decades of war have either destroyed or seriously damaged the infrastructures of the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector is still the largest employer. Its output is largely dependant on changing political conditions and, to a lesser extent, the weather.


Agriculture has traditionally driven the Afghan economy, accounting for approximately 50 percent of GDP before the Soviet invasion in 1979. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector has never produced at full capacity. Before the invasion, only 30 percent of the total arable land of 15 million hectares was cultivated. At that time the main exports were sugarcane, sugar beets, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and wool. However, the continuing war reduced production significantly. Soviet troops planted land mines all over the country, rendering large areas of land useless and forcing large sections of the population to become refugees. The resulting cut in production caused massive food shortages. Kabul University produced a report in 1988 which found that agricultural output was 45 percent less than the 1978 level. The UNDP estimated that in 1992 only 3.2 million hectares of land were cultivated of which only 1.5 million hectares were irrigated. In 2001, the principal food crops were corn, rice, barley, wheat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. In Afghanistan, industry is also based on agriculture, along with raw materials. The major industrial crops are cotton, tobacco, castor beans, and sugar beets. Sheep farming is also extremely valuable. The major sheep product exports are wool and sheep skins.

In 2000, Afghanistan experienced its worst food crisis ever recorded because of a very severe drought. Such low levels of recorded rainfall had not been seen in the country since the 1950s. The water used to irrigate the lands comes from melting snow, and in 2000 the country experienced very little snowfall. The southern parts of the country were badly affected, and farmlands produced 40 percent of their expected yields. Half of the wells in the country dried up during the drought, and the lake feeding the Arghandab dam dried up for the first time since 1952. The barley crops were destroyed and the wheat crops were almost wiped out. In the middle of 2000, the drought's consequences were felt in Kabul, when more and more displaced people were migrating to the capital.

The prices of staple foods have also increased in different parts of the country because demand is much higher than supply. For instance, in Kabul, a family of 7 can earn US$1.14 a day if the head of the family is lucky enough to find employment, whereas a loaf of bread costs US$0.63, roughly half an individual's income per day. A large segment of the Afghan population depends on food imported from abroad or distributed by aid organizations. The civil strife and drought increased the country's food import requirements to a record 2.3 million metric tons in 2000/2001, according to the UN World Food Programme. Much of the needed imports come from the international community and the rest from Pakistan. The disruption to the flow of this international aid caused by the 2001 war between U.S.-led forces on the Taliban has threatened widespread famine and starvation to much of the Afghan population.

The number of livestock was greatly reduced during the years of war. In 1970, the total livestock population was estimated at 22 million sheep, 3.7 million cattle, 3.2 million goats, and 500,000 horses. According to a survey carried out in 1988, the number of cattle had declined by 55 percent, sheep and goats by 65 percent, and the number of oxen used to plow the fields was down by 30 percent. Much of the livestock is malnourished and diseased.

Afghanistan in 2000 was the world's largest producer of opium, used to produce the drug heroin. The total opium production for 1998 was estimated at 2,102 metric tons against a total of 2,804 metric tons in 1997. This reduction in the level of poppy production was due to heavy and continuous rains and hailstorms in some of the major poppy producing provinces. However, in 1999, the country produced a staggering 4,600 metric tons. The rotting economy forced farmers to grow the opium poppies as a cash crop , and this practice was supported by the Taliban until 2001, because it provided farmers with money that they would otherwise not be able to earn. However, in 2001, the Taliban ordered the country's farmers to stop growing poppies following an edict by Mullah Omar, the supreme religious leader, that opium cultivation is not permitted under Islam. While analysts contend that the reason had more to do with convincing the United Nations and the international community to lift sanctions, officials from various countries argued that this was done in order to boost the market price for heroin. Heroin still flowed from Afghanistan, only at a much higher priceafter the Taliban's ban on opium growing, the price shot from $44 to $700 per kilo. This caused speculation that the Taliban had stockpiled a large supply of the drug, and the higher proceeds allowed them further funding for military and government operations. With the September 2001 attacks on the United States, opium production was believed to be resumed.


Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the proposed multi-billion dollar oil and gas export pipelines to be built in Afghanistan by UNOCAL, an American oil company, and Bridas, an Argentinean firm. However, political instability has thrown these plans into serious question, and it is unlikely that construction will be approved until the fighting in the country stops.


Afghanistan's proven and probable natural gas reserves are estimated to be around 150 billion cubic feet. Afghan gas production reached 275 million cubic feet per day (mcf/d) in the mid-1970s. However, due to declining reserves from producing fields, output gradually fell to about 220 mcf/d by 1980. At that time, the largest field, Djarquduq, was tapped and was expected to boost Afghan gas output to 385 mcf/d by the early 1980s. However, sabotage of infrastructure by the anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters limited the country's total production to 290 mcf/d. During the 1980s, the sale of gas accounted for up to 50 percent of export revenues. After the Soviet pull-out and subsequent Afghan civil war, roughly 31 producing wells were closed, pending the restart of gas sales to the former Soviet Union. In 1998, Afghan gas production was only around 22 mcf/d, all of which was used domestically. In February 1998, the Taliban announced plans to revive the Afghan National Oil Company, which was abolished by the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The company is expected to play an important role in the resumption of both gas and oil exploration in Afghanistan.


Soviet estimates from the late 1970s placed Afghanistan's proven and probable oil reserves at 100 million barrels. Despite plans to start commercial oil production in Afghanistan, all oil exploration and development work, as well as plans to build a 10,000 barrel per day (bbl/d) refinery, were halted after the 1979 Soviet invasion. In September 1999, Afghanistan signed a deal with Consolidated Construction Company of Greece to explore for oil and gas in the area of Herat in southwestern Afghanistan near the Iranian border. This area is believed to be potentially rich in hydrocarbons (any of a variety of organic compoundsincluding oil and coal that can be harnessed to produce energy). In the meantime, Afghanistan reportedly receives some of its oil imports from Saudi Arabia as foreign aid. There have also been reports that Pakistan has offered to assist Afghanistan in constructing an oil refinery, as well as in repairing damaged roads in order to facilitate transport of oil products from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Besides gas and oil, Afghanistan is also estimated to have significant coal reserves (probable reserves of 400 million tons), most of which are located in the northern part of the country. Although Afghanistan produced over 100,000 tons of coal annually as late as the early 1990s, the country was producing only around 4,000 tons as of 1998.


Almost all manufacturing businesses have shut down or are producing at well below capacity because of the damage caused during the war and the lack of raw materials available in the country. Before this sector collapsed, it was mainly processing local agricultural raw materials. However, the country's cotton mills, woolen textiles, and cement plants were still not producing at full capacity. In 2000, the Taliban announced the startup of 26 production and servicing projects that would create 1,500 jobs, including the production of alcohol-free beverages, printing, syringe-making, and chemical products.


Like the other sectors of the economy, the services sector has been devastated by years of war. There are no reliable figures for retail trade in Afghanistan, and the current economy cannot support anything approaching a vigorous retail trade sector. There is no tourism sector in Afghanistan because the country remains unstable, extremely volatile, and dangerous for foreigners.


In 1932, Afghanistan's banking system was founded by Abdul Majid Zabuli, who developed the economy and imported the necessary goods to start up plants and factories. His bank eventually developed into the Afghan National Bank, which has served roles as both the country's central and commercial bank. Until the beginning of the 1990s, the Afghan National bank had 7 branches in Kabul and 10 other branches in other major cities. It also had offices in Hamburg, Paris, London, and New York. However, like all institutions in 2001, the banking system has been severely affected by the war, and it virtually collapsed when the mujahideen seized power in 1992. The other important banks in Afghanistan are the Construction Bank, the Industrial Credit Fund, the Industrial Development Bank, the Agriculture Bank, and the Export Promotion Bank. The sanctions imposed on Afghanistan in 1999 forced the smaller banks to close, and by 2001, the resources of the remaining banks were very limited, allowing them to engage only in trade-related work.

Those who provide financial services to the average Afghan are not the banks, but money changers who operate in the streets. This situation has meant that opium has become vitally important for Afghanistan's poor, who otherwise would not be able to afford basic foodstuffs. These moneylenders give out informal loans in exchange for a fixed amount of crop. Clearly, opium production or its being banned affects income levels for the poor. These effects remain difficult to determine.


The Soviet invasion in 1979 damaged Afghanistan's industrial and agricultural sectors significantly, and as a result the country's exports, of which gas was very important, diminished. This shift naturally meant that the import bill had to rise to provide the Afghan people with basic commodities such as food and petroleum products and most consumer goods . Rising imports during the 1980s resulted in a serious trade deficit , although accurate figures are impossible to estimate, since official statistics exclude most illegal trade. From 1985 to 1986 and from 1989 to 1990 the value of exports fell almost 50 percent from US$566.8 million to US$235.9 million, with declining natural gas exports accounting for much of the difference. Other crucial earners of foreign exchange included the sale of nuts and vegetables to Pakistan and India and sheepskins to Europe. Imports declined somewhat during the 1980s as Afghanistan and the Soviet Union became more and more integrated. Between 1989 and 1991, the USSR was consuming 72 percent of Afghanistan's exports and supplying it with 57 percent of its imports. Despite the difficulties in determining trade figures, the CIA World Factbook estimated imports of

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Afghanistan
Exports Imports
1975 .217 .350
1975 .217 .350
1975 .217 .350
1980 .670 .841
1985 .567 1.194
1990 .235 .936
1995 .026 .050
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

US$150 million in 1996 and exports of US$80 million, not including opium.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the communist government simultaneously fell in Kabul, most imports started to flood in from Pakistan. Under the Afghan Transit Trade (ATT) agreement, signed in 1965, Pakistan allows Afghanistan to have access to the sea and to engage in commerce with the international community to the extent required by Afghanistan's economy. Most of the goods imported under the ATT are reportedly electronics and other consumer items, which cross Pakistan's territory free of duty .

Since the Taliban's rise to power, trade has increased significantly with Pakistan, but most of it is not officially recorded. Trade between these 2 countries involves the importation of fuel, wheat, and cement and had included the export of opium. There has been an increase in the volume of trade between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan since 1998. In September 1998, the Taliban authorities signed an agreement with the government of Turkmenistan to begin importing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. This action has, to some extent, reduced Afghanistan's dependency on fuel imports from Iran. According to a World Bank report, the total trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan was estimated to be US$2.5 billion in 1996-97, of which US$1.96 billion was estimated to be the value of re-exported goods from Afghanistan into Pakistan.


In 1993, the official inflation rate was more than 150 percent. While there has been no official figure since then, one estimate put the figure at a whopping 240 percent for Kabul in 1996. This kind of skyrocketing price increase in a society is often called "hyperinflation." Thus, a loaf of bread in the capital city may have cost US$1 in 1995 and risen to US$2.50 in 1996. The value of the afghani has also plummeted against the U.S. dollar, going from 36,000 afghanis to the dollar in October,

Exchange rates: Afghanistan
afghanis (Af) per US$1
Jan 2000 4,700
Feb 1999 4,750
Dec 1996 17,000
Jan 1995 7,000
Jan 1994 1,900
Mar 1993 1,019
Note: These rates reflect the free market exchange rates rather than theofficial exchange rate, which was fixed at 50.600 afghanis to the dollar until1996, when it rose to 2,262.65 per dollar, and finally became fixed again at3,000.00 per dollar in April 1996.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

1998, to 45,000 afghanis to the dollar 6 months later. Weaker currency values can lead to higher prices and inflation . Until Afghanistan establishes normal relations with the rest of the world, there is little hope that its currency will have any stability or value.


At meeting of the World Health Organization in Copenhagen in March 1995, its director, Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, stated that "There can be no social development or sustained economic growth without health. . . . Poverty remains the main obstacle to health development." These remarks clearly describe the situation concerning poverty in Afghanistan in 2001.

In 1996, a report published by the United Nations ranked Afghanistan as the third poorest country in the world. Very few Afghans have access to drinkable water, health care, or education. In Kabul, safe drinking water is enjoyed by only 1 out of every 8 families because the reservoirs have been polluted by the waste accumulated through war. Of all infant deaths, 42 percent are related to diarrhea and dehydration, which are caused by unsafe drinking water and unclean conditions. Unlike in the United States, children are not immunized against infant diseases such as polio or tuberculosis. There are very few polio-endemic countries left in the world today; Afghanistan is one of them.

Afghanistan has the third highest infant mortality rate in the world (185 per 1,000 live births), following Niger and Angola. It has a maternal mortality rate (number of mothers dying in child birth) of 1,700 per 100,000 live births, according to the UN. Life expectancy in 2001 was just 45 years for men and 46 years for women.

In 1997, UNICEF carried out a study in Kabul which concluded that the children of Afghanistan suffer from severe psychological trauma. Seventy-two percent of children interviewed had experienced the death of one or more family members between 1992 and 1996, and 40 percent of them had lost one parent. Almost all the children

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Afghanistan 800 800 800 800 800
United States 28,600 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
India 1,600 1,600 1,720 1,800 2,200
Pakistan 2,300 2,600 2,000 2,000 2,000
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th,18th, 19th and 20theditions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

had witnessed acts of extreme violence, and all the children had seen dead bodies in the streets. Ninety percent of the children interviewed believed that they would die in the conflict. Unsurprisingly, all the children interviewed suffered from nightmares and anxiety attacks.

The Taliban forbade women to work or enter any workplace, decreeing that they should stay confined to their homes. But due to the country's critical shortage of doctors, the Taliban decided to allow some female doctors to work in public hospitals in 1997. These women doctors were allowed to treat only female patients. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard a report in 1998 about the mistreatment of female doctors. The report indicated that these doctors were often beaten by hospital guards in an attempt to uphold the policy of the Department of Commanding Good and Forbidding Evil. Male doctors were not allowed to treat female patients except members of their own family and female patients who actively sought medical advice were often attacked and beaten and ordered not to appear again in the street. According to Amnesty International, in 1994 a pregnant woman delivered her baby in a street in Kabul, while her husband was being beaten by the guards for trying to take her to the hospital.


Most of the Afghan labor force in 2001 was employed in agriculture, domestic trade, and, increasingly, cross-border trade. There are no exact figures, but it is estimated that many Afghans work as casual laborers in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. While income derived from remittances is not known, it is estimated to be increasing by the year. Unemployment has risen significantly in services, industries, and other formal institutions since the civil war began. Afghanistan's total workforce was estimated in 1997 as 8 million. The unemployment rate in 1995 was estimated at 8 percent, according to the CIA.

The Taliban's harshly discriminatory policies against women have affected the Afghan economy in a devastating way by cutting the labor force by almost three-quarters. The UN estimates that 60 to 75 percent of the Afghan population is composed of women, and there are hundreds of thousands of widows in Afghanistan, of whom 50,000 live in Kabul alone. Over 150,000 women in Kabul were not allowed to work under the Taliban.


1893. The Durand Line, created by the British and Russia, creates the border between India and the kingdom of Afghanistan.

1894. Tarzi Amanollah seizes power, becomes king, and launches a successful war against British domination.

1923. Amanollah initiates constitutional reforms, bringing Afghanistan closer to the USSR.

1933. Zahir Shah is crowned king and remains in power for 40 years.

1973. President Mohammed Daoud assumes the presidency of Afghanistan after a military coup and abolishes the monarchy. King Zahir Shah is sent into exile.

1977. A new constitution is drawn up establishing a one-party parliamentary system with additional powers given to the president.

1978. The president and his family are murdered in a military coup, and Nur Mohammed Taraki becomes president of a new communist-style regime.

1979. Soviet troops invade Afghanistan and install a government.

1980. Armed tribal groups begin a jihad (holy war) against the Soviet-installed government; the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan reaches 1.5 million.

1980s. Armed mujahideen groups fight Soviet and government forces; hundreds of thousands of Afghans die in the struggle, and millions more become refugees.

1986. President Mohammed Najibullah takes office.

1989. Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

1989-1992. Conflicts increase between government and opposition forces.

1992. In April, President Najibullah is replaced by a 4-member council under a United Nations plan; later, an interim government led by Professor Sebghatollah Mojadedi, takes over. Refugees begin to return to Afghanistan.

1992-1995. Intertribal fighting spreads to all major cities.

1994. The Taliban emerge as a major force in the ongoing internal conflict.

1996. The Taliban gain control of Kabul.

1998. Taliban forces capture key Northern Alliance stronghold of Mazar-e Sharif.

1998. U.S. cruise missiles strike alleged terrorist bases in Afghanistan in response to attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities by groups led by Osama bin Laden.

1999. The Taliban rule out Osama bin Laden's extra-dition, leading the UN Security Council to impose sanctions restricting flights and the sales of arms.

2000. UN Security Council imposes further sanctions on the Taliban. The destruction of Buddha statues in the Bamian province by the Taliban sparks worldwide condemnation, further isolating Afghanistan.

2001. Following a devastating terrorist attack on the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon by al-Qaeda terrorists in September, U.S.-led military action against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorist group begins. The Taliban is forced to surrender all of its territory after attacks by U.S. and British forces, in conjunction with the Northern Alliance, a rebel group of tribal chieftains.


After the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. military action initiated on Afghanistan resulted in the Taliban being stripped of their territory and power, but Afghanistan's future remains in serious disarray. Negotiations to set up an interim government began in Germany in November 2001, and while the participants claimed a desire for peace and a new beginning, Afghanistan's legacy of war and destruction certainly leaves the success of such platitudes open to doubt. Once the U.S.-led military action ends, an international peacekeeping presence will certainly be required to prevent further bloodshed. Given the volatile nature of the country and region, the international community will be called upon to help rebuild Afghanistan and protect the fledgling government that comes out of this latest conflict. Any sort of normalized economic relations are likely several years away.

The United Nations has recognized the need for massive humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan in order to prevent famine in the drought-stricken parts of the country in which 8 to 12 million people live. Of these people, 1.6 million faced starvation in January 2001. The UN made arrangements for weekly humanitarian flights to Kandahar with supplies and there was a project underway to fly extremely sick children to Germany for treatment. Many non-governmental organizations are calling for increased awareness and urgent action on the part of the international community.


Afghanistan has no territories or colonies.


"Afghan Children Experience Severe Trauma." UNICEF Information Newsline. <>. Accessed December 2000.

Afghan Info Center. Structure of Economy in Afghanistan. <http://>. Accessed December 2000.

Asian Development Bank. Key Indicators of Developing Asian and Pacific Countries. Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2000.

Dupree, L. Afghanistan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Afghanistan. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Update Afghanistan, 2001. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

"Human Rights and Gender in Afghanistan." Amnesty International. <>. Accessed December 2000.

International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 1999.

Newby, Eric. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. London: Lonely Planet Publications, 1981.

Office of the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan. "The State of the Afghan Economy." Afghanistan Online. <>. Accessed December 2000.

UNICEF. "UNICEF Humanitarian Action Update: Afghanistan, 7 December 2000." UNICEF in Action. <>. Accessed December 2000.

United Nations. "World Food Programme: Field Operations." World Food Programme. <>. Accessed May 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed April 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Human Rights Practices for 1998 Report: Afghanistan Country Report. <>. Accessed December 2000.

Urban, Mark. War in Afghanistan. London: Macmillan, 1988.

"Women in Afghanistan: A Human Rights Catastrophe." Amnesty International. <>. Accessed December 2000.

"Women's Health and Human Rights in Afghanistan." Women's Health Information Center. <>. Accessed December 2000.

World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2000.

Salamander Davoudi




Afghani (Af). One afghani equals 100 puls. There are coins of 1, 2, and 5 afghanis and notes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 afghanis.


Opium, fruits and nuts, hand woven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems.


Capital goods, food and petroleum products, and most consumer goods.


US$21 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999).


Exports: US$80 million (1996 est.; does not include opium).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Islamic State of Afghanistan
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 25,838,797
Language(s): Pashtu, Afghan Persian (Dari), Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashai
Literacy Rate: 31.5%
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,312,197
  Secondary: 497,762
  Higher: 24,333
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 49%
  Secondary: 22%
Teachers: Secondary: 17,548
  Higher: 1,342
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 58:1
  Secondary: 28:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 32%
  Secondary: 12%

History & Background

The Islamic State of Afghanistan is located in South Central Asia. Afghanistan's population was estimated at 26.7 million in 2000, making it South Central Asia's fifth largest populated country, as well as its fifth largest land area (251,772 square miles).

Afghanistan is a land-locked country surrounded by Pakistan and India to the east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the north, and Tajikistan and China to the northeast. The Hindu Kush mountain range, with its world-famous Khyber Pass, peaks at about 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). The country's land-locked status played significant roles throughout centuries of historical and social development when invading forces sought control over Asian trading routes and populations.

The people of Afghanistan are called Afghans, although the term originally referred to the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, who comprised about 38 percent of the 2000 population. The remaining ethnic groups were Tajik (25 percent), Hazara (19 percent) and Uzbek (6 percent). Other ethnic groups, such as Aimaks, Turkmen, and Balochs, comprised the remaining 12 percent. While many Afghans were bilingual, about 50 percent of the population primarily spoke Pashtu, 35 percent spoke Afghan Persian (Dari), and another 11 percent spoke Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen).

The Islamic religion was the tie that bound Afghanistan's ethnically and linguistically diverse population. About 99 percent of Afghans were Muslim, with Sunni Muslim being the dominant sect (84 percent) and Shi'a Muslim being the second largest (15 percent). Since about 80 percent of Afghanistan's population lived outside its cities, religion and kinship formed the basis of most social circles in the male-dominated society.

Political, social, and economic chaos overwhelmed Afghanistan at the close of the twentieth century and continued to plague the war-beleaguered nation into 2001. About one-third of the population fled the country when Russia invaded in 1979occupying it until anticommunist Islamic Afghan ethnic groups joined forces to expel Russian forces in 1989. During Russian occupation more than 2.5 million people fled to Pakistan, another 1.9 million to Iran, and some 150,000 fled to the United States and other countries. According to the United Nations, at the end of the twentieth century, Afghans were the largest refugee population in the world.

Due to the combination of more than twenty years of civil strife and severe drought conditions, Afghanistan had one of the lowest living standards in the world by 1999 with per person gross national product estimated at US$800. In addition, the country's infant mortality rate (149.7) was the world's third highest, and its overall life expectancy (46 years) was the sixteenth lowest in 2000. Significantly, Afghan women suffered the greatest personal loss of freedom during the latter decades of the twentieth century after the controlling Taliban government placed strict prohibitions on their roles, forbidding them from working or attending schools outside their homes or from interacting with unrelated males.

Prior to the onset of civil war, slightly more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's labor force was employed in agriculture, and about one-half of its gross domestic product was agricultural. In 1996 the country exported $80 million worth of fruit, nut, hand woven carpet, wood, cotton, hides, and pelts as well as precious and semiprecious gem products. Afghanistan's largest export product however, was opium. In fact, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Afghanistan was the world's largest producer of illicit opium in 1999. The major political factions accumulated profits from the illegal drug trade.

Although Afghanistan experienced invasions by other civilizationsmost notably Alexander the Great (328 B.C.), Genghis Khan (1219 B.C.), Tamerlane (late fourteenth century), and Babur (early sisteenth century)none of them transformed Afghan society to the extent of the Arabic invasion that brought the Islamic religion to the region in the mid-seventh century. By the end of the ninth century, most Afghans converted to Sunni Islam replacing Buddhism, Hinduism, Zorastrianism, and other religions of previous empires, invaders, and indigenous groups. Even with the wholesale adoption of the Islamic faith, however, Afghanistan remained a loosely organized tribal society until a tribal council elected Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pashtun, as king in 1747, formally establishing the country and its monarchy.

From 1747 until 1978, all of Afghanistan's rulers were from Durrani's Pashtun extended tribe and, after 1818, all were members of that tribe's Mohammadzai clan. The last member of the Pashtun tribal royal family to rule Afghanistan was Sardar Mohammad Daud, former prime minister and a cousin of King Zahir Shah (who reigned from 1933 to 1973). Daud seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1973. Daud abolished the monarchy, abrogated King Zahir's 1964 constitution, and declared himself the first president and prime minister of the Afghanistan "republic."

In April 1978 members of the communist-inspired People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew Daud, killing him and most of his family. The PDPA attempted to institute broad communist-inspired social reforms that contradicted many deeply held Islamic traditions. Many of PDPA's changes were brutally imposed. Thousands of traditional, religious, and intellectual leaders were tortured, imprisoned, or murdered during the PDPA reign.

In September 1979, Hafizullah Amin seized power, thus igniting further rebellion. Amin refused to heed Soviet advice on how to stabilize the country and its government so, in December 1979, Russia invaded (killing Amin) and installed Babrak Karmal as prime minister. Even with substantial Russian support, however, the Karmal regime was only able to establish limited control in the area surrounding the capital city of Kabul.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

In 2000 Afghanistan did not have a constitution, legislative branch, or legal system. The loosely organized political factions tacitly agreed that they would follow Islamic law through local Shari'a (Islamic) courts. The country's 29 provincial governments bore the brunt of responsibility for maintaining and delivering the limited governmental services intermittently available during war years. Afghanistan's lack of central government and related infrastructure at the beginning of 2001 could be traced to the Taliban's keenly agile response to Russia's folly.

To begin with, Russia's ten-year attempt (1979-1989) at dominating Afghanistan was trouble-filled not only because most Afghans opposed any foreign nonIslamic control but also because Afghanistan society was so loosely knit. Centralized governments are easier to topple than scattered governing councils who are able to put forth new leaders almost at will. Afghan freedom fighterswith weapons and training supplied by the United States and other countrieswere able to rally the country's many political parties into an allied resistance against the Russian supported Karmal. In 1986 Muhammad Najibullah, the former head of the Afghan secret police, replaced Karmal. But, Najibullah's administration also depended upon Russian support and could not broaden its base of support into Afghanistan society. By 1988 the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States and the Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement that settled disagreements between the neighboring countries. The agreement also included the full withdrawal of Russian troops by February 1989 and noninterference in Afghanistan's internal affairs by either Russia or the United States.

The Afghan freedom fighters were not parties to the international agreement, so they refused to accept its terms. War between Afghan factions escalated but Najibullah remained in control until March 1992 when his general, Abdul Rashid Dostman, and Uzbek militia defected. Subsequently, Afghan freedom fighter groups agreed to establish an "Islamic Interim Government" to assume power under the leadership of Professor Sibghatullah Mojaddedi of the Afghanistan National Liberation Front political party for three months. Then, a ten-member leadership council was to be formed under the Islamic Society political party's leader, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, for another three months after which time a grand council of Afghan elders and leaders was to convene to designate an interim administration to hold power for up to one year pending elections. When Rabbani prematurely formed his leadership council, Mojaddedi surrendered. Rabbani was elected president of the new leadership council, but fighting between the various political factions continued. In 1993 two accords, the Islamabad naming Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as prime minister and the Jalalabad calling for disarmament, were signed but both failed to bring lasting peace.

In 1994 an unknown fundamentalist Islamic group, the Taliban (Religious Students Movement), most of whom had been exiled, educated and trained in Pakistan, appeared in the southeastern city of Kandahar. The Taliban movement spread rapidly throughout southern Afghanistan and gathered steam when oppositional groups surrendered their arms. In fact, entire provinces surrendered to the movement with very little resistance. By 1995 the majority of the country, including the capital city of Kabul were under Taliban control. In 1996 the Taliban declared itself the legitimate government. At that time the Taliban renamed the country the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."

According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, Afghans supported the Taliban because they appeared to offer freedom from the war-ravaged years of fighting between the various freedom fighter power factions. But, apparent disillusionment with the Taliban set in as their severe interpretation of Islamic law; strict enforcement of keeping women in seclusion and restrictions on female education and employment became more widely apparent. Consequently, the Taliban were unable to firmly establish centralized government controlling all provincial areas of the country. The UN continued to recognize Burhanuddin Rabbani as president and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as prime minister of Afghanistan in 2000. Also, the Organization of the Islamic Conference left Afghanistan's seat vacant until the legitimacy of its government could be resolved through negotiations among the warring parties.

Educational SystemOverview

Unfortunately, Afghanistan's system of formal education, like that of its central government, was in complete disarray by the year 2000. Without a national authority overseeing the distribution of educational funds and program implementation, the level of schooling varied greatly across the country. Any sort of national philosophy ensuring pupil participation, in even the most basic schooling, was virtually nonexistent by the end of the twentieth century. For example, even though Afghanistan's policy of free education was compulsory for children aged 7 to 13, only 22 percent of the country's "school-aged" children were actually attending schools in 1996.

While it is certainly true that the long term effects of Afghanistan's civil war depleted nearly all community resources that might have been available for the critically important function of education, Afghanistan had one of the lowest standards of education in the modern worldeven prior to the Russian invasion. Indeed, according to research conducted by the World Education Forum (WEF), by 1980 only 11 percent of the country's population over the age of 25 had any formal schooling and less than one percent had completed primary school.

Even though, as the result of two war decades, Afghanistan's centralized educational infrastructure was nonexistent in 2000, sporadic educational services were provided at local levels whenever and wherever war conditions permitted. Due to the sporadic nature of Afghanistan's provincial education services, consistent and reliable enrollment data was difficult to obtain. The reliability of enrollment data was complicated by the fact that the last official census was conducted in the pre-war years so that all population numbers were estimated. Furthermore, enrollment figures were based on percentage estimates provided by local groups, not upon actual counts. UNESCO collected the most reliable sets of data as part of the WEF program. UNESCO data was collected using "International Standard Classifications of Education" (ISCED). The ISCED terminology replaced older educational terms such as "first," "second," and "third" levels with primary, secondary, and tertiary, respectively.

UNESCO reported there were two types of education providers in Afghanistan in 1999: provincial directorates and nongovernmental organizations, particularly international humanitarian relief agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Talibaninduced law and order did return some degree of stability to the country in the late 1990s, and the number of schools increased dramatically from 2,633 in 1990 to 3,084 in 1999. In 1990 agencies operated 2,044 (77.6 percent) of Afghanistan's schools and provincial directorates operated 589 (22.4 percent). In 1999 provincial directorates operated 2,015 schools (65.3 percent) and agencies operated 1,069 (34.7 percent).

The main reason agencies operated far fewer schools in Afghanistan in 1999 than they did in 1990 was because UNICEF suspended its assistance to formal education programs in areas under Taliban control after the Taliban issued its 1995 edict prohibiting the education of females. UNICEF did continue supporting schools where equal access was available and in the informal network of home-based schools. In fact, in 1999 agencies were the main provider of education for girls operating 407 (91 percent) of the 446 girls schools. Provincial directorates operated 1,959 (74.7 percent) of the 2,621 boys schools operating in 1999. The ratio of boys' to girls' schools operated by the government's provincial directorates was 50:1 in 1999. The ratio of boys' to girls' schools operated by agencies in 1999 was 1.6:1.

Access to education was severely limited by the availability of schools and the distribution of Afghanistan's population. UNICEF recorded the number of schools operating in five Afghanistan regions: northern, eastern, southern, western, and central in 1990 and in 1999. During the 1990 to 1999 period, the distribution of schools in Afghanistan changed considerably with the number of schools increasing in every region but the northern region. In 1990 there were 739 schools operating in the northern region, 445 operating in the eastern region, 234 in the southern region, 198 in the western region, and 586 in the central region. In 1999 the number of schools operating in the northern region declined to 547, but the number of schools operating in the eastern region increased to 828, to 652 in the southern region, to 449 in the western region, and to 608 in the central region. In 1999 UNICEF estimated that 53 percent of the population lived in central and northern regions, which only had 38 percent of the total number of schools.

Student/teacher ratios were also based on estimates. In schools operated by the provincial directorates, estimates were that class sizes ranged from 13 to 104 students, with an average of 50 students per teacher. In schools operated by humanitarian relief agencies, class sizes ranged from 12 to 51 students, with an average of 30 students per teacher.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preprimary education programs were implemented in Afghanistan in 1980. By 1990 the country had 195 centers providing such childcare services. The programs covered children between the ages of three to five. But, by 1999 only one remained open. In effect the 1980's decade of gains in early childhood development program halted and it essentially collapsed.

In spite of the uneven distribution of schools, UNESCO reported that primary schools did operate in all provinces in 1990. Afghanistan's compulsory primary education program generally began at age seven and included six years of schooling. The primary education program took six years (ages seven to twelve).

UNESCO reported that only 35 percent of school-aged boys and 19 percent of school-aged girls were attending primary schools in 1990. The percentage of school-aged boys increased to 46 percent in 1993 and 63 percent in 1995 but declined again to 53 percent in 1999. The percentage of school-aged girls declined in 1993 to 16 percent but increased in 1995 to 32 percent. However, reflecting Taliban prohibitions, by 1999 the percentage of females attending primary schools dramatically declined to only five percent.

Since both the provision of primary educational programs and actual attendance varied so greatly across the country and because supplies and textbooks were in extremely short supply, UNESCO reported that primary educational training focused on literacy and "knowledge about life" during the war years. Teachers provided lessons verbally; students memorized the lessons and recited them back.

In the early war-years, an American University study found that elementary education textbooks in the 1980s were available in all the major languages because the government's stated policy was that all children should be able to learn in their native language.

Secondary Education

Secondary level education (ages 13 to 18) was not compulsory and appeared to be less widely available (if at all) than primary education and nonformal education programs. Although elementary schools were located throughout the country, secondary schools were generally located only in larger cities.

Higher Education

Prior to the war years, Afghanistan had two universities, Kabul University and the University of Nangarhar in Jalabad. Kabul University had been a respected learning center, and its medical faculty was largely responsible for the opening of the University of Nangarhar in 1962. In addition to the two universities, in 1983 there were also seven professional and technical universities.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Given that Afghanistan did not have a centralized educational authority in 2000, no information was available about educational administration or educational research. It appeared that those schools operating in 2000 were organized by local efforts without general, much less financial, support of the Taliban government. The only available information about Afghanistan's educational funding indicated that 87.6 percent of funds were allocated to primary education in 1990. The remaining 12.4 percent was allocated to tertiary education. However, no actual dollar amounts were reported.

Based upon UNESCO definitions of educational programs, it must be assumed that secondary educational programs were not funded in 1990. Further, tertiary education programs probably included nonformal education programs such as vocational training (including teacher training).

Nonformal Education

Only 3 of the 29 provincial directorates (Kabul, Paktya, and Logar) operated nonformal education programs for the out-of-school population. Twelve of the twenty-five nongovernmental relief agencies operated informal education centers. In combination, the provincial directorates and the relief agencies operated informal education centers in 12 of the 29 provinces in 1999.

Both agency and provincial directorates offered gender segregated as well as gender mixed training facilities. Some of the programs only accepted children under the age of 15 who had dropped out of school. Others enrolled persons over the age of 15.

Nonformal education programs were generally of two types, literacy and skill development. The literacy program usually lasted six months. Upon completing the literacy program, students could progress to trade apprenticeships lasting from 6 to 18 months. Apprenticeship training programs included bicycle repair, carpentry, shoe making, radio repair, candle making, baking, tailoring, embroidery, welding, watch repair, soap making, vehicle painting, and radio and television repair.

Teaching Profession

According to the World Education Forum (WEF) the teaching profession was considered a low status occupation in Afghanistan society. An appalling fact of the Afghanistan wars was that thousands of teachers were assassinated and even more assaulted by the warring factions. Accordingly, teacher recruitment was extremely difficult, salaries were very low, and teachers were often not paid for their work. The number of Afghanistan teachers dropped 10.7 percentfrom 30,502 in 1979 to 27,230 in 1999. Further, the percentage of female teachers dropped from 59.2 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 1999.

When UNESCO conducted its study of Afghanistan education, published documents pertaining to the qualifications of Afghanistan's teaching profession could not be located. However, UNESCO did collect its own data that indicated while a national system of teachers colleges existed prior to the Russian invasion, no formal teacher training programs were in existence by 2000. Under the defunct program, teachers received 2 years of preparation in addition to the 12 years of primary and secondary education in order to become academically qualified to teach. In effect, "academically qualified to teach" in the Afghanistan context equated to two years of postsecondary classes (college or university) in the U.S. context. In 1999 only 18.8 percent of Afghanistan's male teachers were academically qualified (according to Afghanistan standards) and only 13.8 percent of the female teachers were academically qualified.

UNESCO also found that only 28 percent of teachers had completed 12 years of schooling. Effectively, more than 50 percent of Afghanistan's teachers had not completed the U.S. equivalent of high school (postsecondary school). To fill the void in teacher training programs, humanitarian relief agencies were providing some training courses targeting teachers who had completed less than 12 years of schooling. Agency training courses, ranging from one day to one month, provided training in elementary school teaching methods.


Even though Afghanistan's policy of free education was compulsory for children aged 7 to 13, only 22 percent of the country's "school-aged" children were actually attending schools in 1996. In 1997 UNESCO estimated that 50.8 percent of males and 80.6 percent of females over the age of 15 were illiterate.

The effects of war upon a society are unimaginable to those who have not lived through one. The fact that any educational training took place in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s is testament to the courage and indomitable human spirit of the families and teachers of the provincial directorates and humanitarian relief agencies who were courageous enough to continue teaching and learning. When political, economic, and social stability are returned to Afghanistanno matter the leadership directing the countryit will take the efforts of all Afghans, men and women, girls and boys, for generations to come, to raise the country out of illiteracy and into a higher standard of living.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Giustozzi, Antonio. War, Politics, and Society in Afghanistan 1978-1992. London: Hurst & Company, 2000.

Matinuddin, Kamal. The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994-1997. Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Nyrop, Richard F., and Donald M. Seekins, eds. Afghanistan: A Country Study. The American University, 1986.

Population Reference Bureau. "World Population Data Sheet." Washington, DC, 2000.

United Nations Children's Fund. The Progress of Nations 2000, New York: Division of Communication, Division of Evaluation, Policy and Planning, 2000.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. World Education Report 2000: The Right to Education (Towards education for all throughout life). New York: UNESCO Publishing, 2000.

World Education Forum. The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports, Afghanistan. New York: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2000.

Sandra J. Callaghan

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Afghanistan lies in Central Asia between Iran on the west, Pakistan on the east and south, and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on the north side. The Afghani population in the early twenty-first century is estimated at about 22 million people living in Afghanistan and as refugees in Iran and Pakistan. There are more than forty ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Pushtuns are the largest ethnic group, about 40 percent of the population, living in the south and southeast parts of the country. Tajiks make up about 35 percent and live in central and eastern parts of the country. The next two groups are Hazarahs, minority Shiite Muslims who represent about 8 percent, and Uzbeks, who represent about 9 percent of the population, respectively. The dominant religion is Sunni Islam, and most Afghanis are bilingual in Duri and Pushtu. The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan has created a sociogeography of isolation, ethnic conflict, and tribal alliances. To discuss any aspect of family life in Afghanistan requires a brief recount of modern history of the country.

Historical Background

In 1919, Afghanistan gained independence from Britain and adopted a constitution in 1964. Tribalism and a pastoral economy dominated Afghanistan's socioeconomic structure until the 1970s. In 1978, a series of upheavals called the Saour Revolution led to a leftist government in Kabul. Legal measures such as land reform and family laws were introduced to modernize and unify the country. However, factional conflicts in the ruling party and tribal disputes with the central government led to Soviet intervention in 1979. In response to the Soviet intervention, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan joined to help the opposition, which consisted of a loose federation of resistance groups called the Mujahidins. In 1989, the Soviet army left Afghanistan, and the American aid stopped. In 1992, several Mujahidin factions entered Kabul and removed President Najibullah. Between 1992 and 1994, power changed hands in violent clashes between Mujahidin factions with an estimated fifty thousands civilians killed. A less known faction of the Mujahidin, called the Taliban—meaning students of Islamic seminaries— took control of 90 percent of Afghanistan in 1994. Between 1994 until September 2001, the Taliban established order, although at great cost to many segments of the population. Meanwhile, they battled an opposition group called the Northern Alliance. Civil war, refugee status, and extreme economic conditions have changed the family structure in Afghanistan.

Continuity and Change in Traditional Afghani Family

Family and tribal identity have encompassed Afghan women's lives. Marriages were endogamous based on family considerations, tribal lineage, and geographical location. Nancy Tapper (1991) writes about Pushtuns' tribal system in pre-1970 Afghanistan as patrilineal and endogamous. Property inheritance was patrilineal (through the male line), and women did not inherit property except their trousseau given by their birth family. The Hazarahs and some of the Tajiks followed the inheritance requirements of the Islamic law of Shari'at, in which daughters inherit half and wives one-fourth of the property. Divorce was rare, and polygamous marriages were common.

As in many North African and Middle Eastern societies, an Afghan man's honor is closely linked to the behavior of his female relatives. A woman's indiscretion could directly affect a man's social standing. Consequently, men controlled women's behavior in public and monitored their interaction in private. This control was rarely complete, and women could subvert men's control and exert influence in family relationships.

Marriages, until legal reforms in family law, were arranged in three forms: among equals for the bride-price given to the father of the bride, as an exchange of brides between families for the bride-price, and as the giving of the bride for blood money (i.e., the victim's family would agree to receive a girl from the accused's family instead of avenging their member's blood by killing the accused) or as compensation for stolen or destroyed property (Tapper 1991). These forms of marriages are less common today, and giving women for blood money has been banned completely. As in many Muslim countries, family is still the locus of social relationships, ethnic identity is strong, and for the most part marriages take place within the same tribal lineage.

Many aspects of family relations changed after the leftist government of Mohammad Saoud came to power in 1973. Women were allowed into the National Assembly; forced marriages were banned; a minimum age for marriage was established; and women gained the right to employment. The socialist government established a national educational system for all children; schools were co-ed, and 70 percent of teachers and 50 percent of civil service employees were women. These changes were voluntary, and many urban families supported a gradual change of gender roles. After the Soviet army left and the Mujahidin took power, many of these rights were canceled, although haphazardly.

In 1994, when the Taliban came to power, they officially rescinded all previous reforms and launched a campaign of terror against ethnic minorities, especially Shiite Hazarahs and some Tajiks. They imposed a strict gender code based on their interpretation of Islamic law of Shari'at. Immediately after takeover, on September 26, they issued an edict that banned women from working, closed girls' schools, and required women to wear Borqa—a full body covering with a meshed section for the eyes—and to be accompanied outside home by a male guardian. Women's access to health care was restricted and female health care workers and aid workers were either purged or had their activities constrained. As a result, women's health has suffered. In a 1998 survey, Zohra Rasekh and colleagues reported that women living in camps in Pakistan had a high rate of depression, displacement hardship, and other health-related problems.

Initially, Afghani women's oppression received world attention that condemned Taliban policies. Simplistically, these policies were attributed to the extreme Islamic fundamentalism that disregarded Pushtuns' ideals regarding family honor and tribal identity. The Taliban forces consisted of Pushtun boys trained by conservative mullahs in madrasses, or Islamic seminaries, in Pakistan. They had minimum contact with any women, including female family members. In the seminaries, they were taught a potent revolutionary ideology constructed of Pushtun notions of shame and honor based on men's control of women's sexuality, combined with Pushtuns' perception of their ethnic superiority. In madrasses, this ethnic and gender supremacy was cast into conservative Islamic theology to create the Taliban's notion of pure society and women's place in it.

The fate of women received world attention, but at the same time, all family members suffered. Men paid heavily for the war and Taliban domination. The few who were employed were mindful of their family's security, faced harassment by morality police, and looked to protect their sons from a military draft that had no age limit or required consent. Those unemployed tried to support their family without the safety net of the extended family. In rural areas, drought limited pastures for herders and made farming less predictable. The only income left was from smuggling and poppy cultivation. If they moved their families, men went back and forth to care for elderly parents or other relatives. They faced capture or bandits, and in the host countries performed the most undesirable manual work. For urban families, women's confinement meant closure of schools and loss of women's income. Many families, including some Taliban officials, who did not support school closure moved their families out of the country to secure education of their children, both boys and girls, and keep them away from the clashes.

The Afghani Family in the Early Twenty-First Century

The status of contemporary Afghani families is a patchwork of displacement, poverty, war, unemployment, and lack of basic necessities. As of spring 2002, the United Nations and aid agencies report 5.3 million very vulnerable people at risk of severe malnutrition. Families struggle to survive in an agricultural economy dependent on opium cultivation ravaged by war and drought. Approximately 350,000 internally displaced individuals and an estimated five million refugees in Iran and Pakistan suggest profound structural changes for Afghani families. The majority of refugees in Pakistan are Pushtuns, and most refugees in Iran are Tajiks and Hazarahs.

In Iran, only a small fraction of refugees live in camps. The early refugee families are intact and, despite economic difficulties, are living together. Some are second generation and have never been to Afghanistan. The majority are integrated in three areas in central and eastern cities. This group benefits from the national health care, and their children attend public schools. The government and aid agencies provide health screening and vaccination for children and free reproductive health services for women. Distrustful of madrasses, the Iranian government frowns upon private Afghani schools and provides public education as much as possible.

The refugees arriving after 1995 face more problems. They came in small groups and have had trouble joining other family members. Accordingly, female-headed households are more common among the later refugees. Another incoming group consists of unmarried young men attracted to the booming construction industry.

The Pakistani government has taken a different approach to Afghan refugees. Pakistan helped the Taliban faction and was one of the three countries recognizing them as a legitimate government (the other two being Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). Although some of the early refugees to Pakistan became integrated into society, many live in about 300 refugee villages set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The early refugees in Pakistan, like those in Iran, consist of more intact families. Unlike Iran, the Pakistani government encouraged madrasses and military camps to train Taliban fighters. There they absorbed a potent revolutionary ideology constructed of Pushtun ethnic supremacy, Sunni Islam, and traditional patriarchy.

On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States led to massive destruction and fatalities in New York City and Washington, DC. The group responsible was perceived to be hiding in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan caused the massive movement of people at borders to enter Iran or Pakistan. As of spring 2002, the Taliban had been removed, the U.S. forces were in the country, and a new interim government had taken office. Two women serve as cabinet members of this new government. A voluntary repatriation program arranged by the UNHCR and the Iranian and Pakistani governments is underway. About half million refugees from Pakistan and approximately 80,000 from Iran have returned.

The picture of Afghani family is one of individuals holding to extended family and lineage when possible, but less than half of the Afghani population can do so. The UNHCR is involved in the largest human assistance program, started on September 24, 2001. Life expectancy is forty-four years, and one out of four children dies before reaching the age of five. Afghanistan has the highest density of landmines of any country in the world. Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance recruited, sometimes by force, young boys into their armed forces.

The unintended consequence of the war has been the broadening of women's views about their roles. By various accounts, there are close to one million widows or separated women who are the heads of households. Afghani women refugees, witnessing Iranian and Pakistani women's educational and occupational achievements, have acquired new expectations for their daughters and themselves. In Iran, Afghani girls attending primary school outnumber Afghani boys. The aid agencies' policies are a factor in this: For example, under the Oil for Girls program, a family receives a gallon of cooking oil for every month that a girl stays in school. Afghani women have acquired a sense of autonomy by dealing on their own with aid agencies or government bureaucracies of the host nations.

Intratribal or bicultural marriages have increased. Nevertheless, this is particularly problematic when Afghani men marry Iranian or Pakistani women. Because a woman carries her husband's legal status, these men do not become citizens of their wives' respective countries, though their children are registered to both parents. This creates problems for Iranian families when women unfamiliar with the law marry Afghani men. In contrast, Afghani women marrying Iranian or Pakistani men do not face such a problem. The latter is less common.


For Afghanis, family life continues to function as a paramount social institution. However, in the face of war and the refugee situation, families have experienced change and disruption. Afghani refugee women in Iran deeply regret the loss of family support, but governments and aid agencies have replaced some of this support. Refugee girls born or raised outside Afghanistan may not return, and some of those who have remained in the country are traumatized by chronic problems of displacement and famine. Further, there is a generation of young men and boys raised on the streets or in training camps and madrasses away from extended family's support and removed from its code of responsibility and rights. Despite the historic resilience of the people, this combination does not bode well for the future of Afghan family.

See also:Islam; War/Political Violence


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squire, c. (2000). "education of afghan refugees in the islamic republic of iran." tehran: unhcr and unicef.

tapper, n. (1991). bartered brides: politics, gender andmarriage in an afghan tribal society. cambridge: cambridge university press.

united nations high commissioner for refugees (2001a).background paper on refugees and asylum seekers from afghanistan. geneva: center for documentation and research.

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united nations high commissioner for refugees (2001)."un prepares for massive humanitarian crisis in afghanistan." available from


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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Islamic State of Afghanistan
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 26,813,057
Language(s): Pashtu, Afghan Persian (Dari)
Literacy rate: 31.5%
Area: 647,500 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 10
Number of Television Sets: 100,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 3.7
Number of Radio Stations: 9
Number of Radio Receivers: 167,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 6.2

Background & General Characteristics

When the Taliban took control of the capital Kabulon September 26, 1996, the Islamic State of Afghanistan began a period of regulation regarded by many as the most restricted in the world. Five years later, shortly after September 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon destroyed the former and severely damaged the latter, these restrictions began to ease, largely as a result of U.S. "war" strikes against the Afghani-based Al Qaeda (The Base) terrorist group held responsible for the attack.

Afghanistan has a population of around 25 million people composed of two major ethnic groups, Pashtun (38 percent) and Tajik (25 percent); however, additional ethnic groups include Aimaq, Balulchis, Brahui, Hazaras, Nuristanis, Turkmens, and Uzbeks. Most people are Muslim (Sunni: 84 percent, Shi'a: 15 percent). Many speak one of the official state languages (Dari: 50 percent, Pashtu: 35 percent), although there are some 30 viable dialects, and the official language of the religious leadership is Arabic. Between 1996 and 2002, religious police enforced codes of conduct that imposed comprehensive constraints on females.

A paternalistic background dominates the role communications has played in the country. Up to the time of this publication, the industry may be characterized as small, state-controlled, and subject to heavy censorship by religious fundamentalists. In 2001 newspaper circulation rates were estimated by objective data-gathering sources to be operating at the 1-percent mark. The Taliban Ministry of Information and Culture maintained that more than a dozen daily newspapers existed under their regime. These state-owned organs featured Taliban official announcements, news of military victories, and criticism of any opposition. Because there were no newsstands, the papers were distributed largely to political/religious institutions.

Low readership, in addition to low circulation, characterizes this country's journalism. The potential newspaper audience is small because Afghanistan has a literacy rate thought to be among the lowest in Asia (around 31 percent, according to UNESCO estimates), although education is officially compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 13. Few matriculate to any form of higher education.

Restricted press life and low readership levels extend backward well beyond the Taliban. In fact, only one period may have permitted the operation of truly independent journalismthe supposed decade of democracy (1963-73) under the rule of King Zahir Shah, Pakistan's last monarch who reigned from 1933 to 1973. With his overthrow, media restrictions increased geometrically under President Mohammad Daud (1973-78), the Communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (1978-92), the provincial Mujahidin (fighters in a holy war) (1992-96), and the Taliban (1996-2002).

The first regularly published Afghani newspaper was the Saraj-al-Akhbar ("Lamp of the News") debuting in 1911 and published in Afghani Persian (Dari), eight years before Afghanistan gained independence on August 19, 1919, from Great Britain. Founder Mahmud Tarzi was outspoken and opposed, among other things, the official position of friendship between Great Britain and Afghanistan. After King Shir Ali Khan died, the "Lamp" was replaced by Aman-i-Afghan ("Afghan Peace"). From that initial period of attempted enlightenment until the 1950s through 1970s, when professional journalists facilitated a brief period of growth, Afghani journalism remained limited and mostly a vehicle for resonance with ruling thought.

By 2001 the two most influential dailies were Anis ("Companion" or "Friendship"), founded in 1927 with a circulation estimated at 25,000 and published in Dari but including articles written in Pashtu and Uzbek, and Hewad ("Homeland"), founded in 1959 with a circulation estimated at 12,000 and published in Pashtu. Both are based in Kabul and controlled by the Ministry of Information and Culture. These four-page "dailies" came out only several times a week, however, and reached only 11 per 1,000. Nevertheless, such a distribution rate represents a marginal increase from the 1982 rate of 4 per 1,000.

Other principal dailies, estimated at no more than 14, were headquartered in Kabul and in such provincial centers as Baghlan, Faizabad, Farah, Gardiz, Herat, Jalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, Shiberghan, and Qandahar. These provincial papers mostly relied on the Kabul dailies for news, and averaged around 1,500 in circulation.

An independent Afghani press, then, has not existed in Afghanistan since 1973. The nearest relative to such an entity would be an Afghan-owned daily that began operations in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the late 1990s. With formal news channels so restricted and unidimensional, informal news networks have flourished in the bazaars of Kabul and other cities. A mixture of fact and fantasy, this news has circulated orally and through shahnamahs (night letters).

Economic Framework

Afghanistan has had a modern history of oppression, war, and poverty. A mountainous, landlocked country in southwest Asia, with dry climate and temperature extremes, its arable land is only around 12 percent. Nevertheless, almost 70 percent of its labor force is engaged in agrarian activity. In general, the population has a small per capita income (around U.S. $170) and a life expectancy that is the lowest in Asia (around 47 years-of-age).

The Hindu Kush Mountains separate the country into northeast and southwest sections, roughly speaking, a division that has impeded commercial and political relations between these areas. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist militia, ruled approximately 80 percent of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2002. The Northern Alliance, their last remaining opponents with a stronghold in the northeast corner, laid claim to the remaining 20 percent.

Modern printing machines began operating in Afghanistan in 1927, although the printing standards remain behind the times. Much of the type continues to be set by hand.

Questions relevant to journalism in technologically advanced countriescompetition, advertisers' influence, reporter power, and the likesimply are not relevant to Afghanistan. As a country entrenched in the beginning stages of progress, in fact, Afghanistan has substantial barriers to media development. These obstacles include inhospitable terrain, mixed ethnic groups with historic conflicts, language differences, low literacy and income levels, underdeveloped educational and other social welfare institutions, and a governmental structure dominated by religious intolerance.

Press Laws

The 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan and the Press Law of July 1965 provided for freedom of the press subject to comprehensive articles of proper behavior. According to the Press Law, the press was free (i.e., independent of government ownership) but must safeguard the interests of the state and constitutional monarchy, Islam, and public order. When the government was overthrown in July of 1973, 19 newspapers were shut down. Western-style freedom of the press has systematically eroded during the regimes of dictatorship, communism, Mujahidin factions, and the Taliban.


By 2002 it appeared that traditional forms of press freedom were simply nonexistent in Afghanistan. Because the ruling movement strictly interpreted Muslim Sharia law and banned representation of people and animals, for example, newspapers were picture-free censorship in which Afghanistan stands alone in the world. Had newspapers been allowed to print photographs, women would have appeared only in full veil and men in full beard. This suppression of freedom of expression extended to a complete ban on music and films.

Self-censorship also has been a problem because of the threats received by journalists after writing articles critical of the Taliban. Afghan journalists, working both locally and in exile, have been subject to warnings as well as fatwas (death threats) for writing unpopular reports. These threats have sometimes materialized into murder.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

The Taliban enforced heavy restrictions on foreign journalists who were provided with a list of 21 rules. The principal positive rule required journalists to give a "faithful" account of Afghani life. The succeeding rules represented a series of restrictions, the umbrella of which was a prohibition on journalists traveling unaccompanied by Taliban "minders." These watchdogs were there to ensure that journalists abided by the limitations, which included bans on entering private houses, interviewing women, and the like.

Foreign journalists, as well as Afghani journalists, often have been harassed. A number of examples exist of reporters who have been wounded, kidnapped, or murderedgrim reminders of the dangers journalists face while trying to perform their job in an unstable country.

The only foreign broadcaster permitted entry to Afghanistan has been Al Jazeera, an independent satellite television station home-based in Qatar and seemingly owned, at least indirectly, by the Qatari government. Although the channel may not always promote "Arab brotherhood," as defined by the Arab States Broadcasting Union's code of honor, it also has been willing to air anti-American views and statements by Osama bin Laden, even after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Labeled a maverick, and regarded as the most popular television channel in the Arab culture, Al Jazeera may come closest to uncensored programming among Arab media.

News Agencies

The Bakhtar News Agency, responsible for domestic news collation and distribution to all domestic media, reports to the Ministry of Information and Culture. Leaders in both these units traditionally have been appointed based on their loyalty to the ruling government.

Two Pakistani-based news agencies have been launched by Afghani refugeesthe Afghan Islamic Press and the Sahaar News Agency. They manage to produce bulletins with varying degrees of accuracy for mostly Western wire services.

Because of the dangers to journalists based in Afghanistan, foreign news bureaus have shrunk. By 2001 only three countries were represented by news agencies in Kabul: Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Yugoslavia.

Broadcast Media

Color television broadcasting began in 1978. The Taliban banned television and closed the station in 1996. Taliban religious police smashed privately owned television sets and strung up videocassettes in trees in a form of symbolic execution by hanging. Anyone found harboring a television set was subject to punishments of flogging and a six-month incarceration.

In the northeast, however, Badakhshan Television broadcast news and old movies for three hours every evening. Financed by the Northern Alliance, the station's audience was limited to around 5,000 viewers (among 100,000 residents in Faizabad without electricity) who could muster some kind of home-generation power source. Although a marginally effective news channel, it became a symbol of light in a more freely communicating society in direct opposition to the darkness imposed by the Taliban.

Radio is the broadcast medium of choice in Afghanistan, an option well suited to a low-literate society, although most people do not have a radio (radio ownership is around 74 per 1,000). The Radio Voice of Sharia (Islamic law), founded in 1927 as Radio Kabul and controlled by the Ministry of Information and Culture, was programmed by the Taliban to provide domestic service up to 10 hours daily in Dari and Pashtu; daily domestic service of 50 minutes in Nurestani, Pashai, Turkmen, and Uzbek; and 30 minutes of foreign service in English and Urdu. Broadcast topics were mainly of religious orientation, unrelieved by music.


The history of mass media in Afghanistan, especially recent history, is dominated by such adjectives as restricted, censored, under-developed, and nonexistent. Its future undoubtedly relies on the establishment of peace, prosperity, and a philosophy of communication that promotes civil government. Because country development and modern communications technology are correlated, Afghans would do well to create a society that offers freedom of information and human respect, regardless of demographic label, to all.

Significant Dates

  • 1996: Taliban capture Kabul and Jalalabad, effectively assuming control of Afghanistan. Ban television. Impose heavy restrictions on radio and print media.
  • 2001: Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon in the United States. Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization headquartered in Afghanistan, held responsible. United States responds with air and ground strikes aimed at destroying the Taliban, who refuse to surrender Al Qaeda.
  • 2002: Taliban overwhelmed. A measure of freedom returns to Afghanistan as freer press, music, and television begin a resurgence.


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Clay Warren

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Official name: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Area: 647,500 square kilometers (250,001 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Mount Nowshak (7,485 meters/24,558 feet)

Lowest point on land: Amu Darya River (258 meters/846 feet)

Hemispheres : Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 4:30 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,240 kilometers (770 miles) from northeast to southwest; 560 kilometers (350 miles) from northwest to southeast

Land boundaries : 5,529 kilometers (3,436 miles) total boundary length; China, 76 kilometers (47 miles); Iran, 936 kilometers (582 miles); Pakistan, 2,430 kilometers (1,511 miles); Tajikistan, 1,206 kilometers (750 miles); Turkmenistan, 744 kilometers (463 miles); Uzbekistan, 137 kilometers (85 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits : None


Afghanistan is a landlocked nation (does not have access to the sea) in south-central Asia. At the crossroads of north-south and east-west trade routes, the country has been invaded many times, by Alexander the Great in the fourth century b.c., and by the Soviet Union in the twentieth century a.d. Almost as large as the state of Texas, Afghanistan is bounded by six different countries. Afghanistan's longest borderaccounting for its entire southern boundary and most of its eastern oneis with Pakistan. The shortest one, bordering China's Xinjiang province, is only 76 kilometers (47 miles), at the end of the Wakhan corridor.


Afghanistan has no territories or dependencies.


The climate of Afghanistan ranges from semi-arid (light annual rainfall) to arid (almost no annual rainfall), with wide variations in temperature, both between seasons and between different times of day. Its summers are hot and dry, but its winters are bitterly cold. Recorded temperatures have ranged as high as 53°C (128°F) and as low as -26°C (-15°F) in the central highlands, which have a subarctic climate. (Subarctic climate features long, very cold winters with short, cool summers, and little rainfall.) Summertime temperatures in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, can vary from 16°C (61°F) at sunrise to 38°C (100°F) by noon. Summer highs in Jalalabad average 46°C (115°F). The mean January temperature in Kabul is 0°C (32°F). Strong winds that blow between June and September (called the "Winds of 120 Days") can have a velocity of up to 180 kilometers per hour (108 miles per hour).

In much of the country, rainfall is sparse and irregular, averaging 25 to 30 centimeters (10 to 12 inches) and mostly occurring between October and April. Rainfall is generally heavier in the eastern part of the country than in the western regions. Afghan summers are generally dry, cloudless, and hot. Humid air from the Persian Gulf (body of water lying west of Afghanistan between Saudi Arabia and Iran) sometimes produces summer showers and thunderstorms in the southwest. Most of the precipitation in the mountains falls in the form of snowand sometimes as hail. During the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Afghan resistance fighters called mujahideen referred to the heavy hail that fell in the mountains as "Allah's minesweepers" because its force was sometimes strong enough to set off land mines.

Season Months Average Temperature
Summer June to September 16 to 33°C (61 to 91°F)
Winter November to March -8 to 2°C (18 to 36°F)


From northeast to southwest, the Hindu Kush Mountains divide Afghanistan into three major regions: 1) the central highlands, which form part of the Himalaya Mountains and comprise roughly two-thirds of the country's area; 2) the southwestern plateau, which accounts for one-fourth of the land; and 3) the smaller northern plains area, which contains the country's most fertile soil. The Wakhan corridor, lying between Tajikistan and Pakistan, is a narrow panhandle in the northeast Hindu Kush.


Afghanistan is landlocked. The nearest seacoast is roughly 483 kilometers (300 miles) south in Pakistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea.


There are few lakes in Afghanistan, and the largest of them are along the country's southwestern border. The Daryacheh-e Namakzar and the Hamun-e Sāberī (also called Lake Helmand) have most of their surface area in Iran. Lake Zorkul is located in the Wakhan corridor near the border with Tajikistan. Abi-Istada, about 193 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of Qandahar, is a salt lake. Five small lakes in the central highlands, collectively called Band-e Amir, are known for their unusual colors, which range from a filmy white to a deep green.


Afghanistan's drainage system is landlocked. Most of its rivers and streams end in shallow desert lakes or oases (plural of oasis; any fertile tract in the midst of a wasteland) inside or outside the country's boundaries. A few rivers in the eastern part of the country, however, eventually reach the Arabian Sea after first emptying into the Indus River in Pakistan. In the western part of the northern plains many rivers disappear underground before emptying into the Amu Darya River (also called the Oxus River). In the west, the sandy deserts along the Iranian frontier (border) have no watercourses (natural flowing water).

The Amu Darya River, at 2,661 kilometers (1,654 miles) long, is the country's longest river. About 965 kilometers (600 miles) of its upper course separates Afghanistan from its neighbors Turkmenistan, Uzbeki-stan, and Tajikistan. The Helmand is the principal river in the southwest, bisecting (crossing through) the entire region. The Helmand is approximately 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) long. The Kabul River, 515 kilometers (320 miles) long, is a vital source of water in the Kuh-e Baba Mountains.


The Rigestan Desert, along the country's southern border, occupies roughly one-quarter of the southwestern plateau. Sand ridges and dunes alternate with wide desert plains devoid of vegetation. West of the Rigestan Desert lies the Dasht-e Margo, a desolate region with salt flats. A flat strip of desert and grassy steppe (treeless flat land) extends along the banks of the Amu Darya River. Desert areas are also found along the foothills of the central Hindu Kush and west of Mazar-e Sharif.


North of the mountainous central highlands are the northern plains, Afghanistan's smallest natural region, with an area of approximately 103,600 square kilometers (40,000 square miles). They stretch from the Iranian border in the west to the foothills of the Pamir mountains in the east. The eastern half of this region, which forms a part of the Central Asia steppe, is bounded by the Amu Darya River. The northern plains have an average elevation of 609 meters (2,000 feet), except for the Amu Darya valley floor, which drops to as low as 183 meters (600 feet).


The mountainous central highlands formed by the Hindu Kush and its subsidiary ranges (the ranges that branch from the Hindu Kush) are extensions of the Himalayas. Crossing the country for 965 kilometers (600 miles) from east to west and covering an area of approximately 414,400 square kilometers (160,000 square miles), this area contains towering peaks alternating with steep gorges and barren slopes.

This mountain systemAfghanistan's dominant physical featureis composed of three high ridges. The main ridge begins in China and runs southwestward as the eastern Hindu Kush, with summits over 6,400 meters (21,000 feet) high. The highest mountains are in the Wakhan corridor, including the country's highest peak, Mount Nowshak. At the Anjuman Pass, the eastern Hindu Kush becomes the central Hindu Kush. The Kuh-e Baba range runs parallel to and south of the central Hindu Kush. Other important mountain ranges include the Kuh-e Hisar, the Firoz Kuh, and the Paropamisus.


The city of Mazar-e Sharif is famous throughout the Islamic world as the place where Ali, the son-in-law of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, is buried.

A similar series of ranges runs parallel to the Paropamisus and Hindu Kush at lower altitudes along the southern rim of the northern plains. In addition, several mountain chains fan out to the southwest. In the southeast, several lower ridges enclose long valleys that run parallel to the boundary with Pakistan. The valley region that is home to the capital city of Kabul is bounded by this range system.


The caves that have been used for military purposes since the 1970s are largely man-made (see below). Afghanistan has few natural caves; limestone, from which most natural caves are formed, is found only in isolated areas of the country. Afghanistan's largest natural cave is the 1,120-meter-long (1,120-foot-long) Ab Bar Amada northwest of Kabul.


The southwestern plateau southwest of the central highlands is an arid region of desert and semidesert extending into Pakistan to the south and into Iran to the west. From an altitude of about 914 meters (3,000 feet) at its highest point, it slopes gently to the southwest. A few large rivers traverse this plateau, including the Helmand and its major tributary the Arghandab. The southwestern plateau region covers approximately 129,500 square kilometers (50,000 square miles) and includes the Rigestan Desert.


Afghanistan's so-called "caves" are actually man-made dugouts built into the mountains by mujahideen rebels fighting the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s. Al Qaeda Muslim extremists also used the caves for military purposes in 2001 and 2002. The dugouts are between 3 and 9 meters (10 to 30 feet) deep.



Elliot, Jason. An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan. London: Picador, 1999.

Ellis, Deborah. Women of the Afghan War. Westport, CT.: Praeger, 2000.

Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan: A New History. Richmond: Curzon, 2001.


"The Most Dangerous Place on Earth: A Look Inside Afghanistan." Special report. Current Events. Nov. 30, 2001, pp.S1-5.

Web Sites

Afghanistan Online. (accessed February 14, 2003).

National Geographic. (accessed June 21, 2003).

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Kabul (kä´bŏŏl, kəbōōl´), city (1997 est. pop. 1,500,000), capital of Afghanistan and of Kabul prov. and its largest city and economic and cultural center, E Afghanistan, on the Kabul River. It is strategically located in a high narrow valley, wedged between mountain ranges that command the main approaches to the Khyber Pass. A tunnel under the Hindu Kush mountains links Kabul with the Tajikistan border. The city's chief products are woolen and cotton cloth, beet sugar, ordnance, and furniture, but a continuing state of war between 1979 and 1996 limited production, and the city's industry, infrastructure, and economy are still recovering.

Kabul's old section, with its narrow, crooked streets, contains extensive bazaars; the modern section has administrative and commercial buildings. An educational center, Kabul has a university (est. 1931), colleges, and a fine museum. Also in the city are Babur's tomb and gardens; the mausoleum of Nadir Shah; the Minar-i-Istiklal (column of independence), built in 1919 after the Third Afghan War; the tomb of Timur Shah (reigned 1773–93); the fort of Bala Hissar, destroyed by the British in 1879 to avenge the death of their envoy in Kabul; and several important mosques. The royal palace and an ancient citadel stand outside the present city.

Kabul's history dates back more than 3,000 years, although the city has been destroyed and rebuilt on several different sites. Conquered by Arabs in the 7th cent., it was overshadowed by Ghazni and Herat until Babur made it his capital (1504–26). It remained under Mughal rule until its capture (1738) by Nadir Shah of Persia. It succeeded Kandahar as Afghanistan's capital in 1773. During the Afghan Wars a British army took (1839) Kabul. In 1842 the withdrawing British troops were ambushed and almost annihilated after the Afghans had promised them safe conduct; in retaliation another British force partly burned Kabul. The British again occupied the city in 1879, after their resident and his staff were massacred there.

On Dec. 23, 1979, Soviet armed forces landed at Kabul airport to help bolster a Communist government. Kabul became the Soviet command center, but was little damaged by the ten-year conflict. In Feb., 1989, Soviet forces withdrew from the city. In spring of 1992 the government of Mohammad Najibullah collapsed, and Kabul fell to guerrilla armies. Destruction of the city increased as the coalition of guerrilla forces broke into rival warring factions, and much of Kabul was damaged by fighting. The capital has undergone considerable reconstruction since 2002, but many building remain in ruins.

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Afghan city and province.

Kabul is both Afghanistan's largest city and national capital and the name of the province that surrounds the city. Kabul is at nearly 1828 meters (6,000 feet) above sea level and situated near the Khyber Pass, a major route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Strategically located on north-south and east-west trade routes, Kabul has been a major city for thousands of years; the oldest reference to it is found in the Rig Veda, an ancient Sanskrit text (1500 b.c.e.). The city now holds more than 2 million people; an accurate census has not been taken.

Since 1980 Kabul has suffered considerable physical, social, and economic damage. Bombs or artillery have destroyed many of the main buildings, particularly during the civil war of the early 1990s, and many of the educated elite have fled Kabul. Since the Taliban fell in December 2001, the city has been crowded with returning refugees and Afghans who are internally displaced because of fighting, the drought, or the general collapse of the rural economy. In 2003, Kabul was controlled by the Afghan interim government of Hamid Karzai, but remained without basic services. Security remained problematic and an international peacekeeping force policed Kabul.


Adamec, Ludwig. Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan, 2d edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997.

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Culture Name

Afghanistani, Afghan


Identification. The word "Afghan" historically has been used to designate the members of an ethnic group also called the Pashtuns, but Afghanistan is multicultural and multiethnic. The state was formed by the political expansion of Pashtun tribes in the middle of the eighteenth century but was not unified until the end of the nineteenth century. Persian-speaking (Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aymaqs) and Turkic-speaking (Uzbeks and Turkmens) populations have been incorporated in the state. Since the Communist coup of 1978 and the ensuing civil war, those groups have sought for greater political recognition, but the existence of the state has not been seriously questioned. The experience of exile shared by millions of refugees may have given rise to a new national feeling.

Location and Geography. Afghanistan is a land-locked Asian country of 251,825 square miles (652,225 square kilometers) bordered by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. The topography is a mix of central highlands and peripheral foothills and plains. The country has an arid continental climate. Summers are dry and hot, while winters are cold with heavy snowfall in the highlands. Precipitation is low, although some areas in the east are affected by the monsoon. Most of the country is covered by steppes, with desert areas and some patches of cultivated land. Pastoral nomadism, subsistence mountain agriculture, and irrigation are practiced. At the end of the eighteenth century, Kabul became the capital. It is located in a wide basin on the road linking India with Central Asia.

Demography. There are no reliable census figures, but in 1997, the population was estimated to be 23,738,000. The great majority of people are rural (80 percent). The population of Kabul peaked at more than one million in the 1980s but dropped after the fall of the Communist regime in 1992. Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and Kandahar (Qandahar) are the major cities, with populations of about 200,000 each. Important towns include Jalalabad, Kunduz, Baghlan, and Ghazni.

The demographic importance of the Pashtuns has decreased since 1978, because they have formed the majority of the refugee population in Pakistan. It is estimated that Pashtuns represent 38 percent of the population, principally in the southeast, south, and west, with some pockets in the north; they are divided between the Durrani and Ghilzay confederacies and among many tribes along the Pakistani border. The Tajiks (25 percent) live primarily in the northeast, the northwest, and the urban centers. The Hazaras (19 percent) are found in the center, Kabul, and Mazar-e Sharif. The Uzbeks (6 percent) occupy the north. The remaining 12 percent of the population is made up of Aymaks (Sunni Persian-speaking groups in the northwest), Turkmens (along the border with Turkmenistan), Baluchis (in the southwest), and Nuristanis and Pashays (northeast of Kabul).

Except for a few Hindu, Sikh, and Jewish minorities that have left the country, all the inhabitants are Muslims, divided between Sunnis (estimated at 84 percent), and Shiites (15 percent, most of whom are Hazaras); there are Ismaeli pockets in the east of Hazarajat and in Badakhshan. There has been a huge refugee population outside the country since 1978, numbering over six million in 1990it constituted the largest refugee population in the world. Although many returned after the fall of the Communist regime in April 1992, several million Afghan refugees are still in Pakistan, Iran, and the Arabian peninsula. Some middle-class persons and intellectuals have settled in the West.

Linguistic Affiliation. Many inhabitants are bilingual or trilingual, and all the major languages are spoken in the neighboring countries. The official languages are Persian (officially called Dari) and Pashto; both belong to the Iranian group of the Indo-European linguistic family. The Persian spoken by the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aymaks is not very different from the Persian of Iran. Pashto, which is divided into two major dialects, is also spoken in large areas of Pakistan. Despite government initiatives to promote Pashto, Persian is the preferred means of expression among educated and urban people. The Iranian group is also represented by Baluchi and some residual languages. The Nuristani languages are intermediate between Iranian and Indian groups, while Pashay is a conservative Indian language. Turkic languages, represented by Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kirghiz, are spoken widely in the north. Moghol and Arabic enclaves are disappearing.

Symbolism. Afghanistan has never had a strongly unified national culture, and war has led to further fragmentation. The old flag of green, white, and black horizontal strips has been abandoned, and there is no national anthem. The national currency (the Afghani) is printed in two separate locations, with a locally varying exchange rate.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The territory of modern Afghanistan was the center of several empires, including Greco-Buddhist kingdoms and the Kushans (third century b.c.e. to the second century c.e.) and the Muslim Ghaznavid and Ghurid dynasties (tenth to the twelfth centuries). It was a base of action for many rulers of India, notably the Mughals.

The modern nation emerged during the eighteenth century by Pashtun tribes in reaction to the decline of the Persian and Indian empires. During the nineteenth century, Afghanistan struggled successfully against the colonial powers and served as a buffer state between Russia and British India. The three Anglo-Afghan wars (18391842; 18781880; 1919) could have forged a national feeling, but the country's history has been dominated by internal conflicts. The first half of the nineteenth century was marked by a feud between two branches of the Durrani Pashtuns, with the Mohammadzay eventually succeeding and ruling until 1978. Abdur Rahman (Abdorrahman Khan, r. 18801901) extended his authority over the whole country by overcoming resistance from his fellow tribesmen and defeating the Ghilzay Pashtuns, the Hazaras, and the Kafirs (Nuristanis). Although political unity was forged during his reign, his harsh tactics created enmities between Sunnis and Shiites, between Pashtuns and other ethnic groups, and among Pashtuns, as well as between rural and urban people.

King Amanullah (Amanollah Khan, r. 19191929) tried to implement various reforms which failed. An attempt to set up a parliamentary government after 1963 resulted in serious social troublesleading to the seizure of power by the Communists in 1978, many of whom were young, recently urbanized, detribalized people seeking social advancement. Within a few months the country was rebelling, and in 1979 the Soviet Union intervened militarily. A bitter guerrilla war ensued over the next ten years between the Red Army and the Afghan resistance fighters (mujâhedin) , during which about 1.5 million Afghans died and millions left the country. The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the fall of the Communist regime in 1992 led to an explosion of tensions and dissatisfactions. In response to this situation, the Taliban (religious students from refugee camps in Pakistan), seized the south in the winter of 19941995 and restored security. Since that time they have conquered most of the country, but have been unable to incorporate other groups or obtain international recognition.

National Identity. Until 1978, Afghanistan avoided fragmentation through a shared religion and the relative autonomy of local communities even though the government favored Pashtun culture and folklore. Most inhabitants felt they belonged primarily to a local community and secondarily to the supranational Islamic community. National identity was weak, but the state was not considered disruptive. This fragile equilibrium was destroyed after the coup of 1978. The symbols on which the legitimacy of the government was based (political independence, historical continuity, and respect of Islam) vanished.

Ethnic Relations. Before 1978, ethnic relations were competitive and tense. The pro-Soviet government attempted to promote the rights, culture, and languages of non-Pashtun groups. Although this endeavor failed, it led to an erosion of the Pashtun political hegemony. In the 1990s, political claims evolved progressively from an Islamic to an ethnic discourse. Islam-inspired resistance to the Soviets failed to provide a common ground for building peace and uniting people. Since 1992, the civil war has been marked by ethnic claims that have led to polarization between Pashtuns (who dominate the Taliban movement) and the other ethnic groups (who form the bulk of the opposing Northern Alliance).

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

There are several historical cities, such as Balkh, Ghazni, and Herat, but after twenty years of war, the preservation of historical monuments is not a priority. The Kabul Museum was looted repeatedly, nothing is left of the covered bazaar of Tashqurghan (Tash Kurghan) in the north, and the Buddha statues of Bamyan (Bamian) have been damaged. Most cities and towns are in ruins, and little reconstruction is occurring.

In the south and the center, the most common form of housing is the multi-story fortified farm with high walls built from a mixture of mud and straw. They are scattered in the fields, sometimes forming loose hamlets. In the north and the west, smaller compounds with vaulted houses of mud brick are prevalent. In the eastern highlands, settlements are grouped; stone and timber are common building materials. In both urban and rural settings, bazaars are not residential areas.

Domestic architecture is based on the separation between the public and private parts of the house so that women do not interact with strangers. Furnishings are generally rudimentary. Many families sleep in one room on mattresses that are unfolded for the night, and no places are assigned. In the morning, the room is tidied, with the mattresses and quilts piled in a corner. Rich families may have a separate guest house, but Afghans do not like to sleep alone and generally do not provide guests with separate rooms.

There is a large semi-nomadic and nomadic population. Two types of tents are used: the Middle Eastern black goat's hair tent and the round Central Asian yurt. Temporary shelters range from reed and straw huts to caves.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Everyday food consists of flat bread cooked on an iron plate in the fire or on the inner wall of a clay oven. Bread often is dipped in a light meat stock. Yogurt and other dairy products (butter, cream, and dried buttermilk) are an important element of the diet, as are onions, peas and beans, dried fruits, and nuts. Rice is eaten in some areas and in urban settlements. Scrambled eggs prepared with tomatoes and onions is a common meal. Food is cooked with various types of oils, including the fat of a sheep's tail. Tea is drunk all day. Sugar is used in the first cup of the day, and then sweets are eaten and kept in the mouth while sipping tea. Other common beverages are water and buttermilk. Afghans use the right hand to eat from a common bowl on the floor. At home, when there are no guests, men and women share meals. Along the roads and in the bazaars, there are many small restaurants that also function as teahouses and inns.

The common Islamic food prohibitions are respected in Afghanistan. For example, meat is only eaten from animals that are slaughtered according to Islamic law; alcohol, pork, and wild boar are not consumed, although some people secretly make wine for consumption at home. The Shiites avoid rabbit and hare.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. On special occasions, pilau rice is served with meat, carrots, raisin, pistachios, or peas. The preferred meat is mutton, but chicken, beef, and camel also are consumed. Kebabs, fried crepes filled with leeks, ravioli, and noodle soup also are prepared. Vegetables include spinach, zucchini, turnip, eggplant, peas and beans, cucumber, and tomatoes. Fresh fruits are eaten during the day or as a dessert. In formal gatherings, men and women are separated. Dinners start by drinking tea and nibbling on pistachios or chickpeas; food is served late in the evening on dishes that are placed on a cloth on the floor. Eating abundantly demonstrates one's enjoyment.

Basic Economy. The traditional economy combines cultivation and animal husbandry. Irrigated agriculture dominates, but the products of pluvial agriculture are considered to be of better quality. Wheat is the principal crop, followed by rice, barley, and corn. The main cash crops are almonds and fruits. Cotton was a major export until the civil war. Today, large zones of agricultural land have been converted to poppy cultivation for the heroin trade. Stock breeding is practiced by both nomadic and sedentary peoples. Nomads spend the summer in the highlands and the winter in the lowlands. Many of them, especially in the east, also trade.

Virtually all manufactured goods are imported; they are financed by remittances from refugees and emigrants.

Land Tenure and Property. Most grazing land is held communally, but agricultural land is privately owned. Irrigation canals are shared, following a pre-established schedule. The bulk of the population consists of small landholders who supplement their income by sending a family member to work in the city or abroad. Poor farmers who do not own land often become tenants or hire themselves out on a daily base. Often in debt, they are economically and politically dependent on local headmen and landlords.

Commercial Activities. Afghanistan produces few commercial goods. The Taliban have opened commercial routes between Pakistan and Turkmenistan, but no official trade can develop until the government is recognized by the international community.

Trade. Hides, wool, dried and fresh fruits, and pistachios are exported, but narcotics account for the bulk of export receipts. The country imports tax-free goods through Pakistan, including cars, air conditioners, refrigerators, televisions, radios, and stereo equipment. These consumer products are then smuggled to neighboring countries.

Major Industries. After more than twenty years of war, there is no industrial activity.

Division of Labor. Most of the Afghan workers present in Iran and the Gulf countries are young, unmarried males. In Afghanistan, people work as long as they are fit.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Some groups are egalitarian, but others have a hierarchical social organization. There are great differences in wealth and social status. Society also is stratified along religious and ethnic lines. During most of the twentieth century, members of the king's family played a major role in politics as ministers and ambassadors. Most civil servants and technocrats were Persian-speaking urban residents. Ismaelis and Shiites (especially the Hazaras) had the lowest status. In the provinces, most administrative posts were held by Pashtuns who had no connection to the population. Local communities were dominated by the richest landlords, assisted by village headmen. The Sayyeds, supposed to be the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima, played an important role as mediators, relying on prestige rather than personal wealth. Family elders were consulted on local matters, and many disputes were settled by local assemblies. Although Communist land reform was rejected by the population, important changes have occurred. Traditional leaders have lost their preeminence to military commanders and young religious militants. Some smugglers have become immensely rich.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Social stratification is expressed primarily through marriage patterns. The general tendency is for lower social groups to give their daughters in marriage to higher social groups. The lavishness of a wedding is an indicator of status and wealth. Following Taliban decree, men must wear a hat or turban and be bearded. Western dress and fashion, which once distinguished urban from rural people, have almost disappeared.

Political Life

Government. The Taliban control most of the country. Their government is recognized only by Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. The Taliban rule without a constitution, relying on the Koran. There is an informal assembly around their leader in Kandahar. Ministries exist in Kabul, and lower-level civil servants have often remained in place, but there is no real administration. At the local level, the military commanders rule groups of villages, a situation the Taliban have tried to end.

Leadership and Political Officials. Afghanistan does not have a unified government. Political parties linked to the resistance, including Sunni and Shiite, and Islamic fundamentalist, have developed during the war, but now they have imperfectly merged in the two remaining factionsthe Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Military commanders have the real leadership.

Social Problems and Control. In their drive to "purify" society, the Taliban emphasize moral values. No distinction is made between religious and civil laws, and the religious police are omnipotent. Judges apply a tribal-based conception of Islam. Those who commit adultery and consume drugs and alcohol are severely punished. Beatings, amputations, and public executions (beheading, stoning, and shooting) are commonly practiced. Tens of thousands of persons are jailed without trial by the various factions.

Military Activity. The Taliban are backed by Pakistan, while the Northern Alliance is supported by Iran and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Military activity is intense, particularly in the spring and summer.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

No political leader has attempted to develop welfare programs.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

United Nations agencies and the Red Cross are active, but fighting often interrupts their projects. Hundreds of local and foreign nongovernmental organizations have programs for land mine removal, education, health care, road building, irrigation, and agriculture. Their role is often ambiguous, and they have contributed to social stratification because their actions often are limited to major urban centers and areas near the Pakistani border. By providing nearly all welfare programs, they have made it easier for political leaders to ignore social issues.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Male and female roles are strongly differentiated. The public sphere is the domain of men, and the domestic one is the realm of women. Women take care of young children, cook for the household, and clean the house. They may have a small garden and a few chickens. They weave and sew and in some areas make rugs and felt. Among nomads, women make tents and have more freedom of movement. In a peasant family, men look after the sheep and goats, and plow, harvest, thresh, and winnow the crops. Among both rural and urban people, a man must not stay at home during the day. During war, women take over many male duties; men who work abroad must learn to cook, sew, and do laundry.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Between 1919 and 1929, King Amanullah tried to promote female empowerment. Under the Communist government, many women were able to study in universities. This trend was reversed by the Taliban. Women now must be completely covered by a long veil and accompanied by a male relative when they leave the house. Women face overwhelming obstacles if they seek to work or study or obtain access to basic health care. However, the Taliban have improved security in many rural areas, allowing women to carry out their everyday duties.

Women have never participated publicly in decision making processes. They are admonished to be modest and obey the orders of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Nevertheless, as guardians of family honor, women have more power. Nomadic and peasant women play an important role in the domestic economy and are not secluded in the same way as many urban women. Shiite leaders stress the right of a woman to participate in the political process, engage in independent economic activity, and freely choose a husband.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is considered an obligation, and divorce is rare and stigmatized. Polygamy is allowed if all the wives are treated equally. However, it is uncommon and occurs primarily when a man feels obligated to marry the widow of his dead brother. The general pattern is to marry kin, although families try to diversify their social assets through marriage. The incidence of unions between cousins is high.

The first contacts often are made discreetly by women in order to avoid a public refusal. Then the two families negotiate the financial aspects of the union and decide on the trousseau, the brideprice, and the dowry. The next step is the official engagement, during which female relatives of the groom bring gifts to the home of the bride and sweets are consumed. The wedding is a three-day party paid for by the groom's family during which the marriage contract is signed and the couple is brought together. The bride is then brought to her new home in a lavish procession.

Domestic Unit. Traditionally, the basic household consists of a man, his wife, his sons with their spouses and children, and his unmarried daughters. When he dies, the sons can decide to stay united or divide the family assets. Authority among brothers is based on ability, economic skill, and personal prestige more than age. Sometimes a brother asks for his share of the family wealth and leaves the domestic group while the father is still alive. Residential unity does not imply shared domestic expenses. Domestic units are larger among tribal people than among urban dwellers.

Inheritance. In theory all brothers are equal, but to avoid splitting up family property, brothers may decide to own it jointly or to be compensated financially. Contrary to Islamic law, women do not inherit land, real estate, or livestock.

Kin Groups. All groups trace descent through the male line. Each tribal group claims a common male ancestor and is divided into subtribes, clans, lineages, and families. Genealogy establishes inheritance, mutual obligations, and a feeling of solidarity. Disputes over women, land, and money may result in blood feuds. The tribal system is particularly developed among the Pashtuns. The main values of their tribal code are hospitality and revenge. Many inhabitants of Afghanistan do not belong to a tribe or have only a loose affiliation. Neighborhood and other social links, often reinforced by marriage, can be stronger than extended kinship.


Infant Care. Babies are bound tightly in wooden cradles with a drain for urine or carried by the mother in a shawl. They may be breast-fed for more than two years, but weaning is very sudden. Children are cared for by a large group of female relatives. Although surrounded by affection, children learn early that no one will intervene when they cry or are hurt. Adults do not interfere with children's games, which can be tough. Physical punishment is administered, although parents tend to be indulgent with young children. Children move freely from the female part of the house to the public one and learn to live in a group setting.

Child Rearing and Education. Respect and obedience to elderly persons are important values, but independence, individual initiative, and self-confidence also are praised. The most important rite of passage for a boy is circumcision, usually at age seven. Boys learn early the duties of hospitality and caring for guests as well as looking after the livestock or a shop, while girls begin helping their mothers as soon as they can stand. Both are taught the values of honor and shame and must learn when to show pride and when to remain modest.

Higher Education. Literacy is extremely low, and in 1980, 88 percent of the adult population had no formal schooling. Only 5 percent of children get a primary education, with a huge discrepancy between males and females. People from Afghanistan must travel abroad to further their education. Although education is valued, there is no professional future for educated people other than working for an international agency or a nongovernmental organization.


Young people address elders not by name but by a title. A husband will not call his wife by her name but will call her "mother of my son." Family surnames are unusual, but nicknames are very common. Kinship terms often are used to express friendship or respect. Hospitality is a strong cultural value. When food is served, the host waits until the guests have started eating. As soon as the dishes are cleared, guests ask permission to leave unless they are spending the night.

When meeting, two men shake hands and then place the right hand on the heart. Direct physical contact is avoided between men and women. If they have not seen each other for a long time, friends and relatives hug, kiss, and speak polite phrases. When someone enters a room, people stand and greet him at length. When they sit down, more greetings are exchanged. It is considered rude to ask a factual question or inquire about anything specific early in the conversation. To express affection, it is customary to complain, sometimes bitterly, about not having received any news.


Religious Beliefs. Despite their different affiliations, Sunnis and Shiites recognize the authority of the Koran and respect the five pillars of Islam. Nevertheless, relationships between members of different religious sects are distant and tense. Sufism is an important expression of religiosity. It represents the mystical trend of Islam and stresses emotion and personal commitment over a codified conception of faith. It is viewed with suspicion by some Islamic scholars. An extreme form of Sufism is represented by wandering beggars. Supernatural creatures such as angels, genies, ghosts, and spirits, are believed to exist. Exorcism and magic protect people from the evil eye. Although condemned by orthodox religious authorities, these practices may be reinforced by the village mullah.

Religious Practitioners. There are two kinds of religious practitioners: scholars, whose power is based on knowledge, and saints, whose authority comes from their ability to transmit God's blessing. Among Sunnis, there is no formal clergy, while Shiites have a religious hierarchy. Village mullahs receive a religious education that allows them to teach children and lead the Friday prayers. Many saints and Sufi leaders claim descent from the Prophet. Their followers visit them to ask for advice and blessing. During the war, a new kind of religious leader emerged: the young Islamic militant who challenges the authority of traditional practitioners and proposes a more political conception of religion.

Rituals and Holy Places. Throughout the year, people gather at noon on Fridays in the mosque. Most villages have a place to pray, which also is used to accommodate travelers. The tombs of famous religious guides often become shrines visited by local people. They play an important role in the social life of village community and the local identity. Pilgrimages allow women to get out of the home in groups to chat and socialize.

There are two main religious festivals. The Id al-Kabir or Id-e Qorban (the Great Feast or Feast of the Victim) commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham at the end of the annual period of pilgrimage to Mecca. Most families slay a sheep and distribute some of the meat to the poor. The Id al-Fitr or Id-e Ramazan (the Small Feast or Feast of the Ramazan) marks the end of the fasting month and is a period of cheer during which relatives and friends visit each other. The fasting month of Ramadan is an important religious and social event. During Muharram (the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar), Shiites commemorate the death of the grandson of Muhammad. It is a period of mourning and sorrow. People gather to listen to an account of the martyrdom, weeping and hitting their breasts. The anniversary of the death of Husain is the climax. Processions are organized, and some young men wound themselves with chains or sharp knives. Other important social ceremonies with a religious dimension include births, weddings, funerals, circumcisions of young boys, and charity meals offered by wealthy people.

Death and the Afterlife. The dead are buried rapidly in a shroud. In the countryside, most graves are simple heaps of stones without a name. Wealthier persons may erect a tombstone with a written prayer. For three days, the close relatives of the deceased open their house to receive condolences. Forty days after the death, relatives and close friends meet again, visit the grave, and pray. After one year, a ceremony takes place to mark the end of the mourning period. Many people believe that if a funeral is not carried out properly, the ghost of the dead will return to torment the living.

Medicine and Health Care

Since modern medical facilities are limited, people rely on traditional practices that employ herbs and animal products. Every physical ailment is classified as warm or cold, and its cure depends on restoring the body's equilibrium by ingesting foods with the opposite properties. Another way to cure disease is to undertake a pilgrimage to a shrine. Sometimes, pilgrims put a pinch of sand collected from the holy place into their tea or keep a scrap from the banners on a tomb. Certain springs are considered holy, and their water is believed to have a curative effect. Talismans (Koranic verse in a cloth folder) are sewed onto clothing or hats to protect against the evil eye or treat an illness.

Secular Celebrations

The Jashn, the National Independence Holidays (celebrating complete independence from the British in 1919) used to be an occasion for the government to promote reforms. Parades and sporting events were organized. The New Year on 21 March dates back to the pre-Islamic period. In the old Persian calendar, it was a fertility festival celebrating the spring. It is still a time for celebration when relatives and friends visit each other and bring gifts for the children.

The Arts and Humanities

The Taliban have banned artistic expression. High culture is kept alive in Pakistan and in the West, refugees have set up cultural circles that organize concerts, exhibitions (paintings, photographs), poetry contests, and courses in calligraphy, painting, music, and poetry. Some also have modest libraries and film archives and promote theater.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

All scholars have left the country, and no higher education or scientific research is available.


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Alessandro Monsutti

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Kabul Capital of Afghanistan, on the River Kabul, in the e part of the country. It is strategically located in a high mountain valley in the Hindu Kush. It was taken by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Later it became part of the Mogul Empire (1526–1738). The capital of Afghanistan since 1776, it was occupied by the British during the Afghan Wars in the 19th century. Following the Soviet invasion in 1979, Kabul was the scene of bitter fighting. Unrest continued into the mid-1990s as rival Muslim groups fought for control. Industries: textiles, leather goods, furniture, glass. Pop. (2002 est.) 2,454,000.

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The people of Afghanistan are called Afghanis. The Pashtun make up about 43 percent of the population and are often referred to as "true Afghans." The Tajiks comprise nearly 25 percent of the population, the Uzbeks, 6 percent, and the Hazaras, about 5 percent. For more information on the Tajiks, see the chapter on Tajikistan in Volume 9; for more information on the Uzbeks, see the chapter on Uzbekistan, also in Volume 9.

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"Afghanistan." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Afghanistan." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (December 14, 2017).

"Afghanistan." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from



This entry consists of the following articles:

Afghanistan: Overview

Afghanistan: Islamic Movements in

Afghanistan: Political Parties in

Afghanistan: Soviet Intervention in

Afghanistan: U.S. Intervention in

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"Afghanistan." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Afghanistan." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . (December 14, 2017).

"Afghanistan." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from


AfghanistanAbadan, Abidjan, Amman, Antoine, Arne, Aswan, Avon, Azerbaijan, Baltistan, Baluchistan, Bantustan, barn, Bhutan, Dagestan, darn, dewan, Farne, guan, Hahn, Hanuman, Hindustan, Huascarán, Iban, Iran, Isfahan, Juan, Kazakhstan, khan, Koran, Kurdistan, Kurgan, Kyrgyzstan, macédoine, Mahon, maidan, Marne, Michoacán, Oman, Pakistan, pan, Pathan, Qumran, Rajasthan, Shan, Siân, Sichuan, skarn, soutane, Sudan, Tai'an, t'ai chi ch'uan, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Taklimakan, tarn, Tatarstan, Tehran, Tenochtitlán, Turkestan, Turkmenistan, tzigane, Uzbekistan, Vientiane, yarn, Yinchuan, yuan, Yucatán •Autobahn • Lindisfarne •Bildungsroman • Nisan • Khoisan •Afghanistan • bhagwan • Karajan

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"Afghanistan." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Afghanistan." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (December 14, 2017).

"Afghanistan." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from


Kabulbull, full, Istanbul, pull, push-pull, wool •Kabul • bagful •manful, panful •capful, lapful •hatful • carful • armful • artful •wilful (US willful) • sinful • fitful •eyeful • boxful • potful •awful, lawful •woeful • joyful • rueful • useful •tubful •jugful, mugful •cupful • earful • ring pull • lambswool •schedule • residual

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"Kabul." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 14 Dec. 2017 <>.

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