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Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Major City:

Other Cities:
Bāghlān, Ghazni, Herāt, Jalālābād, Kandahār, Mazār-i-Sharīf


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report for Afghanistan. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


AFGHANISTAN , the landlocked country whose borders are touched by Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China, Pakistan, and Iran, often has been called the crossroads of central Asia. It once formed part of the empires of Persia and of Alexander the Great. Throughout the centuries, it has been a base for forays into India, and has bowed to a succession of princes and petty chieftains struggling for control of its strategic trade and invasion routes.

Modern Afghanistan did not evolve until 1747, when principalities and fragmented provinces were consolidated into one kingdom by Ahmad Shah Durrani. All of the country's successive rulers, until a Marxist coup in 1978, were from Durrani's tribe. Soviet military assistance to the new government eventually led to large-scale invasion of Afghanistan's capital city, but the regime failed to validate either Soviet conquest or authority in other parts of the nation. Soviet military occupation ended in February 1989 and Afghanistan endured a bloody civil war between the Afghan government and various factions of the fundamentalist Muslim guerrillas between 1992 and 1996. During the civil war, over 50,000 people lost their lives during the mujahidin infightings on Kabul's streets.

In 1995 and 1996, students from religious schools in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan--the Taliban--spread throughout the country, proclaiming hostility to the West and establishing a reordering of society based upon a strict interpretation of Shari'a, or Islamic law.

After the September 11 attacks on the United States, carried out by members of Osama bin Laden's al-Quaeda forces who were sheltered by the Taliban, the U.S.-U.K.-led coalition launched a military offensive on Kabul and major Afghan cities, toppling the Taliban regime. Afghan society and infrastructure, already decimated after two decades of war, must be rebuilt.



Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is situated on a high, barren plateau some 5,800 feet above sea level, and surrounded by rugged, treeless mountains. Commanding the main approach to the historic Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan, the city lies in the eastern section of the country, 140 miles from the Pakistan border. The Kabul River which winds through the city is, except for an interval in early spring, little more than a partially dry, but always polluted, stream.

The climate of the city is varied. During winter, temperatures sometimes fall below 0°F and, in January and February, snowfalls can be heavy. In summer, daytime temperatures often soar to 100°F, but fall rapidly after sunset.

Kabul is in a low-rainfall area, and almost all precipitation occurs between November and May. The remaining months are virtually dry. Strong afternoon winds, accompanied by dust storms, occur frequently in summer. Severe earthquakes are rare, but tremors are common. In March 2002, however, an earthquake in the northern Baghlan province (about 100 miles north of Kabul), killed thousands and was felt as far east as Pakistan.

Kabul's history can be traced to the seventh century, although its importance was long obscured by the ancient cities of Ghazni and Herāt. It came to prominence early in the 16th century as the capital of the Mogul kingdom. The tomb of Babur the Great, founder of the Mogul empire in India (1482-1530), is in Kabul, in a beautiful garden near Noon Gun Hill.

There are old city walls in Kabul, the mausoleum of Timor Shah, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani who moved the capital of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul, and the Arg or palace built to operate the Bala Hissar citadel, or seat of the rulers of Afghanistan.

Great Britain's desire to control the routes to India precipitated the first of the Anglo-Afghan Wars, and it was at Kabul that British forces were ambushed and nearly annihilated. The city was occupied again in 1879 during the Second Anglo-Afghan War, a struggle that established Afghanistan's borders with British India and Russia. After 1940, Kabul grew as an industrial center.

Afghanistan's capital city is the site of Kabul University (founded in 1932), which was closed in 1992 due to war. The Taliban reopened it in 1995, but women were banned. The medical school was the only institution to make an exception to the ban on women: only female doctors could treat female patients. With the defeat of the Taliban, 4,000 students have taken entrance exams for a new semester, and 500 of them are women. There have been donations of books from abroad.

There are several other schools in the city, including Kabul Polytechnic Institute, which has been in operation since 1951. The Institute of Arabic and Religious Studies has headquarters here, and maintains satellite centers in other cities throughout the country. The Afghanistan Academy of Sciences (1979) also is located in Kabul, as are several research institutes and a museum. As of June 2002, it is unknown to what extent these institutions are operational.

As a result of war with the Soviet Union, civil war, the destruction wrought by the Taliban, and the 2001-2002 bombing campaign, the infrastructure of Kabul largely has been destroyed, including roads, the telephone system, electricity, and water sanitation. However, international relief organizations are engaged in reconstruction efforts.

The people of Kabul have begun to sift through the rubble of destroyed buildings, selecting usable bricks and building materials for the construction of new schools and other facilities. It is estimated that as many as 60 percent of Kabul's buildings are damaged or destroyed. Gravel from them is being used to patch roads.

Signs of a rejuvenated Kabul were beginning to emerge in 2002. Stylish haircuts are now available for around $3.50, men are wearing hats instead of turbans, and men are shaving, forbidden under the Taliban. New restaurants have opened, and there are stalls selling such varied items as fruit, snacks, balloons, and laptop computers.

Rents are high, and items on the black market are very expensive--scotch whiskey sells for around $100 a bottle, British soccer jerseys sell for $50 each, and pornography is both available and expensive.

However, the increase in market activity has also brought theft, assaults, and murder, which are now more prevalent than under the Taliban.

Recreation and Entertainment

Buzkashi (like rugby on horseback), is the national sport. In buzkashi, riders struggle for possession of a goat, calf, or sheep carcass, and scores are counted when one of the teams is able to fling the animal's body into a designated circle on the field. At the end of March 2002, the first movie made in Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power was shown in Mazari-i-Sharif: Chapandaz is an Afghan production, shot, edited, and released in the country, featuring the sport of buzkashi. Indian movies are also popular.

Other pastimes that have returned in 2002 are dog fighting, camel fighting, motorcycle stunts, and karaoke. Soccer began to be played in Kabul's sports stadium in December 2001, a venue that had previously been used for executions.

Such western novelties and food items as bubble-gum, soda, cookies, and juices have been arriving from Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, and India.


BĀGHLĀN is located in northern Afghanistan, about 125 miles north of the capital. The city, capital of Bāghlān Province, was a producer of cotton and beet sugar. The population for Bāghlān was estimated at 117,700 in 2002.

In December 2001, the Northern Alliance forced Sayed Jaffar, a local warlord, from power in Baghlan province.

In March 2002, an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale struck Baghlan, killing at least 1,800 and injuring thousands. Baghlan's rich agricultural region was also the victim of a plague of locusts in the spring of 2002.

Located 92 miles southwest of Kabul, GHAZNI is the capital of the province with the same name. It was a center for trading wool, fruit, and corn, and was famous for its embroidered sheepskin coats. The city's most famous ruler was Mahmud of Ghazni who conquered regions in the area and made Ghazni the capital of a kingdom extending from the Tigris to the Ganges rivers. The kingdom was overthrown in 1173 by Mohammed of Ghor. Two impressive ancient minarets jut into the sky in Ghazni. The population was estimated at 39,000 in 2002.

In March 2002, Taliban and al-Qaeda rebels remained in Ghazni province. Dueling factions of Tajiks, Hazaras and Pashtuns are refusing to surrender their weapons.

In May 2002, a radio station went into operation in Ghazni, broadcasting from 6 to 8 pm at night. Two women have been hired to read the news and announcements, and listeners leave messages at the station requesting songs to be played. However, as of June 2002, there were no telephones and no electricity in the city.

A commercial center, best known for carpets, HERĀT is the capital of Herāt Province. The city is situated in the western part of Afghanistan, over 450 miles west of Kabul. It is known for magnificent huge earth-works and defense walls. There are also tombs, palaces, and mosques here. Herāt was once on the trade route from India to Persia, Mesopotamia, and Europe. It was severely damaged by the Mongols in 1221 and 1383; rebuilt, it prospered as an independent Afghan kingdom. Its population was estimated at 166,600 in 2002.

Thirty percent of the population left Herat during the 2001-2002 military campaign. Since it began to subside, one local warlord who seized a great deal of power in Herat is Ismail Khan, who courted hard-line conservatives in Iran. Iran is reconstructing the road from Herat to its border, while the United States is cleaning out the area's canals. Khan has appointed mullahs and archconservatives to high positions, and has opened an office for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. His army numbers 50,000 to 60,000.

JALĀLĀBĀD (also spelled Jelalabad) is the capital of Nangarhār Province in eastern Afghanistan. It is situated 70 miles east of Kabul, on the route from Kabul via the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, Pakistan. The city, with a population that was estimated at 158,800 in 2002, was a trade center with sugar processing facilities and handicraft shops. There were large gardens and tree-lined avenues, as it served as a winter capital. Two festivals that were held were the Mushaira or Poet's festival devoted to Jalalabad's orange blossoms, and Waisak, a religious festival.

Jalalabad has been in existence as a city since the second century BC, and Akbar, regarded as the greatest Mughal ruler of India, started the town in its modern form in the 1560s. It came under Afghan rule in 1834, and was later occupied by the British in the Anglo-Afghan wars.

Eleven km south of the city is Hada, a sacred spot of the Buddhist world, where pilgrims have come to worship at its many temples. These were maintained by monks and priests in large monasteries. It is said that the Buddha visited Hada.

Jalalabad is also a military center, with an airfield. The University of Nangarhar was opened here in 1963.

As of January 2002, the road from Kabul to Jalalabad was unsafe, as there have been robberies, car-jacking, thefts, and murders.

The capital of Kandahār province, KANDAHĀR is situated 300 miles southwest of Kabul, halfway between Kabul and Herat. It is the second largest city in the country with a population that was estimated at 339,200 in 2002. Kandahār was the site of the successful Afghan uprising against Persia between 1706 and 1708, and was the first capital of modern Afghanistan, founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747. The most sacred shrine in Afghanistan is the Kaherqa Sharif shrine in Kandahar, which contains the cloak of the prophet Mohammad. Also, the Chel Zina monument is noted for its 40 stairs leading to a chamber carved into rock, which was built by Babur, the founder of the Moghul empire. Other shrines in the city include Haratji Baba, Baba Wali, and the bazar Charsuq, which is composed of four arcades.

Kandahar was the site of fierce fighting in 2001, and the Taliban only surrendered the city in December. It is estimated that 80 percent of the population of southern Kandahar left in 2001.

Music, which had been banned under the rule of the Taliban, returned to Kandahar after the military campaign, as singers returned from exile in Pakistan. In the marketplace, cassette tapes are played at high volume, which are sold alongside radios, televisions, and video players. Pet birds, which were also banned under the Taliban, are now sold in the marketplace. During the rule of the Taliban, there were seven schools in Kandahar that enrolled 5,000 boys. As of March 2002, 137 co-ed schools have opened in the Kandahar district, and more than 30,000 children are enrolled, one-fourth of them girls.

Because Kandahar is almost entirely Pashtun, it does not suffer from the ethnic fighting in northern Afghanistan that has emerged in 2002.

Kandahar International Airport was established as the American base in the war. It is surrounded by mine fields and and barbed wire. Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects are kept there in a high-security area. There are 3,500 military personnel based at the airport.

Located in northern Afghanistan, MAZĀR-I-SHARĪF is the capital of Balth Province, 190 miles northwest of Kabul. The population here was estimated at 239,800 in 2002. The city was named for the shrine of the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammad, Hazarate Ali, who was assassinated in 661 and buried near Baghdad. Legend has it that his followers feared that his body would be desecrated, so they put his remains on the back of a white camel which wandered until it fell and died. The body was buried on this spot, and knowledge of its existence remained unknown until 1136, when Seljuk Sultan Sanjar ordered a shrine to be built upon the spot. Genghis Khan destroyed the building, and the grave remained unmarked until 1481. None of the 15th-century decoration remains, but efforts have been made to restore the building's beauty. Mazar-i-Sharif means "The Noble Grave."

In March 2002, Mazar-i-Sharif was one of the sites of New Year celebrations at the beginning of spring (Nowroz), the most elaborately celebrated festival in Afghanistan. The city was a major trading center famous for Turkman carpets, high-quality cotton, and lambskins.

Since the Taliban fled the city, the airport has opened, and its runway has been repaired. Girls are attending classes. Medical equipment has been flown in for a new hospital run by Jordanian soldiers, which has been treating thousands of patients. A new police force of 600 members was drawn up.

However, a wave of revenge attacks by ethnic Hazara and Uzbek soldiers was taking place in early 2002, targeting Pashtuns. The attacks included robbery, rape, and murder. The Taliban, who were dominated by Pashtuns, persecuted Hazara civilians and their Shi'a religion. As of April 2002, there were 104 illegal checkpoints in Mazar-i-Sharif, manned by soldiers who were supposed to be replaced by civilian police. The two dominant warlords in Mazar-i-Sharif who are struggling for control of the city are General Abduraashid Dostum, an Uzbek commander, and Attah Mohammad, a Tajik veteran of the Northern Alliance.


Geography and Climate

Afghanistan, a landlocked country of about 260,000 square miles in area (about the size of Texas), is bounded on the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.); on the east and south by Pakistan; on the west by Iran; and on the extreme northeast by China. Its topography consists of irrigated land, small but fertile river valleys, deep gorges, deserts, high plateaus, and snow-covered mountains. The eastern portion of the country is divided by the towering mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and Pamirs, with peaks rising above 24,000 feet.

The principal rivers drain to the southwest into the Helmand and Arghandab valleys and then into a desolate, marshy area, called Seistan, on the Afghan-Iranian border. Other rivers, including the Kabul, flow southeast into the Indus River. The Amu Darya (or Oxus of ancient times) forms a large part of the northern boundary with the C.I.S.

Afghanistan's climate comprises a cold, snowy winter and hot, dry summer. Extreme temperature changes occur from night to day, season to season, and place to place. During summer in Kabul (altitude 5,800 feet), the temperature may be 50°F at sunrise, but reach 100°F by noon. In the Jalālābād plains (90 miles from the capital and at an elevation of 1,800 feet) and in southwestern parts of the country, summer temperatures can reach 115°F.

The chief characteristic of Afghanistan's climate is a blue, cloudless sky, with over 300 days of sunshine yearly. Even during winter, skies usually remain clear between snowfalls. Since rainfall is scarce from May to November, this period can be extremely dry and dusty.


The 2002 population was estimated at 24,405,000. Many Afghans have fled the country because of the continuing strifeAfghan refugee population in Pakistan is approximately 3.7 million and, in Iran and the west, an additional 1.6 million. There have been many spontaneous returnees, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees began assisting refugees to repatriate in February 2002. As of April, more than 350,000 had returned to their homes. There are still approximately 400,000 internally displaced persons within the country. Also, many Afghans are still fleeing the country due to a lack of relief aid, banditry, and insecurity in remote areas.

Afghanistan's varied culture reflects its strategic location astride the historic trade and invasion routes that lead from the Middle East into central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The largest ethnic group is the Pashtun (Pathan), comprising about half of the total population. Other sizable groups are the Tajik, Uzbek, Turkoman, and Hazara.

Dari (Afghan Persian) and Pushtu are the principal languages, but Turkic dialects are used extensively in the north. English is the most widely spoken foreign language; many educated Afghans speak Russian, German, or French as well.

Islam is the official religion and Muslims comprise 99 percent of the population of which 84 percent are Sunni Muslims and 15 percent are Shi'a Muslims. The Hazara, Kizilbash, and mountain Tajiks generally belong to the minority Shi'a sect. The Taliban attempted to destroy the presence of other religions in society; eight foreign aid workers were placed on trial for the crime of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, a capital offense.

Since the fall of the Taliban, conditions for women have improved. Some have stopped wearing the head-to-toe cornflower-blue burka, however, many still shroud themselves in it, especially in rural areas. Some women are now wearing the hejab, or ankle-length black coat and chiffon veil, in deference to Islamic tradition and modesty. Under the Taliban, men and women were not permitted to mingle, and women could not venture outside of the home without being accompanied by a male relative. Women were prevented from obtaining education and from practicing most professions. In 2001-2002, that situation was in the process of being reversed.

Being devout Muslims, most Afghans do not drink alcoholic beverages or eat pork.


Afghanistan has had a turbulent, interesting history and has withstood countless invasions. In 328 B.C., Alexander the Great entered what is today Afghanistanbut was then a part of the Persian Empireand captured several cities, including Herāt, Kandahār, Kabul, and Balkh. The 300-year rule of his Greek successors was followed by that of Turkic Kushanis and various Buddhist groups. A lively Greco-Buddhist culture flourished around Bámián. In the year 652, Afghanistan fell to conquering Arabs, who brought with them Islam.

Arab hegemony gave way to renewed Persian predominance which continued until 998, when Mahmud of Ghazni, a Turkic ruler, assumed control. Ghazni became the capital. After Mahmud's death, Afghanistan was controlled by various princes until the invasion of the great Mongol leader, Genghis Khan, in the early 13th century. This resulted in the destruction of Herāt, Ghazni, Balkh, and other Afghan cities. Marco Polo passed through Afghanistan later in that century.

About 1400, the area came under the control of Tamerlane, the Mongol emperor. During the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Afghanistan was ruled by Babur the Great, founder of the Mogul dynasty in India; Babul's grave is in Kabul.

Afghanistan, as an independent kingdom, was founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pushtun prince, who was crowned in 1747. From that date until the coup in 1978, the country was governed by his direct or collateral descendants.

The history of Afghanistan was influenced by several European countries during the 19th century. To counter Russian dominance in both Persia and central Asia, Great Britain fought the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-42), occupying much of Afghanistan in the process. In the face of Afghan resistance, the British were forced to withdraw in 1842, suffering a massacre. The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80) brought Abdur Rahman Khan to the throne as emir. He created a central government in Afghanistan and introduced many modern elements into the country; the borders with Pakistan (then British India) and Russia were established during the emir's reign.

Several 20th-century Afghan leaders, such as King Amanullah (who ruled from 1919 to 1929), supported modernization programs. The Noor Mohammad Taraki and successive regimes announced numerous reforms which called for sweeping changes, but which were rejected by traditional Afghan society.


On April 27, 1978, the government of former President Mohammad Daoud was overthrown in a quick, violent, and bloody coup. Daoud and many of his family members were killed in the fighting or murdered in its aftermath. A Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (D.R.A.) was proclaimed by the new leftist-oriented leadership under Noor Mohammad Taraki. He, in turn, was overthrown and murdered by his rival within the fledgling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDPA), Hafizullah Amin. The Soviets installed a regime when it became clear that they could no longer control Amin, and when the countrywide opposition to the brutal Taraki/Amin regimes threatened to overwhelm the government in power. In December 1979, the U.S.S.R. introduced more than 80,000 troops, unseating Amin, who died in unclear circumstances. The Soviets found themselves in a long, ongoing civil war between the Afghan government and fundamentalist Muslim guerrillas or mujahidin. In 1988, a United Nations mediated agreement provided for the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the establishment of a neutral state, and the repatriation of refugees. The U.S. and the Soviets pledged to serve as guarantors of the agreement but the Afghan rebels rejected it. After the Soviets left the country, the rebels and the government began a civil war and the rebels elected a government in exile. In 1990, the U.N. announced the existence of "zones of tranquility" in order to begin the voluntary repatriation of refugees, however, the rebel government opposed this plan as giving tacit approval of the Kabul government.

President Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai, who took office in 1987, faced several attempted coups. The survival of what was a Soviet-supported government surprised many people. Relations with the West had improved and the population seemed weary of the more than a decade of civil war that left two million dead and much of the country in ruins.

In April 1992, the rebels captured Kabul and ousted Najibullah, along with his communist government. A coalition of Islamic rebels assumed power and installed guerrilla leader Sibghatullah Mojaddidi as president on an interim basis for two months. In June, Islamic religious and ethnic leaders chose Burhanuddin Rabbani as interim president for several months. Rabbani was reelected in December 1992 to an 18-month term. Rabbani's election was met with violence by rebel Islamic factions.

Once the rebels took charge and established the new Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the sale and consumption of alcohol was banned and women were ordered to wear head scarves. Most of the fundamentalist rebels also believed women should not hold government office.

In 1995-96, students from religious schools in the western region of Afghanistan, the Taliban, asserted their control over Afghan society, imposing adherence to a severe reading of Islamic law. They destroyed vestiges of other forms of worship, including two 1500-year-old Buddhist statues that were blown up in Bamiyan.

Until 2001, the Taliban sought diplomatic recognition and better relations with the West. To do so, they destroyed the country's opium crop, which cut the production of heroin worldwide in half. The United States demanded the surrender of Osama bin Laden, whom it wanted for the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, if it was to grant diplomatic status to the Taliban. The Taliban refused. The United States was able to negotiate harsh U.N. sanctions against the Taliban in December 2000, and from that time on, the Taliban further isolated themselves from the rest of the world by being increasingly hostile to the West.

Resistance fighters in Afghanistan, otherwise known as the Northern Alliance, were forced into a northeast section of the country. Two weeks prior to the September 11 attacks on the United States, the Northern Alliance's military leader, Ahmad Shah Masoud, was assassinated.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S.-U.K.-led coalition waged a full-scale air war against the Taliban, later followed up by the presence and fighting of special forces on the ground.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden, have not been found as of June 2002.

In November 2001, delegates from four Afghan factions met in Bonn, Germany, to sign an agreement on a transitional government. A power-sharing interim cabinet led by Pashtun tribal commander Hamid Karzai was set up (which included two women), and Karzai took office on December 22.

King Muhammad Zahir Shah, who was king from 1933 until 1973, has claimed that he does not wish to restore the monarchy. However, he returned to Afghanistan from exile in Italy to preside over a Loya Jirga, or traditional gathering of tribal elders and other leaders, to be held in June 2002. Every village in Afghanistan will be consulted to put forth one or more representatives to go to regional gatherings, which will then select the 1,500 people to attend the Loya Jirga. The transitional government established by the Loya Jirga will be entrusted with the job of creating a constitution and setting the schedule for free and fair elections to be held within two years.

As the military campaign of 2001-2002 subsided, looting, rape, and ethnic killings have taken place, especially in Pashtun villages in northern Afghanistan, driving thousands of civilians from their homes.

Tribal warlords or jihadi have asserted their authority in the cities and villages of Afghanistan, establishing quasi-fiefdoms, killing many civilians and engaging in other crimes. Attempts to reassert regulation of virtues and vices have returned in some locales. One reason given for the few numbers of casualties resulting from the intense bombing of the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001, was that the U.S.-U.K.-led coalition's local "allies" at the timethe war-lordsmay have alerted al-Qaeda and former Taliban fighters in the region, giving them time to flee their caves. One warlord, taking pay from the coalition, called in U.S. fighter pilots to attack rival tribal leaders, under the guise of the convoy being that of al-Qaeda. There is widespread fear that regional fighting could become the mark of the post-Taliban era. The major cities of Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif are all bases for rival warlords and their militias.

Landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), left over from the civil war of the 1990s, are more of a danger after the bombing campaign. There are approximately 50-100 victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance every week.

Arts, Science, Education

Many of Afghanistan's artistic activities are concentrated in handicrafts. The National Museum in Kabul is rich in Greek and Buddhist history. Archaeological research teams from France, Italy, Germany, the former Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States have made a number of new discoveries, but are no longer active.

In 1999, the estimated literacy rate was 31.5% of the total population--47.2% for males, and 15% for females.

Prior to the rule of the Taliban, officially compulsory education began at seven years of age, continued for eight years and was free at staterun schools. Secondary education was available at age 15 and lasted four years. Under the Taliban, girls over the age of 8 were forbidden from attending school. The type of schooling given to boys under the Taliban was based on a strict reading of Islam.

The country's main institutions of higher learning are Kabul University and the Polytechnic College, also located in the capital; the latter was built jointly with Afghan and Soviet funds. There are universities in the provinces of Nangarhar, Balkh, and Herat.

Commerce and Industry

Afghanistan is primarily an agricultural country, with about 80 percent of the population engaged in this sector of the economy. Only about 15 to 20 percent of the total land is economically useful. Some of the country's principal cash crops were wheat, rice, barley, cotton, sugar beets, sugarcane, oil seeds, and a wide variety of vegetables. Raisins, nuts, and many kinds of fruits also were produced. During the 1990s, Afghanistan's poppy production accounted for the world's largest production of opium. A program to prevent the resurgence of opium production is being financed by the United States and other Western countries.

Mineral resources consist of natural gas, coal, copper, talc, barite, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron, and salt, as well as some precious and semi-precious stones, notably marble and lapis lazuli. None of these extensive resources has been fully developed except natural gas. Other leading export commodities have been dried fruits and nuts, cotton, carpets and rugs, fresh fruits, and karakul (Persian lamb) skins. Most of Afghanistan's exports were previously sent to C.I.S., India, Germany, United Kingdom, and Belgium/Luxembourg. Imported are food, petroleum, fertilizers, basic manufactured goods, and vehicles. C.I.S. and Eastern Europe provided most of the imports.

After the Soviet military invasion, all western countries cut off development aid. Almost all aid was then provided by the Soviets and the Moscow-based Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. Even after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, the West did not resume foreign aid. The United Nations-sponsored "Operation Salaam" was established to provide for relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement of Afghan refugees.

Oxfam International, which was well-established in the country prior to the 2001-2002 military campaign, has been active since then in the economic rebuilding of Afghanistan. It has urged the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to cancel their $33 million debt to the country. Afghanistan also owes $8.8 million to the International Monetary Fund. The United States and the world's other wealthiest nations are beginning a $4.5 billion aid program to rebuild Afghanistan.

The International Committee for the Red Cross, the Afghan Red Crescent Society, and various U.N. agencies are actively involved in rebuilding Afghanistan, beginning with securing emergency relief, food, potable water and sanitation, health care, and education. In addition, funds have been appropriated for orthopedic centers in Afghanistan, as there are thousands of amputees and other disabled persons, many of whom have been the victims of landmines.


Ariana Afghan Airlines is the national carrier. Commercial flights have not yet resumed to Afghanistan. Afghanistan has no railroads. The country also has no navigable rivers.

Ninety-five percent of Afghanistan's 30,000 miles of highways have either been destroyed or badly damaged by years of warfare and neglect. Land mines are buried on the sides of many roads. The roads are hard to police: in November, four journalists were shot and killed on the road from Sarobi to Kabul. Bandits have control over traffic on the roads. The largest piece of the $4.5 billion in international aid that has been pledged to Afghanistan over the next two years, $1.2 billion, has been dedicated to rebuilding highways.

One of the world's highest tunnels is found in Afghanistan, at Salang, which links the north to the south of the country. It is a 11,000-foot-high and 1.6-mile pass through the Hindu Kush mountains, built by the Soviets in 1964. It was reopened in January 2002, after not having been open since 1997.


International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks are not operating reliably. International organizations and other entities rely on satellite telephone communications even to make local calls. There is no commercial satellite telephone service available locally. Those who wish to make domestic or international calls need to bring their own satellite telephone. Injured or distressed foreigners might face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to colleagues or family outside Afghanistan. Internet is not available through local service providers.

In January 2002, the first independent newspaper in post-Taliban Afghanistan issued its first edition. The Kabul Weekly featured articles in English, French, Dari, and Pashtun.


Medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are generally unavailable, and there is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan and India are available. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country. An emergency hospital in Kabul with some Italian staff can provide limited services. There are also some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. No commercial medical evacuation capability from within Afghanistan exists.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hot-line for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at

Clothing and Services

An adequate wardrobe for hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters (as well as for brief spring and fall rainy seasons) should be brought to cover the duration of a stay here.

Winter-weight apparel is needed for December through February. Snowfalls are frequent; boots are a necessity for snow and mud conditions, and warm clothing is called for, especially wool sweaters. Excellent imported woolen materials are sold here, but the quality of tailoring varies widely.

For women, washable summer clothing is useful. Long cotton skirts, or those made from other washable fabrics, are popular in Kabul. Long wool skirts and sweaters are popular winter evening wear. Boots and warm outerwear are needed in the cold months. Coats of karakul and poshteen (suede lined in either sheared lamb or fur) can be purchased in Kabul. A good supply of shoes for all occasions should be brought into the country.


Special Note : The U.S. Department of State strongly warns against all travel to Afghanistan . The security threat to all American citizens in Afghanistan remains high.

A passport is required. The Interim Authority of Afghanistan requires American citizens to obtain a visa for entry into the country. The government has not been able to reopen all of the country's former diplomatic missions. In the interim, the government is allowing the issuance of a single entry visa to persons entering on sanctioned international relief flights at Kabul International Airport. Commercial flights have not yet resumed to Afghanistan. Information on entry requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Afghanistan located at 2000 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, telephone 202-416-1620, fax 202-416-1630.

Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C. or one of Afghanistan's other diplomatic missions for specific information regarding customs requirements.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available. Consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited. U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul likely will not be able to obtain official information or assistance from Afghan authorities for Americans who face difficulties in Afghanistan nor will American officials be able to travel to provide personal assistance to Americans who face problems outside of the capital.

Although the Embassy is located at Bebe Mahro (Airport) Road, Kabul, it can provide no passport or visa services. Emergency consular services to U.S. citizens who travel or remain in Afghanistan are severely limited. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, will provide most consular services to American citizens. Americans who travel to or reside in Afghanistan are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, or the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, and obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. These missions can be contacted as follows:

U.S. Embassy Islamabad, Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5, Islamabad, telephone (92-51) 2080-0000, Consular Section telephone (92-51) 2080-2700, fax (92-51) 282-2632;

U.S. Consulate Peshawar, 11 Hospital Road, Cantonment, Peshawar, telephone (92-91) 279-801 through 803, fax (92-91) 276-712.

Islam is the official religion of this country, and most Afghans are of the Sunni Muslim sect. Under the Taliban, Christian missionary work was considered a capital offense. As of December 2001, there were a total of two Jews in Afghanistan, Ishak Levin, and Zebulon Simentov, who have been in a feud with one another for years. They both share the only surviving synagogue in Kabul. In the late 19th century, as many as 40,000 Jews lived in Afghanistan, many of whom had fled from Persia, now Iran. By the middle of the 20th century, about 5,000 remained, but most emigrated after the creation of Israel in 1948. The Soviet invasion of 1979 drove out almost all the rest.

The time in Afghanistan is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus four.

Afghanistan's monetary unit is the afghani, comprised of 100 puls. Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is extremely limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not operable. International bank transfers are not available. No ATM machines exist.

The metric system is officially in force, but traditional methods of weights and measures also are used. The pau (15 ounces) is the unit of measure for most foods; a seer is 15.7 pounds, a kharwar 80 seers, or about 1,254 pounds; and a jerib is. 482 acres.

The U.S. Embassy was closed in January 1989, and reopened in January 2002. The Embassy is located at Bebe Mahro (Airport) Road, Kabul.


March 8 Women's Day

March 21 Nau-roz (New Year's)

April 27 Revolution Day


May 1 Workers' Day

*Id ul Fitr (end of Ramadan)

August 19 Independence Day

*Id ul Adha (Feast of Sacrifice)

*Tenth of Moharram (Death of Prophet's Grandson)

*Birth of the Prophet

August 31 Pushtoonistan Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Adamec, Ludwig W. Afghanistan Foreign Affairs to the Mid-Twentieth Century: Relations with the USSR, Germany, and Britain. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974.

Area Handbook for Afghanistan. Washington, DC: American University.

Arnold, Anthony. Afghanistan, the Soviet Invasion in Perspective. Revised and enlarged edition. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1985.

. Afghanistan's Two Party CommunismParcham and Khalq. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1983.

Azoy, G. Whitney. Buzkashi, Game and Power in Afghanistan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Bradsher, Henry S. Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1985.

Caroe, Sir Olaf. The Pathans. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1958; London: Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1962.

Chaliand, Gerard. Report from Afghanistan. New York: Viking Press and Penguin Books, 1982.

Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Elphinstone, Mountstuart. An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul. London: Longman, Hurst, and John Murray, 1815.

Fullerton, John. The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan. London: Methuen Press, 1984.

Gall, Sandy. Afghanistan: Agony of a Nation. London: Bodley Head, 1988.

Gregorian, Vartan. The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1969.

Kakar, H. Afghanistan: A Study in International Political Development, 1880-1896. Kabul, 1971.

Klass, Rosanne. Afghanistan: The Great Game Revisited. Rev. ed. New York: Freedom House, 1990.

Macrory, Patrick. Signal Catastrophe. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1966. Published in the U.S. as The Fierce Pawns. Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1966.

Martin, Mike. Afghanistan, Inside a Rebel Stronghold: Journeys with the Mujahiddin. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 1984.

Murkherjee, Sadhan. Afghanistan, from Tragedy to Triumph. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1984. (A sympathetic treatment of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and events surrounding the 1978 coup and 1979 invasion; reflects the Soviet interpretation.)

Newby, Eric. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.

Newell, Nancy Peabody, and Richard S. Newell. The Struggle for Afghanistan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Poullada, Leon B. Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919-29: King Amanullah's Failure to Modernize a Tribal Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.

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

Van Dyk, Jere. In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey. New York: Coward-McCann, 1983.


views updated May 14 2018


Country statistics


652,090sq km (251,773sq mi) 24,405,000

capital (population):

Kabul (2,454,000)


Interim administration

ethnic groups:

Pathan (Pushtun) 52%, Tajik 20%, Uzbek 9%, Hazara 9%, Chahar 3%, Turkmen 2%, Baluchi 1%


Pashto, Dari (Persian) – both official


Islam (Sunni Muslim 85%, Shiite Muslim 15%)


Afghani = 100 puls

Landlocked republic in s central Asia.

Afghanistan is bordered by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Pakistan, and Iran. The central highlands make up nearly 75% of total land area and, in the e, reach a height of more than 7600m (25,000ft). The capital, Kabul, lies in the foothills of the main range, the Hindu Kush. The River Kabul flows e to the Khyber Pass border with Pakistan. Southern Afghanistan is mainly lowland, with vast stretches of desert in the sw.

Climate and Vegetation

Afghanistan's altitude and remote position have a great effect on its climate. In winter, northerly winds bring extremely cold weather to the highlands. Summers are hot and dry. Southern Afghanistan has lower rainfall and higher average temperatures. Grassland covers much of the n, while the vegetation in the dry s is sparse. Forests of conifers grow on the mountain slopes.


Afghanistan's location on the overland routes between Iran, the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia has invited numerous invasions. Its rugged terrain, however, helped to repulse many of these attacks. In ancient times, Afghanistan was invaded successively by Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, and warrior armies from central Asia. Buddhism was introduced in the 2nd century bc, while Arab armies brought Islam in the late 7th century. Shah Nadir extended Persian rule to encompass most of Afghanistan. His successor, Ahmad Durrani, founded the Durrani dynasty and established the first unified state in 1747. In 1818 the dynasty died, and Russia and Britain competed for control. Russia wanted an outlet to the Indian Ocean, while Britain sought to protect its Indian territories. The first Afghan War (1838–42) was inconclusive. The second Afghan War (1878–80) ended with the accession of Abd ar-Rahman as Emir. The Anglo-Russian Agreement (1907) recognized the dominance of British interests.

In 1919, after the Third Afghan War, Afghanistan regained its independence under Amanullah. In 1933 Muhammad Zahir became shah. In 1964 Zahir introduced a constitutional monarchy. The status of Pathans in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan caused conflict between the two states. In 1973 an army coup overthrew Zahir and established a republic. In 1978 a Marxist coup, backed by the Soviet Union, deposed the military regime. Government-backed Soviet troops and Mujaheddin guerrillas, supplied by the USA, fought the costly Afghanistan War (1979–89). In 1988–89 Soviet forces withdrew, but the civil war raged on and 2.6 million Afghanis remained in exile, mainly in Iran and Pakistan. In 1992 Mujaheddin forces captured Kabul and Burhanuddin Rabbani became president. In 1996 the fundamentalist Taliban seized Kabul and overthrew Rabbani. By 1998, Taliban forces controlled 90% of Afghanistan. The United Nations (UN) called for an end to the Taliban's systematic violations of human rights, such as its discrimination against women. In 1998, the USA launched missile strikes against suspected bases of Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda. In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan. In October 2001, the USA and Britain launched air strikes against Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, who was held responsible for the terrorist attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001. In December 2001, opposition forces captured Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, and Hamid Karzai formed an interim government. In 2002, more than 1000 people died in an earthquake in n Afghanistan.


Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries (2000 GDP per capita US$800). Agriculture employs c.60% of the workforce. Most highland farming is semi-nomadic herding. Wheat is the chief crop of the sedentary farming in the valleys. Afghanistan has many mineral deposits, but most are undeveloped. Natural gas is produced, together with coal, copper, gold, and salt. Main exports are karakul skins, cotton, fruit, and nuts.

Political map

Physical map


views updated May 29 2018

Af·ghan / ˈafˌgan/ • n. 1. a native or national of Afghanistan, or a person of Afghan descent.2. another term for Pashto.3. (afghan) a blanket or shawl, typically one knitted or crocheted in strips or squares.4. short for Afghan hound.• adj. of or relating to Afghanistan, its people, or their language.