Afghanistan -- Geography --
Official Name: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Location: Afghanistan is located in the heart of Asia and has an important geostrategical location, connecting South Asia, Central Asia and Southwest Asia. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast.
Area: 647 500 km?, Afghanistan is the world's 41st largest country
Capital and cities: The capital of Afghanistan is Kabul. With its 3 000 000 residents it is the largest city in the country. The other major cities in the country are, in order of population size, Mazari Sharif (1 500 000), Herat (1 000 000), Jalalabad (1 000 000), Kandahar (800 000) and Ghazni (140 000).
Land Divisions: Afghanistan is administratively divided into 34 provinces (welayats), and for each province there is a capital. Each province is then divided into many provincial districts, and each district normally covers a city or several townships.
? Landforms: The country is landlocked and mountainous.
? Climate: Afghanistan has a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. Marked characteristics are the great differences of summer and winter temperature and of day and night temperature, as well as the extent to which change of climate can be attained by slight change of place.
? Water: There are four major rivers in the country: Amu Darya, Hari Rud, and the Kabul and Helmand Rivers. The country also contains a number of smaller rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and streams.
? Natural resources: The country's natural resources include gold, silver, copper, zinc and iron ore in southeastern areas; precious and semi-precious stones such as lapis, emerald and azure in the north-east; and potentially significant petroleum and natural gas reserves in the north. The country also has uranium, coal, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, and salt.
Population: 31 889 923 (2007 estimated); Density 46/km?
Ethnic groups: 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, 4% Aimak, 3% Turkmen, 2%Baloch, 4% other (Pashai, Hindki, Nuristani, Brahui, Hindkowans, etc.)
Religions: About 99% of Afghanistan's population is Muslim with the majority as Sunni Muslims. Approximately 15% are Shiites. Before Islam's arrival, the region was predominantly Zoroastrian and Buddhist. Recent media attention to the arrest of a Christian convert indicates that there is a very small community of Christians living inside and outside Afghanistan – about 3,000 – 5,000. There are about 30,000 to 150,000 Hindus and Sikhs living in different cities but mostly in Jalalabad, Kabul, and Kandahar. Buddhists, very few in number, probably number about 0.3% of the current population.
Languages: There are two official languages of Afghanistan, in addition to other languages that are spoken. The two official languages are also the most commonly spoken; Dari, a form of the Persian language, is spoken by half of the population, though this percentage also includes speakers of the Hazaragi dialect, about two million people. Pashtu is also an official language and is spoken by 35% of the population. In addition, many Turkic languages such as Turkmen and Uzbek are spoken, as well as over thirty other languages. Much of the population is bilingual.
Currency: Afghani (AFN)
Afghanistan -- History --
Islam was brought to Afghanistan during the eight and ninth century by the Arabs. Prior to that the nation had been ruled by various Persian, Greek, Sassasian and Central Asian empires. Following a subsequent break down in Arab rule, semi-independent states began to form. These local dynasties and states however were overwhelmed and crushed during the Mongolian invasions of the 1200s – conquerors who were to remain in control of part or all of the country until the 1500s, despite much resistance and internal strife. Following the collapse of Mongol rule, Afghanistan found itself in a situation much like what has continued into modern times – caught between the vice of two great powers. During this time it was the Mughals of northern India and the Safavids of Iran that fought over the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. Armies marched devastating the land and murdering the people, laying siege to city after city, and destroying whatever had been left by the invading army that preceded it. It was not until 1747 that Afghanistan was able to free itself and Ahmad Shah Durrani created a large empire, with its capital at Kandahar. Ahmad was able to unify the different Afghan tribes, and went on to conquer considerable parts of what are today eastern Iran, Pakistan, northern India and Uzbekistan. His successors though proved unable to hold his vast empire together, and within 50 years much of it had been seized by rival regional powers.
In the 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in "The Great Game" played between the British Indian Empire and Russian Empire, until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. During the period of British intervention in Afghanistan, ethnic Pashtun territories were divided by the Durand Line. This would lead to strained relations between Afghanistan and British India – and later the new state of Pakistan – over what came to be known as the Pashtunistan debate.
The longest period of stability in Afghanistan was between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah, who was overthrown and a republic was declared in 1973. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan Communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. Subsequently, a series of civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Once in power the Taliban sought to create a theocratic state based on their interpretations of the Koran. The veil became the law of the land, and women were forbidden from attending school or holding employment outside of the home. Television was banned and an effort was made to purge the country of any signs or remnants of secular or Western influence. The country became politically and diplomatically isolated.
In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States and its coalition allies launched an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government. Sponsored by the UN, Afghan factions met in Bonn, Germany and chose a 30 member interim authority led by Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun from Kandahar. After governing for 6 months, former King Zahir Shah convened a Loya Jirga, which elected Karzai as president and gave him authority to govern for two more years. Then, on October 9, 2004, Karzai was elected as president of Afghanistan in the country's first ever presidential election.
In 2005, the United States and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a long-term relationship.
Afghanistan -- Economy --
Afghanistan is an impoverished country, one of the world's poorest and least developed. Two-thirds of the population lives on fewer than 2 US dollars a day. About half the population suffer from shortages of housing, clean drinking water, electricity and employment. The economy has suffered greatly from the recent political and military unrest since the 1979 Soviet invasion and subsequent conflicts, while severe drought added to the nation's difficulties in 1998–2001.The economically active population in 2002 was about 11 million (out of a total of an estimated 29 million). As of 2005, the official unemployment rate is at 40%. The number of non-skilled young people is estimated at 3 million, which is likely to increase by some 300,000 per annum.
However, Afghanistan has achieved respectable economic recovery and growth since 2002. The real value of non-drug GDP increased by 29% in 2002, 16% in 2003, 8% in 2004, 14% in 2005 and 8% in 2006. 38% of the GDP is due to the agricultural sector, 24% - to the industry and 38% - to the services (Data exclude opium production.). As much as one-third of Afghanistan's GDP comes from growing poppy and illicit drugs including opium and its two derivatives, morphine and heroin, as well as hashish production. Some 3.3 million Afghans are now involved in producing opium.
On a positive note, international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan led to the formation of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) as a result of the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, and later addressed at the Tokyo Donors Conference for Afghan Reconstruction in 2002, where 4.5 billion US dollars were committed in a trust fund to be administered by the World Bank Group. Another 4 billion US dollars were committed in 2004 followed by 10.5 billion US dollars in early 2006 at the London Conference. In early 2007, 11.6 billion dollars were committed to the country from the United States alone. Priority areas for reconstruction include the rebuilding of the educational system, health, and sanitation facilities, enhancement of administrative capacity, the development of the agricultural sector, and the rebuilding of road, energy, and telecommunication links. According to a 2004 report by the Asian Development Bank, the present reconstruction effort is two-pronged: first it focuses on rebuilding critical physical infrastructure, and second, on building modern public sector institutions from the remnants of Soviet style planning to ones that promote market-led development.
The overall good news is the country has potential to quickly come out of poverty and become an economically stable country. This is due to many reports showing that the country has possession of mass amounts of high demand natural resources and minerals. According to the US Geological Survey and the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Industry, Afghanistan may be possessing up to 36 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 3.6 billion barrels of petroleum and up to 1,325 million barrels of natural gas liquids. This could mark the turning point in Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts. Energy exports could generate the revenue that Afghan officials need to modernize the country’s infrastructure and expand economic opportunities for the beleaguered and fractious population.
The Afghan economy continues to be overwhelmingly agricultural, despite the fact that only 12% of its total land area is arable and less than 6% currently is cultivated. Relatively little use is made of machines, chemical fertilizer, or pesticides. About 80% of the labour force works in agriculture. The main products are wheat and other grains, nuts, cotton, fruits and vegetables, wool and livestock. People who live nomadically tend sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and horses. Afghanistan is also the world’s largest producer of opium, which caused the current government of Afghanistan to enact major counter-narcotics policies and programs. According to research by the Afghan government and the United Nations, presented December 11, 2005, two million people (about 9% of the population) are engaged in opium poppy cultivation. According to the United Nations, about 92% of the world's heroin originates from Afghanistan and is believed to hold street value of approximately $120 billion US dollars.
Industry and services employ the remainder of the labour force. People working in services include teachers, doctors, bankers and government employees. The most economically significant industry is handicrafts primarily rug weaving, which is done mostly at home by hand. Afghan factories, located mainly in Kabul, produce textiles, leather, soap, furniture, shoes and handwoven carpets, as well as cement, fertilizer and processed foods. Oil and natural gas deposits bring in substantial revenue, and a small mining industry processes coal, copper, gold and salt.
Afghanistan is presently in the process of exporting its copper reserves, which will generate $400 million per-year for the government and provide 3,000 people with labor. The country's fruit and nut exports are at $113 million per year. This could grow to more than $800 million per year in 10 years given the proper investment. Other export goods are opium, wheat, handwoven rugs, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious stones. The main export partners of Afghanistan are the United States 25.3%, Pakistan 20.9%, India 20.8% and Finland 4%. The goods that have been imported are capital goods, food, textiles and petroleum products, most consumer goods, where the main import partners include Pakistan 23.9%, United States 11.8%, Germany 6.8%, India 6.5%, Turkey 5.1%, Turkmenistan 5%, Russia 4.7% and Kenya 4.4%.
Afghanistan -- Culture --
The culture of the region known today as Afghanistan has been around for millennia and is - since the Arab-Muslim conquest - largely influenced by Islam. Different regions of the country have their own unique traditions, reflecting the multi-cultural and multi-lingual character of the nation.
Although literacy levels are very low, classic Persian poetry plays a very important role in the Afghan culture. Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in Iran and Afghanistan, to the level that it has integrated itself into culture. Many of the famous poets are Mawlana Rumi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Nasir Khusraw, Jami of Herat and others. Persian culture has, and continues to, exert a great influence over Afghan culture. Private poetry competition events known as “musha’era” are quite common even among ordinary people. Almost every home owns one or more poetry collection of some sort, even if it is not read often.
In addition to poets and authors, numerous Persian scientists have had their origins lie in where it's now called Afghanistan. Most notable was Avicenna (Abu Ali Hussein ibn Sina) whose father hailed from Balkh. Ibn Sina, who travelled to Isfahan later in life to establish a medical school there, is known by some scholars as "the father of modern medicine".
The Afghans are world known for their carpets. The art of making carpets has been prominent for centuries. Afghanistan is known for making beautiful oriental rugs. The Afghan carpet has certain prints that make them unique to Afghanistan.
The sport takes another great part of the Afghan culture. Buzkashi is a national sport in Afghanistan. It is similar to polo and played by horsemen in two teams, each trying to grab and hold off a goat carcass.
Besides sport, the Afghans spend their free time dancing and joking. Attan' is most famous form of dance, which is performed separately both by male and females on any happy occasion with slight variation by pashtoons. Another interesting and unique element of the Afghan culture is “Tokey” (Jokes). In it one to one or randome irregular competition are held on occasions or general get togethers in which both party make fun of each other in regular order with funny and interesting remarks while others enjoy and appreciate the best joke teller.
Afghanistan -- Political system, law and government --
In recent years the politics of Afghanistan have been dominated by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by the NATO Forces and the subsequent efforts to stabilise and democratise the country. The constitution ratified by the 2003 Loya jirga restructured the government as an Islamic republic consisting of three branches, (executive, legislature and judiciary).
Afghanistan is currently led by President Hamid Karzai, who was elected in October 2004. The current parliament was elected in 2005. The current president Hamid Karzai became the first ever democratically elected head of state in Afghanistan in late 2004. He now has begun the process of reconstruction. The members of the Supreme Court were appointed recently by the president to form the judiciary. Together, this new system will provide a new set of checks and balances that was unheard of in the country.
The president is both the chief of state and head of government and is being elected by direct vote for a five-year term. If no candidate receives 50% or more of the vote in the first round of voting, the two candidates with the most votes will participate in a second round; a president can only be elected for two terms. The cabinet consists of 25 ministers, who, according to the new constitution, are appointed by the president and approved by the National Assembly.
The bicameral National Assembly consists of the Wolesi Jirga or House of People (no more than 249 seats), directly elected for five-year terms, and the Meshrano Jirga or House of Elders (102 seats, one-third elected from provincial councils for four-year terms, one-third elected from local district councils for three-year terms, and one-third nominated by the president for five-year terms). On rare occasions the government may convene a Loya Jirga (Grand Council) on issues of independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity. It can 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.
The constitution establishes a nine-member Stera Mahkama or Supreme Court (its nine justices are appointed for 10-year terms by the president with approval of the Wolesi Jirga) and subordinate High Courts and Appeals Courts. There is also a minister of justice and a separate Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission established by the Bonn Agreement, which is charged with investigating human rights abuses and war crimes.