Afghanistan's ethnically and linguistically mixed population reflects its location astride historic trade and invasion routes leading from Central Asia into South and Southwest Asia. While population data is somewhat unreliable for Afghanistan, Pashtuns make up the largest ethnic group at 42% of the population, followed by Tajiks (27%), Hazaras (9%), Uzbek (9%), Aimaq, Turkmen, Baluch, and other small groups. Dari (Afghan Farsi) and Pashto are official languages. Dari is spoken by more than one-third of the population as a first language and serves as a lingua franca for most Afghans, though Pashto is spoken throughout the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Tajik and Turkic languages are spoken widely in the north. Smaller groups throughout the country also speak more than 70 other languages and numerous dialects.
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni, following the Hanafi school of jurisprudence; the remainder of the population--and primarily the Hazara ethnic group--is predominantly Shi'a. Despite attempts during the years of communist rule to secularize Afghan society, Islamic practices pervade all aspects of life. In fact, Islam served as a principal basis for expressing opposition to communism and the Soviet invasion. Islamic religious tradition and codes, together with traditional tribal and ethnic practices, have an important role in personal conduct and dispute settlement. Afghan society is largely based on kinship groups, which follow traditional customs and religious practices, though somewhat less so in urban areas.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Afghan(s).
Population (July 2009 est.): 28.396 million. More than 3 million Afghans live outside the country, mainly in Pakistan and Iran, although over 5 million have returned since the removal of the Taliban.
Annual population growth rate (2009 est.): 2.629%.
Main ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq, Baluch, Nuristani, Kizilbash.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shi'a Muslim 19%, other 1%.
Main languages: Dari (Afghan Farsi), Pashto.
Education: Approximately 6 million children, of whom some 35% are girls. Literacy (2008 est.)--28.1% (male 43%, female 12%), but real figures may be lower given breakdown of education system and flight of educated Afghans during three decades of war and instability.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2009 est.)--151.95 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy (2009 est.)--44.47 yrs. (male); 44.81 yrs. (female).
Location: Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran
Geographic coordinates: 33 00 N, 65 00 E
Map references: Asia
total: 647,500 sq km
land: 647,500 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area—comparative: slightly smaller than Texas
total: 5,529 km
border countries: China 76 km, Iran 936 km, Pakistan 2,430 km, Tajikistan 1,206 km, Turkmenistan 744 km, Uzbekistan 137 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers
Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest
lowest point: Amu Darya 258 m
highest point: Nowshak 7,485 m
Natural resources: natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones
arable land: 12%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 46%
forests and woodland: 3%
other: 39% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 30,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: damaging earthquakes occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding
Environment—current issues: soil degradation; overgrazing; deforestation (much of the remaining forests are being cut down for fuel and building materials); desertification
party to: Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban
signed, but not ratified: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation
Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, has had a turbulent history. In 328 BC, Alexander the Great entered the territory of present-day Afghanistan, then part of the Persian Empire, to capture Bactria (present-day Balkh). Invasions by the Scythians, White Huns, and Turks followed in succeeding centuries. In AD 642, Arabs invaded the entire region and introduced Islam.
Arab rule gave way to the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered by the Turkic Ghaznavids in 998. Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030) consolidated the conquests of his predecessors and turned Ghazni into a great cultural center as well as a base for frequent forays into India. Following Mahmud's short-lived dynasty, various princes attempted to rule sections of the country until the destructive Mongol invasion of 1219 led by Genghis Khan.
Following Genghis Khan's death in 1227, a succession of petty chiefs and princes struggled for supremacy until late in the 14th century, when one of his descendants, Tamerlane, incorporated Afghanistan into his own vast Asian empire. Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and the founder of India's Moghul dynasty at the beginning of the 16th century, made Kabul the capital of an Afghan principality.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of what is known today as Afghanistan, established his rule. A Pashtun, Durrani was elected king by a tribal council after the assassination of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah at Khabushan in the same year. Throughout his reign, Durrani consolidated chieftainships, petty principalities, and fragmented provinces into one country. His rule extended from Mashad in the west to Kashmir and Delhi in the east, and from the Amu Darya (Oxus) River in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south.
During the 19th century, collision between the expanding British Empire in the subcontinent and czarist Russia significantly influenced Afghanistan in what was termed "The Great Game." British concern over Russian advances in Central Asia and growing influence in Persia culminated in two Anglo-Afghan wars. The first (1839-42) resulted not only in the destruction of a British army, but is remembered today as an example of the ferocity of Afghan resistance to foreign rule. The second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-80) was sparked by Amir Sher Ali's refusal to accept a British mission in Kabul. This conflict brought Amir Abdur Rahman to the Afghan throne. During his reign (1880-1901), the British and Russians officially established the boundaries of what would become modern Afghanistan. The British retained effective control over Kabul's foreign affairs.
Afghanistan remained neutral during World War I, despite German encouragement of anti-British feelings and Afghan rebellion along the borders of British India. The Afghan king's policy of neutrality was not universally popular within the country, however.
Habibullah, Abdur Rahman's son and successor, was assassinated in 1919, possibly by family members opposed to British influence. His third son, Amanullah, regained control of Afghanistan's foreign policy after launching the third Anglo-Afghan war with an attack on India in the same year. During the ensuing conflict, the war-weary British relinquished their control over Afghan foreign affairs by signing the Treaty of Rawalpindi in August 1919. In commemoration of this event, Afghans celebrate August 19 as their Independence Day.
Reform and Reaction
King Amanullah (1919-29) moved to end his country's traditional isolation in the years following the third Anglo-Afghan war. He established diplomatic relations with most major countries and, following a 1927 tour of Europe and Turkey--during which he noted the modernization and secularization advanced by Ataturk--introduced several reforms intended to modernize Afghanistan. Some of these, such as the abolition of the traditional Muslim veil for women and the opening of a number of co-educational schools, quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders. Faced with overwhelming armed opposition, Amanullah was forced to abdicate in January 1929 after Kabul fell to forces led by Bacha-i-Saqao, a Tajik brigand. Prince Nadir Khan, a cousin of Amanullah's, in turn defeated Bacha-i-Saqao in October of the same year and, with considerable Pashtun tribal support, was declared King Nadir Shah. Four years later, however, he was assassinated in a revenge killing by a Kabul student.
Mohammad Zahir Shah, Nadir Khan's 19-year-old son, succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. In 1964, King Zahir Shah promulgated a liberal constitution providing for a two-chamber legislature to which the king appointed one-third of the deputies. The people elected another third, and the remainder were selected indirectly by provincial assemblies. Although Zahir's "experiment in democracy" produced few lasting reforms, it permitted the growth of unofficial extremist parties on both the left and the right. These included the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had close ideological ties to the Soviet Union. In 1967, the PDPA split into two major rival factions: the Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin and supported by elements within the military, and the Parcham (Banner) faction led by Babrak Karmal. The split reflected ethnic, class, and ideological divisions within Afghan society.
Zahir's cousin, Sardar Mohammad Daoud, served as his Prime Minister from 1953 to 1963. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Daoud solicited military and economic assistance from both Washington and Moscow and introduced controversial social policies of a reformist nature. Daoud's alleged support for the creation of a Pashtun state in the Pakistan-Afghan border area heightened tensions with Pakistan and eventually resulted in Daoud's dismissal in March 1963.
Daoud's Republic (1973-78) and the April 1978 Coup
Amid charges of corruption and malfeasance against the royal family and poor economic conditions created by the severe 1971-72 drought, former Prime Minister Daoud seized power in a military coup on July 17, 1973. Zahir Shah fled the country, eventually finding refuge in Italy. Daoud abolished the monarchy, abrogated the 1964 constitution, and declared Afghanistan a republic with himself as its first President and Prime Minister. His attempts to carry out badly needed economic and social reforms met with little success, and the new constitution promulgated in February 1977 failed to quell chronic political instability.
Seeking to exploit more effectively mounting popular disaffection, the PDPA reunified with Moscow's support. On April 27, 1978, the PDPA initiated a bloody coup, which resulted in the overthrow and murder of Daoud and most of his family. Nur Muhammad Taraki, Secretary General of the PDPA, became President of the Revolutionary Council and Prime Minister of the newly established Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Opposition to the Marxist government emerged almost immediately. During its first 18 months of rule, the PDPA brutally imposed a Marxist-style "reform" program, which ran counter to deeply rooted Afghan traditions. Decrees forcing changes in marriage customs and pushing through an ill-conceived land reform were particularly misunderstood by virtually all Afghans. In addition, thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment, and the intelligentsia were imprisoned, tortured, or murdered. Conflicts within the PDPA also surfaced early and resulted in exiles, purges, imprisonments, and executions.
By the summer of 1978, a revolt began in the Nuristan region of eastern Afghanistan and quickly spread into a countrywide insurgency. In September 1979, Hafizullah Amin, who had earlier been Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, seized power from Taraki after a palace shootout. Over the next 2 months, instability plagued Amin's regime as he moved against perceived enemies in the PDPA. By December, party morale was crumbling, and the insurgency was growing.
The Soviet Invasion
The Soviet Union moved quickly to take advantage of the April 1978 coup. In December 1978, Moscow signed a new bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation with Afghanistan, and the Soviet military assistance program increased significantly. The regime's survival increasingly was dependent upon Soviet military equipment and advisers as the insurgency spread and the Afghan army began to collapse.
By October 1979, however, relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union were tense as Hafizullah Amin refused to take Soviet advice on how to stabilize and consolidate his government. Faced with a deteriorating security situation, on December 24, 1979, large numbers of Soviet airborne forces, joining thousands of Soviet troops already on the ground, began to land in Kabul under the pretext of a field exercise. On December 26, these invasion forces killed Hafizullah Amin and installed Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham faction, bringing him back from Czechoslovakia and making him Prime Minister. Massive Soviet ground forces invaded from the north on December 27.
Following the invasion, the Karmal regime, although backed by an expeditionary force that grew as large as 120,000 Soviet troops, was unable to establish authority outside Kabul. As much as 80% of the countryside, including parts of Herat and Kandahar, eluded effective government control. An overwhelming majority of Afghans opposed the communist regime, either actively or passively. Afghan freedom fighters (mujahidin) made it almost impossible for the regime to maintain a system of local government outside major urban centers. Poorly armed at first, in 1984 the mujahidin began receiving substantial assistance in the form of weapons and training from the U.S. and other outside powers.
In May 1985, the seven principal Peshawar-based guerrilla organizations formed an alliance to coordinate their political and military operations against the Soviet occupation. Late in 1985, the mujahidin were active in and around Kabul, launching rocket attacks and conducting operations against the communist government. The failure of the Soviet Union to win over a significant number of Afghan collaborators or to rebuild a viable Afghan army forced it to bear an increasing responsibility for fighting the resistance and for civilian administration.
Soviet and popular displeasure with the Karmal regime led to its demise in May 1986. Karmal was replaced by Muhammad Najibullah, former chief of the Afghan secret police (KHAD). Najibullah had established a reputation for brutal efficiency during his tenure as KHAD chief. As Prime Minister, Najibullah was ineffective and highly dependent on Soviet support. Undercut by deep-seated divisions within the PDPA, regime efforts to broaden its base of support proved futile.
The Geneva Accords and Their Aftermath
By the mid-1980s, the tenacious Afghan resistance movement--aided by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others--was exacting a high price from the Soviets, both militarily within Afghanistan and by souring the U.S.S.R.'s relations with much of the Western and Islamic world. Informal negotiations for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway since 1982. In 1988, the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States and Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement settling the major differences between them. The agreement, known as the Geneva accords, included five major documents, which, among other things, called for U.S. and Soviet noninterference in the internal affairs of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the right of refugees to return to Afghanistan without fear of persecution or harassment, and, most importantly, a timetable that ensured full Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. About 14,500 Soviet and an estimated one million Afghan lives were lost between 1979 and the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Significantly, the mujahidin were party neither to the negotiations nor to the 1988 agreement and, consequently, refused to accept the terms of the accords. As a result, the civil war continued after the Soviet withdrawal, which was completed in February 1989. Najibullah's regime, though failing to win popular support, territory, or international recognition, was able to remain in power until 1992 but collapsed after the defection of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Uzbek militia in March. However, when the victorious mujahidin entered Kabul to assume control over the city and the central government, a new round of internecine fighting began between the various militias, which had coexisted only uneasily during the Soviet occupation. With the demise of their common enemy, the militias' ethnic, clan, religious, and personality differences surfaced, and the civil war continued.
Seeking to resolve these differences, the leaders of the Peshawar-based mujahidin groups established an interim Islamic Jihad Council in mid-April 1992 to assume power in Kabul. Moderate leader Prof. Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was to chair the council for 2 months, after which a 10-member leadership council composed of mujahidin leaders and presided over by the head of the Jamiat-i-Islami, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, was to be set up for 4 months. During this 6-month period, a Loya Jirga, or grand council of Afghan elders and notables, would convene and designate an interim administration which would hold power up to a year, pending elections.
But in May 1992, Rabbani prematurely formed the leadership council, undermining Mojaddedi's fragile authority. In June, Mojaddedi surrendered power to the Leadership Council, which then elected Rabbani as President. Nonetheless, heavy fighting broke out in August 1992 in Kabul between forces loyal to President Rabbani and rival factions, particularly those who supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami. After Rabbani extended his tenure in December 1992, fighting in the capital flared up in January and February 1993. The Islamabad Accord, signed in March 1993, which appointed Hekmatyar as Prime Minister, failed to have a lasting effect. A follow-up agreement, the Jalalabad Accord, called for the militias to be disarmed but was never fully implemented. Through 1993, Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces, allied with the Shi'a Hezb-i-Wahdat militia, clashed intermittently with Rabbani and Masood's Jamiat forces. Cooperating with Jamiat were militants of Sayyaf's Ittehad-i-Islami and, periodically, troops loyal to ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostam. On January 1, 1994, Dostam switched sides, precipitating large-scale fighting in Kabul and in northern provinces, which caused thousands of civilian casualties in Kabul and elsewhere and created a new wave of displaced persons and refugees. The country sank even further into anarchy, forces loyal to Rabbani and Masood, both ethnic Tajiks, controlled Kabul and much of the northeast, while local warlords exerted power over the rest of the country.
Rise of the Taliban
The Taliban had risen to power in the mid 90's in reaction to the anarchy and warlordism that arose after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Many Taliban had been educated in madrassas in Pakistan and were largely from rural southern Pashtun backgrounds. In 1994, the Taliban developed enough strength to capture the city of Kandahar from a local warlord and proceeded to expand its control throughout Afghanistan, occupying Kabul in September 1996. By the end of 1998, the Taliban occupied about 90% of the country, limiting the opposition largely to a small mostly Tajik corner in the northeast and the Panjshir valley.
The Taliban sought to impose an extreme interpretation of Islam--based upon the rural Pashtun tribal code--on the entire country and committed massive human rights violations, particularly directed against women and girls. The Taliban also committed serious atrocities against minority populations, particularly the Shi'a Hazara ethnic group, and killed noncombatants in several well-documented instances. In 2001, as part of a drive against relics of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past, the Taliban destroyed two Buddha statues carved into cliff faces outside of the city of Bamiyan.
From the mid-1990s the Taliban provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national who had fought with the mujahideen resistance against the Soviets, and provide a base for his and other terrorist organizations. Bin Laden provided both financial and political support to the Taliban. Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida group were charged with the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998, and in August 1998 the United States launched a cruise missile attack against bin Laden's terrorist camp in southeastern Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Al-Qaida have acknowledged their responsibility for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.
Following the Taliban's repeated refusal to expel bin Laden and his group and end its support for international terrorism, the U.S. and its partners in the anti-terrorist coalition began a military campaign on October 7, 2001, targeting terrorist facilities and various Taliban military and political assets within Afghanistan. Under pressure from U.S. military and anti-Taliban forces, the Taliban disintegrated rapidly, and Kabul fell on November 13, 2001.
Afghan factions opposed to the Taliban met at a United Nations-sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany in December 2001 and agreed to restore stability and governance to Afghanistan--creating an interim government and establishing a process to move toward a permanent government. Under the "Bonn Agreement," an Afghan Interim Authority was formed and took office in Kabul on December 22, 2001 with Hamid Karzai as Chairman. The Interim Authority held power for approximately 6 months while preparing for a nationwide "Loya Jirga" (Grand Council) in mid-June 2002 that decided on the structure of a Transitional Authority. The Transitional Authority, headed by President Hamid Karzai, renamed the government as the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan (TISA). One of the TISA's primary achievements was the drafting of a constitution that was ratified by a Constitutional Loya Jirga on January 4, 2004.
In the 1930s, Afghanistan embarked on a modest economic development program. The government founded banks; introduced paper money; established a university; expanded primary, secondary, and technical schools; and sent students abroad for education. Historically, there has been a dearth of information and reliable statistics about Afghanistan's economy. The 1979 Soviet invasion and ensuing civil war destroyed much of the country's limited infrastructure and disrupted normal patterns of economic activity. Gross domestic product fell substantially because of loss of labor and capital and disruption of trade and transport. Continuing internal strife hampered both domestic efforts at reconstruction as well as international aid efforts. However, Afghanistan's economy has grown at a fast pace since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, albeit from a low base. GDP growth exceeded 12% in 2007 and 3.4% in 2008; growth for 2009-2010 was 22.5%. Despite these increases, unemployment remains around 40% and factors such as corruption, security, and shortage of skilled workers constrains development and the conduct of business. In June 2006, Afghanistan and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program for 2006-2009 that focused on maintaining macroeconomic stability, boosting growth, and reducing poverty. Afghanistan is also rebuilding its banking infrastructure through the Da Afghanistan National Central Bank.
An estimated 85% of Afghans are dependent on agriculture and related agribusinesses for their livelihoods. Opium poppy production and the opium trade continue to have a significant monetary share of the country’s agricultural economy. However, both this share and the number of farmers growing poppy continue to decline, as more farmers are taking advantage of opportunities to produce and market alternative crops. Licit commercial agriculture is playing a significant role in increasing the income of rural populations. The major food crops produced are: corn, rice, barley, wheat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The major industrial crops are: cotton, tobacco, madder, castor beans, and sugar beets. Agricultural production is constrained by an almost total dependence on erratic winter snows and spring rains for water; irrigation is primitive. Relatively little use is made of machines, chemical fertilizer, or pesticides.
Afghan farmers need financing to buy quality seeds, fertilizer, and equipment. The United States and the international community are helping to restore banking and credit services to rural lenders, which now administer loans in nearly two-thirds of the country’s provinces. As of September 2009, more than 52,300 agricultural loans ranging from approximately $200 to $2 million had gone to small businesses, with a repayment rate of 94%. Of these, 49% of loans had gone to women-owned businesses, and 27,700 borrowers were women. The program’s success has encouraged commercial banks to extend revolving loans for agribusinesses. Funds have been provided for leases and to promote agro-processing and support for crop exports.
In 2009, the United States significantly revised its counter-narcotics strategy for Afghanistan, ending direct involvement in eradication of poppy and increasing support for licit agriculture and interdiction. The new strategy puts heavy focus on going after those targets where there is a strong nexus between the insurgency and the narcotics trade, to deny resources to the Taliban. Poppy is easy to cultivate and opium is easily transported. Afghanistan produced a record opium poppy crop in 2007, supplying 93% of the world's opium. Much of Afghanistan's opium production is refined into heroin and is either consumed by a growing regional addict population or exported, primarily to Western Europe.
Trade and Industry
Afghanistan is endowed with natural resources, including extensive deposits of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, and precious and semiprecious stones. Unfortunately, ongoing instability in certain areas of the country, remote and rugged terrain, and an inadequate infrastructure and transportation network have made mining these resources difficult, and there have been few serious attempts to further explore or exploit them. The first significant investment in the mining sector is expected to commence soon, with the development of the Aynak copper deposit in east-central Afghanistan. This project tender, awarded to a Chinese firm and valued at over $2.5 billion, is the largest international investment in Afghanistan to date. The Ministry of Mines also plans to move forward with oil, gas, and possibly iron ore tenders in 2010.
The most important resource has been natural gas, first tapped in 1967. At their peak during the 1980s, natural gas sales accounted for $300 million a year in export revenues (56% of the total). Ninety percent of these exports went to the Soviet Union to pay for imports and debts. However, during the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, Afghanistan's natural gas fields were capped to prevent sabotage by the mujahidin. Restoration of gas production has been hampered by internal strife and the disruption of traditional trading relationships following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition, efforts are underway to create Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs). ROZs stimulate badly needed jobs in underdeveloped areas where extremists lure fighting-age young men into illicit and destabilizing activities. ROZs encourage investment by allowing duty-free access to the U.S. for certain goods produced in Afghanistan.
Restoration of the “Ring Road” that links Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat with the northern cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz continues. Much of the road has now been completed, including economically vital stretches linking Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.
Landlocked Afghanistan has no functioning railways, but the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, which forms part of Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, has barge traffic. During their occupation of the country, the Soviets completed a bridge across the Amu Darya. The Shirkan Bandar bridge, reconstructed with U.S. assistance, reopened in 2007 and has opened vital trade routes between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
The Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif railway project is also in progress. The project aims to increase trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, reduce transport costs, increase vehicle operation savings, and create job opportunities in the project area. It will improve Hairatan's marshaling yard and railway station, construct a new single-track railway line of about 75 km from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif, construct a new transshipment terminal facility at Mazar-e-Sharif, install signaling and telecommunication systems, install safety features for efficient operation, develop institutional capacity of the railway sector, and provide construction supervision and project management consultancy.
Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, operates domestic and international routes, including flights to New Delhi, Islamabad, Dubai, Moscow, Istanbul, and Tehran. Civil aviation has been expanding rapidly and several private airlines now offer an alternative to Ariana and operate a domestic and international route network. The first, Kam Air, commenced domestic operations in November 2003.
For nearly 3 decades, the availability of secure energy supplies in Afghanistan was significantly disrupted by conflict. Much of the country's power generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure was destroyed, and what remained was stretched far beyond capacity. More than 90% of the population had no access to electricity. In January 2009, with the help of the Asian Development Bank and the Indian Government, electricity began to flow into Kabul along a newly constructed transmission line running from neighboring Uzbekistan. For the first time in more than a generation, the majority of the capital's 4 million people enjoy the benefits of power. In 2001, Afghanistan produced 430 megawatts of electricity. Today the country produces more than 754 megawatts. International statistics maintained by the World Bank indicate the ratio of gross domestic product (GDP) growth to electrical production is approximately $1,000 to 300 kwh. The Afghan Government's current power plan sets a goal to deliver sufficient electricity to meet the needs of an economic growth rate of 9% per year. Additionally, the Afghan Government anticipates approximately 90% of urban businesses will have access to electrical power by the end of 2010. Finally, the plan's objective is to provide access to electricity to 65% of urban and 25% of rural households by the end of 2010.
The United States has provided considerable assistance to help develop new electricity generation capacity and provide 24-hour power in key cities including Kabul, Lashkar Gah, and Kandahar. Major projects carried out include refurbishment of power generation capacity at Kajaki Dam in the south and opening the Kabul power plant. Under the U.S. and partners’ supervision, the Afghan Government has transferred all assets, liabilities, and personnel from the troubled, state-run power utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Mosesa (DABM) to the new corporatized national electricity utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS). The move was a significant breakthrough in Afghan Government and donor efforts to modernize and begin to commercialize the national electricity sector.
Reliable, affordable electricity is vitally important to Afghan economic growth, prosperity, and stability. The energy infrastructure continues to be a priority for the U.S. and other donor nations.
Landmines and other explosive remnants of war affect virtually every province in Afghanistan, a tragic legacy of nearly 3 decades of continuous conflict. On average, according to the Landmine Monitor program, as many as 83 people are injured or killed each month in Afghanistan by these hidden hazards, with children involved in more than half of these incidents. As in many countries struggling to recover from conflicts, landmines and unexploded ordnance inhibit development, disrupt markets and production, prevent the delivery of goods and services, and generally obstruct reconstruction and stabilization efforts. Removing these deadly hazards enables socio-economic development that could further the larger goal of promoting stability and security in Afghanistan and the wider region.
Many Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR), Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA), Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA), and Mine Detection Center Afghanistan (MDC) have hard-won demining expertise and experience. The United States works with a wide array of international partners in mine action efforts in Afghanistan, but the majority of U.S. financial assistance for demining in Afghanistan goes directly to Afghan-run NGOs, which have pioneered an approach called “community-based demining.”
In community-based demining, Afghan NGOs recruit, train, and employ local workers, in close partnership with community leaders, to survey and clear explosives. Training local Afghan demining technicians offers a new skill, allowing the country to build self-sufficient capabilities to continue resolving its own issues, as well as lend support to other countries recovering from conflict in the future.
Community-based demining represents a new and unique opportunity to link Afghan and U.S. humanitarian, development, and counterinsurgency objectives. It furnishes jobs that keep young men employed, establishes trust with local leaders, and enables local personnel to participate in taking back their community, thus reinforcing local governance and reducing insurgent influence.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $165 million for humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan, making it the largest international donor to Afghanistan for this type of assistance. International and Afghan partners have used these funds to clear more than 160 million square meters of land and are now extending these efforts through community-based demining.
Refugees and Internally Displaced People
Afghanistan has had the largest refugee repatriation in the world in the last 30 years. Over 5 million Afghan refugees have returned to the country since 2002, with 4.4 million receiving repatriation assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MORR) leads the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in assisting its citizens in returning from exile. The UNHCR leads the international community's response, in coordination with the International Organization of Migration (IOM), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and a number of other national and international NGOs and donors.
In February 2009, UNHCR reported 235,833 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the country. The United States channels a significant amount of aid to refugees, returnees, IDPs, and other vulnerable conflict victims through agencies such as UNHCR, the international Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Program, and numerous non-governmental organizations. The U.S. also supports various organizations in providing assistance and protection to the 3.6 million Afghan refugees residing outside Afghanistan. While anchoring returnees in Afghanistan will remain a priority for U.S. assistance programs, the U.S. will also continue to support refugee assistance and protection inside countries of asylum. Since September 2001, the United States has contributed over $718 million to these programs.
Afghanistan has one of the highest mortality rates in the world: one in five children dies before the age of five and one out of every eight Afghan women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth each year. Life expectancy is only 44 years for both men and women. While these statistics are tragic, there has been progress. Recent reports indicate that 85% of the population has access to basic health services within 1 hour of travel to a health facility (68% for those on foot)--up from 9% in 2002. More than 1,650 professional midwives are employed by the ministry of public health, providing health care and childbirth services across Afghanistan. This has helped reduce infant mortality rates by 23%, saving 80,000 newborn lives each year. Child mortality has also fallen; down 26% since 2002. The U.S. through various agencies and in conjunction with the Afghan Government has implemented health programs to help meet the immediate health care needs of the population by strengthening the health care service delivery system; addressing the management leadership and stewardship capacity of the Afghan health care system at the central, provincial, district, and community levels; and increasing demand for and access to quality health products and services through the private sector--60% of the population receive health care from the private sector.
Insecurity along the border, especially in the south, has led to a lack of health workers and an increase in polio cases from seven in 2004 to at least 24 in 2009. The U.S. supports the national Polio Eradication Initiative to strengthen Afghanistan’s immunization communication, service delivery, and surveillance networks. As a result of this assistance, more than 7 million Afghan children, or 90% of children under the age of five, have been vaccinated against polio. The United Sates also supports tuberculosis (TB) detection, treatment, and control efforts in 13 target provinces using the Directly Observed Therapy, Short Course (DOTS) methodology. Globally recognized as the best way to cure TB and control its spread, DOTS is a 6- to 8-month program in which health providers directly administer medication and closely monitor patient progress.
To strengthen the private sector and foster best practices, the U.S. is supporting private hospitals, pharmacists, and pharmaceutical manufacturers in the development of professional associations.
Afghanistan has made impressive advances in increasing basic education. More than 10,000 schools are providing education services to 6.3 million children, a six-fold enrollment growth since 2001. During the Taliban regime no girls were registered in schools. Today, 36.3% of the student population is girls. Similarly, the number of teachers has increased seven-fold to 142,500, of whom nearly 40,000 are women.
Adult literacy activities increased rapidly in 2009. Learning centers grew from 1,100 to 6,865, and activities expanded from 9 to 20 provinces, bringing literacy and financial services to over 169,000 beneficiaries (62% female). From a situation of total illiteracy, these learners can now read, write, form simple sentences, and do basic mathematical calculations. Ongoing support of literacy and basic education is paramount, as well as the quality and preparation of teachers in order to close the literacy gap left by 30 years of conflict.
GDP (2009 est., purchasing power parity): $27 billion.
GDP growth: 22.5% (2009-2010); 11% (2010-2011).
GDP per capita (2009 est.): $800.
Natural resources: Natural gas, oil, coal, petroleum, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones.
Agriculture (estimated 31% of GDP): Products--wheat, opium, sheepskins, lambskins, corn, barley, rice, cotton, fruit, nuts, karakul pelts, wool, and mutton.
Industry (estimated 26% of GDP): Types--small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement; hand-woven carpets; natural gas, coal, and copper.
Services (estimated 43% of GDP): Transport, retail, and telecommunications.
Trade (2009 est.): Exports--$547 million (does not include opium): fruits and nuts, hand-woven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semiprecious gems. Major markets--Central Asian republics, United States, Russia, Pakistan, India. Imports--$5.3 billion: food, petroleum products, textiles, machinery, and consumer goods. Major suppliers--Central Asian republics, Pakistan, United States, India, Germany.
Currency: The currency is the afghani, which was reintroduced as Afghanistan's new currency in January 2003. At present, $1 U.S. equals approximately 50 afghanis.
On October 9, 2004, Afghanistan held its first national democratic presidential election. More than 8 million Afghans voted, 41% of whom were women. Hamid Karzai was announced as the official winner on November 3 and inaugurated on December 7 for a 5-year term as Afghanistan's first democratically elected president.
An election was held on September 18, 2005 for the "Wolesi Jirga" (lower house) of Afghanistan's new bicameral National Assembly and for the country's 34 provincial councils. Turnout for the election was about 53% of the 12.5 million registered voters. The Afghan constitution provides for indirect election of the National Assembly's "Meshrano Jirga" (upper house) by the provincial councils and by reserved presidential appointments. The first democratically elected National Assembly since 1969 was inaugurated on December 19, 2005. Younus Qanooni and Sigbatullah Mojadeddi were elected Speakers of the Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga, respectively.
The second national democratic presidential and provincial council elections were held in August 2009, and National Assembly elections were held September 2010. Hamid Karzai's main competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, forced a presidential run-off to be scheduled, but then withdrew. On November 2, 2009, officials of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) declared Hamid Karzai President of Afghanistan for another 5-year term. Unlike previous election cycles, the elections were coordinated by the IEC, with assistance from the UN. NATO officials announced in March 2009 that 15.6 million voters had registered to vote, roughly half of the country's population, and that 35% to 38% of registered voters were women.
The government's authority is growing, although its ability to deliver necessary social services remains largely dependent on funds from the international donor community. U.S. assistance for Afghanistan's reconstruction from fiscal year 2001 to the present totals over $40 billion. Donors pledged continued assistance for the rebuilding of the country at the June 2008 international Afghanistan support conference in Paris. Overall, the international community has made multi-year reconstruction and security assistance pledges to Afghanistan totaling over $50 billion.
With international community support, including more than 40 countries participating in Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the government's capacity to secure Afghanistan's borders and maintain internal order is increasing. As of January 2010, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) had reached approximately 107,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, and over 99,000 police, including border and civil order police, had received training. Reform of the army and police, to include training, is an extensive and ongoing process, and the U.S. is working with NATO and international partners to further develop Afghanistan's National Security Forces. As of March 2010, training and equipping programs for the ANSF remained at a steady pace to meet objectives of having 134,000 ANA and 109,000 Afghan National Police (ANP) by October 2010.
There are 34 provinces in Afghanistan. Each province is divided into small districts. There are approximately 364 districts although this number fluctuates. There are approximately 153 municipalities. Provincial line departments have basic service delivery responsibility in key sectors (health, education). Provincial governors are generally nominated by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance and appointed by the president. On March 22, 2010, the Sub National Governance Policy was approved by the Afghan cabinet. If this strategy is fully implemented, it will clarify the roles and responsibilities of and interrelationships between the major subnational governance actors, strengthen the role of governors and provincial councils, introduce some elements of provincial budgeting and potentially increase public accountability. This represents a significant step forward in subnational governance if fully realized.
Operation Moshtarak in Marjah (February 2010) represents the initial implementation of the Afghan Government-led District Development Program (DDP) developed by the District Development Working Group comprising the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development; Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Education; and Directorate for Independent and Local Governance.
First Vice President--Mohammad Qasim Fahim
Second Vice President--Abdul Karim Khalili
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Zalmay Rassoul
Minister of Defense--Abdul Raheem Wardak
Minister of Interior--Bismillah Khan Mohammadi
Minister of Finance--Omar Zakhilwal
Ambassador to the United States--vacant; Charge d'Affaires is Khojesta Fana Ebrahimkhel
Afghanistan maintains an embassy in the United States at 2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-483-6410
Type: Islamic Republic.
Independence: August 19, 1919.
Constitution: January 4, 2004.
Branches: Executive—president (chief of state). Legislative—bicameral National Assembly (House of the People--249 seats, House of the Elders--102 seats). Judicial—Supreme Court, High Courts, and Appeals Courts.
Political subdivisions: 34 provinces.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years.