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Afghanistan - Tips

Thu, 8 Jul 2010 00:41:48


Afghan horsemen wind their way over a
mountain path on the outskirts of
Kabul, Afghanistan, June 5, 2005. [© AP Images]

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


Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Area: 647,500 sq. km. (249,935 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Kabul (1,780,000; 1999/2000 UN est.). Other cities (1988 UN
est.; current figures are probably significantly higher)--Kandahar (226,000);
Herat (177,000); Mazar-e-Sharif (131,000); Jalalabad (58,000); Konduz
Terrain: Landlocked; mostly mountains and desert.
Climate: Dry, with cold winters and hot summers.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Afghan(s).
Population: 31,056,997 (June 2006 est.). More than 3 million Afghans live
outside the country, mainly in Pakistan and Iran, although over three and a
half million have returned since the removal of the Taliban.
Annual population growth rate (2006 est.): 2.67%. This rate does not take
into consideration the recent war and its continuing impact.
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 Persian), Pashto.
Education: Approximately 5 million children, of whom some 40% are girls,
enrolled in school during 2005. Literacy (2001 est.)--36% (male 51%, female
21%), but real figures may be lower given breakdown of education system and
flight of educated Afghans.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2004 est.)--165.96 deaths/1,000 live births.
Life expectancy (2004 est.)--42.27 yrs. (male); 42.66 yrs. (female).

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.

GDP (2006 est.): $7.2 billion.
GDP growth (2006 est.): 13.8%.
GDP per capita (2006 est.): $231.83.
Natural resources: Natural gas, oil, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites,
sulfur, lead, zinc, iron, salt, precious and semiprecious stones.
Agriculture (estimated 52% of GDP): Products--wheat, corn, barley, rice,
cotton, fruit, nuts, karakul pelts, wool, and mutton.
Industry (estimated 26% of GDP): Types--small-scale production for domestic
use of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, and cement; hand-woven
carpets for export; natural gas, precious and semiprecious gemstones.
Services (estimated 22% of GDP): Transport, retail, and telecommunications.
Trade (2002-03 est.): Exports--$100 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,
Pakistan, India. Imports--$2.3 billion: food, petroleum products, machinery,
and consumer goods. Major suppliers--Central Asian republics, Pakistan,
United States, India.
Currency: The currency is the afghani, which was reintroduced as
Afghanistan's new currency in January 2003. At present, $1 U.S. equals
approximately 49 afghanis.

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 38-44% of the
population, followed by Tajiks (25%), Hazaras (10%), Uzbek (6-8%), 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-- 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.

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.

European Influence
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 through the demarcation of the Durand
Line. 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

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 and Fall 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,

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.

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 five-year term as Afghanistan's first
democratically elected president. On December 23, 2004, President Karzai
announced new cabinet appointments, naming three women as ministers.

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
Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga, respectively.

The government's authority is growing, although its ability to deliver
necessary social services remains largely dependent on funds from the
international donor community. Between 2001-2006, the United States committed
over $12 billion to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. At an international
donors' conference in Berlin in April 2004, donors pledged a total of $8.2
billion for Afghan reconstruction over the three-year period 2004-2007. At
the end of January 2006, the international community gathered in London and
renewed its political and reconstruction support for Afghanistan in the form
of the Afghanistan Compact.

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 to maintain internal order is increasing.
Responsibility for security for all of Afghanistan was transferred to ISAF in
October 2006. As of November 2006, some 40,000 Afghan National Army (ANA)
soldiers had been trained along with some 60,000 police, including border and
highway police.

Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) has also helped to
further establish the authority of the Afghan central government. The DDR
program, after receiving 63,000 military personnel, stopped accepting
additional candidates in June 2005. Disarmament and demobilization of all of
these candidates were completed at the end of June 2006. A follow-on program
targeting illegal militias, the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG),
was begun in 2005, under the joint auspices of Japan and the United Nations.
The DIAG program is still ongoing.

Principal Government Officials
President--Hamid Karzai
First Vice President--Ahmad Zia Masood
Second Vice President--Abdul Karim Khalili
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta
Minister of Defense--General Abdul Raheem Wardak
Minister of Interior--Zarar Ahmad Muqbal
Ambassador to the United States--Said Tayib Jawad

Afghanistan maintains an embassy in the United States at 2341 Wyoming Avenue,
NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-483-6410; email:
[email protected]).

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 had fallen
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. In 2004, Afghanistan's GDP grew 17%, and in 2005
Afghanistan's GDP grew approximately 10%.

In June 2006, Afghanistan and the International Monetary Fund agreed on a
Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program for 2006-2009 that focuses on
maintaining macroeconomic stability, boosting growth, and reducing poverty.
Afghanistan is also rebuilding its banking infrastructure, through the Da
Afghanistan National Bank. Several government-owned banks are also in the
process of being privatized.

The main source of income in the country is agriculture, and during its good
years, Afghanistan produces enough food and food products to provide for the
people, as well as to create a surplus for export. The major food crops
produced are: corn, rice, barley, wheat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. In
Afghanistan, industry is also based on agriculture, and pastoral raw
materials. The major industrial crops are: cotton, tobacco, madder, castor
beans, and sugar beets. 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. 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.

Overall agricultural production dramatically declined following severe
drought as well as sustained fighting, instability in rural areas, and
deteriorated infrastructure. The easing of the drought and the end of civil
war produced the largest wheat harvest in 25 years during 2003. Wheat
production was an estimated 58% higher than in 2002. However, the country
still needed to import an estimated one million tons of wheat to meet its
requirements for the 2003 year. Millions of Afghans, particularly in rural
areas, remained dependent on food aid.

Opium has become a source of cash for many Afghans, especially following the
breakdown in central authority after the Soviet withdrawal, and opium-derived
revenues probably constituted a major source of income for the two main
factions during the civil war in the 1990s. Opium is easy to cultivate and
transport and offers a quick source of income for impoverished Afghans.
Afghanistan produced a record opium poppy crop in 2006, supplying 91% 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.

Afghanistan has begun counter-narcotics programs, including the promotion of
alternative livelihoods, public information campaigns, targeted eradication
policies, interdiction of drug shipments, as well as law enforcement and
justice reform programs. These programs were first implemented in late 2005.
In June 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the
Afghan Government eradicated over 15,000 hectares of opium poppy.

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 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 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. Trade in
smuggled goods into Pakistan once constituted a major source of revenue for
Afghan regimes, including the Taliban, and still figures as an important
element in the Afghan economy, although efforts are underway to formalize
this trade.

In the 1960s, the United States helped build a highway connecting
Afghanistan's two largest cities. It began in Kabul and wound its way through
five of the country's core provinces—skirting scores of isolated and
otherwise inaccessible villages; passing through the ancient market city of
Ghazni; descending through Qalat; and eventually reaching Kandahar, founded
by Alexander the Great. More than 35% of the country's population lives
within 50 kilometers of this highway, called, appropriately, modern
Afghanistan's lifeline. In 1978, the Soviet Union invaded. By the time its
forces withdrew more than a decade later, more than 1 million Afghans had
been killed and 5 million had fled. Civil war followed. The Taliban emerged,
controlling all but the remote, northern regions. Afghanistan was terrorized
by this group, which was dogmatically opposed to progress and democracy. More
than two decades of war had left the Kabul-Kandahar highway devastated, like
much of the country's infrastructure. Little could move along the lifeline
that had provided so many Afghans with their means of livelihood and their
access to healthcare, education, markets, and places of worship.

Reviving the Road: Restoration of the highway has been an overriding priority
of President Hamid Karzai. It is crucial to extending the influence of the
new government. Without the highway link, Afghanistan's civil society and
economy would remain moribund and prey to divisive forces. The economic
development that the highway makes possible will help guarantee the unity and
long-term security of the Afghan people. The restored highway is a visually
impressive achievement whose symbolic importance should not be
underestimated. It marks a palpable transition from the recent past and
represents an important building block for the future. Recently, an official
in Herat likened the ring road to veins and arteries that nourish and bring
life to the "heart" of Kabul and the body of the country. The highway will
not end in Kandahar: there are plans to complete the circuit, extending it to
Herat and then arcing it back through Mazar-e Sharif to Kabul. The route is
sometimes referred to as the Ring Road. As of December 2006, three-quarters
of the Ring Road had been funded, with plans to be completed in 2007.

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 United
States, in partnership with Norway, has agreed to reconstruct this bridge,
which will stretch more than 650 meters over the Amu Darya/Pyandzh River
between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, near Pyanji Poyon (Tajikistan) and Shir
Khan Bandar (Afghanistan). The bridge is set for completion in 2007.

Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, operates domestic and international
routes, including flights to New Delhi, Islamabad, Dubai, Moscow, Istanbul,
Tehran, and Frankfurt. A private carrier, Kam Air, commenced domestic
operations in November 2003. Many sections of Afghanistan's highway and
regional road system are undergoing significant reconstruction. The U.S.
(with assistance from Japan) completed building a highway linking Kabul to
the southern regional capital, Kandahar. Construction is soon to begin on the
next phase of highway reconstruction between Kandahar and the western city of
Herat. The Asian Development Bank is also active in road development
projects, mainly in the border areas with Pakistan.

Humanitarian Relief
Many nations have assisted in a great variety of humanitarian and development
projects all across Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The
United Nations, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other international
agencies have also given aid. Schools, clinics, water systems, agriculture,
sanitation, government buildings and roads are being repaired or built.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world;
mine-related injuries number up to 100 per month, and an estimated 200,000
Afghans have been disabled by landmine/unexploded ordinances (UXO) accidents.
As of March 2005 the United Nations Mine Action Program for Afghanistan had
approximately 8,000 Afghan personnel, 700 demobilized soldiers, 22
international staff, and several NGOs deployed in Afghanistan. The goal of
the program is to remove the impact of mines from all high-impact areas by
2007 and to make Afghanistan mine-free by 2012. Between January 2003 and
March 2005 a total of 2,354,244 mines and pieces of UXOs were destroyed.
Training programs are also being used to educate the public about the threat
and dangers of land mines. The number of mine victims was reduced from
approximately 150 a month in 2002 to less than 100 a month in 2004.

Refugees and Internally Displaced People
Afghanistan has had the largest refugee repatriation in the world in the last
30 years. The return of refugees is guided by the Ministry of Refugees and
Repatriation (MORR) and supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR), 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. As of December 2006, approximately 3 million Afghans remained in
neighboring countries. The U.S. provided more than $350 million to support
Afghan refugees, returnees, and other conflict victims between September 2001
and March 2006.

In response to a strategy outlined by the Ministry of Health, the
international community is supporting the government in rebuilding the
primary health-care system. Tuberculosis remains a serious public health
problem in Afghanistan. Since this strategy was outlined, the Afghan
Government with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) has
established 162 health facilities in 141 districts across the country. The
treatment success rate in 2002 was 86%. WHO is also assisting the Ministry of
Health and local health authorities to combat malaria where the disease is
widespread. Through this project, 600,000 individuals are receiving full
treatment for malaria every year. In addition 750,000 individuals are
protected from malaria by sleeping under special nets provided under the

There were 45,000 children enrolled in school in 1993, 19% were girls. The
latest official statistics show there are now 64,000 children in school, one
third are girls. In addition 29% of the teachers in the province are women,
compared with 15% in 1993. Effort is being made to ensure that teachers
receive salaries on time and increasing the attendance of girls in school.
The total enrollment rate for Afghan children between 7 and 13 years of age
has increased to 54% (67% for boys and 37% for girls). A number of factors
such as distance to schools, poor facilities and lack of separate schooling
for boys and girls continue to be challenges to higher enrollment.

Before the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan pursued a policy of neutrality and
nonalignment in its foreign relations. After the December 1979 invasion,
Afghanistan's foreign policy mirrored that of the Soviet Union. Most Western
countries, including the United States, maintained small diplomatic missions
in Kabul during the Soviet occupation. Repeated Taliban efforts to occupy
Afghanistan's seat at the UN and Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
were unsuccessful.

The fall of the Taliban in October 2001 opened a new chapter in Afghanistan's
foreign relations. Afghanistan is now an active member of the international
community, and has diplomatic relations with countries from around the world.
In December 2002, the six nations that border Afghanistan signed a 'Good
Neighbor' Declaration, in which they pledged to respect Afghanistan's
independence and territorial integrity. In 2005 Afghanistan and its South
Asia neighbors held the first annual Regional Economic Cooperation Conference
(RECC) promoting intra-regional relations and economic cooperation.

The 1978 Marxist coup strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan took the lead diplomatically in the United Nations, the Non-Aligned
Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference in opposing the
Soviet occupation. During the war against the Soviet occupation, Pakistan
served as the primary logistical conduit for the Afghan resistance. Pakistan
initially developed close ties to the Taliban regime, and extended
recognition in 1997. Pakistan dramatically altered its policy after September
11, 2001 by closing its border and downgrading its ties. Afghanistan and
Pakistan are engaged in dialogue to resolve these bilateral issues.

Afghanistan's relations with Iran have fluctuated over the years, with
periodic disputes over the water rights of the Helmand River as the main
issue of contention. Following the Soviet invasion, which Iran opposed,
relations deteriorated. Iran supported the cause of the Afghan resistance and
provided financial and military assistance to rebel leaders who pledged
loyalty to the Iranian vision of Islamic revolution. Iran still provides
refuge to Afghan ex-patriots. Following the emergence of the Taliban and
their harsh treatment of Afghanistan's Shi'a minority, Iran stepped up
assistance to the Northern Alliance. Relations with the Taliban deteriorated
further in 1998 after Taliban forces seized the Iranian consulate in
Mazar-e-Sharif and executed Iranian diplomats. Since the fall of the Taliban,
Afghanistan's relations with Iran have improved. Iran has been active in
Afghan reconstruction efforts, particularly in the western portion of the

During the reign of the Taliban, Russia became increasingly disenchanted over
Taliban support for Chechen rebels and for providing a sanctuary for
terrorist groups active in Central Asia and in Russia itself, and therefore
provided military assistance to the Northern Alliance. Since the fall of the
Taliban, the Karzai government has improved relations with Russia, but
Afghanistan's outstanding foreign debt to Russia still continues to be a
source of contention.

Afghanistan's relations with Tajikistan have been complicated by political
upheaval and civil war in Tajikistan, which spurred some 100,000 Tajiks to
seek refuge in Afghanistan in late 1992 and early 1993. Also disenchanted by
the Taliban's harsh treatment of Afghanistan's Tajik minority, Tajikistan
facilitated assistance to the Northern Alliance. The Karzai government has
sought to establish closer ties with its northern neighbor in order to
capitalize on the potential economic benefits of increased trade.

UN Efforts
The United Nations was instrumental in obtaining a negotiated Soviet
withdrawal under the terms of the 1988 Geneva Accords. In the aftermath of
the Accords, the United Nations assisted in the repatriation of refugees and
provided humanitarian aid such as food, health care, educational programs,
and support for mine-clearing operations. From 1990-2001, the UN worked to
promote a peaceful settlement between the Afghan factions as well as provide
humanitarian aid. Since October 2001, the UN has played a key role in
Afghanistan through the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA),
including spearheading efforts to organize the Afghan presidential elections
held in October 2004 and National Assembly elections held in 2005.

The first extensive American contact with Afghanistan was made by Josiah
Harlan, an adventurer from Pennsylvania who was an adviser in Afghan politics
in the 1830s and reputedly inspired Rudyard Kipling's story "The Man Who
Would be King." After the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1934, the
U.S. policy of helping developing nations raise their standard of living was
an important factor in maintaining and improving U.S.-Afghan ties. From 1950
to 1979, U.S. foreign assistance provided Afghanistan with more than $500
million in loans, grants, and surplus agricultural commodities to develop
transportation facilities, increase agricultural production, expand the
educational system, stimulate industry, and improve government

In the 1950s, the U.S. declined Afghanistan's request for defense cooperation
but extended an economic assistance program focused on the development of
Afghanistan's physical infrastructure--roads, dams, and power plants. Later,
U.S. aid shifted from infrastructure projects to technical assistance
programs to help develop the skills needed to build a modern economy. The
Peace Corps was active in Afghanistan between 1962 and 1979.

After the April 1978 coup, relations deteriorated. In February 1979, U.S.
Ambassador Adolph "Spike" Dubs was murdered in Kabul after Afghan security
forces burst in on his kidnapers. The U.S. then reduced bilateral assistance
and terminated a small military training program. All remaining assistance
agreements were ended after the December 1979 Soviet invasion.

Following the Soviet invasion, the United States supported diplomatic efforts
to achieve a Soviet withdrawal. U.S. contributions to the refugee program in
Pakistan played a major part in efforts to assist Afghans in need. This
cross-border humanitarian assistance program aimed to increase Afghan
self-sufficiency and help Afghans resist Soviet attempts to drive civilians
out of the rebel-dominated countryside. During the period of Soviet
occupation of Afghanistan, the U.S. provided about $3 billion in military and
economic assistance to Afghans and the resistance movement.

The U.S. supports the emergence of a broad-based government, representative
of all Afghans and actively encourages a UN role in the national
reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Today, the U.S. is assisting the
Afghan people as they rebuild their country and establish a representative
government that contributes to regional stability, is market friendly, and
respects human rights. In May 2005, President Bush and President Karzai
concluded a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a
long-term relationship.

Principal U.S. Official
Ambassador--William Braucher Wood

The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is at the Great Masoud Road, Kabul (tel: (00
93) (20) 230-0436; fax: (00 93) (20) 230-1364).

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
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at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
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Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
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(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
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booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://
www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
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provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

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