For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
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 (57,000).
Terrain: Landlocked; mostly mountains and desert.
Climate: Dry, with cold winters and hot summers.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Afghan(s).
Population: 28,513,677 (July 2004 est.). More than 3.5 million Afghans live outside the country, mainly in Pakistan and Iran, although over two and a half million have returned since the removal of the Taliban.
Annual population growth rate (2004 est.): 4.92%. 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 4 million children, of whom some 30% are girls, enrolled in school during 2003. 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 (2004 est.): $4.7 billion.
GDP growth (2004 est.): 7.5%.
GDP per capita (2004 est.): $164.83.
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, Pakistan, Iran, EU, India. Imports--$2.3 billion: food, petroleum products, machinery, and consumer goods. Major suppliers--Central Asian republics, Pakistan, Iran.
Currency: The currency is the afghani, which was reintroduced as Afghanistan's new currency in January 2003. At present, $1 U.S. equals approximately 45 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.
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 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 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, 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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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 2001-2005, the United States committed over $9 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. The government continues to work closely with Coalition Forces in rooting out remnants of Al-Qaida and the Taliban in the south and southeast. ISAF is providing security in Kabul, the North, and the West. An expansion into the South is underway and should be completed by the end of summer 2006. As of February 2006, some 26,500 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. Disarmament and demobilization of 63,000 official military personnel was completed in June 2005. Many of these are still undergoing reintegration. Also in June 2005, a follow-on program targeting illegal militias, Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups, was rolled out and is ongoing.
Principal Government Officials
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
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 2003, growth was estimated at close to 30%, and the estimated growth rate for 2004 was 7.5%.
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 was the world's largest producer of raw opium in 2005. 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 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.
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 nearing completion on a road reconstruction project between Kandahar and Spin Boldak, located at the southeastern border with Pakistan.
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. Approximately 3.5 million Afghans remain 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 project.
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 enrolment 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.
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 country.
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.
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 administration.
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
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan is at the Great Masoud Road, Kabul (tel: +93-2-290002/5; fax: +93-2-290153).