Afghanistan (Pashtu/Dari-Persian: افغانستان, Afğānistān) is a country at the crossroads of Asia. Usually placed in Central Asia geographically, Afghanistan is also sometimes categorized within South Asia and the Middle East, as it has either cultural, ethno-linguistic, and/or geographic links with most of its neighbors. It is bordered by Iran in the west, Pakistan in the south and east, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China to the east. It has a population of 30 million people, although this remains an estimate as an official census has not been taken for decades.
Afghanistan literally translates to the 'land of the Afghans' and has had a variety of names applied to its general location in the past. Between the fall of the Taliban after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 Loya jirga, Afghanistan was referred to by the Government of the United States as the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan. Under its new constitution the country is now officially named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Template:Infobox Country
Origin and history of the name
The current name of Afghanistan derives from the alternative name for the Pashtuns: Afghan, being the founders of modern Afghanistan. The Pashtuns appear to have begun using the term Afghan as a name for themselves from the Islamic period onwards. According to the writer W.K. Frazier Tyler, writing in his book Afghanistan, "The word Afghan… first appears in history in the Hudud-al-Alam, a work by an unknown Arab geographer who wrote in 982 AD."
There are several views regarding the origin of name Afghan. Some of them are enumerated below:
Makhzan-i-Afghni by Nematullah written in 1612 CE, traces the Afghan or Pakhtun origin from the super-Patriach Abraham down to one named King Talut or Saul. It states that Saul had a son Irmia (Jeremia) who again had a son called Afghana. Upon the death of King Saul, Afghana was raised by David and was later promoted to the chief command of the army during the reign of King Solomon. The progeny of this Afghana multiplied numerously and came to be called Bani-Israel. In sixth century BCE, Bakhtunnasar or Nebuchadnezzar king of Babul attacked Judah and exiled the progeny of Afghana to Ghor located in the center of what is now Afghanistan. In course of time, the exiled community came to be addressed as Afghan after the name of their ancestor and the country got its name as Afghanistan. This traditional view has many historical discrepancies and is therefore not accepted by modern scholarship---the last pleader for the Bani-Israel hypothesis being Mayor Raverty (The Pathans, 1958, Olaf Caroe).
H.W. Bellew, in his book An Enquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan, believes that the name Afghan derives from the Latin term Alban, used by Armenians as Alvan or Alwan, which refers to mountaineers, and in the case of transliterated Armenian characters, would be pronounced as Aghvan or Aghwan. To the Persians, this would further be altered to Aoghan, Avghan, and Afghan as a reference to the highlanders of the eastern Iranian plateau.
There are other scholars who tend to link the name "Afghan" to an Uzbek word meaning "original".
And still some other writers believe that the name Afghan derives it from Sanskrit upa-ganah, said to mean "allied tribes" which view, however, seems to be far fetched.
The latest and scientific view is that the name Afghan evidently derives from Sanskrit Ashvaka or Ashvakan (q.v), the Assakenoi of Arrian. This view was propounded by J. W. McCrindle and is supported by numerous modern scholars (Lassen, Martin, Bishop, Crooks, Vidyalnar, Singh, Smith, Dey, and several others). In Sanskrit, word ashva (Iranian aspa, Prakrit assa) means "horse", and ashvaka (Prakrit assaka) means "horseman". Pre-Christian times knew the people of eastern Afghanistan as Ashvakas (horsemen), since they raised a fine breed of horses and had a reputation for providing expert cavalrymen. The fifth-century-BCE Indian grammarian Panini calls them Ashvayana and Ashvakayana. Classical writers use the respective equivalents Aspasios (or Aspasii, Hippasii) and Assakenois (or Assaceni/Assacani, Asscenus) (see List of country name etymologies).
The last part of the name Afghanistan originates from the Persian word stān (country or land). The English word Afghanland that appeared in various treaties between Qajar-Persia and the United Kingdom dealing with the Eastern lands of the Persian kingdom (modern Afghanistan) was adopted by the Afghans and became Afghanistan.
Before being called 'Afghanistan', the region had gone through several name changes in its long history of around 5000 years. One of the most ancient names, according to historians and scholars, was Ariana - the Greek pronunciation of the ancient Avestan Aryanam Vaeja or the Sanskrit "Aryavarta", Land of the Aryans. Today this Old-Persian, and Avestan expression is preserved in the name Iran and it is noted in the name of the Afghan national airline, Ariana Airlines. The term 'Ariana Afghanistan' is still popular amongst Persian speakers in the country.
At some point that has yet to be determined, but possibly between 12th to 8th century BCE, Gandhara and Kamboja, two of the sixteen Mahajanapadas (in Sanskrit 'Great Kingdoms') frequently referred to in Buddhist and Hindu religious texts are believed to have evolved as important political entities in what is today known as Afghanistan. The scholars believe that while the Gandharas were pre-eminently Indo-Aryans, the Kambojas were primarily Indo-Iranians in culture (i.e having Indian as well as Iranian affinities per Dr Keith and Macdonnel etc), primarily because of their geographical locations. Both groups find frequent mention in numerous ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts, in particular the Mahabharata and numerous Puranic literature as very warlike and rowdy peoples. King Ashoka's rock edicts found at Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra prominently refer to the Kambojas and Gandharas as important ethnic groups of north-west frontiers. Further, it is also stated that the Aramaic version of the Greco-Aramaic inscription (known as Shar-i-Kuna inscription) discovered in 1964 in Kandhar is specifically intended for the Kamboja section located to north of Kandhahar. Still little is known about these ancient peoples other than the information from Sanskrit and Pali literature and some scant archaeological finds as noted above. The Assakenois and Aspasios of the classical writings or the Ashvakas of Sanskrit texts, are believed by numerous scholars to have been sub-sections of the ancient Kambojas (Dr E. Lmmotte, Dr K. P. Jayswal, Dr Buddha Parkash, Dr L. M. Joshi, Dr Fauja Singh, Dr H. C. Raychaudhury, Dr B . N. Mukerjee, Dr Romila Thapar, Dr J. L. Kamboj and several others).
Many centuries later, Afghanistan was part of Greater Khorasan, and hence was recognized with the name Khorasan (along with regions centered around Merv and Neishabur), which in Pahlavi means "The Eastern Land" (خاور زمین in Persian). (Dehkhoda, p8457)
Main article: History of Afghanistan
Afghanistan exists at a unique nexus-point where numerous Eurasian civilizations have interacted and often fought and was an important site of early historical activity. Through the ages, the region today known as Afghanistan has been invaded by a host of peoples, including the Aryans, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Mauryans, Kushans, Sassanians, Arabs, Turks, British, and Soviets, but rarely have these groups managed to exert complete control over the region. On other occasions, native Afghan entities have invaded surrounding regions to form empires of their own.
Between 2000 and 1200 BCE, waves of Indo-European-speaking Aryans are thought to have flooded into modern-day Afghanistan, setting up a nation that became known as Aryana, or "Land of the Aryans." Zoroastrianism is speculated to have possibly originated in Afghanistan between 1800 to 800 BCE. Ancient Eastern Iranian languages such as Avestan may have been spoken in Afghanistan around a similar time-line with the rise of Zoroastrianism. Around 1000 BCE (or earlier), the Indo-Aryan Vedic civilization may have arisen near the vicinity of the Kabul valley of eastern Afghanistan, but this remains speculative as more viable theories based upon archaeological finds tend to support the emergence of the Vedic civilization east of the Indus and/or Ganges in what is today Pakistan and India. By the middle of the 6th century BCE, the Persian Empire supplanted the Medes and incorporated Aryana within its boundaries; and by 330 BCE, Alexander the Great had invaded the region. Following Alexander's brief occupation, the Hellenic successor states of the Seleucids and Bactrians controlled the area, while the Mauryans from India annexed the southeast for a time and introduced Buddhism to the region until the area returned to the Bactrian rule.
During the 1st century CE, the Kushans, a Tocharian people from Central Asia with Indo-European origins, occupied the region. Thereafter, Aryana fell to a number of Eurasian tribes — including Parthians, Scythians, and Huns, as well as the Sassanian Persians and local rulers such as the Hindu Shahis in Kabul — until the 7th century CE, when Muslim Arab armies invaded the region.
The Arabs initially annexed parts of western Afghanistan in 652 and then conquered most of the rest of Afghanistan between 706-709 CE and administered the region as Khorasan, and over time much of the local population converted to Islam, but retained their Iranian languages. Afghanistan became the center of various important empires, including the Ghaznavid Empire (962-1151), founded by a local Turkic ruler from Ghazni named Yamin ul-Dawlah Mahmud, that expanded its suzerainty over a vast area from Kurdistan to northern India. This empire was replaced by the Ghorid Empire (1151-1219), founded by another local ruler, this time of Tajik extraction, Muhammad Ghori, whose domains included huge parts of Central and South Asia, and laid the foundations for the Delhi Sultanate in India.
In 1219, the region was overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, who devastated the land. Their rule continued with the Ilkhanates, and was extended further following the invasion of Tamerlane (Timur Leng), a ruler from Central Asia. By 1400, all of Afghanistan came under his dominion, and he also laid the foundation of another Islamic empire in India, the Mughal Empire. The Uzbek-born Babur, a descendant of both Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, established an empire with its capital at Kabul by 1504, and then expanded into South Asia in 1525 and established the Mughal Empire's rule throughout much of what is today Pakistan and northern India by 1527. As the empire shifted eastward, the Safavids of Persia challenged Mughal rule while the two superpower empires of the day battled over the fate of Afghanistan for decades with the Persians acquiring the area by the mid-17th century.
Local Ghilzai Pashtun tribesmen successfully overthrew Safavid rule, and under the Hotaki dynasty, briefly controlled all or parts of Persia itself from 1722 to 1736. Following a brief period under the rule (1736-1747) of the Turko-Iranian conqueror Nadir Shah, one of his high-ranking military officers, Ahmad Shah Abdali, himself a Pashtun tribesman of the Abdali clan, called for a loya jirga following Nadir Shah's assassination (for which many implicate Abdali) in 1747. The Afghans/Pashtuns came together at Kandahar in 1747 and chose Ahmad Shah, who changed his last name to Durrani (meaning 'pearl of pearls' in Persian), to be king. The Afghanistan nation-state as it is known today came into existence in 1747 as the Durrani Empire, and expanded outward from traditional Pashtun territories to include all of what is today Afghanistan, a portion of Mashad in Iran, and all of Pakistan and Kashmir as well. The Durrani Empire lasted for nearly a century until internecine conflict and wars with the Persians and Sikhs diminished their empire by the early 19th century. However, the current borders of Afghanistan would not be determined until the coming of the British.
During the 19th century, following the Anglo-Afghan wars (fought in 1839-1842, 1878-1890, and lastly in 1919), Afghanistan saw much of its territory and autonomy ceded to the British. Britain exercised a great deal of influence, and it was not until King Amanullah acceded to the throne in 1919 (see "The Great Game") that Afghanistan regained complete independence. During the period of British intervention in Afghanistan, ethnic Pashtun territories were divided by the Durand Line, and this would lead to strained relations between Afghanistan and British India, and later the new state of Pakistan, over what came to be known as the Pashtunistan debate.
The historical rulers of Afghanistan were part of the Abdali tribe of the ethnic Afghans, whose name was changed to Durrani upon the accession of Ahmad Shah. They belonged to the Saddozay segment of the Popalzay clan, or to the Mohammadzay segment of the Barakzay clan, of the ethnic Afghans. The Mohammadzay frequently furnished the Sadozay kings with top counsellors, who served occasionally as regents, and identified with the name Mohammadzay.
Since 1900, eleven monarchs and rulers have been unseated through undemocratic means: in 1919 (assassination), 1929 (abdication), 1929 (execution), 1933 (assassination), 1973 (deposition), 1978 (execution), 1979 (execution), 1979 (execution), 1987 (removal), 1992 (overthrow), 1996 (overthrow) and 2001 (overthrow).
The longest period of stability in Afghanistan was between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. However, in 1973, Zahir's brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud launched a bloodless coup. Daoud and his entire family were murdered in 1978 when the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan launched a coup known as the Great Saur Revolution and took over the government.
Opposition against, and conflict within, the series of leftist governments that followed, was considerable. As part of a Cold War strategy, the US government began to covertly fund anti-government Mujahideen forces, which were derived from discontented Muslims in the country who opposed the official atheism of the Marxist regime, in 1978. In order to bolster the local Communist forces the Soviet Union - citing the 1978 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborliness that had been signed between the two countries in 1978 - intervened on December 24, 1979. The Soviet occupation resulted in a mass exodus of over 5 million Afghans who moved into refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Faced with mounting international pressure and the loss of approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers as a result of Mujahideen opposition forces trained by the United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments, the Soviets withdrew ten years later, in 1989. For more details, see Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The Soviet withdrawal was seen as an ideological victory in the US, which ostensibly had backed the Mujahideen in order to counter Soviet influence in the vicinity of the oil-rich Persian Gulf. Following the removal of the Soviet forces in 1989, the US and its allies lost interest in Afghanistan and did little to help rebuild the war-ravaged country. The USSR continued to support the regime of Dr. Najubullah (formerly the head of the secret service, Khad) until its downfall in 1992. However, the absence of the Soviet forces resulted in the downfall of the government as it steadily lost ground to the guerrilla forces. 
As the vast majority of the elites and intellectuals had either been systematically eliminated by the Communists, or escaped to take refuge abroad, a dangerous leadership vacuum came into existence. Fighting continued among the various Mujahidin factions, eventually giving rise to a state of warlordism. The chaos and corruption that dominated post-Soviet Afghanistan in turn spawned the rise of the Taliban in response to the growing chaos. The most serious fighting during this growing civil conflict occurred in 1994, when 10,000 people were killed during factional fighting in Kabul.
Exploiting the chaotic situation in Afghanistan, a few regional bedfellows including fundamentalist Afghans trained in refugee camps in western Pakistan, the Pakistani secret intelligence service (ISI), and Arab extremist groups (that were looking for a safe operational hub) joined forces and helped to create the Taliban movement (Rashid 2000). Backed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other strategic allies, the Taliban developed as a politico-religious force, and eventually seized power in 1996. The Taliban were able to capture 90% of the country, aside from the Afghan Northern Alliance strongholds primarily found in the northeast in the Panjsher valley. The Taliban sought to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law and gave safe haven and assistance to individuals and organizations that were implicated as terrorists, most notably Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
The United States and allied military action in support of the opposition following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks forced the Taliban's downfall. In late 2001, major leaders from the Afghan opposition groups and diaspora met in Bonn, and agreed on a plan for the formulation of a new government structure that resulted in the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) on December 2001. After a nationwide Loya Jirga in 2002, Karzai was elected President.
On March 3 and March 25 2002, a series of earthquakes struck Afghanistan, with a loss of thousands of homes and over 1800 lives. Over 4000 more people were injured. The earthquakes occurred at Samangan Province (March 3) and Baghlan Province (March 25). The latter was the worse of the two, and caused most of the casualties. International authorities assisted the Afghan government in dealing with the situation.
As the country continues to rebuild and recover, as of late 2005, it was still struggling against widespread poverty, continued warlordism, a virtually non-existent infrastructure, possibly the largest concentration of land mines on earth and other unexploded ordinance, as well as a sizeable illegal poppy and heroin trade. Afghanistan also remains subject to occasionally violent political jockeying, and the nation's first elections were successfully held in 2004 as women parliamentarians were selected in record numbers. Parliamentary elections in 2005 helped to further stabilize the country politically, in spite of the numerous problems it faced, inluding inadequate international assistance. The country continues to grapple with occasional acts of violence from a few remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban and the instability caused by warlords.
Main article: Politics of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is currently led by president Hamid Karzai, who was elected in October of 2004. Before the election, Karzai led the country after having been hand-picked by the administration of United States' President Bush to head an interim government, after the fall of the Taliban. His current cabinet includes members of the Afghan Northern Alliance, and a mix from other regional and ethnic groups formed from the transitional government by the Loya jirga (grand council). Former monarch Mohammed Zahir Shah returned to the country, but was not reinstated as king, and only exercises limited ceremonial powers.
Under the Bonn Agreement the Afghan Constitution Commission was established to consult with the public and formulate a draft constitution. The meeting of a constitutional loya jirga was held in December 2003, when a new constitution was adopted creating a presidential form of government with a bicameral legislature.
Troops and intelligence agencies from the United States and a number of other countries are present, some to keep the peace, others assigned to hunt for remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda. A United Nations peacekeeping force called the International Security Assistance Force has been operating in Kabul since December 2001. NATO took control of this Force on August 11, 2003. Some of the country remains under the control of warlords. 
On March 27, 2003, Afghan deputy defense minister and powerful warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum created an office for the North Zone of Afghanistan and appointed officials to it, defying then-interim president Hamid Karzai's orders that there be no zones in Afghanistan.
National elections were held on October 9, 2004. Over 10 million Afghans were registered to vote. Most of the 17 candidates opposing Karzai boycotted the election, charging fraud;  an independent commission found evidence of fraud, but ruled that it did not affect the outcome of the poll. Karzai won 55.4% of the vote.  He was inaugurated as president on December 7. It was the country's first national election since 1969, when parliamentary elections were last held.
On September 18 2005, parliamentary elections were held; the parliament opened on the following December 19. On December 20 Karzai's close ally and president of the first mujahideen government, Sibghatullah Mojadeddi, was was picked to head the 102-seat upper house. On December 21, Yunus Qanuni, Afghan opposition leader and Karzai's main opponent was chosen to lead the 249-seat lower house of parliament with 122 votes against 117 for his closest challenger, Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf a notorious warlord responsible for the bloody civil war atrocities.
Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces (velayat) which are further divided into districts.
The 34 provinces are:
Main article: Geography of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a land-locked mountainous country, with plains in the north and southwest. The highest point, at 7485 m (24,557 ft) above sea level, is Nowshak. Large parts of the country are dry, and fresh water supplies are limited. Afghanistan has a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. The country is frequently subject to earthquakes.
Main article: Economy of Afghanistan
Although Afghanistan has significant amounts of natural resources, it is a poor country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising. Two-thirds of the population lives on less than US$2 a day. The economy has suffered greatly from the recent political and military unrest since the 1979-80 Soviet invasion and subsequent conflicts, while severe drought added to the nation's difficulties in 1998-2001.
About 70 percent of the population is under 30 according to Asian Development Bank. The total fertility rate is 6.8, the highest in South Asia (with a regional average at 3.3), but so are mortality rates. Infant mortality rate is 166 per 1000 births. The economically active population in 2002 was about 11 million (out of a total of an estimated 29 million). While there are no official unemployment rate estimates available, it is evident that it is high. The number of non-skilled young people is estimated at 3 million, which is likely to increase by some 300,000 per annum. (Fujimura, 2004a). 
The country's natural resources include copper, zinc and iron ore in central areas; precious and semi-precious stones such as lapis, emerald and azure in the north-east and east; and (unproved) oil and gas reserves in the north. However, "its significant mineral resources remain largely untapped because of the Afghan War of the 1980s and subsequent fighting" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005).
On a positive note, international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan led to the formation of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) as a result of the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, and later addressed at the Tokyo Donors Conference for Afghan Reconstruction in January 2002, where $4.5 billion was committed in a trust fund to be administered by the World Bank Group. Priority areas for reconstruction include the rebuilding of education system, health, and sanitation facilities, enhancement of administrative capacity, the development of the agricultural sector, and the rebuilding of road, energy, and telecommunication links.
According to a 2004 report by the Asian Development Bank, the present reconstruction effort is two-pronged: first it focuses on rebuilding critical physical infrastructure, and second, on building modern public sector institutions from the remnants of Soviet style planning to ones that promote market-led development (Fujimura, 2004b). But macroeconomic planning and management at present is hampered by poor information, weak service delivery systems, and less than adequate law enforcement.
The country has been going through economic recovery since the Taliban were overthrown in October 2001. However, estimating Afghanistan's economy is problematic as it is impossible to gather reliable statistics while it is going through a significant change period in all fronts, with the added problem of less than ideal security situation. The best estimate that can be relied upon is that of the Central Statistical Office in 2003, from which the CIA Factbook seems to have drawn some data. Accordingly, the country's estimated gross domestic product (GDP) was $21.5 billion in 2003, a 28.6% growth over 2002 (CIA Factbook 2003) 
Among the 232 listed countries in the CIA Factbook, Afghanistan ranks 108th in terms of GDP, which means per capita income of $800. A brief comparison shows that Afghanistan is the poorest country among its neighbours. Pakistan, with a GDP of $347 billion in 2003 had a per capita purchasing power of $2'200 and Iran with its $517 billion had $7'700. In the north, Turkmenistan had a GDP of $27.6 billion and a per capita income of $5'700, Uzbekistan with its $48 billion had $1'800, and Tajikistan despite a low GDP of only $8 billion had a per capita income of $1'100 per head. The World Bank estimates that Afghanistan will remain in need of external financial help before it can stand on its own feet economically.
Ironically, Afghanistan's GDP ranks approximately at the same level as Jordan ($25.5bn) and Qatar ($19.5bn). However, considering that those oil-rich Arab states have smaller populations, Jordan per capita income amounts to $4'500 and Qatar's to $23'200.
One of the main drivers for the current economic recovery is the return of over two million refugees from neighbouring countries and the West, who brought with them fresh energy, entrepreneurship and wealth-creating skills as well as much needed capital to start up small businesses. What is also helping is the estimated $2-3 billion in international assistance, the partial recovery of the agricultural sector, and the reestablishment of market institutions.
While the country's current account deficit is largely financed with the "donor money", only a small portion - about 15% - is provided directly to the government budget. The rest is provided to non-budgetary expenditure and donor-designated projects through the UN system and NGOs. It needs to be mentioned that there are some (as yet unconfirmed) claims that most of this money is spent on the expenses of the UN and other non-governmental organisations as well as being funnelled into illegitimate activities.
The government had a central budget of only $350 million in 2003 and an estimated $550 million in 2004. The country's foreign exchange reserves totals about $500 million. Revenue is mostly generated through customs, as income and corporate tax bases are negligible.
Inflation had been a major problem until 2002. However, the depreciation of the afghani in 2002 after the introduction of the new notes (which replaced 1,000 old afghani by 1 new afghani) coupled with the relative stability compared to previous periods has helped prices to stabilise and even decrease between December 2002 and February 2003, reflecting the turnaround appreciation of the new afghani currency. Since then, the index has indicated stability, with a moderate increase toward late 2003 (Fujimura, 2004c).
The Afghan government and international donors seem to remain committed to improving access to basic necessities, infrastructure development, education, housing and economic reform. The central government is also focusing on improved revenue collection and public sector expenditure discipline. The rebuilding of the financial sector seems to have been so far successful. Money can now be transferred in and out of the country via official banking channels and according to accepted international norms. A new law on private investment provides 3-7 year tax holidays to eligible companies and a 4-year exemption from exports tariffs and duties.
While these improvements will help rebuild a strong basis for the nation in the future, for now, the majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, medical care, and other problems exacerbated by military operations and political uncertainties. The government is not strong enough to collect customs duties from all the provinces due to the power of the warlords. Fraud is widespread and “corruption is rife within all Afghan government organs, and central authority is barely felt in the lawless south and south-west” (The Economist, 2005). 
Expanding poppy cultivation and a growing opium trade is another huge problem for the country. The CIA estimates that one-third of the country's GDP comes from opium export, although the Asian Development Bank states a lower figure, namely $2.5 billion (12% of the GDP). At any rate, this is one of Kabul's most serious policy and law-enforcement challenges, but also one of the world's most serious problems.
The problem began with the Soviet invasion in 1979-80. As the government began to lose control of provinces, "warlordism" flourished and with it opium production as regional commanders searched for ways to generate money to purchase weapons, according to the UN.  (At this time the West was pursuing an "arms-length" supporting strategy of the Afghan freedom-fighters or Mujahidin, the main purpose being to cripple the USSR slowly into withdrawal rather than a quick and decisive overthrow).
When the West abandoned Afghanistan after its perceived victory over the Soviet Union as the Red Army was forced to withdraw in 1989, a power vacuum was created. Various Mujahidin factions started fighting against each other for power. With the discontinuation of Western support, they resorted ever more to poppy cultivation to finance their military existence.
The regional mafia, who were looking for a safe operational hub, joined forces with the more fanatic sections of the Mujahidin supported by Arab extremists like Osama bin Laden as well as the Pakistani secret intelligence service ISI to form the Taliban movement towards the end of 1994 (Rashid, 2000);  see also BBC report here .
The Taliban, having taken control of 90% of the country, actively encouraged poppy cultivation. With this, they not only fulfilled their promises and obligations to their partners - the regional mafia - but also increased their own desperately needed income through taxes. According to the above UN source, Afghanistan saw a bumper opium crop of 4,600 million tonnes in 1999, which was the height of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. When they came under extreme international diplomatic pressure in 2002, they initiated a ban on poppy cultivation.
Following the US-led coalition war that led to the defeat of the Taliban in November 2001, and as a result of the first lack of, and then half-hearted, American commitment to nation-building there, many of the country's farmers resorted back to growing cash crops for export. A notable example of such a crop is the opium poppy (1,300 km² in 2004 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the cultivation of which has largely increased during the last decade: Afghanistan has become the first illicit opium producer in the world, before Burma (Myanmar), part of the so-called "Golden Triangle).
The main obstacle to eradicating poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is the US forces' need for the warlords and their forces in hunting terrorists. The warlords are the major culprits in poppy cultivation, but are also highly useful to the US forces in scouting, providing local intelligence, keeping their own territories clean from Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, and even taking part in military operations - all for money. This also contributes to the lack of central government's real authority in provinces and discourages farmers from growing grain and fruit as they did for centuries previously.
In short, the Afghan economy is currently (December 2005) going through a hefty change period. On the one hand, there are encouraging signs of positive development and increasing wealth creation and management. But on the other hand, the security situation, the lingering war against terrorism and the opium problem have created tall barriers for Afghanistan to rejoin the international community in prosperity and economic development.
- Fujimura, Manabu (2004) "Afghan Economy After the Election", Asian Development Bank Institute
- CIA Factbook (2003), Afghanistan Section
- The Economist magazine, UK, October 2005
- UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs website
- Rashid, Ahmed (2000) "Taliban - Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia", Yale University Press
- The BBC
Main article: Demographics of Afghanistan
The population of Afghanistan is divided into a large number of ethnic groups. Because a systematic census has not been held in the country recently, exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnic groups are not available. Therefore most figures are approximations only. According to the CIA World FactBook (updated on 17 May 2005), the ethnic group distribution is as follows: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%.
According to the CIA factbook, the official languages of Afghanistan are Persian (local name: Dari) 70% and Pashtu 30%. Other languages include Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%. Bilingualism is common.
According to the CIA World Factbook (updated on 17 May 2005), religiously, Afghans are overwhelmingly Muslim (approximately 80% Sunni and 19% Shi'a). There are also Hindu and Sikh minorities. Afghanistan was once home to a many-centuries-old Jewish minority, numbering approximately 5,000 in 1948. Most Jewish families fled the country after the 1979 Soviet invasion, and only one individual remains today, Zablon Simintov.  With the fall of the Taliban a number of Sikhs have returned to the Ghazni, Nangarhar, Kandahar and Kabul Provinces of Afghanistan.
Main article: Constitution of Afghanistan
According to the 2004 constitution, Afghanistan is run by a president, who is elected by direct popular vote to a five-year term. The president may only serve two terms. A candidate for president must be at least forty years of age, a Muslim, and a citizen of Afghanistan. The country has two vice-presidents. The president serves as head of state and government, and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president makes appointments for his cabinet, as well as posts in the military, police force, and provincial governerships, with the approval of parliament.
The legislative body of Afghanistan is a parliament consisting of two houses: the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) and the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders). The Wolesi Jirga consists of up to 250 members elected to five-year terms through direct elections in proportion to the population of each province. At least two women must be elected from each province. In the Meshrano Jirga, one-third of the members are elected by provincial councils for four years, one-third are elected by district councils of each province for three years, and one-third are appointed by the president for five years, of whom half must be women.
The judicial system of Afghanistan consists of the Stera Mahkama (Supreme Court), appeals courts, and lower district courts designated by law. The Stera Mahkama is made up of nine judges appointed by the president, with the approval of parliament, to a ten-year term. Judges must be at least forty years of age, not belong to a political party, and have a degree in law or Islamic jurisprudence. The Stera Mahkama can judge the constitutionality of all laws in the country.
Main article: Culture of Afghanistan
Afghans are generally agreed to be proud of their country, their tribe, their descent, their prowess in arms, and above all, their independence. Like other highlanders, Afghans are regarded with mingled apprehension and condescension, for their high regard for personal honour, for their clan loyalty and for their readiness to carry and use arms to settle disputes. (Heathcote, 2003). No wonder that invariably all invaders had a hard time conquering this country.
Due to its rich history, Afghanistan also owns a rich culture in all forms. However, many of the country's historic monuments have been damaged in recent wars. The two famous statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Province were destroyed by the Taliban, who regarded them as idolatrous.
Although literacy levels are very low, classic Persian poetry plays a very important role in Afghan culture. The Persian language is regarded as one of the richest in the world. Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in both Iran and Afghanistan, to the level that it has integrated itself into culture. Private poetry competitions known as “musha’era” are quite common even among ordinary people. Almost every home owns one or more poetry collection of some sort, even if it is not read often.
The Afghan dialect of the Persian language Dari derives from "Farsi-e Darbari", meaning 'Persian of the royal courts'. It is regarded by scholars as the more original version of the language. Iran, having a larger population, a stronger economy and closer ties to the rest of the world has developed its language further in the course of history. Afghanistan took a more conservative approach mainly due to lack of resources. As a result, Dari has not changed much over the last few centuries.
Many of the famous Persian language poets of 10th to 15th centuries stem from what is now known as Afghanistan. They were mostly also scholars in many disciplines like languages, natural sciences, medicine, religion and astronomy. Examples are Mawlvi Balkhi (Rumi), born and educated in the Balkh province in the 13th century and moved to today’s Istanbul, which was then known as the Eastern Rome), Sanaayi Ghaznavi (12th century, native of Ghazni provice), Jami Heravi (15th century, native of Jam-e-Herat in western Afghanistan), Nizam ud-Din Ali Sher Heravi Nava'i, (15th century, Heart province). Also, some of the contemporary Persian language poets and writers, who are relatively well-know in both Iran and Afghanistan includes Ustad Behtab, Khalilullah Khalili , Sufi Ghulam Nabi Ashqari (, Parwin Pazwak and others.
In addition to poets, world-famous science personalities like Avicenna (Ibn Sina Balkhi) came from Afghanistan. Avicenna, who travelled to Isfahan later in life to establish a medical school there, is known by some scholars as the "the father of modern medicine". George Sarton called Ibn Sina "the most famous scientist of Islam and one of the most famous of all races, places, and times." His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, also known as the Qanun. Avicenna's story even found way to the contemporary English literature through Noah Gordon's The Physician ([ http://www.noahgordonbooks.com/index.html ]), now published in many languages.
Before the Taliban gained power, the city of Kabul was home to many musicians who were masters of both traditional and modern Afghan music, especially during the Nauroz-celebration. Kabul in the middle part of the 20th century has been likened to Vienna during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The tribal system, which orders the life of most people outside metropolitan areas, is certainly as potent in political terms as the national state system of Europe 1914. Men feel a fierce loyalty to their own tribe, such that, if called upon, assemble in arms under the tribal chiefs and local clan leaders (Khans). In the same way that men throughout Europe "flocked to the colours" in 1914, forming up in regional divisions and battalions under the command of the local nobility and gentry. In theory, under Islamic law, every believer has an obligation to bear arms at the ruler's call (Ulul-Amr), but there was no more the need for this than there was to enforce conscription to fill up the British Army in 1914. The Afghan shepherd of peasant went to war for much the same mixture of reasons as the more so-called "civilized" European clerk or factory worker - a desire for adventure, a desire not to be left out, nor to loose esteem in the eyes of his fellows, a dislike or contempt of invading foreigners, revenge against those that ruined his family life or threatened his faith, perhaps even the chance of extra cash or enhanced personal prospects.
The tribal system is not something particularly backward or warlike. It is symply the best way of organising large groups of people in a coutnry that is geographically difficult, and in a society that has an uncomplicated lifestyle - from a materialistic point of view (Heathcote, 2003).
Heathcote, Tony (1980, 2003) "The Afghan Wars 1839 - 1919", Sellmount Staplehurst
Main article: Education in Afghanistan
In the spring of 2003, it was estimated that 30% of Afghanistan's 7,000 schools had been seriously damaged during more than two decades of Soviet occupation and civil war. Only half of the schools were reported to have clean water, while fewer than an estimated 40% had adequate sanitation. Education for boys was not a priority during the Taliban regime, and girls were banished from schools outright.
In regards to the poverty and violence of their surroundings, a study in 2002 by the Save the Children aid group said Afghan children were resilient and courageous. The study credited the strong institutions of family and community.
Up to four million Afghan children, possibly the largest number ever, are believed to have enrolled for class for the school year beginning in March of 2003. Education is available for both girls and boys.
Literacy of the entire population is estimated at 36%, Male Literacy rate is 51% and female literacy is 21%. The male is higher because of Taliban laws prohibiting education of women.
- Afghan Scout Association
- Communications in Afghanistan
- Foreign relations of Afghanistan
- Afghan asylum seekers affair in Nauru
- List of sovereign states
- Military of Afghanistan
- Transportation in Afghanistan
- Stamps and postal history of Afghanistan
- Golden Needle Sewing School
- Taliban treatment of women
- List of leaders of Afghanistan
- Ghobar, Mit Gholam Mohammad. Afghanistan in the Cource of History, 1999, All Prints Inc.
- Griffiths, John C. 1981. Afghanistan: A History of Conflict. André Deutsch, London. Updated edition, 2001. Andre Deutsch Ltd, 2002, ISBN 0233050531.
- Levi, Peter. 1972. The Light Garden of the Angel King: Journeys in Afghanistan. Collins, 1972, ISBN 0002110423. Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, Indianapolis/New York, ISBN 0672512521.
- Moorcroft, William and Trebeck, George. 1841. Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Panjab; in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz, and Bokhara... from 1819 to 1825, Vol. II. Reprint: New Delhi, Sagar Publications, 1971. Oxford University Press, 1979, ISBN 0195771990.
- Rashid, Ahmed (2000) "Taliban - Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia", Yale University Press
- Toynbee, Arnold J. 1961. Between Oxus and Jumna. Oxford University Press, London. ISBN B0006DBR44.
- Wood, John. 1872. A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus. New Edition, edited by his son, with an essay on the "Geography of the Valley of the Oxus" by Henry Yule. John Murray, London. Gregg Division McGraw-Hill, 1971, ISBN 0576033227.
- Heathcote, T.A. The Afghan Wars 1839-1999, 1980,2003, Spellmount Staplehurst
- Afgha.com - News, Discussions, and more about Afghanistan
- The Afghan Blog
- Afghanistan Service Center with daily news
- Afghanistan Information Management Service - provided by joint UN projects
- BBC News Country Profile - Afghanistan
- CIA World Factbook - Afghanistan
- US State Department - Afghanistan includes Background Notes, Country Study (1997), Rebuilding, USAID and NATO
- Open Directory Project - Afghanistan directory category
- Yahoo! - Afghanistan directory category
- 2002 UN map of Afghanistan (PDF)
- News Service latest News about Afghanistan, Discussion board
- Return to Afghanistan - A series of short films by the Washington Post on the New Afghanistan
- British Royal College for Defense Studies analyses and proposes a war in August 2001
- Geopium: Geopolitics of Illicit Drugs in Asia (Afghanistan and Burma)
- Development Gateway's Afghanistan Reconstruction Portal
- Afghanan Dot Net
- Afghanistan Portal
- Sabawoon Online
- Afghanistan Online
- Afghanistan Portal on The Indian Analyst Index of News, Analysis, and Opinion from many sources
- The Jews of Afghanistan
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