Sunday, 19 June 2016

Brief details of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country located within South Asia and Central Asia. It has a population of approximately 32 million, making it the 42nd most populous country in the world. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far northeast. Its territory covers 652,000 km2 (252,000 sq mi), making it the 41st largest country in the world.

Human habitation in Afghanistan dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Era, and the country's strategic location along the Silk Road connected it to the cultures of the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Through the ages the land has been home to various peoples and witnessed numerous military campaigns; notably by Alexander the Great, Mauryas, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, British, Soviet Russians, and in the modern-era by Western powers. The land also served as the source from which the Kushans, Hephthalites, Samanids, Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Khiljis, Mughals, Hotaks, Durranis, and others have risen to form major empires.

The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Hotak and Durrani dynasties in the 18th century. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the "Great Game" between British India and the Russian Empire.

Following the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, King Amanullah unsuccessfully attempted to modernize the country. It remained peaceful during Zahir Shah's forty years of monarchy. A series of coups in the 1970s was followed by a series of civil wars that devastated much of Afghanistan.

Name of Afghanistan.

The name Afghanistan is believed to be as old as the ethnonym Afghan, which is documented in the 10th-century geography book Hudud ul-'alam. The root name "Afghan" was used historically in reference to a member of the ethnic Pashtuns, and the suffix"-stan" means "place of" in Sanskrit. Therefore, Afghanistan translates to land of the Afghans or, more specifically in a historical sense, to land of the Pashtuns. However, the modern Constitution of Afghanistan states that the word Afghan shall apply to every citizen of Afghanistan."

History of Afghanistan.

Excavations of prehistoric sites by Louis Dupree and others suggest that humans were living in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming communities in the area were among the earliest in the world. An important site of early historical activities, many believe that Afghanistan compares to Egypt in terms of the historical value of its archaeological sites.

The country sits at a unique nexus point where numerous civilizations have interacted and often fought. It has been home to various peoples through the ages, among them the ancient Iranian peoples who established the dominant role of Indo-Iranian languages in the region. At multiple points, the land has been incorporated within large regional empires, among them the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Indian Maurya Empire, and the Islamic Empire.

Many empires and kingdoms have also risen to power in Afghanistan, such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Kabul Shahis, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khiljis, Kartids, Timurids, Mughals, and finally the Hotak and Durrani dynasties that marked the political origins of the modern state.

Pre-Islamic period of
Afghanistan.

Bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) edict by Emperor Ashoka from the 3rd century BCE discovered in the southern city of Kandahar
Archaeological exploration done in the 20th century suggests that the geographical area of Afghanistan has been closely connected by culture and trade with its neighbors to the east, west, and north. Artifacts typical of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Afghanistan.

The Urban civilization of Afghanistan is believed to have begun as early as 3000 BCE, and the early city of Mundigak (near Kandahar in the south of the country) may have been a colony of the nearby Indus Valley Civilization. More recent findings established that the Indus Valley Civilization stretched up towards modern day Afghanistan, making the ancient civilization today part of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In more detail, it extended from what today is northeast Pakistan to northwest India and northeast Afghanistan. An Indus Valley site has been found on the Oxus River at Shortugai in northern Afghanistan. There are several smaller Indus Valley Civilization colonies to be found in Afghanistan as well.

After 2000 BCE, successive waves of semi-nomadic people from Central Asia began moving south into Afghanistan; among them were many Indo-European-speaking Indo-Iranians. These tribes later migrated further into South Asia, Western Asia, and toward Europe via the area north of the Caspian Sea. The region at the time was referred to as Ariana.

The religion Zoroastrianism is believed by some to have originated in what is now
Afghanistan between 1800 and 800 BCE, as its founder Zoroaster is thought to have lived and died in Balkh. Ancient Eastern Iranian languages may have been spoken in the region around the time of the rise of Zoroastrianism. By the middle of the 6th century BCE, the Achaemenids overthrew the Medes and incorporated Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria within its eastern boundaries. An inscription on the tombstone of Darius I of Persia mentions the Kabul Valley in a list of the 29 countries that he had conquered.

Alexander the Great and his Macedonian forces arrived to
Afghanistan in 330 BCE after defeating Darius III of Persia a year earlier in the Battle of Gaugamela. Following Alexander's brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the region until 305 BCE, when they gave much of it to the Maurya Empire as part of an alliance treaty. The Mauryans controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush until they were overthrown in about 185 BCE. Their decline began 60 years after Ashoka's rule ended, leading to the Hellenistic re-conquest by the Greco-Bactrians. Much of it soon broke away from them and became part of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. They were defeated and expelled by the Indo-Scythians in the late 2nd century BCE.

During the first century BCE, the Parthian Empire subjugated the region, but lost it to their Indo-Parthian vassals. In the mid-to-late first century CE the vast Kushan Empire, centered in
Afghanistan, became great patrons of Buddhist culture, making Buddhism flourish throughout the region. The Kushans were overthrown by the Sassanids in the 3rd century CE, though the Indo-Sassanids continued to rule at least parts of the region. They were followed by the Kidarite who, in turn, were replaced by the Hephthalites. By the 6th century CE, the successors to the Kushans and Hepthalites established a small dynasty called Kabul Shahi. Much of the northeastern and southern areas of the country remained dominated by Buddhist culture. Buddhism was widespread before the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan.

Islamization and Mongol invasion of Central Asia.

Arab Muslims brought Islam to
Herat and Zaranj in 642 CE and began spreading eastward; some of the native inhabitants they encountered accepted it while others revolted. The land was collectively recognized by the Arabs as al-Hind due to its cultural connection with Greater India. Before Islam was introduced, people of the region were mostly Buddhists and Zoroastrians, but there were also Surya and Nana worshipers, Jews, and others. The Zunbils and Kabul Shahi were first conquered in 870 CE by the Saffarid Muslims of Zaranj. Later, the Samanids extended their Islamic influence south of the Hindu Kush. It is reported that Muslims and non-Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the Ghaznavids rose to power in the 10th century.

By the 11th century, Mahmud of Ghazni defeated the remaining Hindu rulers and effectively Islamized the wider region, with the exception of Kafiristan.
Afghanistan became one of the main centers in the Muslim world during this Islamic Golden Age. The Ghaznavid dynasty was overthrown by the Ghurids, who expanded and advanced the already powerful Islamic empire.

In 1219 AD, Genghis Khan and his Mongol army overran the region. His troops are said to have annihilated the Khorasanian cities of
Herat and Balkh as well as Bamyan. The destruction caused by the Mongols forced many locals to return to an agrarian rural society. Mongol rule continued with the Ilkhanate in the northwest while the Khilji dynasty administered the Afghan tribal areas south of the Hindu Kush until the invasion of Timur, who established the Timurid Empire in 1370.

In the early 16th century, Babur arrived from
Fergana and captured Kabul from the Arghun dynasty. In 1526, he invaded Delhi in India to replace the Lodi dynasty with the Mughal Empire. Between the 16th and 18th century, the Khanate of Bukhara, Safavids, and Mughals ruled parts of the territory.

Before the 19th century, the northwestern area of Afghanistan was referred to by the regional name Khorasan. Two of the four capitals of Khorasan (Herat and Balkh) are now located in Afghanistan while the regions of Kandahar, Zabulistan, Ghazni, Kabulistan formed the frontier between Afghanistan and Hindustan.

Hotak dynasty and Durrani Empire.

In 1709, Mirwais Hotak, a local Ghilzai tribal leader, successfully rebelled against the Safavids. He defeated Gurgin Khan and made Afghanistan independent. Mirwais died of a natural cause in 1715 and was succeeded by his brother Abdul Aziz, who was soon killed by Mirwais' son Mahmud for treason. Mahmud led the Afghan army in 1722 to the Persian capital of Isfahan, captured the city after the Battle of Gulnabad and proclaimed himself King of Persia. The Afghan dynasty was ousted from Persia by Nadir Shah after the 1729 Battle of Damghan.

In 1738, Nadir Shah and his forces captured Kandahar, the last Hotak stronghold, from Shah Hussain Hotak, at which point the incarcerated 16-year-old Ahmad Shah Durrani was freed and made the commander of an Afghan regiment. Soon after the Persian and Afghan forces invaded Punjab by 1747, the Afghans chose Durrani as their head of state. Durrani and his Afghan army conquered much of present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Khorasan and Kohistan provinces of Iran, and Delhi in India. He defeated the Indian Maratha Empire, and one of his biggest victories was the 1761 Battle of Panipat.

Ahmad Shah Durrani is the founder of the last Afghan empire and viewed as Father of the Nation. In October 1772, Durrani died of a natural cause and was buried at a site now adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar. He was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah, who transferred the capital of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776. After Timur's death in 1793, the Durrani throne passed down to his son Zaman Shah, followed by Mahmud Shah, Shuja Shah and others.

The Afghan Empire was under threat in the early 19th century by the Persians in the west and the Sikhs in the east. Fateh Khan, leader of the Barakzai tribe, had installed 21 of his brothers in positions of power throughout the empire. After his death, they rebelled and divided up the provinces of the empire between themselves. During this turbulent period, Afghanistan had many temporary rulers until Dost Mohammad Khan declared himself emir in 1826. The Punjab region was lost to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who invaded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in 1834 captured the city of Peshawar.

European influence in Afghanistan and Reforms of Amānullāh Khān.

In 1837, after the defeat of Afghan army from Sikh Empire of Punjab in the Battle of Jamrud near the Khyber Pass, the British started to advance from the east and the first major conflict during the "Great Game" was initiated.

Following the first Anglo-Afghan war in 1842, the British established diplomatic relations with the Afghan government and withdrew all forces from the country. They returned during the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the late 1870s for about two years to assist Abdur Rahman Khan to defeat Ayub Khan. The United Kingdom began to exercise a great deal of influence after this and even controlled the state's foreign policy. In 1893, Mortimer Durand made Amir Abdur Rahman Khan sign a controversial agreement in which the ethnic Pashtun and Baloch territories were divided by the Durand Line. This was a standard divide and rule policy of the British and would lead to strained relations, especially with the later new state of Pakistan.

After the Third Anglo-Afghan War and the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, King Amanullah Khan declared Afghanistan a sovereign and fully independent state. He moved to end his country's traditional isolation by establishing diplomatic relations with the international community and, following a 1927–28 tour of Europe and Turkey, introduced several reforms intended to modernize his nation. A key force behind these reforms was Mahmud Tarzi, an ardent supporter of the education of women. He fought for Article 68 of Afghanistan's 1923 constitution, which made elementary education compulsory. The institution of slavery was abolished in 1923.

Some of the reforms that were actually put in place, such as the abolition of the traditional burqa 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 Khan was forced to abdicate in January 1929 after Kabul fell to rebel forces led by Habibullah Kalakani. Prince Mohammed Nadir Shah, Amanullah's cousin, in turn defeated and killed Kalakani in November 1929, and was declared King Nadir Shah. He abandoned the reforms of Amanullah Khan in favor of a more gradual approach to modernization, but was assassinated in 1933 by Abdul Khaliq, a Hazara school student.

Mohammed Zahir Shah, Nadir Shah's 19-year-old son, succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. Until 1946, Zahir Shah ruled with the assistance of his uncle, who held the post of Prime Minister and continued the policies of Nadir Shah.

Another of Zahir Shah's uncles, Shah Mahmud Khan, became Prime Minister in 1946 and began an experiment allowing greater political freedom, but reversed the policy when it went further than he expected. He was replaced in 1953 by Mohammed Daoud Khan, the king's cousin and brother-in-law. Daoud Khan sought a closer relationship with the Soviet Union and a more distant one towards Pakistan.

In 1973, while King Zahir Shah was on an official overseas visit, Daoud Khan launched a bloodless coup and became the first President of Afghanistan. In the meantime, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto got neighboring Pakistan involved in Afghanistan. Some experts suggest that Bhutto paved the way for the April 1978 Saur Revolution.

Afghanistan remained neutral and was neither a participant in World War II nor aligned with either power bloc in the Cold War. However, it was a beneficiary of the latter rivalry as both the Soviet Union and the United States vied for influence by building Afghanistan's main highways, airports, and other vital infrastructure. On per capita basis, Afghanistan received more Soviet development aid than any other country.

Saur Revolution, Soviet war in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and History of Afghanistan (1978–1992)

In April 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution. Within months, opponents of the communist government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by guerrilla Mujahideen against government forces countrywide. The Pakistani government provided these rebels with covert training centers, while the Soviet Union sent thousands of military advisers to support the PDPA government. Meanwhile, increasing friction between the competing factions of the PDPA — the dominant Khalq and the more moderate Parcham — resulted in the dismissal of Parchami cabinet members and the arrest of Parchami military officers under the pretext of a Parchami coup.

In September 1979, Nur Muhammad Taraki was assassinated in a coup within the PDPA orchestrated by fellow Khalq member Hafizullah Amin, who assumed the presidency. Distrusted by the Soviets, Hafizullah Amin was assassinated by Soviet special forces in December 1979. A Soviet-organized government, led by Parcham's Babrak Karmal but inclusive of both factions, filled the vacuum. Soviet troops were deployed to stabilize Afghanistan under Babrak Karmal in more substantial numbers, although the Soviet government did not expect to do most of the fighting in Afghanistan. As a result, however, the Soviets were now directly involved in what had been a domestic war in Afghanistan. The PDPA prohibited usury, declared equality of the sexes, and introduced women to political life.

The United States had been supporting anti-Soviet Afghan Mujahideen and foreign "Afghan Arab" fighters through Pakistan's ISI as early as mid-1979 (see CIA activities in Afghanistan). Billions in cash and weapons, which included over two thousand FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, were provided by the United States and Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.

The Soviet war in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of over 1 million Afghans, mostly civilians, and the creation of about 6 million refugees who fled Afghanistan, mainly to Pakistan and Iran. Faced with mounting international pressure and numerous casualties, the Soviets withdrew in 1989 but continued to support Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah until 1992.

Civil war in Afghanistan (1989–92).

From 1989 until 1992, Najibullah's government tried to solve the ongoing civil war with economic and military aid, but without Soviet troops on the ground. Najibullah tried to build support for his government by portraying his government as Islamic, and in the 1990 constitution the country officially became an Islamic state and all references of communism were removed.

Nevertheless, Najibullah did not win any significant support, and with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, he was left without foreign aid. This, coupled with the internal collapse of his government, led to his ousting from power in April 1992.

Civil war in Afghanistan (1992–96).

After the fall of Najibullah's government in 1992, the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power-sharing agreement under which all the Afghan parties were united in April 1992, except for the Pakistani supported Hezb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the capital city Kabul, which marked the beginning of a new phase in the war.

Saudi Arabia and Iran supported different Afghan militias and instability quickly developed. The conflict between the two militias soon escalated into a full-scale war.

Due to the sudden initiation of the war, working government departments, police units, and a system of justice and accountability for the newly created Islamic State of Afghanistan did not have time to form. Atrocities were committed by individuals of the different armed factions while Kabul descended into lawlessness and chaos. Because of the chaos, some leaders increasingly had only nominal control over their (sub-) commanders. For civilians there was little security from murder, rape, and extortion. An estimated 25,000 people died during the most intense period of bombardment by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar 's Hezb-i Islami and the Junbish-i Milli forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who had created an alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 1994. Half a million people fled Afghanistan.

Southern and eastern Afghanistan was under the control of local commanders such as Gul Agha Sherzai and others. In 1994, the Taliban (a movement originating from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan) also developed in Afghanistan as a political-religious force. The Taliban first took control of southern Afghanistan in 1994 and forced the surrender of dozens of local Pashtun leaders.

In late 1994, forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud held on to Kabul. Rabbani's government took steps to reopen courts, restore law and order, and initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation and democratic elections. Ahmad Shah Massoud invited Taliban leaders to join the process but they refused.

Civil war in Afghanistan (1996–2001) and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The Taliban's early victories in late 1994 were followed by a series of defeats that resulted in heavy losses. The Taliban attempted to capture Kabul in early 1995 but were repelled by forces under Ahmad Shah Massoud. In September 1996, as the Taliban, with military support from Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia, prepared for another major offensive, Ahmad Shah Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul. The Taliban seized Kabul in the same month and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They imposed a strict form of Sharia, similar to that found in Saudi Arabia. According to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), "no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment from showing their faces, seeking medical care without a male escort, or attending school."

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum formed the Northern Alliance. The Taliban defeated Abdul Rashid Dostum's forces during the Battles of Mazar-i-Sharif (1997–98). Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, began sending thousands of Pakistanis to help the Taliban defeat the Northern Alliance. From 1996 to 2001, the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri was also operating inside Afghanistan. This and the fact that around one million Afghans were internally displaced made the United States worry. From 1990 to September 2001, around 400,000 Afghans died in the internal mini-wars.

On 9 September 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by two Arab suicide attackers in Panjshir province of Afghanistan. Two days later, the September 11 attacks were carried out in the United States. The US government suspected Osama bin Laden as the perpetrator of the attacks, and demanded that the Taliban hand him over. After refusing to comply, the October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. During the initial invasion, US and UK forces bombed al-Qaeda training camps. The United States began working with the Northern Alliance to remove the Taliban from power.

 Taliban insurgency and Civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan (2001–present).

In December 2001, after the Taliban government was overthrown and the new Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai was formed, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the UN Security Council to help assist the Hamid Karzai administration and provide basic security. Taliban forces also began regrouping inside Pakistan, while more coalition troops entered Afghanistan and began rebuilding the war-torn country.

Shortly after their fall from power, the Taliban began an insurgency to regain control of Afghanistan. Over the next decade, ISAF and Afghan troops led many offensives against the Taliban but failed to fully defeat them. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world due to a lack of foreign investment, government corruption, and the Taliban insurgency.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government was able to build some democratic structures, and the country changed its name to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Attempts were made, often with the support of foreign donor countries, to improve the country's economy, healthcare, education, transport, and agriculture. ISAF forces also began to train the Afghan National Security Forces. In the decade following 2002, over five million Afghans were repatriated, including some who were forcefully deported from Western countries.

By 2009, a Taliban-led shadow government began to form in parts of the country. In 2010, President Hamid Karzai attempted to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban leaders, but the rebel group refused to attend until mid-2015 when the Taliban supreme leader finally decided to back the peace talks.

After the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, many prominent Afghan figures were assassinated. Afghanistan–Pakistan border skirmishes intensified and many large scale attacks by the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network also took place across Afghanistan. The United States blamed rogue elements within the Pakistani government for the increased attacks.

Following the 2014 presidential election President Hamid Karzai left power and Ashraf Ghani became President in September 2014. The US war in Afghanistan (America's longest war) officially ended on December 28, 2014. However, thousands of US-led NATO troops have remained in the country to train and advise Afghan government forces. The 2001–present war has resulted in over 90,000 direct war-related deaths, which includes insurgents, Afghan civilians and government forces. Over 100,000 have been injured.

Geography of Afghanistan.

A landlocked mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest, Afghanistan is located within South Asia and Central Asia. It is part of the US-coined Greater Middle East Muslim world, which lies between latitudes 29° N and 39° N, and longitudes 60° E and 75° E. The country's highest point is Noshaq, at 7,492 m (24,580 ft) above sea level. It has a continental climate with harsh winters in the central highlands, the glaciated northeast (around Nuristan), and the Wakhan Corridor, where the average temperature in January is below −15 °C (5 °F), and hot summers in the low-lying areas of the Sistan Basin of the southwest, the Jalalabad basin in the east, and the Turkestan plains along the Amu River in the north, where temperatures average over 35 °C (95 °F) in July.

Despite having numerous rivers and reservoirs, large parts of the country are dry. The endorheic Sistan Basin is one of the driest regions in the world. Aside from the usual rainfall, Afghanistan receives snow during the winter in the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains, and the melting snow in the spring season enters the rivers, lakes, and streams. However, two-thirds of the country's water flows into the neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. The state needs more than US$2 billion to rehabilitate its irrigation systems so that the water is properly managed.

The northeastern Hindu Kush mountain range, in and around the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, is in a geologically active area where earthquakes may occur almost every year. They can be deadly and destructive sometimes, causing landslides in some parts or avalanches during the winter. The last strong earthquakes were in 1998, which killed about 6,000 people in Badakhshan near Tajikistan. This was followed by the 2002 Hindu Kush earthquakes in which over 150 people were killed and over 1,000 injured. A 2010 earthquake left 11 Afghans dead, over 70 injured, and more than 2,000 houses destroyed.

The country's natural resources include: coal, copper, iron ore, lithium, uranium, rare earth elements, chromate, gold, zinc, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, marble, precious and semi-precious stones, natural gas, and petroleum, among other things. In 2010, US and Afghan government officials estimated that untapped mineral deposits located in 2007 by the US Geological Survey are worth between $900 bn and $3 trillion.

At 652,230 km2 (251,830 sq mi), Afghanistan is the world's 41st largest country, slightly bigger than France and smaller than Burma, about the size of Texas in the United States. It borders Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the Far East.

Demographics of Afghanistan and Afghan diaspora.

As of 2015, the population of Afghanistan is around 32,564,342, which includes the roughly 2.7 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan and Iran. In 1979, the population was reported to be about 15.5 million.

The only city with over a million residents is its capital, Kabul. Other large cities in the country are, in order of population size, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Lashkar Gah, Taloqan, Khost, Sheberghan, and Ghazni. Urban areas are experiencing rapid population growth following the return of over 5 million expatriates. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the Afghan population is estimated to increase to 82 million by 2050.

Largest cities or towns in Afghanistan. 2012 estimate.

Rank        Name                               Province                        Population
1               Kabul                               Kabul Province             3,289,000
2               Kandahar                        Kandahar Province         491,500
3               Herat                               Herat Province                436,300
4               Mazar-i-Sharif                Balkh Province                368,100
5               Kunduz                            Kunduz Province             304,600
6               Taloqan                           Takhar Province              219,000
7               Jalalabad                         Nangarhar Province       206,500
8               Puli Khumri                     Baghlan Province           203,600
9               Charikar                           Parwan Province            171,200
10             Sheberghan                    Jowzjan Province           161,700

Ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a multiethnic society, and its historical status as a crossroads has contributed significantly to its diverse ethnic makeup. The population of the country is divided into a wide variety of ethno linguistic groups. Because a systematic census has not been held in the nation in decades, exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnic groups are unavailable. An approximate distribution of the ethnic groups is shown in the chart below:

Ethnic Group. 2014 estimate.

Pashtun 42%
Tajik 27%
Hazara 8%
Uzbek 9%
Aimaq 4%
Turkmen 3%
Baloch 2%
Others (Pashayi, Nuristani, Arab, Brahui, Pamiri, Gurjar, etc.) 4%

Spoken languages of Afghanistan.

Dari (Afghan Persian)                                   50%

Pashto                                                            35%

Uzbek and Turkmen                                    11%

30 others including Arabic                           4%

Pashto and Dari are the official languages of Afghanistan; bilingualism is very common. Both are Indo-European languages from the Iranian languages sub-family.

Dari (Afghan Persian) has long been the prestige language and a lingua franca for inter-ethnic communication. It is the native tongue of the Tajiks, Hazaras, Aimaks, and Kizilbash.

Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, although many Pashtuns often use Dari and some non-Pashtuns are fluent in Pashto.

Other languages, including Uzbek, Arabic, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi, and Nuristani languages (Ashkunu, Kamkata-viri, Vasi-vari, Tregami, and Kalasha-ala), are the native tongues of minority groups across the country and have official status in the regions where they are widely spoken. Minor languages also include Pamiri (Shughni, Munji, Ishkashimi, and Wakhi), Brahui, Hindko, and Kyrgyz. A small percentage of Afghans are also fluent in Urdu, English, and other languages.

Religion in Afghanistan.

Over 99% of the Afghan population is Muslim; up to 90% are from the Sunni branch, 7–19% are Shia.

Until the 1890s, the region around Nuristan was known as Kafiristan (land of the kafirs (unbelievers)) because of its non-Muslim inhabitants, the Nuristanis, an ethnically distinct people whose religious practices included animism, polytheism, and shamanism. Thousands of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are also found in the major cities. There was a small Jewish community in Afghanistan who had emigrated to Israel and the United States by the end of the twentieth century; only one Jew, Zablon Simintov, remained by 2005.

Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces, and every province is further divided into a number of districts

Badakhshan
Badghis
Baghlan
Balkh
Bamyan
Daykundi
Farah
Faryab
Ghazni
Ghor
Helmand
Herat
Jowzjan
Kabul
Kandahar
Kapisa
Khost
Kunar
Kunduz
Laghman
Logar
Nangarhar
Nimruz
Nuristan
Oruzgan
Paktia
Paktika
Panjshir
Parwan
Samangan
Sar-e Pol
Takhar
Wardak
Zabul

Economy of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is an impoverished least developed country, one of the world's poorest because of decades of war and lack of foreign investment. As of 2014, the nation's GDP stands at about $60.58 billion with an exchange rate of $20.31 billion, and the GDP per capita is $1,900. The country's exports totaled $2.7 billion in 2012. Its unemployment rate was reported in 2008 at about 35%.

According to a 2009 report, about 42% of the population lives on less than $1 a day. The nation has less than $1.5 billion in external debt.

The Afghan economy has been growing at about 10% per year in the last decade, which is due to the infusion of over $50 billion in international aid and remittances from Afghan expats. It is also due to improvements made to the transportation system and agricultural production, which is the backbone of the nation's economy. The country is known for producing some of the finest pomegranates, grapes, apricots, melons, and several other fresh and dry fruits, including nuts. Many sources indicate that as much as 11% or more of Afghanistan's economy is derived from the cultivation and sale of opium, and Afghanistan is widely considered the world's largest producer of opium despite Afghan government and international efforts to eradicate the crop.

While the nation's current account deficit is largely financed with donor money, only a small portion is provided directly to the government budget. The rest is provided to non-budgetary expenditure and donor-designated projects through the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations. The Afghan Ministry of Finance is focusing on improved revenue collection and public sector expenditure discipline. For example, government revenues increased 31% to $1.7 billion from March 2010 to March 2011.

Education in Afghanistan

Education in the country includes K–12 and higher education, which is supervised by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. The nation's education system was destroyed due to the decades of war, but it began reviving after the Karzai administration came to power in late 2001. More than 5,000 schools were built or renovated in the last decade, with more than 100,000 teachers being trained and recruited. More than seven million male and female students are enrolled in schools, with about 100,000 being enrolled in different universities around the country; at least 35% of these students are female. As of 2013, there are 16,000 schools across Afghanistan. Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak stated that another 8,000 schools are required to be constructed for the remaining 3 million children who are deprived of education.

American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul

Kabul University reopened in 2002 to both male and female students. In 2006, the American University of Afghanistan was established in Kabul, with the aim of providing a world-class, English-language, co-educational learning environment in Afghanistan. The capital of Kabul serves as the learning center of Afghanistan, with many of the best educational institutions being based there.

Major universities outside of Kabul include Kandahar University in the south, Herat University in the northwest, Balkh University in the north, Nangarhar University and Khost University in the east.

The National Military Academy of Afghanistan, modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a four-year military development institution dedicated to graduating officers for the Afghan Armed Forces. The $200 million Afghan Defense University is under construction near Qargha in Kabul.

The United States is building six faculties of education and five provincial teacher training colleges around the country, two large secondary schools in Kabul, and one school in Jalalabad.

The literacy rate of the entire population has been very low but is now rising because more students go to schools. In 2010, the United States began establishing a number of Lincoln learning centers in Afghanistan. They are set up to serve as programming platforms offering English language classes, library facilities, programming venues, Internet connectivity, and educational and other counseling services. A goal of the program is to reach at least 4,000 Afghan citizens per month per location.

The Afghan National Security Forces are provided with mandatory literacy courses. In addition to this, Baghch-e-Simsim (based on the American Sesame Street) was launched in late 2011 to help young Afghan children learn.

In 2009 and 2010, a 5,000 OLPC – One Laptop Per Child schools deployment took place in Kandahar with funding from an anonymous foundation. The OLPC team seeks local support to undertake larger deployment.

Culture of Afghanistan.

The Afghan culture has been around for over two millennia, tracing back to at least the time of the Achaemenid Empire in 500 BCE.

It is mostly a nomadic and tribal society, with different regions of the country having their own traditions, reflecting the multi-cultural and multi-lingual character of the nation.

In the southern and eastern region the people live according to the Pashtun culture by following Pashtunwali, which is an ancient way of life that is still preserved.

The remainder of the country is culturally Persian and Turkic. Some non-Pashtuns who live in proximity with Pashtuns have adopted Pashtunwali in a process called Pashtunization (or Afghanization), while some Pashtuns have been Persianized.

Millions of Afghans who have been living in Pakistan and Iran over the last 30 years have been influenced by the cultures of those neighboring nations.

Afghans display pride in their culture, nation, ancestry, and above all, their religion and independence. Like other highlanders, they are regarded with mingled apprehension and condescension, for their high regard for personal honor, for their tribe loyalty and for their readiness to use force to settle disputes.

As tribal warfare and internecine feuding has been one of their chief occupations since time immemorial, this individualistic trait has made it difficult for foreigners to conquer them. Tony Heathcote considers the tribal system to be the best way of organizing large groups of people in a country that is geographically difficult, and in a society that, from a materialistic point of view, has an uncomplicated lifestyle.

There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes, and the Afghan nomads are estimated at about 2–3 million.

The nation has a complex history that has survived either in its current cultures or in the form of various languages and monuments. However, many of its historic monuments have been damaged in recent wars. The two famous Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, who regarded them as idolatrous. Despite that, archaeologists are still finding Buddhist relics in different parts of the country, some of them dating back to the 2nd century. This indicates that Buddhism was widespread in Afghanistan. Other historical places include the cities of Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Zarang. The Minaret of Jam in the Hari River valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A cloak reputedly worn by Islam's prophet Muhammad is kept inside the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar, a city founded by Alexander and the first capital of Afghanistan. The citadel of Alexander in the western city of Herat has been renovated in recent years and is a popular attraction for tourists. In the north of the country is the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, believed by many to be the location where Ali was buried. The Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture is renovating 42 historic sites in Ghazni until 2013, when the province will be declared as the capital of Islamic civilization. The National Museum of Afghanistan is located in Kabul.

Although literacy is low, classic Persian and Pashto poetry plays an important role in the Afghan culture. Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in the region, to the level that it has integrated itself into culture. Some notable poets include Rumi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Sanai, Jami, Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Khalilullah Khalili, and Parween Pazhwak.