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Islamic State of Afghanistan
Dowlat-e Eslami-ye Afghanestan
FLAG: The national flag has three equal vertical bands of black, red, and green, with a gold emblem centered on the red band; the emblem features a temple-like structure encircled by a wreath on the left and right and by a bold Islamic inscription above.
ANTHEM: Esllahte Arzi (Land Reform), beginning "So long as there is the earth and the heavens."
MONETARY UNIT: The afghani (af) is a paper currency of 100 puls. There are coins of 25 and 50 puls and 1, 2, and 5 afghanis, and notes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 afghanis. af1 = $0.02000 (or $1 = af50) as of 2004.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, although some local units are still in use.
HOLIDAYS: Now Rooz (New Year's Day), 21 March; May Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 18 August. Movable religious holidays include First Day of Ramadan, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', 'Ashura, and Milad an-Nabi. The Afghan calendar year begins on 21 March; the Afghan year 1376 began on 21 March 1997.
TIME: 4:30 pm = noon GMT.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country in South Asia with a long, narrow strip in the northeast (the Wakhan corridor). Afghanistan is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, with a total area of 647,500 sq km (250,001 sq mi), extending 1,240 km (770 mi) ne–sw and 560 km (350 mi) se–nw. Afghanistan is bounded on the n by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, on the extreme ne by China, on the e and s by Pakistan, and on the w by Iran, with a total boundary length of 5,529 km (3,436 mi). Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul, is located in the east central part of the country.
Although the average altitude of Afghanistan is about 1,200 m (4,000 ft), the Hindu Kush mountain range rises to more than 6,100 m (20,000 ft) in the northern corner of the Wakhan pan handle in the northeast and continues in a southwesterly direction for about 970 km (600 mi), dividing the northern provinces from the rest of the country. Central Afghanistan, a plateau with an average elevation of 1,800 m (6,000 ft), contains many small fertile valleys and provides excellent grazing for sheep, goats, and camels. To the north of the Hindu Kush and the central mountain range, the altitude drops to about 460 m (1,500 ft), permitting the growth of cotton, fruits, grains, ground nuts, and other crops. Southwestern Afghanistan is a desert, hot in summer and cold in winter. The four major river systems are the Amu Darya (Oxus) in the north, flowing into the Aral Sea; the Harirūd and Morghāb in the west; the Helmand in the southwest; and the Kabul in the east, flowing into the Indus. There are few lakes.
Afghanistan has recorded more than 10 earthquakes since 2000. In March 2002, the most disastrous struck Baghlān near the Hindu Kush. The earthquake left nearly than 2,000 dead and 7,000 homeless. On 8 October 2005, Afghanistan was impacted by an earthquake centered in Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided by India and Pakistan. The earthquake measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, and recorded more than 140 aftershocks, one of which measured at a magnitude of 5.9. Over 50,000 people were killed in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Another earthquake struck the Shinkai district of Zabul province on 23 October 2005. There were five Afghan deaths and six injuries.
The ranges in altitude produce a climate with both temperate and semitropical characteristics, and the seasons are clearly marked throughout the country. Wide temperature variations are usual from season to season and from day to night. Summer temperatures in Kabul may range from 16°c (61°f) at sunrise to 38°c (100°f) by noon. The mean January temperature in Kabul is 0°c (32°f); the maximum summer temperature in Jalālābād is about 46°c (115°f). There is much sunshine, and the air is usually clear and dry. Rainfall averages about 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 in); precipitation occurs in winter and spring, most of it in the form of snow. Wind velocity is high, especially in the west.
There are over 4,000 plant species, including hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and fungi. The country is particularly rich in such medicinal plants as rue, wormwood, and asafetida; fruit and nut trees are found in many areas. Native fauna include the fox, lynx, wild dog, bear, mongoose, shrew, hedgehog, hyena, jerboa, hare, and wild varieties of cats, asses, mountain goats, and mountain sheep. Trout is the most common fish.
Afghanistan's most significant ecological problems are deforestation, drought, soil degradation, and overgrazing. Neglect, scorched earth tactics, and the damage caused by extensive bombardments have destroyed previously productive agricultural areas, and more are threatened by tons of unexploded ordnance. Afghanistan has responded to the fuel needs of its growing population by cutting down many of its already sparse forests. Consequently, by late 2002, between 1 and 2% of Afghanistan's land area was forest land. That represented a 33% decrease from 1979. Only about 0.3% of the total land area is nationally protected.
Another environmental threat is posed by returning refugees to Afghanistan, of which there were over 4 million in Pakistan, Iran, and other countries in 2002, who have migrated to Kabul and other larger cities instead of returning to destroyed villages and fields. This migration has placed stress on the infrastructure of those cities, causing increased pollution and worsening sanitation conditions.
According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 12 species of mammals, 17 species of birds, 1 species of reptile, and 1 plant species were threatened. Endangered species in Afghanistan included the snow leopard, long-billed curlew, Argali sheep, musk deer, tiger, white-headed duck, Afghani brook salamander, Kabul markhor, and the Siberian white crane. There were thought to be fewer than 100 snow leopards by 2002. The country's Caspian tigers have virtually disappeared.
The population of Afghanistan in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 29,929,000, which placed it at number 38 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 2% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 45% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 107 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 2.6%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 50,252,000. The population density was 46 per sq km (119 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 22% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 5.92%. The capital city, Kabul, had a population of 2,956,000 in that year. Other major population centers and their estimated populations include Qandahār, 349,300; Mazār-e Sharif, 246,900; and Herāt, 171,500. These figures are unreliable, however, because many city dwellers have left their urban homes for refuge in rural areas. Approximately 20% of the population is nomadic.
Two decades of near-constant warfare make Afghanistan's population—never certain in any case—even more difficult to assess. As many as three million Afghans are estimated to have died, and an additional six million sought refuge in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere in the world. The last official census was taken in 1988. As of 2006, the Afghanistan Central Statistical Office was preparing to undertake a new full census of the population.
Due to the US-led bombing campaign in 2001–02 carried out against the Taliban regime, a large Afghan refugee population was created in surrounding countries. The Afghan refugee population in Pakistan in 2002 was approximately 3.7 million, and, in Iran and the west, an additional 1.6 million. Since early 2002, there were many spontaneous returnees, but the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began assisting refugees to repatriate in February 2002. As of October, more than 1.5 million had returned to their homes. In 2003, there were an estimated 184,000–300,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) within the country.
In mid-2002, there was a daily influx of homeless migrants into Kabul, numbering approximately 300–400 families a day. Seventy percent of Kabul's population was living in illegal structures.
In the summer of 2001, the majority of the over one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan had been driven off their land and into refugee camps by ongoing conflict and four years of drought. After 11 September 2001, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began to deliver shelter and nonfood supplies to help the IDPs survive the Afghan winter. It dispatched road convoys from Iran, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to destinations in Afghanistan, carrying blankets, winter clothing, tents, and other essential items. Following the winter, with the defeat of the Taliban and the beginning of the spring planting season, the IOM worked to return the IDPs to their villages from the refugee camps. The IDP families were offered wheat, seeds, blankets, soap, agricultural tools, and other items. In addition to the IOM and the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF were heavily involved in repatriating refugees. Despite their efforts, by the end of 2004 the number of repatriated Afghan refugees dropped by only 2% during the year. The Return of Qualified Afghans program, designed to bring back Afghan professionals living abroad, facilitated the return of 150 Afghans (14 female and 136 male) to take up assignments in Afghanistan consistent with their professional backgrounds by June 2005.
By the end of 2004, some 2.1 million Afghan refugees were reported by 78 asylum countries. Of the world's total refugee population in 2004, Afghans constituted 23%, continuing to be the largest country of origin of refugees under UNHCR care. Tajikistan closed its border with Afghanistan in 2004.
According to Human Rights Watch, as of September 2005 one million Afghanis were displaced within their own country, and 3.7 million refugees were in neighboring countries—1.5 million in Iran and more than 2 million in Pakistan. All neighboring countries closed their borders with Afghanistan by September 2005. By mid-September 2005, the Pakistani government ordered the forcible expulsion of millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan's tribal areas. In the rush to meet the forced expulsion deadline dozens of children died. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated 21.43 migrants per 1,000 population.
About the middle of the second millennium bc, Indo-Aryans began to move into and through the present area of Afghanistan. Much later came other tribal groups from Central Asia—Pactyes (from whom the present-day name "Pashtuns" derives), Sakas, Kushans, Hephthalites, and others—and a procession of Iranians and Greeks. In the 7th century ad, Arabs arrived from the south, spreading the new faith of Islam. In the same century, Turks moved in from the north, followed in the 13th century by Mongols, and, finally, in the 15th century by Turko-Mongols. This multiplicity of movements made Afghanistan a loose conglomeration of racial and linguistic groups.
All citizens are called Afghans, but the Pashtuns (the name may also be written as "Pashtoon", "Pushtun", or "Pukhtun," and in Pakistan as "Pathan") are often referred to as the "true Afghans." Numbering about 42% of the population in 2005, they are known to have centered in the Sulaiman range to the east; it is only in recent centuries that they moved into eastern and southern Afghanistan, where they now predominate. They have long been divided into two major divisions, the Durranis and the Ghilzais, each with its own tribes and subtribes.
The Tajiks, of Iranian stock, comprise nearly 27% of the population and are mainly concentrated in the north and northeast. In the central ranges are found the Hazaras (about 9%), who are said to have descended from the Mongols. To the north of the Hindu Kush, Turkic and Turko-Mongol groups were in the majority until 1940. Each of these groups is related to groups north of the Amu Darya; among them are the Uzbeks, who number about 9% of the population. Other groups include the Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, Farsiwans (Persians), and Brahiu. In the northeast are the Kafirs, or infidels. After their conversion to Islam at the end of the 19th century, they were given the name of Nuristanis, or people of the light.
Both Pashtu (or Pushtu) and Dari (Afghan Persian) are the official languages of the country. Pashtu is spoken by about 35% of the population while approximately 50% speak Dari. Although Pashtu has a literature of its own, Dari, the language spoken in Kabul, has been the principal language of cultural expression, of the government, and of business. Both Pashtu and Dari are written primarily with the Arabic alphabet, however, there are some modifications. The Hazaras speak their own dialect of Dari. The Turkic languages, spoken by 11% of the population, include Uzbek and Turkmen, and the Nuristanis speak some seven different dialects belonging to the Dardic linguistic group. There are about 30 minor languages, primarily Balochi and Pashai, spoken by some 4% of the population. Bilingualism is common.
Almost all Afghans are Muslims. Approximately 84% are Sunnis; 15% are Shias; others comprise only 1%. The Pashtuns, most of the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, and the Turkmen are Sunnis, while the Hazaras are Shias. Most of the Sunnis adhere to Hanafi Sunnism, but a fairly sizable minority of Sunnis adhere to a more mystical version known as Sufism. The country's small Hindu and Sikh population is estimated at less than 3,000.
In 1994 the Islamic militants who called themselves the Taliban—literally "the Seekers," a term used to describe religious students—began to impose their strict form of Islam observance in the areas that they controlled. The Taliban, composed mostly of Pashtuns, were puritanical zealots. Women were ordered to dress in strict Islamic garb and were banned from working or from going out of their houses unless accompanied by a male relative. Some men were forced to pray five times a day and grow full beards as a condition of employment in the government. Under the Taliban, repression of the Hazara ethnic group, who were predominantly Shias, was severe.
With the fall of the Taliban and the adoption of a new constitution in January 2004, Islam remains the state religion; however, the new constitution does allow for religious freedom. The constitution does not indicate a preference for Sunnism and there are no references made in the document to the use of Shariah law in the legal code. The document does state that both the president and vice president must be Muslim. The Shia minority still faces some discrimination from the Sunni majority.
Many roads were built in the years prior to 1979 to connect the principal cities and to open up formerly isolated areas. As of 2003, Afghanistan had an estimated 34,789 km (21,604 mi) of roads, of which 8,231 km (5,111 mi) were paved. Roads connect Kabul with most provincial capitals and with Peshāwar in Pakistan through the Khyber Pass. The road from Herāt to Mashhad in Iran was completed in 1971. The Salang Tunnel through the Hindu Kush, completed with Soviet assistance in 1964, considerably shortened the travel time between Kabul and northern Afghanistan. The tunnel was modernized in the mid-1980s. However, in May 1997 the Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Masud, blew up the southern entrance of the tunnel in an effort to trap the invading Taliban forces. It was reopened in January 2002. The Qandahār-Torghundi highway in the south was completed in 1965. In 2003 there were 29,300 passenger cars and 22,500 commercial vehicles in use.
The Khyber Pass in Pakistan is the best known of the passes providing land access to Afghanistan. Transit arrangements with Iran provide an alternative route for its commercial traffic. However, the great bulk of the country's trade moves through the former USSR. At the same time, Afghanistan's highways are badly damaged from years of warfare and neglect. Land mines are buried on the sides of many roads. Over $1.2 billion in international aid was pledged to rebuilding Afghanistan's highways in 2002.
The only railways in the country in 2001 were a 9.6-km (6-mi) spur from Gushgy, Turkmenistan, to Towrghondi; a 15-km (9.3-mi) line from Termez, Uzbekistan, to the Kheyrabad transshipment point on the south bank of the Amu Darya; and a short span into Spin Baldak in the southeast. There are no navigable rivers except for the Amu Darya, on Turkmenistan's border, which can carry steamers up to about 500 tons. In 2004, there were an estimated 47 airports, 10 of which had paved runways, and 9 heliports (as of 2005). Ariana Afghan Airlines is the national carrier. Most of Ariana Airlines planes were destroyed during the civil war in Afghanistan. Ariana lost six of its eight planes in US-led air strikes against the Taliban. Kabul's international airport reopened to international humanitarian and military flights in late January 2002 after the UN's Security Council lifted the ban early that month, and it began international flight service to Delhi, India, soon after.
Afghanistan has existed as a distinct polity for less than three centuries. Previously, the area was made up of various principalities, usually hostile to each other and occasionally ruled by one or another conqueror from Persia and the area to the west or from central Asia to the north, usually on his way to India. These included the Persian Darius I in the 6th century bc, and 300 years later, Alexander the Great. As the power of his Seleucid successors waned, an independent Greek kingdom of Bactria arose with its capital at Balkh west of Mazār-e Sharif, but after about a century it fell to invading tribes (notably the Sakas, who gave their name to Sakastan, or Sistan). Toward the middle of the 3rd century bc, Buddhism spread to Afghanistan from India, and for centuries prior to the beginning of the 9th century bc, at least half the population of eastern Afghanistan was Buddhist.
Beginning in the 7th century, Muslim invaders brought Islam to the region, and it eventually became the dominant cultural influence. For almost 200 years, Ghaznī was the capital of a powerful Islamic kingdom, the greatest of whose rulers, Mahmud of Ghaznī (r.997–1030), conquered most of the area from the Caspian to the Ganges. The Ghaznavids were displaced by the Seljuk Turks, who mastered Persia and Anatolia (eastern Turkey), and by the Ghorids, who, rising from Ghor, southeast of Herāt, established an empire stretching from Herāt to Ajmir in India. They were displaced in turn by the Turko-Persian rulers of the Khiva oasis in Transoxiana, who, by 1217, had created a state that included the whole of Afghanistan until it disintegrated under attack by Genghis Khan in 1219. His grandson Timur, also called "Timur the Lame" or Tamerlane, occupied all of what is now Afghanistan from 1365 to 1384, establishing a court of intellectual and artistic brilliance at Herāt. The Timurids came under challenge from the Uzbeks, who finally drove the them out of Herāt in 1507. The great Babur, one of the Uzbek princes, occupied Kabul in 1504 and Delhi in 1526, establishing the Mughal Empire in which eastern Afghanistan was ruled from Delhi, Agra, Lahore, or Srinagar, while Herāt and Sistan were governed as provinces of Persia.
In the 18th century, Persians under Nadir Shah conquered the area, and after his death in 1747, one of his military commanders, Ahmad Shah Abdali, was elected emir of Afghanistan. The formation of a unified Afghanistan under his emirate marks Afghanistan's beginning as a political entity. Among his descendants was Dost Muhammad who established himself in Kabul in 1826 and gained the emirate in 1835. Although the British defeated Dost in the first Afghan War (1838–42), they restored him to power, but his attempts and those of his successors to play off Czarist Russian interests against the British concerns about the security of their Indian Empire led to more conflict. In the second Afghan War (1877–79), the forces of Sher Ali, Dost's son, were defeated by the British, and his entire party, ousted. Abdur Rahman Khan, recognized as emir by the British in 1880, established a central administration, and supported the British interest in a neutral Afghanistan as a buffer against the expansion of Russian influence.
Intermittent fighting between the British and Pushtun tribes from eastern Afghanistan continued even after the establishment, in 1893, of a boundary (the Durand line) between Afghanistan and British India. An Anglo-Russian agreement concluded in 1907 guaranteed the independence of Afghanistan (and Tibet) under British influence, and Afghanistan remained neutral in both World Wars. Afghan forces under Amanullah Khan, who had become emir in 1919, briefly intruded across the Durand Line in 1919. At the end of brief fighting—the third Afghan War—the Treaty of Rāwalpindi (1919) accorded the government of Afghanistan the freedom to conduct its own foreign affairs.
Internally, Amanullah's Westernization program was strongly opposed, forcing him to abdicate in 1929. After a brief civil war, a tribal assembly chose Muhammad Nadir Shah as king. In his brief four years in power, he restored peace while continuing Amanullah's modernization efforts at a more moderate pace. Assassinated in 1933, he was succeeded by his son, Muhammad Zahir Shah, who continued his modernization efforts, governing for 40 years, even though sharing effective power with his uncles and a first cousin, who served as his prime ministers.
In the 1960s, there was considerable tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a result of Afghanistan's effort to assert influence among, and ultimately responsibility for, Pashtu-speaking Pathan tribes living on both sides of the Durand Line under a policy calling for the establishment of an entity to be called "Pashtunistan." The border was closed several times during the following years, and relations with Pakistan remained generally poor until 1977.
In 1964, a new constitution was introduced, converting Afghanistan into a constitutional monarchy, and a year later the country's first general election was held. In July 1973, Muhammad Daoud Khan, the king's first cousin and brother-in-law, who had served as prime minister from 1953 until early 1963, seized power in a near-bloodless coup, establishing a republic and appointing himself president, and prime minister of the Republic of Afghanistan. He exiled Zahir Shah and his immediate family, abolished the monarchy, dissolved the legislature, and suspended the constitution. Daoud ruled as a dictator until 1977, when a republican constitution calling for a one-party state was adopted by the newly convened Loya Jirga (Grand National Assembly), which then elected Daoud president for a six-year term.
Afghanistan Under Communist Rule
On 27 April 1978, Daoud was deposed and executed in a bloody coup (the "Saur Revolution" because it took place during the Afghan month of Saur), and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan emerged. Heading the new Revolutionary Council was Nur Muhammad Taraki, secretary-general of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), assisted by Babrak Karmal and Hafizullah Amin, both named deputy prime ministers. The Soviet Union (which later broke apart in 1991) immediately established ties with the new regime, and in December 1978, the two nations concluded a treaty of friendship and cooperation. Soon after the coup, rural Afghan groups took up arms against the regime, which increasingly relied on Soviet arms for support against what came to be known as mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
Meanwhile, the Khalq (masses) and Parcham (flag) factions of the PDPA, which had united for the April takeover, became embroiled in a bitter power struggle within the party and the government. In September 1979, Taraki was ousted and executed by Amin, who had beat out Karmal to become prime minister the previous March and who now assumed Taraki's posts as president and party leader. Amin was himself replaced on 27 December by Karmal, the Parcham faction leader. This last change was announced not by Radio Kabul but by Radio Moscow and was preceded by the airlift of 4,000 to 5,000 Soviet troops into Kabul on 25–26 December, purportedly at the request of an Afghan government whose president, Hafizullah Amin, was killed during the takeover.
The Soviet presence increased to about 85,000 troops in late January 1980, and by spring, the first clashes between Soviet troops and the mujahedeen had occurred. Throughout the early and mid-1980s, the mujahedeen resistance continued to build, aided by Afghan army deserters and arms from the United States, Pakistan, and the nations of the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO). Much of the countryside remained under mujahedeen control as the insurgency waged on year by year, while in Kabul, Soviet advisers assumed control of most Afghan government agencies.
By late 1987, more than a million Afghans had lost their lives in the struggle, while the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that some 5 million others had sought refuge in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere. Soviet sources at the time acknowledged Soviet losses of 12,000–30,000 dead and 76,000 wounded. Soviet troop strength in Afghanistan at the end of 1987 was about 120,000, while according to Western sources, Afghan resistance forces numbered nearly 130,000.
In early 1987, Babrak Karmal fled to Moscow after being replaced as the head of the PDPA in May 1986 by Najibullah, former head of the Afghan secret police. Najibullah offered the mujahedeen a cease-fire and introduced a much-publicized national reconciliation policy; he also released some political prisoners, offered to deal with the resistance leaders, and promised new land reform. The mujahedeen rejected these overtures, declining to negotiate for anything short of Soviet withdrawal and Najibullah's removal.
International efforts to bring about a political solution to the war—including nearly unanimous UN General Assembly condemnations of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan—were pursued within the UN framework from 1982 onward. Among these efforts were "proximity talks" between Afghanistan and Pakistan conducted by Under Secretary-General Diego Cordovez, a special representative of the UN Secretary General. After a desultory beginning, these talks began to look promising in late 1987 and early 1988, when Soviet policymakers repeatedly stated, in a major policy shift, that the removal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan was not contingent on the creation of a transitional regime acceptable to the former USSR. On 14 April 1988, documents were signed and exchanged in which the USSR agreed to pull its troops out of Afghanistan within nine months, the United States reserved the right to continue military aid to Afghan guerrillas as long as the USSR continued to aid the government in Kabul, and Pakistan and Afghanistan pledged not to interfere in each other's internal affairs.
The Russians completed the evacuation of their forces on schedule 15 February 1989, but in spite of continuing pressure by the well-armed mujahedeen, the Najibullah government remained in power until April 1992, when Najibullah sought refuge at the UN office in Kabul as mujahedeen forces closed in on the city.
Afghanistan after the Soviet Withdrawal
With the fall of the Najibullah government, the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) of the Islamic groups based in Pakistan moved to consolidate its "victory" by announcing plans to set up an Interim Afghan Government (AIG) charged with preparing the way for elections. Meanwhile, they moved to assert their control of Afghanistan, but their efforts to establish the AIG in Kabul failed when within ten days of Najibullah's departure from office, well-armed forces of the Hezbe Islami and Jamiat-i-Islami—two of the seven SPA parties—clashed in fighting for the control of the capital. In July, Jamiat leader Burhanuddin Rabbani replaced Sibghatullah Mojaddedi as president of the AIG, as previously agreed by all the SPA parties but the Hezbe Islami.
Continued fighting between Jamiat and Hezbe Islami militias halted further progress. Rabbani's forces, under Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud, dug in to block those under the control of interim "Prime Minister" Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezbe Islami and his ally, General Rashid Dostum (a former PDPA militia leader turned warlord from northern Afghanistan) from taking control of Kabul. In a 24-hour rocket exchange in August 1992 in Kabul, an estimated 3,000 Afghans died; before the end of the year, upwards of 700,000 Afghans had fled the city. Deep differences among the SPA/AIG leadership, embittered by decades of bad blood, ethnic distrust, and personal enmity, prevented any further progress toward creating a genuine interim government capable of honoring the 1992 SPA pledge to write a constitution, organize elections, and create a new Afghan polity. Despite UN attempts to broker a peace and bring the warring groups into a coalition government, Afghanistan remained at war.
Rise of the Taliban
By the summer of 1994 Rabbani and his defense minister, Ahmed Shah Masoud, were in control of the government in Kabul, but internal turmoil caused by the warring factions had brought the economy to a standstill. It was reported that on the road north of Qandahār a convoy owned by influential Pakistani businessmen was stopped by bandits demanding money. The businessmen appealed to the Pakistani government, which responded by encouraging Afghan students from the fundamentalist religious schools on the Pakistan-Afghan boarder to intervene. The students freed the convoy and went on to capture Qandahār, Afghanistan's second-largest city. Pakistan's leaders supported the Taliban with ammunition, fuel, and food. The students, ultra-fundamentalist Sunni Muslims who called themselves the Taliban (the Arabic word for religious students, literally "the Seekers") shared Pashtoon ancestry with their Pakistani neighbors to the south. The Taliban also found widespread support among Afghan Pashtoons hostile to local warlords and tired of war and economic instability. By late 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul, the capital, and were in control of 21 of Afghanistan's 32 provinces. When Rabbani fled the capital, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia officially recognized the Taliban government in Kabul. In areas under Taliban control, order was restored, roads opened, and trade resumed. However, the Taliban's reactionary social practices, justified as being Islamic, did not appeal to Afghanistan's non-Pashtun minorities in the north and west of the country, nor to the educated population generally. The opposition, dominated by the Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, and Turkoman ethnic groups, retreated to the northeastern provinces.
In May 1997 the Taliban entered Mazār-e Sharif, Afghanistan's largest town north of the Hindu Kush and stronghold of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum. In the political intrigue that followed, Dostum was ousted by his second in command, Malik Pahlawan, who initially supported the Taliban. Dostum reportedly fled to Turkey. Once the Taliban were in the city, however, Pahlawan abruptly switched sides. In the subsequent fighting, the Taliban were forced to retreat with heavy casualties. The forces of Ahmad Shah Masoud, Tajik warlord and former defense minister in ousted President Rabbani's government, were also instrumental in the defeat of the Taliban in Mazār. Masoud controlled the high passes of the Panjshir Valley in the east of the country. The opposition alliance was supported by Iran, Russia, and the Central Asian republics, who feared that the Taliban might destabilize the region.
By early 1998, the Taliban militia controlled about two-thirds of Afghanistan. Opposition forces under Ahmad Shah Masoud controlled the northeast of the country. Taliban forces mounted another offensive against their opponents in August–September 1998 and nearly sparked a war with neighboring Iran after a series of Shiite villages were pillaged and Iranian diplomats killed. Iran, which supplied Masoud's forces, countered by massing troops along its border with Afghanistan. Although the crisis subsided, tensions between the Taliban and Iran remained high. Masoud's opposition forces became known as the United Front or Northern Alliance in late 1999.
Despite attempts to broker a peace settlement, fighting between the Taliban and opposition factions continued through 1999 and into 2000 with the Taliban controlling 90% of the country. In March 1999, the warring factions agreed to enter a coalition government, but by July these UN-sponsored peace talks broke down and the Taliban renewed its offensive against opposition forces. By October, the Taliban captured the key northern city of Taloqan and a series of northeastern towns, advancing to the border with Tajikistan. Fighting between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces was fierce in early 2001.
In April 2001, Masoud stated that he did not rule out a peace dialogue with the Taliban, or even of setting up a provisional government jointly with the Taliban, but that Pakistan would have to stop interfering in the conflict first. He stated that elections would have to be held under the aegis of the UN and the "six plus two" countries, including Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, as well as Russia and the United States. The Northern Alliance was receiving financial and military assistance from its old enemy Russia as well as from Iran. In addition to Pakistan, the Taliban was recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Masoud was assassinated on 9 September 2001 by two men claiming to be Moroccan journalists. His killers were thought to have been agents of the al-Qaeda terrorist group acting in concert with the plotters of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.
Post-11 September 2001
The 11 September 2001 attacks carried out against the United States by members of al-Qaeda marked the beginning of a war on terrorism first directed against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden and his forces. On 7 October 2001, US-led forces launched the bombing campaign Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. On 13 November the Taliban were removed from power in Kabul, and an interim government under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader from Qandahār, was installed on 22 December. In June 2002, a Loya Jirga—Grand Assembly of tribal leaders—was held, and Karzai was elected head of state of a transitional government that would be in place for 18 months until elections could be held. More than 60% of the cabinet posts in the government went to Ahmed Shah Masoud's Northern Alliance. Masoud was officially proclaimed the national hero of Afghanistan on 25 April 2002, and he was mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. On 5 September 2002, Karzai survived an assassination attempt, and another plot against him was thwarted on 22 November. In September 2004, a rocket fired at a helicopter carrying Karzai narrowly missed its target: it was the most serious attack on his life since 2002.
In December 2002, Karzai and Pakistani and Turkmen leaders signed an agreement paving the way for the construction of a gas pipeline through Afghanistan, which would carry Turkmen gas to Pakistan.
In January 2004, a Loya Jirga adopted a new constitution providing for a strong presidency and defining Afghanistan as an Islamic republic where men and women enjoy equal status before the law. In October and November 2004, the first direct presidential election was held; Karzai was the winner with 55.4% of the vote. He was sworn in as president in December, amid tight security.
On 18 September 2005, Afghans went to the polls to elect a lower house of parliament and councils in each of the country's 34 provinces. The elections, which had been twice postponed, were part of the process of establishing a fully representative government. Some 12 million of an estimated 25–28 million Afghans were registered to vote. There were about 5,800 candidates standing for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (House of Assembly) and for seats in the provincial councils. There were more than 26,000 men-only or women-only polling stations in 5,000 locations. There were 69 different types of ballot papers, all including the names, pictures, and symbols of the candidates, to enable voters who could not read to vote. Several candidates and election workers were killed in Taliban attacks. In advance of the elections, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) sent an extra 2,000 troops and a number of fighter jets to boost the 8,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) protecting the country. Nearly 3,000 observers and media representatives registered to monitor the election. Final results for the elections were delayed due to accusations of fraud, and were announced in November.
The results of the elections showed that women, who were guaranteed 25% of seats in parliament, won 28%. Most of the candidates for parliament ran as independents, and a clear majority was predicted to support Karzai. However, many of the winners were former warlords, mujahedeen fighters, ex-Taliban figures, and opium dealers. Centrist, reformist figures did less well, making the parliament predominantly socially conservative and religious.
In 2005–06, several thousand troops from the US-led coalition in Afghanistan (most of them American) were engaged in battles with Taliban fighters in the eastern regions of the country bordering on Pakistani tribal areas. The coalition forces also targeted members of the Hezb-e Islami group, whose leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has similar aims as the Taliban—to fight a jihad (holy war) to remove the Americans from Afghanistan and unseat Hamid Karzai's government.
Between 1964 and 1973, Afghanistan was a constitutional monarchy for the first and only time in its history. The head of government was the prime minister, appointed by the king and responsible to the bicameral legislature. This system gave way to a more traditional authoritarian system on 17 July 1973, when Afghanistan became a republic, headed by Muhammad Daoud Khan, who became both president and prime minister. A new constitution in 1977 created a one-party state with a strong executive and a weak bicameral legislature. The communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) abrogated this constitution after they seized power in April 1978.
Between 1978 and 1980, a communist-style 167-member Revolutionary Council exercised legislative powers. The chief of state (president) headed the presidium of that council, to which the 20-member cabinet was formally responsible. A provisional constitution, introduced in April 1980, guaranteed respect for Islam and national traditions; condemned colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, and fascism; and proclaimed the PDPA as "the guiding and mobilizing force of society and state." Seven years later, a new constitution providing for a very strong presidency was introduced as part of the PDPA's propaganda campaign of "national reconciliation." Najibullah remained as president until April 1992 when he sought refuge at the UN office in Kabul as mujahedeen forces closed in on the city.
With the fall of the Najibullah government a Seven Party Alliance (SPA) of the Islamic groups announced plans to set up an Interim Afghan Government (AIG) charged with preparing the way for elections. However, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani co-opted the process by forming a leadership council that elected him president. Subsequent fighting among warring factions plunged the country into anarchy and set the stage for the emergence of the ultraconservative Islamic movement, Taliban, which ousted the Rabbani government and controlled all but the northern most provinces of the country.
The Taliban, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, formed a six-member ruling council in Kabul which ruled by edict. Ultimate authority for Taliban rule rested in the Taliban's inner Shura (Assembly) located in the southern city of Qandahār, and in Mullah Omar.
With the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, an interim government was created under the leadership of Hamid Karzai by an agreement held in Bonn, Germany. In June 2002 Karzai was elected head of state of the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan (ITGA) by the Loya Jirga convened that month. He named an executive cabinet, dividing key ministries between ethnic Tajiks and Pashtuns. He also appointed three deputy presidents and a chief justice to the country's highest court.
In January 2004, a Loya Jirga adopted a new constitution providing for a strong presidency and defining Afghanistan as an Islamic republic where men and women enjoy equal status before the law. Former King Zahir Shah held the honorific Father of the Country, and presided symbolically over certain occasions, lacking any governing authority. The honorific is not hereditary. The president is both chief of state and head of government. The president's cabinet is made up of 27 ministers, appointed by the president and approved by the national assembly. The president and two vice presidents are elected by a direct vote for a five-year term; a president can only be elected for two terms.
The legislative branch is composed of a bicameral national assembly. The lower house is the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, directly elected by each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces according to its population. Members serve a five-year term. Kabul province has the most seats with 33. Women have 68 seats guaranteed in the Wolesi Jirga, and two on each provincial council. The 102-member House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) is indirectly elected; one-third elected by the 34 provincial councils for a four-year term, one-third appointed by the president for a five-year term, and one-third elected by local district councils for a three-year term.
On rare occasions the government may convene the Loya Jirga on issues of independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity; it can also amend the provisions of the constitution and prosecute the president. It is made up of members of the national assembly and chairpersons of the provincial and district councils.
In October and November 2004, the first direct presidential elections were held; Hamid Karzai was the winner with 55.4% of the vote. In September 2005, elections for the Wolesi Jirga and provincial councils were held; although a majority of the members of parliament who won would support Karzai, many warlords, former mujahedeen fighters, ex-Taliban figures, and opium dealers also won.
The 1964 constitution provided for the formation of political parties. However, since the framers of the constitution decided that political parties should be permitted only after the first elections, and since the parliament never adopted a law governing the parties' operation, all candidates for the parliamentary elections of August and September 1965 stood as independents. Because a law on political parties was not on the books four years later, the 1969 elections were also contested on a nonparty basis. Throughout the 1964–1973 period, however, the de facto existence of parties was widely recognized. Subsequently, the framers reversed their plan to allow political parties. Under the 1977 constitution, only the National Revolutionary Party (NRP), the ruler's chosen instrument, was allowed.
The 1978 coup was engineered by the illegal People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had been founded in 1965. During its brief history, this Marxist party had been riven by a bloody struggle between its pro-Soviet Parcham (flag) faction and its larger Khalq (masses) faction. Babrak Karmal was the leader of the Parcham group, while the Khalq faction was headed until 1979 by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin. The factional struggle continued after the 1978 coup, prompting the Soviet intervention of 1979. Factional bloodletting continued thereafter also, with repeated purges and assassinations of Khalq adherents as well as bitter infighting within Parcham, this last leading to Babrak Karmal's replacement as PDPA secretary-general in May 1986 by Najibullah.
The Islamic resistance forces opposing the PDPA government and its Soviet backers in Afghanistan represented conservative, ethnically based Islamic groups which themselves have had a long history of partisan infighting (and repression by successive Kabul governments). They came together in the early 1980s to fight the common enemy, the communist PDPA and the Soviet invaders and, in 1985, under pressure from Pakistan and the United States, they were loosely united into a Seven Party Alliance (SPA), head-quartered in Peshāwar, Pakistan. By 1987, commando groups affiliated with one or more of these seven parties controlled more than 80% of the land area of Afghanistan.
With arms flowing in from outside the country—a flow not halted until the end of 1991—the fighting continued, but with the final withdrawal of Soviet troops in February 1989, the SPA stepped up its military and political pressure on the communist PDPA government. However, President Najibullah proved to have more staying power than previously estimated, using Soviet arms supplies, which continued until the end of 1991 to buttress his position, while playing upon divisions among the resistance, embracing nationalism and renouncing communism, and even changing the name of the PDPA to the Wattan (Homeland) Party. It was only in April 1992, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, his army defecting from beneath him, and the mujahedeen closing on Kabul, that he sought refuge at the UN office in the capital, leaving the city in the hands of the rival ethnic and regional mujahedeen militias.
The leaders of the mujahedeen groups agreed to establish a leadership council. This council quickly came under the control of a professor, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was subsequently elected president by the council. Fighting broke out in August 1992 in Kabul between forces loyal to President Rabbani and rival factions. A new war for the control of Afghanistan had begun.
On 26–27 September 1996, the Pashtun-dominated ultraconservative Islamic Taliban movement captured the capital of Kabul and expanded its control to over 90% of the country by 2000. The Taliban was led by Mullah Mohammed Omar. Ousted President Rabbani, a Tajik, and his defense minister, Ahmad Shah Masoud, relocated to Takhar in the north. Rabbani claimed that he remained the head of the government. His delegation retained Afghanistan's UN seat after the General Assembly deferred a decision on Afghanistan's credentials. Meanwhile, the Taliban removed the ousted PDPA leader Najibullah from the UN office in Kabul, tortured and shot him, and hung his body prominently in the city. General Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, controlled several north-central provinces until he was ousted on 25 May 1997 by his second in command Malik Pahlawan. Dostum fled to Turkey, but he returned that October. The Shia Hazara community, led by Abdul Karim Khalili, retained control of a small portion of the center of the country.
After the fall of the Taliban, various warlords, leaders, and political factions emerged in Afghanistan. Dostum, as head of Jumbish-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Movement), consolidated his power in Mazār-e Sharif. He was named interim deputy defense minister for the transitional government in 2002. Rabbani, as nominal head of the Northern Alliance, was also the leader of Jamiat-e-Islami, the largest political party in the alliance. Ismail Khan, a Shiite warlord of Tajik origin, earned a power base in the western city of Herāt by liberating it from Soviet control, and for a time in the 1990s kept it from Taliban control. Khan was thought to be receiving backing from Iran. Abdul Karim Khalili was the leader of the Hezb-e-Wahdat (Unity Party) and the top figure in the Shia Hazara minority. Hezb-e-Wahdat was the main benefactor of Iranian support, and the second most-powerful opposition military party. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the most notorious of the warlords who emerged from the fight against Soviet occupation, led the party Hezb-e Islami. Pir Syed Ahmed Gailani was a moderate Pashtun leader and wealthy businessman who was also the spiritual leader of a minority Sufi Muslim group. Gailani was supported by pro-royalist Pashtuns and Western-educated elites of the old regime. Former King Zahir Shah, a Pashtun, said he had no intention of returning to power, but volunteered to help build a power-sharing administration for the country. Younis Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik who was named interior minister for the interim government, had also been the interior minister in the country's previous interim administration in 1996, before the Taliban came to power; he opposed the presence of UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Abdullah Abdullah, of the Northern Alliance, was a close friend of Ahmad Shah Masoud.
The 18 September 2005 elections for the National Assembly were contested by candidates representing scores of political parties, pressure groups, and small monarchist, communist, and democratic groups. However, most of the candidates ran as independents.
Afghanistan was traditionally divided into provinces governed by centrally appointed governors with considerable autonomy in local affairs. As of 2006, there were 34 provinces. During the Soviet occupation and the development of country-wide resistance, local areas came increasingly under the control of mujahedeen groups that were largely independent of any higher authority; local commanders, in some instances, asserted a measure of independence also from the mujahedeen leadership in Pakistan, establishing their own systems of local government, collecting revenues, running educational and other facilities, and even engaging in local negotiations. Mujahedeen groups retained links with the Peshāwar parties to ensure access to weapons that were doled out to the parties by the government of Pakistan for distribution to fighters inside Afghanistan.
The Taliban set up a shura (assembly), made up of senior Taliban members and important tribal figures from the area. Each shura made laws and collected taxes locally. The Taliban set up a provisional government for the whole of Afghanistan, but it did not exercise central control over the local shuras.
The process of setting up the transitional government in June 2002 by the Loya Jirga took many steps involving local government. First, at the district and municipal level, traditional shura councils met to pick electors—persons who cast ballots for Loya Jirga delegates. Each district or municipality chose a predetermined number of electors, based on the size of its population. The electors then traveled to regional centers and cast ballots, choosing from among themselves a smaller number of Loya Jirga delegates, according to allotted numbers assigned to each district. The delegates then took part in the Loya Jirga.
The transitional government attempted to integrate local governing authorities with the central government, but it lacked the loyalty of warlords necessary to its governing authority. More traditional elements of political authority—such as Sufi networks, royal lineage, clan strength, age-based wisdom, and the like—still exist and play a role in Afghan society. Karzai relied on these traditional sources of authority in his challenge to the warlords and older Islamist leaders. The deep ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, tribal, racial, and regional cleavages present in the country create what is called Qawm identity, which emphasizes the local over higher-order formations. Qawm refers to the group to which the individual considers himself to belong, whether a subtribe, village, valley, or neighborhood. Local governing authority relies upon these forms of identity and loyalty.
The constitution established in 2004 provided for directly elected provincial councils, which have 9–29 members depending on population. District and village councils are directly elected for a period of three years. Municipalities administer city affairs.
Under the Taliban, there was no rule of law or independent judiciary. Ad hoc rudimentary judicial systems were established based on Taliban interpretation of Islamic law. Murderers were subjected to public executions and thieves had a limb or two (one hand, one foot) severed. Adulterers were stoned to death in public. Taliban courts were said to have heard cases in sessions that lasted only a few minutes. Prison conditions were poor and prisoners were not given food. Normally, this was the responsibility of the prisoners' relatives, who were allowed to visit to provide food once or twice a week. Those who had no relatives had to petition the local council or rely on other inmates.
In non-Taliban controlled areas, many municipal and provincial authorities relied on some form of Islamic law and traditional tribal codes of justice. The administration and implementation of justice varied from area to area and depended on the whims of local commanders or other authorities, who could summarily execute, torture, and mete out punishments without reference to any other authority.
After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's judicial system was fragmented, with conflicts between such core institutions as the Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court, and attorney general's office. In addition, the judicial system's infrastructure was destroyed; the absence of adequate court or ministry facilities, basic office furniture, and minimal supplies made substantive progress difficult. There were also tensions between religious and secular legal training with regard to appointments of new judicial personnel. Until Afghanistan's new constitution was adopted in 2004, the country's basic legal framework consisted of its 1964 constitution and existing laws and regulations to the extent that they were in accordance with the Bonn Agreement of 2001 and with international treaties to which Afghanistan was a party. The Ministry of Justice was charged with compiling Afghan laws and assessing their compatibility with international standards, but even it did not have texts of Afghan laws, which were largely unavailable, even among attorneys, judges, law faculty, and government agencies. While in power, the Taliban burned law books. There was no adequate law library in the country as of 2002.
The 2004 constitution established an independent judiciary under the Islamic state. The judicial branch consists of a Supreme Court (Stera Mahkama), High Courts, Appeals Courts, and local and district courts. The Supreme Court is composed of nine members who are appointed by the president for a period of ten years (nonrenewable) with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review. Lower courts apply Shia law in cases dealing with personal matters for Shia followers.
As of 2005, the national army/security services had an estimated 27,000 active personnel. Headquartered in Kabul, the force is intended to encompass all of the country's tribal and ethnic groups. However progress by the new Afghan National Army (ANA) had been hindered by high desertion levels and low enlistment rates, thought in part to be caused by the growing intensity of combat missions. Another factor was the growth of private security companies, which may offer a less stressful and more lucrative alternative to the ANA. In terms of equipment, most of the army's infrastructure, barracks, and depots were destroyed along with the Taliban. What equipment that has managed to survive years of war and the overthrow of the Taliban, was entirely of Soviet design and likely to be in a poor state of repair. In 2002, Afghanistan requested $235 million from the UN, for a 60,000-troop land army, an 8,000-member airforce, and a 12,000-guard border force. US foreign military assistance to Afghanistan in 2005 totaled $396 million.
Afghanistan has been a member of the United Nations since 19 November 1946. Within the United Nations, Afghanistan is part of several specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, FAO, and IAEA. The country also participates in WHO, IFAD, UNIDO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and IFC, and the ILO. Afghanistan is an observer in the WTO. Afghanistan is part of the Asian Development Bank, the Colombo Plan, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), G-77, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CEMA), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Other groups include WFTU and Interpol. Afghanistan is also a part of the Nonaligned Movement, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Nuclear Test Ban. In cooperation on environmental issues, the country is part of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), the London Convention, and the UN Conventions on Desertification and Climate Change.
Afghanistan's economy has been devastated by over over three decades of war. Hampered by an unintegrated economy until relatively late in the post-World War II period, only in the 1950s did the building of new roads begin to link the country's commercial centers with the wool-and fruit-producing areas. Largely agricultural and pastoral, the country is highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats). Approximately 85% of the people are engaged in agriculture. Industrial activity includes small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement, and hand-woven carpets. The country has valuable mineral resources, including large reserves of iron ore at Hajigak discovered before the 30-year-old war, but only coal, salt, lapis lazuli, barite, and chrome are available to be exploited. The discovery of large quantities of natural gas in the north, for which a pipeline to the USSR was completed in 1967, increased the country's export earnings, at least until escalation of civil strife in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Since the outbreak of war in the late 1970s, economic data have been contradictory and of doubtful reliability. In September 1987, the Afghan foreign minister asserted that 350 bridges and 258 factories had been destroyed since the fighting began in 1979. By the early 1990s, two-thirds of all paved roads were unusable, and the countryside appeared severely depopulated, with more than 25% of the population—twice the prewar level—residing in urban areas. What little is left of the country's infrastructure has been largely destroyed due first to the war, and then to the US-led bombing campaign. Severe drought added to the nation's difficulties in 1998–2001. The majority of the population continued to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care as of 2006; these problems were exacerbated by military operations and political uncertainties. The presence of an estimated 10 million land mines also hinders the ability of Afghans to engage in agriculture or other forms of economic activity. Inflation, at 16% in 2005, remained a serious problem.
Opium poppy cultivation is the mainstay of the economy. Major political factions in the country profit from the drug trade. In 1999, encouraged by good weather and high prices, poppy producers increased the area under cultivation by 43% and harvested a bumper crop—a record 4,600 tons—compared with 2,100 tons the year before. A ban on poppy production cut cultivation in 2001 by 97% to 1695 hectares (4188 acres), with a potential production of 74 tons of opium. Afghanistan is a major source of hashish, and there are many heroin-processing laboratories throughout the country.
International efforts to rebuild Afghanistan were addressed at the Tokyo Donors Conference for Afghan Reconstruction in January 2002, when $4.5 billion was collected for a trust fund to be administered by the World Bank. Priority areas for reconstruction included the construction of education, health, and sanitation facilities, enhancement of administrative capacity, the development of the agricultural sector, and the rebuilding of road, energy, and telecommunication links.
The Afghan economic base is so disjointed that it was almost futile for the government to undertake economic development. Nonetheless, the country's GDP grew from a meager $2.7 billion in 2000, to almost $6 billion in 2004; and, it was expected to grow further, to $7.1 billion, in 2005. Consequently, the GDP growth rates appear spectacular: 28.6% in 2002, 15.7% in 2003, and a more modest 7.5% in 2004. Apart from outside aid, the recent economic expansion was also helped by a good agricultural year in 2003.
The unemployment rate was estimated at 40% in 2005. Inflation dropped from 52.3% in 2002 to 10.2% in 2003, but rose again to 16.3% in 2004. In 2005, the inflation rate was expected to be around 10%. Despite the progress it registered in previous years, Afghanistan remains a very poor country, landlocked, dependent on foreign aid, and with a heterogeneous economic base (mostly agriculture).
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $21.5 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 16.3%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 38% of GDP, industry 24%, and services 38%. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $1,533 million.
The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Afghanistan totaled $4.31 billion based on a GDP of $4.6 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that in 2003 about 53% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.
As of 2004, Afghanistan's labor force was estimated at 15 million, with an estimated 80% of the labor force engaged in agriculture, followed by industry and services at 10%, each. However, it was estimated that 40% of the country's work force was unemployed, as of 2005. The textile industry is the largest employer of industrial labor; weaving of cloth and carpets is the most important home industry.
As of 2005, Afghan law offered wide protection to workers, but little is known about the enforcement of labor statutes. Workers are unaware of their rights and there is no central authority to enforce those rights. There is no legal right to strike, nor does the country have a history of real labor-management bargaining. There are no courts or mechnisms for settling labor disputes. Wages are entirely subject to market forces, except for government employees, whose wages are set by the government. Although child and forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, little is known about enforcement. By law, children under the age of 15 cannot work more than 30 hours per week, but there is no evidence this is enforced. According to UNICEF, it is estimated that there are one million children under the age of 14 in the workforce. Children as young as six years old are reportedly working to help sustain their families. The vast majority of Afghan workers are in the informal economy.
About 12% of the land is arable and less than 6% currently is cultivated. During peiords when external forces are not influencing the ability of farmers to grow crops, Afghan farmers grow enough rice, potatoes, pulses, nuts, and seeds to meet the country's needs; Afghanistan depends on imports for some wheat, sugar, and edible fats and oils. Fruit, both fresh and preserved (with bread), is a staple food for many Afghans. Agricultural production is a fraction of its potential. Agricultural production is constrained by dependence on erratic winter snows and spring rains for water; irrigation is primitive. Relatively little use is made of machines, chemical fertilizer, or pesticides.
The variety of the country's crops corresponds to its topography. The areas around Qandahār, Herāt, and the broad Kabul plain yield fruits of many kinds. The northern regions from Takhar to Badghis and Herāt and Helmand provinces produce cotton. Corn is grown extensively in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces, and rice mainly in Kunduz, Baghlān, and Laghman provinces. Wheat is common to several regions, and makes up 70% of all grain production. Aggregate wheat production in 2005 was estimated at 4 million tons, up from 1.6 million tons in 2001. Following wheat, the most important crops in 2004 were barley (400,000 tons), corn (250,000 tons), rice (145,000 tons), and cotton (18,507 tons). Nuts and fruit, including pistachios, almonds, grapes, melons, apricots, cherries, figs, mulberries, and pomegranates, are among Afghanistan's most important horticultural crops. Byproducts of orchard fruits, such as pomegranate rind and walnut husks, were traditionally used to dye carpets, as was the madder root, valued for the deep red hue it produces.
In some regions, agricultural production had all but ceased due to destruction caused by the war and the migration of Afghans out of those areas. The average farm size is 1–2 hectares (2.5–5 acres). Absentee landlords are common and sharecropping is expanding in most provinces. Opium and hashish are also widely grown for the drug trade. 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 2003. In 2001, following the ban by the Taliban regime, an abrupt decline of poppy cultivation interrupted a 20-year increase. In 2003, there were 80,000 hectares (198,000 acres) of opium poppies under cultivation, with potential opium production amounting to 3,600 tons, the second-highest amount achieved in Afghanistan and accounting for over two-thirds of world production that year. Much of Afghanistan's opium production is refined into heroin and is either consumed by a growing South Asian addict population or exported, primarily to Europe. Replacing the poppy industry was a goal of the Karzai administration.
The availability of land suitable for grazing has made animal husbandry an important part of the economy. There are two main types of animal husbandry: sedentary, practiced by farmers who raise both animals and crops; and nomadic, practiced by animal herders known as Kuchis. Natural pastures cover some 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) but are being overgrazed. The northern regions around Mazār-e Sharif and Maymanah were the home range for about six million karakul sheep in the late 1990s. Most flocks move to the highlands in the summer to pastures in the north. Oxen are the primary draft power and farmers often share animals for plowing. Poultry are traditionally kept in most households.
Much of Afghanistan's livestock was removed from the country by early waves of refugees who fled to Pakistan and Iran. In 2001, the livestock population in Afghanistan had declined by about 40% since 1998. In 2002, this figure was estimated to have declined further to 60%. An FAO survey done in the northern regions in spring 2002 showed that in four provinces (Balkh, Juzjan, Sare Pol, and Faryab), there was a loss of about 84% of cattle from 1997 to 2002 (1997: 224,296 head; 2002: 36,471 head) and around 80% of sheep and goats (1997: 1,721,021 head; 2002: 359,953 head).
Some fishing takes place in the lakes and rivers, but fish does not constitute a significant part of the Afghan diet. Using explosives for fishing, called dynamite fishing, became popular in the 1980s and is common practice. The annual catch was about 900 tons in 2003.
Afghanistan's timber has been greatly depleted, and since the mid-1980s, only about 3% of the land area has been forested, mainly in the east. Significant stands of trees have been destroyed by the ravages of the war. Exploitation has been hampered by lack of power and access roads. Moreover, the distribution of the forest is uneven, and most of the remaining woodland is presently found only in mountainous regions in the southeast and south. The natural forests in Afghanistan are mainly of two types: (1) dense forests of oak, walnut, and other species of nuts that grow in the southeast, and on the northern and northeastern slopes of the Sulaiman ranges; and (2) sparsely distributed short trees and shrubs on all other slopes of the Hindu Kush. The dense forests of the southeast cover only 2.7% of the country. Roundwood production in 2003 was 3,148,000 cu m, with 44% used for fuel. The destruction of the forests to create agricultural land, logging, forest fires, plant diseases, and insect pests are all causes of the reduction in forest coverage. Illegal logging and clear-cutting by timber smugglers have exacerbated this destructive process.
Afghanistan has valuable deposits of barite, beryl, chrome, coal, copper, iron, lapis lazuli, lead, mica, natural gas, petroleum, salt, silver, sulfur, and zinc. Reserves of high-grade iron ore, discovered years ago at the Hajigak hills in Bamyan Province, are estimated to total 2 billion tons.
On average, some 114,000 tons of coal were mined each year during 1978–84. It is estimated that the country has 73 million tons of coal reserves, most of which are located in the region between Herāt and Badashkan in the northern part of the country. Production in 2003 amounted to 185,000 metric tons. In 2003, Afghanistan produced 13,000 metric tons of rock salt, 3,000 metric tons of gypsum, 5,000 metric tons of mined copper, and 120,000 metric tons of cement. Deposits of lapis lazuli in Badakhshan are mined in small quantities. Like other aspects of Afghanistan's economy, exploitation of natural resources has been disrupted by war. The remote and rugged terrain, and an inadequate transportation network usually have made mining these resources difficult.
Two decades of warfare have left Afghanistan's power grid badly damaged. As of June 2004, less than 10% of the population had access to electricity. In 2002, electricity generation was 0.745 billion kWh, of which 25.5% came from fossil fuel, 74.5% from hydropower, and none from other sources. Imports of electricity totaled 0.150 kWh in 2002. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 0.843 billion kWh. Total electrical generating capacity in 2002 stood at 0.385 million kW. Three hydroelectric plants were opened between 1965 and 1970, at Jalālābād, Naghlu, and Mahipar, near Kabul; another, at Kajaki, in the upper Helmand River Valley, was opened in the mid-1970s. In addition to the Naghlu, Mahi Par, and Kajaki plants, other hydroelectric facilities that were operational as of 2002 included plants at Sarobi, west of Kabul; Pole Khomri; Darunta, in Nangarhar province; Dahla, in Qandahār province (restored to operation in 2001); and Mazār-e Sharif. In 1991, a new 72-collector solar installation was completed in Kabul at a cost of $364 million. The installation heated 40,000 liters (10,400 gallons) of water to an average temperature of 60°c (140°f) around the clock. Construction of two more power stations, with a combined capacity of 600 kW, was planned in Charikar City.
The drought of 1998–2001 negatively affected Afghanistan's hydroelectric power production, which resulted in blackouts in Kabul and other cities. Another generating turbine is being added to the Kajaki Dam in Helmand province near Qandahār, with the assistance of the Chinese Dongfeng Agricultural Machinery Company. This will add 16.5 MW to its generating capacity when completed. Also in operation was the BreshnaKot Dam in Nangarhar province, which had a generating capacity of 11.5 MW.
Natural gas was Afghanistan's only economically significant export in 1995, going mainly to Uzbekistan via pipeline. Natural gas reserves were once estimated at 140 billion cu m. Production started in 1967 with 342 million cu m but had risen to 2.6 billion cu m by 1995. In 1991, a new gas field was discovered in Chekhcha, Jowzjan province. Natural gas was also produced at Sheberghān and Sare Pol. As of 2002, other operational gas fields were located at Djarquduk, Khowaja Gogerdak, and Yatimtaq, all in Jowzjan province. In 2002, natural gas production was 1.77 billion cu ft.
In August 1996, a multinational consortium agreed to construct a 1,430 km (890 mi) pipeline through Afghanistan to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, at a cost of about $2 billion. However US air strikes led to cancellation of the project in 1998, and financing of such a project has remained an issue because of high political risk and security concerns. As of 2002 the leaders of the three countries had signed an agreement to build the pipeline, but as of 2006, construction had not begun.
A very small amount of crude oil is produced at the Angot field in the northern Sare Pol province. Another small oilfield at Zomrad Sai near Sheberghān was reportedly undergoing repairs in mid-2001. Petroleum products such as diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel are imported, mainly from Pakistan and Turkmenistan. A small storage and distribution facility exists in Jalālābād on the highway between Kabul and Peshāwar, Pakistan. Afghanistan is also reported to have oil reserves totaling 95 million barrels and coal reserves totaling 73 million tons.
As with other sectors of the economy, Afghanistan's already-be-leaguered industries have been devastated by civil strife and war that began in the 1970s and left most of the country's factories and even much of the cottage industry sector inoperative. Still in an early stage of growth before the outbreak of war, industry's development has been stunted since; those few industries that have continued production remain limited to processing of local materials. The principal modern industry is cotton textile production, with factories at Pol e Khomri, Golbahar, Begram, Balkh, and Jabal as Saraj, just north of Charikar. Important industries in 2000 included textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement, hand-woven carpets, natural gas, coal, and copper.
Carpet-making is the most important handicraft industry, but it has suffered with the flight of rug makers during the civil war and since the 2001 US-led bombing campaign. Carpet-making is centered around the north and northwest regions of the country. Afghan carpets are made of pure wool and are hand-knotted, and women do much of the work. Production has fluctuated widely from year to year, increasing somewhat during the early 1990s with the establishment of selected "zones of tranquility" targeted for UN reconstruction assistance. Other handicrafts include felt-making and the weaving of cotton, woolen, and silk cloth. Wood and stone carving have been concentrated in the northeastern provinces, while jewelrymaking has been done in the Kabul area. The making of leather goods has also been a handicraft industry.
In 2004, industry was estimated to contribute 24.4% to the overall GDP (up from 20% in 1990) and to employ 10% of the working population; agriculture was considered to make up 37.2% of the GDP, and occupy 80% of the labor force; services provided work for 10% of the working population, and was represented with 38.3% in the GDP.
The Afghanistan Academy of Sciences, founded in 1979, is the principal scientific institution. As of 2002, it had about 180 members. Prospective members of the Academy must take a written exam, present samples of their work, and pass a proficiency exam in one of the official languages of the UN. Many Afghan scientists migrated to Europe, the United States, and Pakistan during 1970–2006. Under the Taliban, professors who did not teach Islamic studies were relieved of their duties.
The Department of Geology and Mineral Survey within the Ministry of Mines and Industries conducts geological and mineralogical research, mapping, prospecting and exploration.
The Institute of Public Health, founded in 1962, conducts public health training and research and study of indigenous diseases, has a Government reference laboratory, and compiles statistical data.
Kabul University, founded in 1932, has faculties of science, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, and geosciences. Its faculty numbers close to 200. The University of Balkh has about 100 faculty members. Bayazid Roshan University of Nangarhar, founded in 1962, has faculties of medicine and engineering, its faculty numbers close to 100. The Institute of Agriculture, founded in 1924, offers courses in veterinary medicine. Kabul Polytechnic College, founded in 1951, offers postgraduate engineering courses. Kabul Polytechnic was the site of the June 2002 Loya Jirga, and the international community spent over $7 million to refurbish part of the campus for the assembly. Buildings on campus had suffered heavy bomb damage. During the 1990s, the campus was shelled and looted by mujahedeen groups, who fought amongst themselves for control of the capital. Boarding students studying under the rule of the Taliban lived in makeshift dormitories.
Kabul, Qandahār, Mazā-e-Sharif, and Herāt are the principal commercial cities of eastern, southern, northern, and western Afghanistan, respectively. The first two are the main distribution centers for imports arriving from the direction of Pakistan; the latter two, for materials arriving from Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Hours of business vary. The destruction of paved roads has severely constrained normal domestic trade in most rural parts of the country. Heavy fighting in Kabul completely destroyed the city's infrastructure.
Although the Taliban had brought a repressive order to the 90% of the country under its rule, it was unable to gain international recognition nor did it attract foreign investment. Hyperinflation had increased the number of Afghanis (the country's currency) needed to equal one US dollar, from 50 in the early 1990s to a virtually worthless 42,000 in 1999. On 7 October 2002, the first anniversary of the start of the US-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan, a new Afghan currency came into use. Also called the Afghani, the new notes were worth 1000 of the old notes, which
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were phased out. The government will exchange the dostumi currency, which is used in northern Afghanistan and named after the region's warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, into new Afghanis at half the value of old Afghanis. Around 1,800 tons of old Afghanis were due to be burned or recycled.
The value of exports, including fruits and nuts, carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, and gems totaled an estimated $471 million in 2005 (not including illegal exports). Imports, including food, petroleum products, and most commodity items totaled an estimated $3.87 billion in 2005.
In 2004, exports (not including illicit exports or re-exports) amounted to $446 million; by 2005, the number had increased slightly, to $471 million. Imports almost tripled in the period 2001–05, to $3.87 billion. Carpets (47.5%), dried fruits (40.6%), fresh fruit (5.6%), medicinal plants (2.6%), and animal skins (1.2%) represented the bulk of exports, and they mainly went to Pakistan (which received 24% of the total), India (21.3%), the United States (12.4%), and Germany (5.5%). Imports primarily came from Pakistan (25.5%), the United States (8.7%), India (8.5%), Germany (6.5%), Turkmenistan (5.3%), Kenya (4.7%), South Korea (4.2%), and Russia (4.2%). Imports were machinery and equipment; household requisites and medicine; fabrics, clothing and footwear; food; and, chemical materials.
Between 1951 and 1973, Afghanistan's year-end international reserves were never lower than $38 million nor higher than $65 million. Development of the natural gas industry and favorable prices for some of the country's agricultural exports led to increases in international reserves, to $67.5 million in 1974 and to $115.4 million as of 31 December 1975. Exploitation of natural gas also freed Afghanistan from extreme dependence on petroleum imports and from the rapid increases in import costs that most countries experienced in 1973 and 1974. Increased trade in the late 1970s and 1980s resulted in a reduction of foreign exchange earnings, since trade surpluses are counted as a credit against future imports. Foreign exchange reserves declined from $411.1 million at the close of 1979 to $262 million as of 30 May 1987. Foreign exchange reserves were estimated at $1.3 billion in 2004, up from $426 million in 2002, and $815 million in 2003. The public foreign debt in 1997 stood at $5.49 billion. Reliable statistics are not available for the ensuing years However, the current account balance was estimated to have gone from -$2.3 billion in 2003, to -$2.7 billion in 2004.
The government central bank, the Bank of Afghanistan, was founded in 1939. In 1999, the UN Security Council passed a resolution placing the Bank of Afghanistan on a consolidated list of persons and entities whose funds and financial resources should be frozen, due to the fact that the bank was controlled by the Taliban regime. The Security Council agreed to remove the bank from the list upon a request from the Interim Administration of Afghanistan in January 2002..
All banks in Afghanistan were nationalized in 1975. In the early 1980s there were seven banks in the country, including the Agricultural Development Bank, the Export Promotion Bank, the Industrial Development Bank, and the Mortgage and Construction Bank. There is no organized domestic securities market.
The fate of the Afghan National Insurance Co., which covered fire, transport, and accident insurance, is unknown as of 2006.
The fiscal year ends 20 March. Budget breakdowns have not been available since 1979/80, when revenues totaled Af15,788 million and expenditures Af16,782 million. In 2002, the Interim and Transitional governing authorities were working with donor aid agencies to finance the rebuilding of Afghanistan's infrastructure and society. The Interim Administration was supported by the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, UNDP, and the World Bank. An Implementation Group was established to operate an Operational Costs Trust Fund for Afghanistan, to be effective when the UNDP Start-up Fund ceased, to cover expenditures normally financed by domestic revenue. The Operational Costs Trust Fund was scheduled to cease to operate when the situation in Afghanistan reached fiscal normality, when the government would be able to finance most or all of its own costs.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in the fiscal year 2004/05 Afghanistan's central government took in revenues of approximately $269 million and had expenditures of $561 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately - $292 million. Total external debt was $8 billion.
In the early 1980s, direct taxes accounted for about 15% of government revenues. The share provided by indirect taxes declined from 42% to 30%, as revenues from natural gas and state enterprises played an increasing role in government finance. Tax collection, never an effective source of revenue in rural areas, was essentially disabled by the disruption caused by fighting and mass flight. Under the Taliban, arbitrary taxes, including those on humanitarian goods, were imposed.
In 2005 the government introduced an income (or wage) tax. Employers with two or more employees were required to pay 10% on annual income over about $3,500 and 20% on income over about $27,000.
Before the turmoil of the late 1970s, customs duties, levied as a source of revenue rather than as a protective measure, constituted more than one-fourth of total government revenue. Both specific and ad valorem duties of 20–35% were levied on imports. Other costs included service and Red Crescent charges; monopoly and luxury taxes; authorization and privilege charges, and a commission-type duty.
After the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's warlords collected customs duties for themselves rather than transferring the funds to the Interim and Transitional authorities in Kabul. In May 2002, it was estimated that $6–7 million in customs duties were paid each month at Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan, very little of which went into the government treasury.
A 1967 law encouraged investment of private foreign capital in Afghanistan, but under the PDPA government, Western investment virtually ceased. Between 1979 and 1987, the USSR provided technical and financial assistance on more than 200 projects, including various industrial plants, irrigation dams, agricultural stations, and a new terminal at the Kabul airport. After 1990, reconstruction investments from Russia, Japan, and the United States were channeled through the United Nations. The Taliban called for Western support to help reconstruct Afghanistan, but Western donors—already reluctant to support UN programs in the country—did not respond. After the fall of the Taliban, head-of-state Hamid Karzai invited foreign direct investment (FDI) in Afghanistan, first to reach the people in the provinces who required salaries and owed taxes, and then to invest in businesses that would lead to industrial and technological development.
One of the main policies of the government as of 2006 was to create a business-friendly environment and to attract foreign, as well as domestic, investments. Both national and international observers realized that the economy of Afghanistan could not be sustained long-term on the benefits of donor-led reconstruction, and the trickle down effects of the opium economy. At the opening of the Hyatt Hotel in Kabul in April 2004, President Hamid Karzai declared that "Afghanistan is open for business."
The Afghan ministry of commerce calculated that between November 2003 and November 2004, $351 million in FDI made its way into the country. The investment amount was relatively small, but was a positive sign that the economy was orienting itself in the right direction. Most of the investments came from Pakistan, Iran, China, the UAE, EU countries, and the United States.
As of 2002, the World Bank was managing an Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) to assist the Interim Administration in funding physical reconstruction projects, including in the health sector, as well as managing expenses such as salaries for state employees. The ARTF began in May 2002, as a joint proposal of the World Bank, the UN Development Program (UNDP), the Asian Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank. It was set up to streamline international support to Afghanistan by organizing aid pledges within a single mechanism. Contributions to the ARTF totaled more than $60 million in the first year and were expected to exceed $380 million over the four subsequent years. As of November 2002, pledges of funding for Afghanistan reached more than $4.5 billion for the first 30 months.
The main growth engines of the Afghan economy are donor-led reconstruction, the opium business, agriculture, and carpeting. The first two cannot sustain the economy long-term, and Afghan policymakers faced a challenge to develop a strategy to grow other sectors of the economy. As of 2006, the country remained poor, landlocked, and dependent on farming, foreign aid, and trade with neighboring countries. Much of the population continued to live in abject conditions (without access to housing, clean water, energy, or medical care), and the labor market was far from dynamic. Its attractive 28-million person market was offset by the lack of good infrastructure, and by security problems that still loom outside Kabul. Policymakers were hopeful however, that political stability would enable the economy thrive and grow.
Social welfare in Afghanistan has traditionally relied on family and tribal organization. In the villages and small towns, a tax to benefit the poor is levied on each man. Social welfare centers in the provincial capitals exist to care for disabled people, but these are able to assist only a small number of those in need. Most other welfare activities are still unorganized and in private hands. In the early 1990s, a social insurance system provided old age, disability, and survivors' pensions; sickness and maternity benefits; and workers' compensation.
Traditionally, women had few rights in Afghanistan, with their role limited largely to the home and the fields. Advances in women's rights were made from 1920 onward, and by the 1970s, women were attending school in large numbers, were voting, and held government jobs—including posts as cabinet ministers, and were active in the professions. The victory of the extremely conservative Taliban in 1996 reversed this trend. Strict limits on the freedoms of women were put in place. Under the constitution of 2004, the government provided for freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; however, serious problems remained in the area of human rights. Although the rule of law applied throughout the country, in practice its recognition was limited.
Violence, including rape and kidnapping, and societal discrimination against women and minorities persisted. Terrorist attacks and extreme violence continued. Extrajudicial and unlawful killings by the government or its agents and police still occurred. Civilians were killed as rebel forces battled. Torture and excessive use of force were reported. Detention conditions were inadequate.
With the end of the Taliban, women and girls were permitted to attend schools and universities, and the enforced wearing of the burka was ended. Men were allowed to shave, music and television were permitted, and a host of Taliban-imposed restrictions on society ended. Many women continued to wear the burka, or chadri, out of tradition, but also due to fear of harassment or violence. Reports claimed that trafficking in women and children for forced labor, prostitution, and sexual exploitation was increasing. The country was both a source and transit point for trafficking. Trafficking victims faced societal discrimination, especially with regard to sexual exploitation. There are no child labor laws or other legislation to protect child abuse victims. The law criminalizes homosexual activity.
Women in urban areas regained some measure of rights to public life, however lack of education under Taliban rule restricted employment possibilities. On the other hand, in 2004 regulations changed to allow married women to attend high school classes. Certain other restrictions on women were lifted in 1998. Women were allowed to work as doctors and nurses (as long as they treated only women) and were able to attend medical schools. Yet, women were denied adequate medical care due to the societal barriers discouraging them from seeking care from male health workers. Widows with no means of support were allowed to seek employment.
Starvation, disease, death, war, and migration had devastating effects on Afghanistan's health infrastructure in the 1990s. According to the World Health Organization, medication was scarce. Even before the war disrupted medical services, health conditions in Afghanistan were inadequate by western standards
In 2004, there were an estimated 18 physicians per 100,000 people. In addition, there were fewer than 3 pharmacists, 3 dentists, and 22 nurses per 100,000 population that year. Approximately only 29% of the population had access to health services. Few people had access to safe water and adequate sanitation.
In 2005, estimated life expectancy was 42.9 years—one of the lowest in the world—and infant mortality was estimated at 163.07 per 1,000 live births, which gives the country the world's second-highest mortality rate for infants. The maternal mortality rate in 2002 was one of the highest in Central Asia, with 1,600 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The death rate in 2002 was 17 per 1,000 people. In 2002, some 80,000 children a year were dying of diarrheal disease. From 1978 to 1991, there were over 1.5 million war-related deaths. It is estimated that 3,767 civilians died because of US bombs in Afghanistan in the period 7 October–7 December 2001. Approximately 300–400 civilians were killed in the period October 2001–July 2002.
As of 2002, Afghanistan had an average of four hospital beds for every 10,000 people. Most of the country's facilities are in Kabul, and those needing treatment must traverse the countryside to get there. Health care was being provided primarily by the international community. Some military field hospitals were set up as a result of the US-led coalition war. There are some medical facilities supported by the Red Cross operating in the country. In 24 of 31 provinces there are no hospitals or medical staff.
According to an official report, there were 200,000 dwellings in Kabul in the mid-1980s. The latest available figures for 1980–88 show a total housing stock of 3,500,000 with 4.4 people per dwelling. However, years of conflict have caused severe damage to the housing stock. In 2003, UN-Habitat reported that about 26% of all housing had been destroyed or seriously damaged. About 20–25% of the population did not have access to piped supplies of safe water and about 84% of the population had no sanitary toilets.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been the leader in providing homes and shelter for returning Afghan refugees, internally displaced persons, and the extremely poor. From 2002–04, over 100,000 rural homes were built through the collaboration of UNHCR and the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. Others funding housing development included the UN Development Program, the International Organization for Migration, and CARE International, while the agencies implementing the programs are the Ministry for Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) in Afghanistan, the United Nations Human Settlement Program (HABITAT), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and an assortment of international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Houses in farming communities are built largely of mud brick and frequently grouped within a fortified enclosure, to provide protection from marauders. The roofs are flat, with a coating of mixed straw and mud rolled hard above a ceiling of horizontal poles, although in areas where timber is scarce, separate mud brick domes crown each room. Cement and other modern building materials are widely used in cities and towns. Every town has at least one wide thoroughfare, but other streets are narrow lanes between houses of mud brick, taller than those in the villages and featuring decorative wooden balconies.
At the last estimates, the adult literacy rate was about 36% for the total population—51% for males and 21% for females. Education is free at all levels. The primary education program covers six years. The secondary education (middle school and high school) includes another six-year program. About 29% of school-aged children are enrolled at the primary level. About 14% of all appropriately aged children are enrolled in secondary programs. Vocational training is provided in secondary schools and senior high schools, and approximately 6% of students are enrolled in the vocational system. Theoretically, education is compulsory for six years. The new constitution proposed to change the standard to nine years of compulsory education.
Boys and girls are schooled separately. In 2003, the average pupil to teacher ratio for primary school was 61:1. Children are taught in their mother tongue, Dari (Persian) or Pashtu (Pashto), during the first three grades; the second official language is introduced in the fourth grade. Children are also taught Arabic so that they may be able to read the Koran (Quran). The school year extends from early March to November in the cold areas and from September to June in the warmer regions.
In addition to the secular public education system, the traditional Islamic madrassa school system is functioning. At the madrassas, children study the Koran, the Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), and popular religious texts.
All teachers have civil service status. The educational system is totally centralized by the state.
The University of Kabul, which is now coeducational, was founded in 1932. In 1962, a faculty of medicine was established at Jalālābād in Nangarhar Province; this faculty subsequently became the University of Nangarhar. In January 2006, there were at least eight universities and three other institutes of higher education. An estimated 1,000 women throughout Afghanistan participated in university entrance examinations in 2002.
For centuries, manuscript collections were in the hands of the rulers, local feudal lords, and renowned religious families. Printing came fairly late to Afghanistan, but with the shift from the handwritten manuscript to the printed book, various collections were formed. Kabul Central Library is a public library (1920) with 60,000 volumes. The Khairkhona Library is the only other public library in Kabul. The library of the University of Kabul has about 250,000 volumes. There is a library at Kabul Polytechnic University with 6,000 volumes. A government library, at the ministry of education also in Kabul, houses 30,000 volumes. As of 2005, there were six provincial libraries, but in various stages of repair and reconstruction.
Prior to the devastating civil war, the Kabul Museum (founded in 1922) possessed an unrivaled collection of stone heads, bas-reliefs, ivory plaques and statuettes, bronzes, mural paintings, and Buddhist material from excavations at Hadda, Bamian, Bagram, and other sites. It also contained an extensive collection of coins and a unique collection of Islamic bronzes, marble reliefs, Kusham art, and ceramics from Ghaznī. During several decades of warfare, however, the museum was plundered by various armed bands, with much of its collection sold on the black market or systematically destroyed. In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas and sold the debris and the remains of the original sculpture. Small statues of the Buddhas in Foladi and Kakrak were destroyed. Most of the statues and other non-Islamic art works in the collections of the Kabul Museum were destroyed, including those stored for security reasons in the ministry of information and culture.
UNESCO has undertaken a plan to conserve the archaeological remains and the minaret at Jam, and to make it a World Heritage site. The minaret was built at the end of the 12th century and, at 65 m (215 ft) is the second-tallest in the world after the Qutub Minaret in New Delhi, India.
The National Archives of Afghanistan in Kabul was established in 1973. Holdings include government documents and ancient books, the most important being a 500-year-old Koran. Also in Kabul is the Kabul University Science Museum, with an extensive zoological collection and a museum of pathology. There are provincial museums at Bamyan, Ghaznī, Herāt, Mazār-e Sharif, Maimana, and Qandahār. Major religious shrines have collections of valuable objects.
Limited telephone service to principal cities and some smaller towns and villages is provided