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icon Overview Updated March 30, 2009

Section Contents:  Geography | Demographics | Ethnic Map of Afghanistan | Government | The Current Ministries and Ministers | Political Parties in Afghanistan and their Leaders | Economy | Afghanistan National Development Strategy | Military | History of Afghanistan




Location: Southern Asia, North West of Pakistan, east of Iran
Coordinates: 33 00 N, 65 00 E
Area: 647, 500 sq km (country is land locked)
Land boundaries: 5,529 km (total)
Border countries: China 76 km, Iran 936 km, Pakistan 2,430 km, Tajikistan 1,206 km, Turkmenistan 744 km, Uzbekistan 137 km
Climate: Semi arid, cold winters, hot summers
Terrain: Mostly rugged mountains, plains in the south and North West
Natural Resources: Natural gas, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulphur, lead, zinc, iron ore, precious and semi precious stones
Land use: arable land (12.13%), permanent crops (0.21%), other (87.66%)
Irrigated land: 27,200 sq km (2003)



Population: 33,609,937 (July 2009 est.)
Age Structure:
- 0-14 years: 44.5% (male 7,664,670/female 7,300,446)
- 15-64 years: 53% (male 9,147,846/female 8,679,800)
- 65 years and over: 2.4% (male 394,572/female 422,603) (2009 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 2.629% (2009 est)
Birth Rate: 45.82 Births/1000 population (2008 est)
Death Rate: 19.56 Deaths/1000 population (2008 est)
Net Migration Rate: 21 Migrants/1000 population
Urban Population: 24% of total population (2008 est)
Rate of Urbanization: 5.4% Annual Rate of Change (2005 - 2010)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 44.64 years (total population), 44.47 years (male), 44.81 years (female)
Ethnic Groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkman 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%
Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%
Languages: Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashto 35% (official), Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkman) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism
Literacy: total population (28.1%), male (43.1%), female (12.6%) definition: age 15 who can read and write

Ethnic Map of Afghanistan



Conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Conventional short form: Afghanistan
Local long form: Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Afghanestan
Local short form: Afghanestan
Former: Republic of Afghanistan
Government Type: Islamic Republic
Capital name: Kabul (34 31 N, 69 11E)
Administrative divisions: 34 provinces (welayat - singular) Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Bamyan, Daykundi, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Ghor, Helmand, Herat, Jowzjan, Kabul, Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktiya, Panjshir, Parwan, Samangan, Sar-e Pul, Takhar, Uruzgan, Wardak, Zabul
Independence: 19 August 1919 (from UK control over Afghan foreign affairs)
National holiday: Independence Day, 19 August (1919)
Constitution: new constitution drafted 14 December 2003-4 January 2004; signed 16 January 2004; ratified 26 January 2004
Legal system: based on mixed civil and Sharia law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Current Provincial Governors:

Badakhshan - Monshi Abdul Majid
Badghis - Mohammad Ashraf Nasseri
Baghlan - Said Azizullah Hashimi (Acting)
Balkh - Atta Mohammad Noor
Bamiyan - Habiba Sorabi
Daikondi - Sultan Ali Rozgani
Farah - Rohul Amin
Faryab - Abdul Haq Shafaq
Ghazni - Dr. Muhammad Osman Osmani
Ghor - Baz Mohammad Ahmadi
Helmand - Mohammad Gulab Mangal
Herat - Ahmad Yusef Nuristani
Jowzjan - not available
Kabul - Haji Din Mohammad
Kandahar - Tooryalai Wesa
Kapisa - Khoja Ghulam Ghous Abubaker

Kunduz - Mohammad Omar Sulaimoni
Laghman - Lutfallah Mashal
Logar - General Abdurrahman
Nangarhar - Gul Agha Sherzai
Nimroz - Ghulam Dastageer Azad
Nuristan - Jamaluddin Badre
Paktia - Juma Khan Hamdard
Paktika - Mohammad Akram Khapalwak
Panjshir - Bahlul Bahij
Parwan - Abdul Jabar Taqwa
Samangan - Qazi Enayat Enayatullah
Sar-i Pol - Sayed Iqbal Munib
Takhar - Abdul Latif Ibrahimi
Urozgan - Asadullah Hamdam
Wardark - Mohammad Halim Fidai
Zabul - Del Bar Jan Arman

Khost - Hamidullah Qalandarzoi
Kunar - Syed Fazal Ullah Wahedi

Executive Branch:

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]--> Chief of State and head of government: President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai (Since December 7th 2004)

<!--[if !supportLists]--> <!--[endif]--> First Vice President: Ahmad Zia Massood (since December 7th 2004)

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Second Vice President: Abdul Karim Khalili (since December 7th 2004)

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Cabinet: 25 ministers - according to the new constitution the ministers are appointed by the president and approved by the National Assembly

Elections: the president and two vice presidents are elected by direct vote for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); if no candidate receives 50% or more of the vote in the first round of voting, the two candidates with the most votes will participate in a second round; a president can only be elected for two terms; election last held 9 October 2004 (next to be held in August 2009)

The Current Ministries and Ministers

Senior Minister - Hedayat Amin Arsala
Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Dr. Rangeen Dadfar Spanta
Ministry of National Defense - General Abdul Rahim Wardak

National Security Advisor - Dr. Zalmai Rassoul
Ministry of Interior -  Dr. Mohamad Hanif Atmar
Ministry of Finance - Dr. Anwar- ul- Haq Ahadi
Ministry of Justice -  Sarwar Danish
Ministry of Education - Ghulam Farooq Wardak 
Ministry of Higher Education - Dr. Ahzam Dadfar
Ministry of Water & Energy - Mohammad Ismael Khan
Ministry of Haj and Islamic Affairs - Nematulla Shahrani
Ministry of Public Welfare - Sohrab Ali Saffary
Ministry of Public Health - Dr. Mohammad Amin Fatemi
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock - Muhammad Asif Rahimi
Ministry of Mines - Ibrahim Adel
Ministry of Communication and Information Technology - Eng. Amirzai Sangin
Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development - Ehsan Zia
Ministry of Work and Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled - Noor Mohammad Qarqeen
Ministry of Borders & Tribal Affairs - Abdul Karim Barahowie
Ministry of Urban Development - Eng. Yousef Pashtun
Ministry of Counter Narcotics - General Khodaidad Khodaidad
Ministry of Refugees - Sher Mohammad Etebari
Ministry of Economy and Manpower - Mohammad Jalil Shams
Ministry of Commerce and Industry - not available
Ministry of Women's Affairs - Mrs. Hassan Bano Ghazanfar
Ministry for Information, Culture and Tourism - Abdul Karim Khuram
Ministry for Transport and Civil Aviation (Acting) - Omar Zakhilwal

Political Parties in Afghanistan and their Leaders

Afghan Nation [also known as the Afghan Social Democratic Party] (Afghan Mellat)
Leader: Anwar al-Haq Ahadi
Note: Ahadi is currently the Minister of Finance in President Karzai's administration. The party officially registered themselves in Afghanistan on May 16, 2004. Afghan Mellat is a powerful Pashtun nationalist party.

Afghan Nation [also known as the Afghan Social Democratic Party] (Afghan Mellat - Shams faction)
Leader: Shams Ul Huda Shams
Note: This party was previously based in Pakistan.  However, it recently opened an office in Jalalabad, and plans on actively participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in September, 2005.  Unlike Ahadi's faction which supported Hamid Karzai in the October 2004 elections, Sham's faction supported Humayoon Shah Asefi. Asefi, a well known royalist, is a cousin of former king Mohammad Zaher's late wife, Homaira.

Afghan Society for the Call to the Koran and Sunna (Jama'at al-Da'wat il'l Qur'an wa Sunnat al-Afghanistan)
Leader: Mawlawi Sami'ullah Najibi

Afghanistan Independence Party (Hizb-e Istiqlal-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Dr. Faruq Nejrabi

Afghanistan's Islamic Mission Organization (Tanzim-e Dahwat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf
Note: Sayyaf's party used be known as Ittihad-i-Islami Barai Azadi Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). The party registered the new name with the Ministry of Justice on April 25, 2005.

Afghanistan's Welfare Party (Hizb-e Refah-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mir Mohammad Asef Za'ifi

Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan (Nahzat-e Azadi wa Demokrasi-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Raqib Jawed Kuhestani

Freedom Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Azadi-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Malik
Note: In the mid 1990s, Abdul Malik, was a confidant and senior foreign adviser to Abdul Rashid Dostum. However, he made a secret deal with the Taliban, turned against Dostum and invited the Taliban into northern Afghanistan. The deal did not last long and a major battle occurred between Malik's forces and the Taliban; thousands of Taliban soldiers were killed.

Freedom Party National Faction (Hizb-e Azadi-ye Bakhsh-e Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Shams al-Haq Naibkhail

Homeland Party (Hizb-e Maihan)
Leader: Mohammad Rahim

Human Rights Protection and Development Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Ifazat az Hoquq-e Bashar wa Inkeshaf-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Baryalai Nasrati

Islamic & National Revolutionary Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Harkat-e Inqilabi-ye Islami wa Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Ahmad Nabi

Islamic Civilization Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Islami-ye Tamadun-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Nabi Nafeh

Islamic Justice Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Adalat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Kabir Marzban

Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Harakat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed
Note: For a long time, the party was led by Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni until he announced that he would step down in early February 2005.  The Islamic Movement of Afghanistan was one of the resistance groups opposing the Soviets and their client regimes in Afghanistan from 1978 to 1992.

Islamic People's Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Harak-e Islami-ye Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Hosayn Anwari

Islamic Rights Advocates Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Itifaq-e Hoquq Khwahan-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Abdul Qahar

Islamic Society of Afghanistan (Jami'at-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Burhanuddin Rabbani
Note: Other prominent members- Mohammad Ismael Khan, and Atta Mohammad (Governor of Balkh Province).

Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Karim Khalili

Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq
Note: Mohaqiq is very popular among the Hazaras; he ran as an independent candidate for the presidency in October 2004, and received the vast majority of the Hazara votes. He served as Planning Minister in the transitional government until he was allegedly fired in March 2004. Mohaqiq claims he was fired after announcing that he would be running in the 2004 presidential elections against Hamid Karzai, however, Karzai's spokesman denied he was fired and claimed Mohaqiq quit after a dispute with then Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Mohaqiq stated that Karzai's administration was ethnically biased, and that there are attempts to sideline former Mujahideen members from the government.

Justice Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Adalat-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Hasan Fayrozkhail

Labor and Progress of Afghanistan Party (Hizb-e Kar wa Tawse'a-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Zulfiqar Omid

Moderate Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e E'tidal-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Unknown

National Congress Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Kongra-ye Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Latif Pedram
Note: Party leader Pedram ran as the party's official candidate for the presidency against Hamid Karzai in October 2004.

National Islamic Fighters Party of Afghanistan (Da Afghanistan Da Melli Mubarizinu Islami Gond)
Leader: Amanat Ningarhari

National Islamic Front of Afghanistan (Mahaz-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Ahmad Gailani

National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Junbish-e-Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayed Noorullah
Note: This party was formerly led by Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum officially stepped down on April 18, 2005 to take up a post (Chief of Staff to the Commander of the Armed Forces) in President Hamid Karzai's government. Dostum was appointed by Karzai on March 1, 2005. The party was officially registered with the Ministry of Justice on April 18, 2005. Abdul Rashid Dostum ran as an independent candidate for the presidency in October 2004, and received the vast majority of the Uzbek votes. Dostum was a former Communist General who switched sides to help the Mujahideen bring down Dr. Najibullah's Russian supported government.

National Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Akbari

National Liberation Front of Afghanistan (Jabha-e Melli-ye Nijat-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Sebghatullah Mojadeddi

National Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Nahzat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Ahmad Wali Masood (brother of slain Mujahideen commander, Ahmad Shah Masood).
Note: Zia Masood, another brother of Ahmad Shah Masood, and party member is currently serving as Afghanistan's first Vice President. Mohammd Yunis Qanuni was also a member of this party, until Zia Masood agreed to sign on as Hamid Karzai's Vice President in the October 2004 presidential elections. Qanuni ran against Karzai.

National Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Rashid Aryan

National Peace & Islamic Party of the Tribes of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Sulh-e Melli-ye Islami-ye Aqwam-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Qaher Shari'ati

National Peace & Unity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Sulh wa Wahdat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Qader Imami

National Peace Islamic Party of Afghanistan (Da Afghanistan Da Solay Melli Islami Gond)
Leader: Shah Mahmud Popalzai

National Peace Movement of Afghanistan (Nahzat-e Melli Sulh-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Sami'ullah Sadat

National Prosperity and Islamic Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Sahadat-e Melli wa Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Osman Saligzada

National Prosperity Party (Hizb-e Refah-e Melli)
Leader: Mohammad Hasan Jahfari

National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan (Nahzat-e Hambastagi-ye Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Ishaq Gailani
Note: Gailani was his party's official candidate for president until withdrawing from the race on 6 October. Gailani urged National Solidarity Movement supporters to back Karzai in the presidential vote.

National Solidarity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Paiwand-e Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Mansur Nadiri

National Stability Party (Hizb-e Subat-e Melli)
Leader: Abdul Ra'uf

National Tribal Unity Islamic Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Melli-ye Wahdat-e Aqwam-e Islami-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Shah Khogyani

National Unity Movement (Tahrik-e Wahdat-e Melli)
Leader: Sultan Mahmud Ghazi

National Unity Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Harakat-e Melli-ye Wahdat-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Nader Atash

National Unity Party (Hizb-e Mutahid-e Melli)
Leader: Nur al-Haq 'Ulumi

National Unity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Wahdat-e Melli-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Rashid Jalili

New Afghanistan Party (Hezb-e-Afghanistan Naween)
Leader: Mohammad Yunis Qanuni
Note: This party is part of a political alliance called Jabahai Tafahim Millie or National Understanding Front. It also includes Wahdat-e-Mardum Afghanistan led by Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, Hezb-e-Iqtedar Islam led by Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, Hezb-e-Harakat Islami led by Sayed Mohammad Lia Jawed, Wahdat Milli led by Mohammad Akbari, Hezb-e-Isteqlal Milli Afghanistan led by Taj Mohammad Wardak, Hezb-e-Harakat Enqelab Islami led by Ahmad Nabi Ahmad, Hezb-e-Wahdat Aqwami Milli Afghanistan led by Nasrullah Barakzai, Hezb-e-Eqtedar Islami Afghanistan led by Qara Beig Ezedyar, Hezb-e-Islami Jawan Afghanistan led by Sayed Jawad Husseini, and Hezb-e-Sulh wa Wahdat-e-Milli Afghanistan led by Emami Ghori. The alliance was publicly announced on March 31, 2005.

Party of Islam (Hizb-e Islami)
Leader: Arghandiwal
Note: The party was founded in the 1970s and for many years led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar is currently believed to be in alliance with the Taliban and waging a guerilla war against US forces in Afghanistan.

Party of Islam (Hizb-e Islami - Khalis faction)
Leader: Mohammad Yunos Khalis
Note: Khalis is believed to be in hiding and involved in fighting against the US troops present in Afghanistan. His base of support is in the eastern Nangarhar Province.

Peace and National Welfare Activists Society (Majmah-e Melli-ye Fahalin-e Sulh-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Shams al-Haq Nur Shams

Peace Movement (Da Afghanistan Da Solay Ghorzang Gond)
Leader: Shahnawaz Tanai
Note: Tanai, served as former minister of defense under the Soviet-backed communist regime of Dr. Najibullah.

People's Aspirations Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Arman-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Sarajuddin

People's Liberal Freedom Seekers Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Libral-e Azadi-ye Khwa-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Ajmal Sohail

People's Message Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Risalat-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Nur Aqa

People's Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Ahmad Shah Asar

People's Prosperity Party of Afganistan (Hizb-e Falah-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Zarif

People's Sovereignty Movement of Afghanistan (Nahzat-e Hakimyat-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Hayatullah Subhani

People's Uprising Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Rastakhaiz-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Sayyed Zaher

People's Welfare Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Sahadat-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Zubair Payroz

People's Welfare Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Refah-e Mardum-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Miagul Waseq

Public Opinion Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Afkar-e Ama-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Unknown

Republican Party (Hizb-e Jamhuri Khwahan)
Leader: Sebghatullah Sanjar

Solidarity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Hambastagi Afghanistan)
Leader: Abdul Khaleq Ne'mat

Leader: Mullah Mohammad Omar (Other prominent members: Jalaluddin Haqqani, Saifullah Mansoor)
Note: The Taliban are waging a war against the US backed Afghan government headed by Hamid Karzai.

United Afghanistan Party (Hizb-e Afghanistan-e Wahid)
Leader: Mohammad Wasel Rahimi

Understanding and Democracy Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Tafahum-e wa Demokrasi-ye Afghanistan)
Leader: Ahmad Shahin

Young Afghanistan's Islamic Organization (Sazman-e Islami-ye Afghanistan-e Jawan)
Leader: Sayyed Jawad Hosayni

Youth Solidarity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Hambastagi-ye Melli-ye Jawanan-e Afghanistan)
Leader: Mohammad Jamil Karzai

Judicial Branch

The constitution establishes a nine-member Stera Mahkama or Supreme Court (its nine justices are appointed for 10-year terms by the president with approval of the Wolesi Jirga) and subordinate High Courts and Appeals Courts; there is also a minister of justice; a separate Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission established by the Bonn Agreement is charged with investigating human rights abuses and war crimes.


GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $26.29 billion (2008 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $12.85 billion (2008 est.)

GDP (Real Growth Rate): 7.5% (2008 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP): $800 (2008 est)

GDP - composition by sector: 31% Agricultural, 26% Industry, 43% Services

Labour Force: 15 million (2004 est)

Unemployment Rate: 40% (2008 est)

Labour Force - by Occupation: 80% Agricultural, 10% Industry, 10% Service (2008 est)

Budget: revenues $890 million, expenditures $2.7 billion (Afghanistan has also received $2.6 billion from the Reconstruction Fun and $63 million from the Law and Order Trust Fund)

Agricultural products: opium, wheat, fruits, nuts; wool, mutton, sheepskins, lambskins

Industries: small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement; hand-woven carpets; natural gas, coal, copper

Exports - commodities: opium, fruits and nuts, hand-woven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems

Export Partners:  India 22.8%, Pakistan 21.8%, US 20.5%, Tajikistan 7.2% (2007)

Import Partners: Pakistan 36.8%, US 11%, India 5%, Germany 4.2%

Import - Commodities: capital goods, food, textiles, petroleum products

Afghanistan National Development Strategy 

Approved by President Hamid Karzai in April 21, 2008, this document outlines the Afghan government's strategies for security, governance economic growth and poverty reduction. The blue print lays out the plans the period of 2008 to 2013:

  • Security: Achieve nationwide stabilization, strengthen law enforcement, and improve personal security for every Afghan.
  • Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights: Strengthen democratic practice and institutions, human rights, the rule of law, delivery of public services and government accountability.
  • Economic and Social Development: Reduce poverty, ensure sustainable development through a private sector-led market economy, improve human development indicators, and make significant progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

International organization participation: ADB, CP, ECO, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO (correspondent), ITSO, ITU, MIGA, NAM, OIC, OPCW, OSCE (partner), SAARC, SACEP, SCO (guest), UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)



Military branches: Afghan Armed Forces: Afghan National Army (ANA, includes Afghan National Army Air Corps) (2009)

Military service age and obligation: 22 years of age; inductees are contracted into service for a 4-year term (2005)

Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 7,431,147, females age 16-49: 7,004,819 (2008 est.)

Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 4,371,193, females age 16-49: 4,072,945 (2009 est.)

Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 382,720, female: 361,733 (2009 est.)

Military expenditures: 1.9% of GDP (2006 est.)

History of Afghanistan

Afghanistan's history spans five thousand years and the Afghan people have contributed to the emergence of many Central Asian empires. The ancient centers of culture and civilization were influenced by diverse outsiders such as Rome, Greece, Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, India, and China. Great conquerors such as Jenghiz Khan and Timurlane swept through Afghanistan during the 13th and 14th century. These rulers brought with them the desire to establish kingdoms, and founded cultural and scholarly communities in Afghanistan. In particular, during the Timurid dynasty, poetry, architecture and miniature painting reached their zenith.

The rise of the great Mughal Empire again lifted Afghanistan to heights of power. The ruler, Babur, had his capital in Kabul in 1512, but as the Mughals extended their power into India, Afghanistan went from being the center of the empire to merely a peripheral part of it. In the 18th and 19th century with European forces eroding the influence of the Mughals on the Indian subcontinent, the kingdom of Afghanistan began to emerge. Ahmad Shah ruled from 1747 and successfully established the concept of a united Afghanistan.

Throughout the 19th century Afghans fought against British forces. In the 1830s, Dost Muhammad skillfully balanced the influence of the Russians, British, Iranians, and Sikhs. However, rising tensions resulted in several wars from 1839 and 1842 and from 1878 to 1880. The twenty-one year reign of Abdur Rahman Khan was an important period for the consolidation of a modern state marked by efforts to modernize and establish control of the kingdom. The borders of Afghanistan were established in 1893 through negotiations with the British and provincial governments emerged, taking the place of clan rule.

Modern History

In 1919, Afghanistan gained independence from British occupying forces. From 1919-1973 Afghanistan modernized and built extensive infrastructure with the assistance of the international community. This period of relative stability ended in 1973 when King Zahir Shah was overthrown while away in Europe.

In 1978 and 1979, a number of coups brought to power a communist government that drifted increasingly toward the USSR, ending with a Soviet puppet government in Kabul led by Babrak Kamal and an invasion of Soviet forces. Throughout the eighties, an indigenous Afghan resistance movement fought against the invading Soviet forces. With the help of the United States, Afghans successfully resisted the occupation. On February 15, 1989 the last Soviet soldier retreated across Afghanistan's northern border. As hostilities ceased, more than a million Afghans lay dead and 6.2 million people, over half the world's refugee population, had fled the country.

The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 weakened the communist government of President Najibullah, leading to his ousting in April 1992. An interim president was installed and replaced two months later by Burhanuddin Rabbani, a founder of the country's Islamic political movement, backed by the popular commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Current History

The government remained unstable and unable to form a national consensus amongst its various factions. This instability was exploited by a group of Islamic fighters called the Taliban ('talib' means 'religious student' or 'seeker of knowledge'). With the assistance of foreign governments, organizations, and resources, the Taliban seized Kandahar and in September 1998 entered Kabul.

Taliban rule became infamous for their repression of women and dissidents as well as their destruction of the country's cultural heritage. Showing little interest in trying to govern and rebuild Afghanistan, they instead played host to the radical Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Following Al-Qaeda's 2001 attacks, the United States and its allies began military operations and quickly overthrew the Taliban. An interim government was installed.

In December of 2001, Afghan and world leaders met in Bonn, Germany under United Nations auspices to design an ambitious agenda that would guide Afghanistan towards "national reconciliation, a lasting peace, stability, and respect for human rights," culminating in the establishment of a fully representative government. Many political and civil institutions were established with the Bonn Agreement such as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Judicial Commission, Counter- Narcotics Directorate, and the Constitutional commission.

Progress on the political front has been rapid, with elections leading to an elected parliament and president as well as a national constitution. With international assistance, the new government of Afghanistan is developing a stable, political infrastructure and security apparatus.

The security situation in Afghanistan necessitates the continued presence of international forces. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was created in accordance with the Bonn Conference, in December 2001, after the ousting of the Taliban regime. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took over command and coordination of ISAF in August 2003. This is the first mission outside the Euro-Atlantic area in NATO's history. Initially restricted to providing security in and around Kabul, NATO's mission now covers about 50% of the country's territory. ISAF currently numbers about 9,700 troops from 37 NATO and non-NATO troop contributing countries. The Alliance is expanding its presence in Southern Afghanistan.

The London Conference on Afghanistan in January 2006 aimed to launch the Afghanistan Compact, the successor to the Bonn Agreement, to present the interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy, and to ensure the Government of Afghanistan has adequate resources to meet its domestic ambitions. The Afghanistan Compact marks the formal end of the Bonn Process, with completion of the Parliamentary and Provincial elections, and represents a framework for co-operation for five years.

The Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (I-ANDS) is the product of twelve-months of intensive consultations within the Afghan government and with a wide array of stakeholders including community representatives, the ulama, the private sector, NGOs, and the international community. The document outlines the government's policy objectives and analyzes the obstacles to their achievement.

Armed Violence

The insurgency and related violence remain the primary obstacle to development and stability in Afghanistan. Especially in the south and east of the country violent clashes between insurgents and NATO or OEF occur on a regular basis. A report released by UNAMA in September 2007 found that the number of suicide bombings in Afghanistan had increased by more than 700 percent between 2005 (17 incidents) and 2006 (123 incidents). Numbers are expected to rise further in 2007, with 103 incidents in the first eight months alone. In the first quarter of 2008, NGOs have been directly targeted for attack on 29 occasions. Although comparable to last year's figures in volume (30), the attacks of this year have resulted in many more fatalities.

Both the insurgents and the international coalition have launched their respective military campaigns after the end of the 2007/2008 winter. Media reports indicate a steady level of violence in the south and east, and an increase in violence in the north and west of the country. Insurgents have shifted away from a conventional strategy to using more suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - even in areas where they have little suport base. Afghan outrage at civilian casualties caused by NATO forces continues to create difficulties for the ISAF mission and bolster support for the insurgents. In an effort to protect himself from the political fallout of this popular discontent, President Karzai publicly blamed international forces for rising violence in June 2008, saying they have mismanaged the fight against the Taliban.

Insurgents benefited from this public debate and a number of other factors: continued access to safe havens across the border in Pakistan, rampant corruption of Afghan police and government representatives, the return of warlords to power, poverty and unemployment, a lack of benefits to some populations from foreign aid, opium cultivation, poorly applied opium eradication schemes, and tribal disputes.

As mentioned in one of the UN Secretary-General's latest reports to the Security Council, "a key to sustaining security gains in the long term is increasing the capability, autonomy and integrity of the Afghan National Security Forces." In view of this long-term perspective, efforts to train and equip Afghan forces are being increased and discussions are ongoing on how to address serious challenges with the reform of the Afghan National Police. There are signs that the US is refocusing on Afghanistan, dedicating more resources to the Afghan mission and pushing other NATO countries to increase their own contributions to the mission in Afghanistan. 

Reconciliation and Power Sharing

Many critics of the mission in Afghanistan, but also NATO leaders themselves, have been explicit in stating that a military strategy will not solve Afghanistan's problems and call for a political solution. While President Karzai has apparently made some contact with the Taliban and there is some effort towards reconciliation through the Strengthening Peace Program, no wide-ranging, track one peace process is underway. The willingness of some opposition forces to share power with Karzai's government remains in question. A new political opposition, the United National Front, has emerged to oppose president Karzai.  This group is a mix of former Northern Alliance members, mujahideen, and even former members of the communist government. Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar has interpreted this as a show of independence by Afghans who believe the US will not be able to stabilize the situation.

Regional Environment

Pakistan's role continues to be controversial, as many Afghans and international observers allege Pakistani support for the insurgency. A new series of peace deals between Pakistan's government and local Taliban groups has granted insurgents wide latitude in areas along the border with Pakistan. According to NATO commanders, Pakistan's failure to act against militants in its tribal areas has led to an increase in attacks against US and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Allegations that Iran is supplying weapons to the Taliban have also become more common, though the Iranian government denies its involvement with the insurgency in Afghanistan. Some analysts argue that Iran may be pursuing a two-pronged approach, with overt support for the Karzai government and economic investment in Afghanistan on the one hand and covert assistance to insurgents on the other hand, thus hedging its bets and securing influence (esp. in western Afghanistan) no matter who will control the country in the long run. 


The international community in Afghanistan is working to improve its coordination and increase aid effectiveness, while some NGOs call for the military to stop doing reconstruction work. The situation for women in Afghanistan continues to be grim, and some claim hard-won freedoms achieved since 9-11 are in danger of being stifled before a lasting impact on women's rights can be achieved. Recent murders of Afghan women journalists and continued forced marriages highlight the volatility of the situation for women in Afghanistan.

Opium cultivation continues to reach record levels, and debates about how to tackle this issue are heated. According to UNODC, Afghanistan produced an extraordinary 8,200 tons of opium in 2007 (34 percent more than in 2006), becoming practically the exclusive supplier (93 percent of the global opiates market). The United States continues to push for eradication, while many, including some other NATO nations, fear this only feeds insurgency and instability. Other alternatives are licensing opium cultivation and providing alternative livelihoods. The first option has not been pursued, and the latter has not been sufficiently funded nor has it had time to achieve any significant results.

Despite the insurgency, development and reform efforts continue. Initiativens like the National Solidarity Programme, in which local councils are consulted to determine their own development needs, are expanding. While media reports from Afghanistan tend to focus on the violence and instability, some parts of the country are relatively stable and are benefitting from development efforts.


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