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Afghanistan

The Islamic State of Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia. It
is bordered by Iran in the west, Pakistan in the south and east,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the
easternmost part of the country.

Until the nation has its first general election (projected for June 2004),
it continues to be referred to by the West as the Transitional Islamic State
of Afghanistan.

                                       Official
                                       languages         Pashtu, Dari
                                       Capital           Kabul
                                       President         Hamid Karzai
History
                                       Area              Ranked 40th
                                       - Total          647,500 km²
                                       - % water        0%
Afghanistan, often called the          Population        Ranked 38th
crossroads of Central Asia, has had a  - Total (2002)   28,717,213
turbulent history. Through the ages,   - Density        43/km²
Afghanistan has been occupied by many  Independence      From UK suzerainity
forces. A separate Afghan nation came  - Date           August 19, 1919
into existence in 1746 as the Durrani
Empire, but control was ceded to the   Currency          Afghani
United Kingdom until King Amanullah    Time zone         UTC+4:30
acceded to throne in 1919. Since then,
the country has known many governments National anthem   Sououd-e-Melli
and several civil wars.                Internet TLD      .AF
                                       Calling Code      93
The ruler of Afghanistan belonged to
the Abdali tribal group, whose name was changed to Dorrani on the accession
of Ahmad Shah. They belonged either to the Saddozay segment of the Popalzay
clan or to the Mohammadzay segment of the Barakzay clan. The Mohammadzay
furnished the Saddozay kings frequently with top counselors, who served
occasionally as regents, identified with the epithet Mohammadzay.

The last period of stability in Afghanistan lay between 1933 and 1973, when
the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. However, in 1973, Zahir's
brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud launched a bloodless coup. Daoud and
his entire family was murdered in 1978 when the communist People's
Democratic Party of Afghanistan lauched a coup and took over the government.

Opposition against the new Communist government was immense, and with the
government in danger of collapse, the Soviet Union invaded on December 24,
1979. Faced with mounting international pressure and losses of approximately
15,000 Soviet soldiers as a result of mujahadeen opposition trained by the
United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments, the Soviets withdrew
ten years later in 1989.

Fighting subsequently continued among the various mujahidin factions, giving
rise to a state of warlordism that eventually spawned the Taliban. Backed by
Pakistan, the Taliban developed as a political force and eventually seized
power. The Taliban were able to capture 90% of the country, aside from
Northern Alliance strongholds primarily in the northeast. The Taliban sought
to impose an extreme interpretation of Islam--based in part upon rural
Pashtun tradition. The Pakistan-Taliban alliance gave safe haven to Islamic
terrorists (Al-Qaeda)and was the epicenter of Islamic terrorism.

United States and allied military action in support of the opposition
following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks forced the group's
downfall. In late 2001, major leaders from the Afghan opposition groups and
diaspora met in Bonn and agreed on a plan for the formulation of a new
government structure that resulted in the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as
Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) on December 2001. After a
nationwide Loya Jirga in 2002, and Karzai was elected President.

In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military
action to root out remaining al-Qaida and Taliban elements, the country
suffers from enormous poverty, rampant warlordism, a crumbling
infrastructure, and widespread land mines.

Politics

Currently, an interim government is in place, led by president Hamid Karzai,
with many elements from the Northern Alliance, and a mix from other regional
and ethnic groups formed from the transition government by the Loya jirga.
Former monarch Zahir Shah returned to the country, but was not re-instated
as king and only exercises limited ceremonial powers.

Under the Bonn Agreement the Afghan Constitution Commission was established
to consult with the public and formulate a draft constitution. Scheduled to
release a draft on September 1, 2003, the commission has asked for a delay
in order to undertake further consultations. The meeting of a constitutional
loya jirga (grand council) may be postponed from October to December 2003,
perhaps threatening the timetable for elections in June 2004.

Troops and intelligence agencies from the United States and a number of
other countries are present, some to keep the peace, others assigned to hunt
for remnants the Taliban and al Qaeda. A United Nations peacekeeping force
operates in Kabul. Most of the country is under the control of warlords.

On March 27, 2003, Afghan deputy defense minister and powerful warlord
General Abdul Rashid Dostum created an office for the North Zone of
Afghanistan and appointed officials to it, defying interim president Hamid
Karzai's orders that there be no zones in Afghanistan.

Provinces

Afghanistan consists of 32 provinces, or velayat:

    * Badakhshan province    * Konar province
    * Badghis province       * Kondoz province
    * Baghlan province       * Laghman province
    * Balkh province         * Lowgar province
    * Bamiyan province       * Nangarhar province
    * Farah province         * Nimruz province
    * Faryab province        * Nurestan province
    * Ghazni province        * Oruzgan province
    * Ghowr province         * Paktia province
    * Helmand province       * Paktika province
    * Herat province         * Parvan province
    * Jowzjan province       * Samangan province
    * Kabul province         * Sar-e Pol province
    * Kandahar province      * Takhar province
    * Kapisa province        * Vardak province
    * Khost province         * Zabol province

Geography

Afghanistan is a mountainous country, although there are plains in the north
and southwest. The highest point in Afghanistan, Nowshak, is 7485 m above
sea level. Large parts of the country are dry, and fresh water supplies are
limited. Afghanistan has a land climate, with hot summers and cold winters.
The country is frequently subject to earthquakes.

Besides the capital city Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e Sharif and
Kandahar are the nation's major cities. See also Cities of Afghanistan.

Economy

Afghanistan is an extremely poor country, highly dependent on farming and
livestock raising. The economy has suffered greatly from the recent
political and military unrest, severe drought added to the nation's
difficulties in 1998-2001. The majority of the population continues to
suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care, problems
exacerbated by military operations and political uncertainties. Inflation
remains a serious problem. Following the US-led coalition war that led to
the defeat of the Taliban in November 2001 and the formulation of the Afghan
Interim Authority (AIA) resulting from the December 2001 Bonn Agreement,
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 include 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.

Demographics

The population of Afghanistan is divided in a large number of ethnic groups,
which adds to the political unrest. Pashtun form the largest group, with
about 44%, followed by Tajik (25%) and Hazara (10%). Minor groups include
small tribes as the Aimak, Turkmen, and Baloch make up 13% and Uzbeks (8%).
The spoken language differs accordingly, with Pashtu (35%) and Dari (50%)
being the main tongues. Others include Uzbek and Turkmen (11%). The
remaining 4% is made up of over 30 minor languages, primarily Balochi and
Pashai. Billingualism is common in Afghanistan.

Almost all Afghans are muslims.The majority are Sunni (84%), Shi'a Muslim
(15%) and 1% other.

Culture

Many of the country's historic monuments have been damaged in the wars in
recent years. The two famous statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan province were
destroyed by the Taliban as symbols of another religion.

Being renowned horsemen, Buzkashi is a popular sport in Afghanistan. Afghan
hounds, running dogs, originate from Afghanistan.

Before the Taliban gained power, the city of Kabul was home to many
musicians who were masters of both traditional and modern Afghan music.
Kabul in the middle part of the 20th century has been likened to Vienna
during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Education

In the spring of 2003, it was estimated that 30% of Afghanistan's 7,000
schools had been seriously damaged during more than two decades of Soviet
occupation, civil war and Taliban rule. Only half of the schools were
reported to have clean water, while less than an estimated 40% had adequate
sanitation. Education for boys was not a priority during the Taliban regime,
and girls were banished girls from schools outright.

In regards to the poverty and violence of their surroundings, a study in
2002 by the Save the Children aid group said Afghan children were resilient
and courageous. The study credited the strong family and sense of community.

Up to four million Afghan children, possibly the largest number ever, are
believed to have enrolled for class for the school year which began in March
of 2003.

Literacy of the entire population is estimated at 36%.
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