Monday, November 28, 2011

Geography Lesson: Afghanistan

Everybody in the United States knows at least a little bit about Afghanistan. The term "a little bit" is more likely the norm. We have compiled some information about the country that the majority of our Armed Forces are fighting in so that you can say "I know quite a bit about Afghanistan".


Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 Communist counter-coup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan Communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama BIN LADIN. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. KARZAI was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability - particularly in the south and the east - remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government.



Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran


Total: 652,230 sq km

Area - comparative:

slightly smaller than Texas

Land boundaries:

Total: 5,529 km

Border countries: China 76 km, Iran 936 km, Pakistan 2,430 km, Tajikistan 1,206 km, Turkmenistan 744 km, Uzbekistan 137 km


Arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers


Mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Amu Darya 258 m

highest point: Noshak 7,485 m

Natural resources:

natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones

People and Society

Ethnic groups:

Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%


Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%


29,835,392 (July 2011 est.)

Country comparison to the world: 40

Note: this is a significantly revised figure; the previous estimate of 33,609,937 was extrapolated from the last Afghan census held in 1979, which was never completed because of the Soviet invasion

Age structure:

0-14 years: 42.3% (male 6,464,070/female 6,149,468)

15-64 years: 55.3% (male 8,460,486/female 8,031,968)

65 years and over: 2.4% (male 349,349/female 380,051) (2011 est.)

Median age:

Total: 18.2 years

Male: 18.2 years

Female: 18.2 years (2011 est.)

Major cities - population:

KABUL (capital) 3.573 million (2009)

Maternal mortality rate:

1,400 deaths/100,000 live births (2008)

country comparison to the world: 1

Life expectancy at birth:

Total population: 45.02 years

Country comparison to the world: 220

Male: 44.79 years

Female: 45.25 years (2011 est.)


Definition: age 15 and over can read and write

Total population: 28.1%

Male: 43.1%

Female: 12.6% (2000 est.)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education):

Total: 9 years

Male: 11 years

Female: 7 years (2009)


Afghanistan's economy is recovering from decades of conflict. The economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 largely because of the infusion of international assistance, the recovery of the agricultural sector, and service sector growth. Despite the progress of the past few years, Afghanistan is extremely poor, landlocked, and highly dependent on foreign aid, agriculture, and trade with neighboring countries. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs. Criminality, insecurity, weak governance, and the Afghan Government's inability to extend rule of law to all parts of the country pose challenges to future economic growth. Afghanistan's living standards are among the lowest in the world. While the international community remains committed to Afghanistan's development, pledging over $67 billion at four donors' conferences since 2002, the Government of Afghanistan will need to overcome a number of challenges, including low revenue collection, anemic job creation, high levels of corruption, weak government capacity, and poor public infrastructure.

Transnational Issues

International Disputes: Afghan, Coalition, and Pakistan military meet periodically to clarify the alignment of the boundary on the ground and on maps; Afghan and Iranian commissioners have discussed boundary monument densification and resurvey; Iran protests Afghanistan's restricting flow of dammed Helmand River tributaries during drought; Pakistan has sent troops across and built fences along some remote tribal areas of its treaty-defined Durand Line border with Afghanistan which serve as bases for foreign terrorists and other illegal activities; Russia remains concerned about the smuggling of poppy derivatives from Afghanistan through Central Asian countries.

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: IDPs: 132,246 (mostly Pashtuns and Kuchis displaced in south and west due to drought and instability) (2007)

Human Trafficking: Afghanistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; Afghan boys and girls are trafficked within the country, in forced prostitution, in forced labor in carpet-making factories, and in forced domestic service; forced begging is a growing problem in Afghanistan; Afghan boys are subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor in the drug smuggling industry in Pakistan and Iran; Afghan women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution, forced marriages and involuntary domestic servitude in Pakistan and Iran, and possibly India; Afghan men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agriculture and construction sectors in Iran, Pakistan, Greece, the Gulf States, and possibly Southeast Asian countries; women and girls from Iran, Tajikistan, and possibly Uganda and China are reportedly forced into prostitution in Afghanistan.

Illicit Drugs: world's largest producer of opium; while poppy cultivation was relatively stable at 119,000 hectares in 2010, a poppy blight affecting the high cultivation areas in 2010 reduced potential opium production to 3,200 metric tons, down over 40 percent from 2009; the Taliban and other antigovernment groups participate in and profit from the opiate trade, which is a key source of revenue for the Taliban inside Afghanistan; widespread corruption and instability impede counterdrug efforts; most of the heroin consumed in Europe and Eurasia is derived from Afghan opium; vulnerable to drug money laundering through informal financial networks; regional source of hashish (2011).


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