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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 4, 2003), it continues to be referred to by the West as the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan.

On March 27, 2003, Afghan deputy defense minister 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.

(Transitional) Islamic State of Afghanistan
 coat of arms (In Detail[?]) (Full size)
National motto: Xxxxx
Official languagePashtu, Dari
CapitalKabul
PresidentHamid Karzai
Area
- Total
- % water
Ranked 40th
647,500 km²
0%
Population
- Total (2002)
- Density
Ranked 39th
27,755,775
43/km²
IndependenceAugust 19, 1919
Currency Afghani
Time zone UTC+4:30
National anthem Sououd-e-Melli
Internet TLD.AF
Calling Code93

As of 2002, 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.

Troops and intelligence agencies from the United States and a number of other countries are there, some to keep the peace, some still looking for Taliban and al Qaeda personnel. A United Nations peacekeeping force operates in Kabul.

Provinces Main article: Provinces of Afghanistan[?]

Afghanistan consists of 32 provinces, or velayat:

Geography Main article: Geography of Afghanistan

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 Main article: Economy of Afghanistan

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 Main article: Demographics of Afghanistan

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 75%, followed by Tajik (15%) and Hazara (8%). Minor groups include small tribes as the Aimak. The spoken language differs accordingly, with Pashtu and Dari being the main tongues.

Almost all Afghans are muslims, the large majority being Sunni.

Culture Main article: Culture of Afghanistan[?]

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.

Education Main article: Education in Afghanistan[?] 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.

History Main article: History of Afghanistan also see: Afghanistan timeline

Through the ages, Afghanistan has been occupied by many forces. A separate Afghan nation came into existence in 1746, but control was ceded to the United Kingdom until independence in 1919. Since then, the country has known many governments and several civil wars.

Before 1881 there were essentially four capitals: Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, and Peshawar (the last now in Pakistan). All the rulers belong to the Abdali[?] tribal group, whose name was changed to Dorrani[?] on the accession of Ahmad Shah. They belong 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. [1] (http://www.rulers.org/rula1)

The last period of stability in Afghanistan lay between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. Violence was limited and the country became the main overland route between Australia and London for travellers.

This came to an end in July, 1973, when Zahir's brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud, seized power over the country in a coup whilst Zahir was overbroard. He ruled with the backing of leftist army officers, but the country began to collapse in bloodshed. Daoud and his entire family themselves died in violence in 1978. His leftist successor , Nur Taraki, also died a year later as the result of violent feuding between two rival leftist factions.

With Taraki's death, the leftist system seemed in danger of collapse and this prompted the Soviet Union to invade the country in December 24, 1979 and seize power. They shot Taraki's successor, Hafizullah Amin, on December 27 and placed in Barbrak Kamal as President. The invasion was condemned and loudly protested throughout the Western world. The USSR was subjected to Olympic boycotts and grain embargos by the USA.

The occupying Soviet forces were forced into a war of attrition against the mujahedin. The mujahedin received substantial support from western powers, for instance, a supply of US Stinger missiles. Approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers died in fighting the mujahedin during the occupation, and millions of refugees fled Afghanistan.

The head of state changed twice during this period. Karmal was replaced by Mohammed Chankani in 1986, and he was in turn replaced by the Soviets with Najibullah (who only had one name, but who was also referred to as Mohammed Najibullah).

In 1989, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gave orders for the Soviet forces to withdraw, and this was done. The western powers in turn withdrew from the Afghan scene during this time. Najibullah was left in charge.

However, the mujahedin forces proved incapable of unity following the departure of the Soviet forces, and violent fighting broke out between rival factions. Najibullah lost effective control of the country in 1990 and ceased to be President. After a period of major instability and anarchy, which involved two attacks on Kabul in 1993 and 1994 in which up to 10000 persons died on each occasion, the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban gained total control of the country in 1996. Ex-President Najibullah and his brother was barbarically executed by the Taliban on September 26, 1996.

The Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, succeeded in bringing stability to Afghanistan. The Taliban made an arrangement with Pakistani authorities, its main supporter in this period, which resulted in commercial development being conducted largely through Pakistan and its resources. For instance, some Afghan government departments in this period could only be contacted through Pakistani phone numbers. Pakistani banks and taxi companies also flourished within Afghanistan.

However, this came at a price. Life under Taliban rule meant that such things as girls' schools and centries old historic religous statues and artwork were destroyed. A series of extreme laws were introduced which banned possession of such things as chess sets, televisions, playing cards, neckties and wigs. Women, allowed some liberation and education under the Najibullah regime, were forced to wear burkhas ( dark, all-covering clothes). Men were required to wear full beards. Penalties for breaching these laws were harsh, and included prison and violent beatings.

The Taliban also formed a relationship with Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi-born Islamic terrorist leader, and former supporter of the Afghani uprisings against the Soviets. The Taliban allowed the setting up of Bin Laden's terrorist camps along Afghanistan's southern borders in exchange for Bin Laden's financial support of the regime. This contributed to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States of America.

The Taliban refused to carry out a series of unconditional demands imposed on it by the USA after the attacks. These demands, imposed by President George W Bush on September 20, 2001, included unconditionally extraditing all known terrorist leaders within Afghanistan's borders, closing down the terrorist camps and allowing western observers to enter Afghanistan to see for themselves that the camps were closed.

The Taliban was consequently ousted by a coalition led by the United States in November, 2001. Many of its members, including Mullah, fled Afghanistan and are now in hiding.

An interim government, with the purpose of rebuilding the country, was established. In April, 2002, ex-King Zahir returned to Afghanistan and was welcomed there. However, Zahir stated that he did not wish to be king again. In June 2002, Hamid Karzai was elected as official head of state for the traditional administration.

Current problems that exist for the administration include controlling bands of bandits roaming Afghanistan's rural sector, removing the debris (and in particular, unmapped buried land mines) from decades of civil war from the countryside and rebuilding the Afghan economy. Political violence also remains a problem. Hamid Kazai was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt in September 5, 2002.

In March 3 and 25 2002, a series of earthquakes struck Afghanistan, with a loss of thousands of homes and over 1800 lives. Over 4000 more people were injured. The earthquakes occurred at Samangan Province (March 3) and Baghlan Province (March 25). The latter was the worse of the two, and incurred most of the casualties. International authorites assisted the Afghan government in dealing with the situation.

Reference Much of the material in these articles comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.

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