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Afghanistan

  • افغانستان (Dari)
  • Afġānestān
  • افغانستان (Pashto)
  • Afġānistān
Afghanistan (orthographic projection).svg
Capital
and largest city
Kabul
33°N 66°E / 33°N 66°E / 33; 66Coordinates: 33°N 66°E / 33°N 66°E / 33; 66
Official language(s)
Ethnic groups
Religion
Demonym(s) Afghan
Formation
• Hotak Empire
1709–1738
1747–1842
• Emirate of Afghanistan
1823–1926
• Recognised
19 August 1919
• Kingdom of Afghanistan
9 June 1926
• Declaration of Republic
17 July 1973
7 September 1996
• Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
26 January 2004
• Fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
15 August 2021
Area
• Total
652,864 km2 (252,072 sq mi) (40th)
• Water (%)
negligible
Population
• 2020 estimate
31,390,200 (44th)
• Density
48.08/km2 (124.5/sq mi) (174th)
GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
• Total
$72.911 billion (96th)
• Per capita
$2,024 (169th)
GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
• Total
$21.657 billion (111st)
• Per capita
$493 (177th)
Gini (2008)  27.8
low · 1st
HDI (2019) Increase 0.511
low · 169th
Currency Afghani (افغانی) (AFN)
Time zone UTC+4:30 Solar Calendar (D†)
Driving side right
Calling code +93
ISO 3166 code AF
Internet TLD .af
افغانستان.

Afghanistan ( also pronounced //; Pashto/Dari: افغانستان, Pashto: Afġānistān Dari: Afġānestān), officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a country located in Central Asia and South Asia. It has borders with Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast.

In early times people passed through it with animals and other goods as it connected China and India with Central Asia and the Middle East. More recently, Afghanistan has been damaged by many years of war. This has resulted in there not being enough jobs.

The country is around 251,826 square miles (652,230 square kilometres) in size or area. There are 30 million people in Afghanistan. There are about 3 million Afghan refugees (people who had to leave the country) who are in Pakistan and Iran for some time. In 2011, its capital, Kabul, had about 3,691,400 people living in it.

Afghanistan is de facto governed by the Taliban-controlled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, after the collapse of the internationally recognized Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 15 August 2021.

History

Afghanistan is in the path of important trade routes that connect southern and eastern Asia to Europe and the Middle East. Because of this, many empire builders have decided to rule over the area. Signs that these emperors were near Afghanistan still exist in many parts of the country. Afghanistan is near what used to be the Silk Road, so it has many cultures. From up to 8,000 years ago, the peoples of Afghanistan helped develop (create) major world religions, traded and exchanged many products, and sometimes controlled politics and culture in Asia.

Prehistory

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Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, lived in Bactria, an ancient land in the north of today's Afghanistan.

Archaeologists digging a cave in what is now northeastern Afghanistan (in Badakhshan), discovered that people lived in the country as early as 100,000 years ago. They found the skull of a Neanderthal, or early human, as well as tools from about 30,000 years ago. In other parts of Afghanistan, archaeologists uncovered pottery and tools that are 4,000 to 11,000 years old—evidence that Afghans were among the first people in the world to grow crops and raise animals.

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A Stone Female Figurine, known as Bactrian Princess, from Bactria, north of Afghanistan, about 4,000 years ago

Farmers and herders settled in the plains surrounding the Hindu Kush as early as 7000 B.C. These people may have grown rich off the lapis lazuli they found along riverbeds, which they traded to early city sites to the west, across the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia. As farms and villages grew and thrived in Afghanistan, these ancient people eventually invented irrigation (digging ditches for water so it flows to crops) that allowed them to grow crops on the northern Afghanistan desert plains. This civilization (advanced state of organization) is today called BMAC (Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex), or the "Oxus civilization".

The Oxus civilization expanded as far east as western edge of the Indus Valley during the period between 2200 and 1800 B.C. These people, who were the ancestors of the Indo-Aryans, used the term "Aryan" to identify their ethnicity, culture, and religion. Scholars know this when they read the ancient texts of these people; the Avesta of Iranian people and the Vedas of Indo-Aryans.

Zoroaster, the founder of the Zoroastrian religion, the world's earliest monotheistic religion, (meaning a religion believing in one god) lived in the area (somewhere north of today's Afghanistan), around 1000 B.C.

Ancient history

Ancient Khorasan highlighted
Names of territories during the Caliphate in 750 CE. Khorasan was part of Persia (in yellowish).

Before the middle of the sixth century BCE, the land was held by the Medes. Then the Achaemenids took over control of the land and made it part of the Persian empire. Alexander the great defeated and conquered the Persian Empire in 330 BCE. He founded some cities in the area. The people used Greek culture and language. After Alexander, Greco-Bactrians, Scythians, Kushans, Parthians and Sassanians ruled the area.

Kushans spread Buddhism from India in the 1st century BCE, and Buddhism remained an important religion in the area until the Islamic conquest in the 7th century CE.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan were giant statues, a reminder of Buddhism in Afghanistan. They were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. There were international protests. The Taliban believe that the ancient statues were un-Islamic and that they had a right to destroy them.

Medieval history

Arabs introduced Islam in the 7th century and slowly began spreading the new religion. In the 9th and 10th centuries, many local Islamic dynasties rose to power inside Afghanistan. One of the earliest was the Tahirids, whose kingdom included Balkh and Herat; they established independence from the Abbasids in 820. The Tahirids were succeeded in about 867 by the Saffarids of Zaranj in western Afghanistan. Local princes in the north soon became feudatories of the powerful Samanids, who ruled from Bukhara. From 872 to 999, north of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan enjoyed a golden age under Samanid rule.

In the 10th century, the local Ghaznavids turned Ghazni into their capital and firmly established Islam throughout all areas of Afghanistan, except the Kafiristan region in the northeast. Mahmud of Ghazni, a great Ghaznavid sultan, conquered the Multan and Punjab region, and carried raids into the heart of India. Mohammed bin Abdul Jabbar Utbi (Al-Utbi), a historian from the 10th century, wrote that thousands of "Afghans" were in the Ghaznavid army. The Ghaznavid dynasty was replaced by the Ghorids of Ghor in the late 12th century, who reconquered Ghaznavid territory in the name of Islam and ruled it until 1206. The Ghorid army also included ethnic Afghans.

Portrait miniature of Ahmad Shah Durrani
Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the modern state of Afghanistan in 1747.

Afghanistan was recognized as Khorasan, meaning "land of the rising sun," which was a prosperous and independent geographic region reaching as far as the Indus River.

All the major cities of modern Afghanistan were centers of science and culture in the past. The New Persian literature arose and flourished in the area. The early Persian poets such as Rudaki were from what is now Afghanistan. Moreover, Ferdowsi, the author of Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, and Rumi, the famous Sufi poet, were also from modern-day Afghanistan. It has produced scientists such as Avicenna, Al-Farabi, Al-Biruni, Omar Khayyám, Al-Khwarizmi, and many others who are widely known for their important contributions in areas such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics, geography, and geology. It remained the cultural capital of Persia until the devastating Mongol invasion in the 13th century.

Timur, the Turkic conqueror, took over in the end of the 14th century and began to rebuild cities in this region. Timur's successors, the Timurids (1405–1507), were great patrons of learning and the arts who enriched their capital city of Herat with fine buildings. Under their rule Afghanistan enjoyed peace and prosperity.

Between south of the Hindu Kush and the Indus River (today's Pakistan) was the native land of the Afghan tribes. They called this land "Afghanistan" (meaning "land of the Afghans"). The Afghans ruled the rich northern Indian subcontinent with their capital at Delhi. From the 16th to the early 18th century, Afghanistan was disputed between the Safavids of Isfahan and the Mughals of Agra who had replaced the Lodi and Suri Afghan rulers in India. The Safavids and Mughals occasionally oppressed the native Afghans but at the same time the Afghans used each empire to punish the other. In 1709, the Hotaki Afghans rose to power and completely defeated the Persian Empire. Then they marched towards the Mughals of India and nominally defeated them with the help of the Afsharid forces under Nader Shah Afshar.

In 1747, after Nader Shah of Persia was killed, a great leader named Ahmad Shah Durrani united all the different Muslim tribes and established the Afghan Empire (Durrani Empire). He is considered the founding father of the modern state of Afghanistan while Mirwais Hotak is the grandfather of the nation.

Recent history

During the 1800s, Afghanistan became a buffer zone between two powerful empires, British India and Russia. As British India advanced into Afghanistan, Russia felt threatened and expanded southward across Central Asia. To stop the Russian advance, Britain tried to make Afghanistan part of its empire but the Afghans fought wars with British-led Indians from 1839 to 1842 and from 1878 to 1880. After the third war in 1919, Afghanistan under King Amanullah gained respect and recognition as a completely independent state.

The Kingdom of Afghanistan was a constitutional monarchy established in 1926. It was the successor state to the Emirate of Afghanistan. On 27 September 1934, during the reign of Zahir Shah, the Kingdom of Afghanistan joined the League of Nations. During World War II, Afghanistan remained neutral. It pursued a diplomatic policy of non-alignment.

The creation of Pakistan in 1947 as its eastern neighbor created problems. In 1973, political crises led to the overthrow of the king. The country's new leader ended the monarchy and made Afghanistan a republic. In 1978, a Communist political party supported by the Soviet Union seized control of Afghanistan's government. This move sparked rebellions throughout the country. The government asked the Soviet Union for military assistance. The Soviets took advantage of the situation and invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.

Most people in Afghanistan opposed the sudden Soviet presence in their country. For nearly a decade, anti-Communist Islamic forces known as Mujahideen were trained inside neighboring Pakistan to fight the Soviets and the Afghan government. The United States and other anti-Soviet countries supported the Mujahideen. In the long war, over one million Afghan civilians were killed. The Soviet Army also lost more than 15,000 soldiers in that war. Millions of Afghans left their country to stay safe in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. In 1989 the Soviet Army withdrew the last of its troops.

2011 Afghan Independence Day-2
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the 2011 Afghan Independence Day in Kabul.

After the Soviets left, different Afghan warlords began fighting for control of the country. The warlords received support from other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Iran. A very conservative Islamic group known as the Taliban emerged in an attempt to end the civil war. By the late 1990s the Taliban had gained control over 95% of Afghanistan. A group known as the Northern Alliance, based in northern Afghanistan near the border with Tajikistan, continued to fight against the Taliban.

Afghan soldiers
NATO-trained Afghan National Army (ANA).
Military terminal at Kabul International Airport
NATO's military terminal at Kabul International Airport

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to their strict version of Islamic law. People whom the Taliban believed violated these laws were given cruel punishments. In addition, the Taliban completely restricted the rights of women. Because of such policies, most countries refused to recognize the Taliban government. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) accepted them as the official government.

The Taliban also angered other countries by allowing suspected terrorists to live freely in Afghanistan. Among them were Osama bin Laden and members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. In September 2001, the United States blamed bin Laden for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. The Taliban refused to hand him over to the United States. In response, the United States and its allies launched a bombing campaign against al-Qaeda in October 2001. Within months the Taliban abandoned Kabul, and a new government led by Hamid Karzai came to power, but fighting between the Taliban and US-led armies continued. Taliban fighters have gone into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan. Afghans accuse Pakistan's military of being behind the Taliban militants but Pakistan has rejected this and stated that a stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan's own interest.

In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan. NATO began rebuilding Afghanistan, including its military and government institutions. Many schools and colleges were built. Freedom for women has improved. Women can study, work, drive, and run for office. Many Afghan women work as politicians, some are ministers while at least one is a mayor. Others have opened businesses, or joined the military or police. Afghanistan's economy has also improved dramatically, and NATO agreed in 2012 to help the country for at least another 10 years after 2014. In the meantime, Afghanistan improved diplomatic ties with many countries in the world and continues.

In August 2021, the Cabinet of Afghanistan lost its power.

Geography

Black Hawk flying over a valley in Bamyan
Snow-capped Koh-i-Baba mountains in Bamyan Province of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has many mountains. The mountains are called the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. The big mountain in Afghanistan is Mount Nowshak. There are plains (which have soil that is good for growing plants) and foothills. Part is also dry and called the Registan Desert.

Afghanistan has snow and glaciers in the mountains. Amu Darya is the big water stream, or river.

The country has a lot of a valuable stone called lapis lazuli, which was used to decorate the tomb of the Egyptian king Tutankhamun.

Climate

Afghanistan has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. Having no water sometimes causes problems for farmers. Sandstorms happen a lot in the desert.

Plants and animals

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Endangered snow leopards live in the cold Hindu Kush, but they have thick fur to stay warm. Hunters sell the soft leopard skins in the markets in the capital Kabul.

Southern Afghanistan has not many plants because it is dry. There are more plants where there is more water. Mountains have forests of pine and fir, cedar, oak, walnut, alder, and ash trees.

Afghanistan's wild animals live in the mountains. There are wolves, foxes, jackals, bears, and wild goats, gazelles, wild dogs, camels, and wild cats such as the snow leopard in the country. The birds are falcons, eagles and vultures. The Rhesus Macaque and the red flying squirrel are also in Afghanistan.

Many years of war, hunting, and years of no water have killed animals in Afghanistan. There used to be tigers in Afghanistan, but now there aren't any. Bears and wolves are almost gone.

Government

Since the Taliban captured Kabul on 15 August 2021, the governance of Afghanistan is disputed between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

According to Transparency International, Afghanistan remains in the top most corrupt countries list.

Provinces

As of 2004, there are thirty-four provinces. Each province is divided into districts. (For cities see List of cities in Afghanistan.)

Province map of Afghanistan
Provinces of Afghanistan
Provinces of Afghanistan
Province Map # ISO 3166-2:AF Capital Population Area (km²) Languages Notes U.N. Region
Badakhshan 30 AF-BDS Fayzabad 889,700 44,059 Dari (Persian), Pamiri, Pashto 29 districts North East Afghanistan
Badghis 4 AF-BDG Qala i Naw 464,100 20,591 Dari, Pashto 7 districts West Afghanistan
Baghlan 19 AF-BGL Puli Khumri 848,500 21,118 Dari, Uzbeki, Turkmeni, Pashto 16 districts North East Afghanistan
Balkh 13 AF-BAL Mazari Sharif 1,219,200 17,249 Dari, Pashto 15 districts North West Afghanistan
Bamyan 15 AF-BAM Bamiyan 418,500 14,175 Dari 7 districts Central Afghanistan
Daykundi 10 AF-DAY Nili 431,300 8,088 Dari, Pashto 8 districts
Formed from Oruzgan in 2004
South West Afghanistan
Farah 2 AF-FRA Farah 474,300 48,471 Pashto, Dari, Balochi 11 districts West Afghanistan
Faryab 5 AF-FYB Maymana 931,800 20,293 Uzbek, Dari, Pashto, Turkmen 14 districts North West Afghanistan
Ghazni 16 AF-GHA Ghazni 1,149,400 22,915 Pashto, Dari 19 districts South East Afghanistan
Ghor 6 AF-GHO Chaghcharan 646,300 36,479 Dari, Pashto 10 districts West Afghanistan
Helmand 7 AF-HEL Lashkar Gah 1,441,769 58,584 Pashto, Dari 13 districts South West Afghanistan
Herat 1 AF-HER Herat 1,744,700 54,778 Dari, Pashto, Turkmeni 15 districts West Afghanistan
Jowzjan 8 AF-JOW Sheberghan 503,100 11,798 Uzbeki, Turkmeni, Pashto, Dari 9 districts North West Afghanistan
Kabul 22 AF-KAB Kabul 3,691,400 4,462 Dari, Turkmeni, Pashto, Uzbeki 18 districts Central Afghanistan
Kandahar 12 AF-KAN Kandahar 1,127,000 54,022 Pashto, Dari 16 districts South East Afghanistan
Kapisa 29 AF-KAP Mahmud-i-Raqi 413,000 1,842 Dari, Pashto, Pashai 7 districts Central Afghanistan
Khost 26 AF-KHO Khost 537,800 4,152 Pashto 13 districts South East Afghanistan
Kunar 34 AF-KNR Asadabad 421,700 4,942 Pashto 15 districts North East Afghanistan
Kunduz 18 AF-KDZ Kunduz 935,600 8,040 Pashto, Dari, Uzbeki, Turkmeni 7 districts North East Afghanistan
Laghman 32 AF-LAG Mihtarlam 417,200 3,843 Pashto, Pashai, Nuristani, Dari 5 districts East Afghanistan
Logar 23 AF-LOW Pul-i-Alam 367,000 3,880 Pashto, Dari 7 districts Central Afghanistan
Nangarhar 33 AF-NAN Jalalabad 1,409,600 7,727 Pashto, Dari 23 districts East Afghanistan
Nimruz 3 AF-NIM Zaranj 153,900 41,005 Balochi, Pashto, Dari 5 districts South West Afghanistan
Nuristan 31 AF-NUR Parun 138,600 9,225 Nuristani, Pashto 7 districts North East Afghanistan
Oruzgan 11 AF-ORU Tarin Kowt 328,000 22,696 Pashto, Dari 6 districts Central Afghanistan
Paktia 24 AF-PIA Gardez 516,300 6,432 Pashto 11 districts South East Afghanistan
Paktika 25 AF-PKA Sharan 407,100 19,482 Pashto 15 districts South East Afghanistan
Panjshir 28 AF-PAN Bazarak 143,700 3,610 Dari, Pashto 5 districts
Created in 2004 from Parwan Province
North East Afghanistan
Parwan 20 AF-PAR Charikar 620,900 5,974 Dari, Pashto 9 districts Central Afghanistan
Samangan 14 AF-SAM Aybak 362,500 11,262 Dari, Uzbeki 5 districts North West Afghanistan
Sar-e Pol 9 AF-SAR Sar-e Pol 522,900 16,360 Dari, Pashto, Uzbeki 7 districts North West Afghanistan
Takhar 27 AF-TAK Taloqan 917,700 12,333 Dari, Uzbeki, Pashto 12 districts North East Afghanistan
Wardak 21 AF-WAR Meydan Shahr 558,400 9,934 Pashto, Dari 9 districts Central Afghanistan
Zabul 17 AF-ZAB Qalat 284,600 17,343 Pashto 9 districts South East Afghanistan

Economy

Afghan pomegranate processing
Workers processing pomegranates (anaar), which Afghanistan is famous for in Asia

Despite having $1 trillion or more in mineral deposits, it remains one of the world's least developed countries. Afghanistan's rough physical geography and its landlocked status has been cited as reasons why the country has always been among the least developed in the modern era – a factor where progress is also slowed by contemporary conflict and political instability. The country imports over $7 billion worth of goods but exports only $784 million, mainly fruits and nuts. It has $2.8 billion in external debt. The service sector contributed the most to the GDP (55.9%) followed by agriculture (23%) and industry (21.1%).

While the nation's current account deficit is largely financed with donor money, only a small portion is provided directly to the government budget. The rest is provided to non-budgetary expenditure and donor-designated projects through the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations.

Da Afghanistan Bank serves as the central bank of the nation and the Afghani (AFN) is the national currency, with an exchange rate of about 75 Afghanis to 1 US dollar. A number of local and foreign banks operate in the country, including the Afghanistan International Bank, New Kabul Bank, Azizi Bank, Pashtany Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and the First Micro Finance Bank.

Afghan carpets being sold
Afghan rugs are one of Afghanistan's main exports

One of the main drivers for the current economic recovery is the return of over 5 million expatriates, who brought with them entrepreneurship and wealth-creating skills as well as much needed funds to start up businesses. Many Afghans are now involved in construction, which is one of the largest industries in the country. Some of the major national construction projects include the $35 billion New Kabul City next to the capital, the Aino Mena project in Kandahar, and the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Town near Jalalabad. Similar development projects have also begun in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and other cities. An estimated 400,000 people enter the labor market each year.

Afghan women at a textile factory in Kabul
Afghan women at a textile factory in Kabul

Several small companies and factories began operating in different parts of the country, which not only provide revenues to the government but also create new jobs. Improvements to the business environment have resulted in more than $1.5 billion in telecom investment and created more than 100,000 jobs since 2003. Afghan rugs are becoming popular again, allowing many carpet dealers around the country to hire more workers; in 2016–17 it was the fourth most exported group of items.

Agriculture

Afghan Saffron
Afghan saffron has been recognized as the world's best

Agricultural production is the backbone of Afghanistan's economy and has traditionally dominated the economy, employing about 40% of the workforce as of 2018. The country is known for producing pomegranates, grapes, apricots, melons, and several other fresh and dry fruits. It is also known as the world's largest producer of opium – as much as 16% or more of the nation's economy is derived from the cultivation and sale of opium. It is also one of the world's top producers of cannabis.

Saffron, the most expensive spice, grows in Afghanistan, particularly Herat Province. In recent years, there has been an uptick in saffron production, which authorities and farmers are trying to replace poppy cultivation. Between 2012 and 2019, the saffron cultivated and produced in Afghanistan was consecutively ranked the world's best by the International Taste and Quality Institute. Production hit record high in 2019 (19,469 kg of saffron), and one kilogram is sold domestically between $634 and $1147.

Mining

Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan
Lapis lazuli stones

The country's natural resources include: coal, copper, iron ore, lithium, uranium, rare earth elements, chromite, gold, zinc, talc, barite, sulfur, lead, marble, precious and semi-precious stones, natural gas, and petroleum. In 2010, US and Afghan government officials estimated that untapped mineral deposits located in 2007 by the US Geological Survey are worth at least $1 trillion.

The country has significant amounts of lithium, copper, gold, coal, iron ore, and other minerals

Tourism

Contrasts (4292970991)
Band-e Amir National Park

Tourism is a small industry in Afghanistan due to security issues. Nevertheless, some 20,000 foreign tourists visit the country annually as of 2016. In particular an important region for domestic and international tourism is the picturesque Bamyan Valley, which includes lakes, canyons and historical sites, helped by the fact it is in a safe area away from insurgent activity. Smaller numbers visit and trek in regions such as the Wakhan Valley, which is also one of the world's most remote communities. From the late 1960s onwards, Afghanistan was a popular stop on the famous hippie trail, attracting many Europeans and Americans. Coming from Iran, the trail traveled through various Afghan provinces and cities including Herat, Kandahar and Kabul before crossing to northern Pakistan, northern India, and Nepal. Tourism peaked in 1977, the year before the start of political instability and armed conflict.

Jam afghanistan ghorprovince islamic architecture
The Minaret of Jam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, currently under threat by erosion and flooding

The city of Ghazni has significant history and historical sites, and together with Bamyan city have in recent years been voted Islamic Cultural Capital and South Asia Cultural Capital respectively. The cities of Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, and Zaranj are also very historic. The Minaret of Jam in the Hari River valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A cloak reputedly worn by Islam's prophet Muhammad is kept inside the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar, a city founded by Alexander the Great and the first capital of Afghanistan. The citadel of Alexander in the western city of Herat has been renovated in recent years and is a popular attraction. In the north of the country is the Shrine of Ali, believed by many to be the location where Ali was buried. The National Museum of Afghanistan is located in Kabul and hosts a large number of Buddhist, Bactrian Greek and early Islamic antiquities; the museum suffered greatly by civil war but has been slowly restoring since the early 2000s.

Transportation

Horse carriage, Herat, Afghanistan
Horse carts are still used for carrying goods in some places

Due to Afghanistan's geography, transport between various parts of the country have historically been difficult. The backbone of Afghanistan's road network is Highway 1, often called the "Ring Road", which extends for 2,210 kilometers (1,370 mi) and connects five major cities: Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, with spurs to Kunduz and Jalalabad and various border crossings, while skirting around the mountains of the Hindu Kush.

The Ring Road is crucially important for domestic and international trade and the economy. A key portion of the Ring Road is the Salang Tunnel, completed in 1964, which facilitates travel through the Hindu Kush mountain range and connects northern and southern Afghanistan. It is the only land route that connects Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. Several mountain passes allow travel between the Hindu Kush in other areas. Serious traffic accidents are common on Afghan roads and highways, particularly on the Kabul–Kandahar and the Kabul–Jalalabad Road. Traveling by bus in Afghanistan remains dangerous due to militant activities.

Ariana Afghan A310-300 F-GEMO
An Ariana Afghan Airlines Airbus A310 in 2006

Air transport in Afghanistan is provided by the national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, and by the private company Kam Air. Airlines from a number of countries also provide flights in and out of the country. These include Air India, Emirates, Gulf Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. The country has four international airports: Hamid Karzai International Airport (formerly Kabul International Airport), Kandahar International Airport, Herat International Airport, and Mazar-e Sharif International Airport. Including domestic airports, there are 43. Bagram Air Base is a major military airfield.

The country has three rail links: one, a 75-kilometer (47 mi) line from Mazar-i-Sharif to the Uzbekistan border; a 10-kilometer (6.2 mi) long line from Toraghundi to the Turkmenistan border (where it continues as part of Turkmen Railways); and a short link from Aqina across the Turkmen border to Kerki, which is planned to be extended further across Afghanistan. These lines are used for freight only and there is no passenger service. A rail line between Khaf, Iran and Herat, western Afghanistan, intended for both freight and passengers, is under construction as of 2019. About 125 kilometers (78 mi) of the line will lie on the Afghan side. There are various proposals for the construction of additional rail lines in the country.

Private vehicle ownership has increased substantially since the early 2000s. Taxis are yellow in color and consist of both cars and auto rickshaws. In rural Afghanistan, villagers often use donkeys, mules or horses to transport or carry goods. Camels are primarily used by the Kochi nomads. Bicycles are popular throughout Afghanistan.

Education

UNESCO Institute of Statistics Afghanistan Literacy Rate population plus15 1980-2018
UNESCO Institute of Statistics Afghanistan Literacy Rate population plus15 1980–2018

Education in Afghanistan includes K–12 and higher education, which is overseen by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. There are over 16,000 schools in the country and roughly 9 million students. Of this, about 60% are males and 40% females. Over 174,000 students are enrolled in different universities around the country. About 21% of these are females. Former Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak had stated that construction of 8,000 schools is required for the remaining children who are deprived of formal learning.

The top universities in Afghanistan are the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) followed by Kabul University (KU), both of which are located in Kabul. The National Military Academy of Afghanistan, modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a four-year military development institution dedicated to graduating officers for the Afghan Armed Forces. The Afghan Defense University was constructed near Qargha in Kabul. Major universities outside of Kabul include Kandahar University in the south, Herat University in the northwest, Balkh University and Kunduz University in the north, Nangarhar University and Khost University in the east. The United States is building six faculties of education and five provincial teacher training colleges around the country, two large secondary schools in Kabul, and one school in Jalalabad. Kabul University was founded in 1932 and is a respected institute that played a significant part in the country's education; from the 1960s the Kabul University was also a hotbed of radical political ideologies such as Marxism and Islamism, which played major parts in society, politics and the war that began in 1978.

As of 2018 the literacy rate of the population age 15 and older is 43.02% (males 55.48% and females 29.81%). The Afghan National Security Forces are provided with mandatory literacy courses.

Culture

CH-NB - Afghanistan, Kulm (Khulm, Kholm)- Menschen - Annemarie Schwarzenbach - SLA-Schwarzenbach-A-5-21-110
An Afghan family near Kholm, 1939 – most Afghans are tribal

Different regions of Afghanistan have distinctive cultures, partly as a result of geographic obstacles that divide the country. Family is the mainstay of Afghan society and families are often headed by a patriarch. In the southern and eastern region, the people live according to the Pashtun culture by following Pashtunwali (the Pashtun way). Key tenets of Pashtunwali include hospitality, the provision of sanctuary to those seeking refuge, and revenge for the shedding of blood. The Pashtuns are largely connected to the culture of Central Asia and the Iranian Plateau. The remaining Afghans are culturally Persian and Turkic. Some non-Pashtuns who live in proximity with Pashtuns have adopted Pashtunwali in a process called Pashtunization, while some Pashtuns have been Persianized. Those who have lived in Pakistan and Iran over the last 30 years have been further influenced by the cultures of those neighboring nations. The Afghan people are known to be strongly religious.

Afghans, particularly Pashtuns, are noted for their tribal solidarity and high regard for personal honor. One writer considers the tribal system to be the best way of organizing large groups of people in a country that is geographically difficult, and in a society that, from a materialistic point of view, has an uncomplicated lifestyle. There are various Afghan tribes, and an estimated 2–3 million nomads. Afghan culture is deeply Islamic, but pre-Islamic practices persist. One example is bacha bazi, a term for activities involving sexual relations between older men and younger adolescent men, or boys. Child marriage is prevalent in Afghanistan; the legal age for marriage is 16. The most preferred marriage in Afghan society is to one's parallel cousin, and the groom is often expected to pay a bride price.

Kuchi Village
A house occupied by nomadic kochi people in Nangarhar Province

In the villages, families typically occupy mudbrick houses, or compounds with mudbrick or stone walled houses. Villages typically have a headman (malik), a master for water distribution (mirab) and a religious teacher (mullah). Men would typically work on the fields, joined by women during harvest. About 15% of the population are nomadic, locally called kochis. When nomads pass villages they often buy supplies such as tea, wheat and kerosene from the villagers; villagers buy wool and milk from the nomads.

Afghan clothing for both men and women typically consists of various forms of shalwar kameez, especially perahan tunban and khet partug. Women would normally wear a chador for head covering; some women, typically from highly conservative communities, wear the burqa, a full body covering. These were worn by some women of the Pashtun community well before Islam came to the region, but the Taliban enforced this dress on women when they were in power. Another popular dress is the chapan which acts as a coat. The karakul is a hat made from the fur of a specific regional breed of sheep. It was favored by former kings of Afghanistan and became known to much of the world in the 21st century when it was constantly worn by President Hamid Karzai. The pakol is another traditional hat originating from the far east of the country; it was popularly worn by the guerilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. The Mazari hat originates from northern Afghanistan.

Architecture

Kabul Skyline
Kabul skyline, displaying both historical and contemporary buildings

The nation has a complex history that has survived either in its current cultures or in the form of various languages and monuments. Afghanistan contains many remnants from all ages, including Greek and Buddhist stupas, monasteries, monuments, temples and Islamic minarets. Among the most well known are the Great Mosque of Herat, the Blue Mosque, the Minaret of Jam, the Chil Zena, the Qala-i Bost in Lashkargah, the ancient Greek city of Ai-Khanoum. However, many of its historic monuments have been damaged in modern times due to the civil wars. The two famous Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, who regarded them as idolatrous. Despite that, archaeologists are still finding Buddhist relics in different parts of the country, some of them dating back to the 2nd century. As there was no colonialism in the modern era in Afghanistan, European-style architecture is rare; most notably the Victory Arch at Paghman, and the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul, were built in this style in the 1920s by the Afghans themselves.

Art and ceramics

Afghan carpet
An Afghan rug

Carpet weaving is an ancient practice in Afghanistan, and many of these are still handmade by tribal and nomadic people today. Carpets have been produced in the region for thousands of years and traditionally done by women. Some crafters express their feelings through the designs of rugs; for example after the outbreak of the Soviet-Afghan War, "war rugs" were created with designs representing pain and misery caused by the conflict. Every province has its own specific characteristics in making rugs. In some of the Turkic-populated areas in the north-west, bride and wedding ceremony prices are driven by the bride's weaving skills.

Pottery has been crafted in Afghanistan for millennia. The village of Istalif, north of Kabul, is in particular a major center, known for its unique turquoise and green pottery, and their methods of crafting have remained the same for centuries. Much of lapis lazuli stones were earthed in modern-day Afghanistan which were used in Chinese porcelain as cobalt blue, later used in ancient Mesopotamia and Turkey.

The lands of Afghanistan have a long history of art, with the world's earliest known usage of oil painting found in cave murals in the country. A notable art style that developed in Afghanistan and eastern Pakistan is Gandhara Art, produced by a fusion of Greco-Roman art and Buddhist art between the 1st and 7th centuries CE. Later eras saw increased use of the Persian miniature style, with Kamaleddin Behzad of Herat being one of the most notable miniature artists of the Timurid and early Safavid periods. Since the 1900s, the nation began to use Western techniques in art. Abdul Ghafoor Breshna was a prominent Afghan painter and sketch artist from Kabul during the 20th century.

Music

Afghan rubab
The Afghan rubab

Afghan classical music has close historical links with Indian classical music and use the same Hindustani terminology and theories like raga. Genres of this style of music include ghazal (poetic music) and instruments such as the Indian tabla, sitar and harmonium, and local instruments like zerbaghali, as well as dayereh and tanbur which are also known in Central Asia, the Caucusus and the Middle East. The rubab is the country's national instrument and precurses the Indian sarod instrument. Some of the famous artists of classical music include Ustad Sarahang and Sarban.

Pop music developed in the 1950s through Radio Kabul and was influential in social change. During this time female artists also started appearing, at first Mermon Parwin. Perhaps the most famous artist of this genre was Ahmad Zahir, who synthesized many genres and continues to be renowned for his voice and rich lyrics long after his death in 1979. Other notable masters of traditional or popular Afghan music include Nashenas, Ubaidullah Jan, Mahwash, Ahmad Wali, Farhad Darya, and Naghma.

Attan is the national dance of Afghanistan, a group dance popularly performed by Afghans of all backgrounds. The dance is considered part of Afghan identity.

Cuisine

Bread of Afghanistan in 2010
Non (bread) from a local baker, the most widely consumed bread in Afghanistan

Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the nation's chief crops, such as wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are native fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products such as milk, yogurt and whey. Kabuli palaw is the national dish of Afghanistan. The nation's culinary specialties reflect its ethnic and geographic diversity. Afghanistan is known for its high quality pomegranates, grapes, and sweet melons. Tea is a favorite drink among Afghans, and a typical diet consists of naan, yoghurts, rice and meat.

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