Afghanistan

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Afghanistan (Pashtu/Dari-Persian: افغانستان, Afğānistān) is a country in Asia. It is in Central Asia and fringes upon South Asia and is sometimes allocated to one of these regions and it is often considered part of the Middle East due to its location on the Iranian plateau. 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. A part of the disputed Kashmir area claimed by India and Pakistan borders a small portion of the country. With a population of 29 million people, it is among the poorest countries in the world.

Between the fall of the Taliban after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 Loya jirga, Afghanistan was referred to by the West as the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan. Under its new constitution the country is now officially named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

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Origin and history of the name

The region which is currently called Afghanistan has gone through a few name changes in its long history. One of the first ancient names, according to historians and scholars, was Ariana - the Greek pronunciation of the ancient Aryanam Vaeja, Land of the Aryans. Today this Old-Persian and Avestan expression is preserved in the name Iran and it is noted in the name of the Afghan national airline, Ariana Airlines, numerous Afghan owned companies throughout the world, Afghan sports teams, and a popular name for Afghan children, Aryan or Aryana.

Many centuries later, Afghanistan evolved into part of Greater Khorasan, and hence was recognized with the name Khorasan (along with regions centered around Merv and Neishabur), which in Pahlavi means "The Eastern Land" (خاور زمین in Persian). (Dehkhoda, p8457)

The current name of Afghanistan derives from the alternative name for the Pashtuns: Afghan [1], being the founders of modern Afghanistan. The remainder of the name originates from the Persian word stān (country or land). The English word Afghanland that appeared in various treaties between Pashtuns and the United Kingdom was adopted by the Afghans and became Afghanistan.

History

Main article: History of Afghanistan

Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, has had a very turbulent history. Through the ages, the region today known as Afghanistan has been on the edge of a number of major empires, including the Persian Empire, the British Empire and the Soviet Union, as well as the empires of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great.

The Afghanistan nation-state as it is known today came into existence in 1746 under the Durrani Empire, but control was ceded to Britain until King Amanullah acceded to the throne in 1919 (see "The Great Game"). During the period of British intervention in Afghanistan, ethnic Pashtun territories were divided by the Durand Line and would lead to strained relations between Afghanistan and British India and later the new state of Pakistan over what came to known as the Pashtunistan debate.

The historical rulers of Afghanistan belonged to the Abdali tribe of the ethnic Afghans, whose name was changed to Durrani upon the accession of Ahmad Shah. They belonged to the Saddozay segment of the Popalzay clan or to the Mohammadzay segment of the Barakzay clan of the ethnic Afghans. The Mohammadzay furnished the Saddozay kings frequently with top counsellors, who served occasionally as regents, identified with the epithet Mohammadzay.

Since 1900, eleven rulers were unseated through undemocratic means: 1919 (assassination), 1929 (abdication), 1929 (execution), 1933 (assassination), 1973 (deposition), 1978 (execution), 1979 (execution), 1979 (execution), 1987 (removal), 1992 (overthrow), 1996 (overthrow) and 2001 (overthrow).

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 were murdered in 1978 when the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan launched a coup and took over the government.

Opposition against, and conflict within, the series of leftist governments that followed was considerable. In August 1978 the American government commenced funding anti-government mujahideen forces; 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 mujahideen opposition trained by the United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments, the Soviets withdrew ten years later in 1989. For more details, see Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Fighting subsequently continued among the various mujahidin factions. This eventually gave rise to a state of warlordism. The chaos and corruption involved in warlordism in turn spawned the rise of the Taliban in reaction. The most serious of this fighting occurred in 1994, when 10,000 people were killed from factions fighting in the Kabul area. Backed by Pakistan and her strategic allies, the Taliban developed as a political/religious force and eventually seized power in 1996. The Taliban were able to capture 90% of the country, aside from Afghan Northern Alliance strongholds primarily in the northeast. The Taliban sought to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. The Taliban gave safe haven and assistance to individuals and organizations that engaged in terrorism, especially Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.

The 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, Karzai was elected President.

On March 3 and March 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 authorities assisted the Afghan government in dealing with the situation.

As the country continues to get its feet back on the ground, as of late 2005 it was struggling against extreme poverty, severe warlordism, a battered infrastructure, a huge number of land mines and other unexploded ordinance, as well as a sizeable illegal poppy and heroin trade. It was also subject to occasionally violent political jockeying as the nation's first elections were successfully held, and occasional acts of violence from a few remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban elements and the on-going military opeations to root them out.

See also: Afghanistan timeline, Invasions of Afghanistan

Politics

Main article: Politics of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is currently led by president Hamid Karzai, who was elected in October of 2004. Before the election Karzai led the country after having been hand-picked by the administration of United States' President Bush to head an interim government with His Excellency Hedayat Amin Arsala as one of his vice-presidents, after the fall of the Taliban. His current cabinet includes members of the Afghan Northern Alliance, and a mix from other regional and ethnic groups formed from the transitional government by the Loya jirga (grand council). Former monarch Mohammed Zahir Shah returned to the country, but was not reinstated 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. The meeting of a constitutional loya jirga was held in December 2003, when a new constitution was adopted creating a presidential form of government with a bicameral legislature.

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 of the Taliban and al Qaeda. A United Nations peacekeeping force called the International Security Assistance Force has been operating in Kabul since December 2001. NATO took control of this Force on August 11, 2003. Some of the country remains under the control of warlords. [2]

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 then-interim president Hamid Karzai's orders that there be no zones in Afghanistan.

Eurocorps took over the responsibility for the NATO-led ISAF in Kabul August 9, 2004.

National elections were held on October 9, 2004. Over 10 million Afghans were registered to vote. Most of the 17 candidates opposing Karzai boycotted the election, charging fraud; [3] an independent commission found evidence of fraud, but ruled that it did not affect the outcome of the poll. Karzai won 55.4% of the vote. [4] He was inaugurated as president on December 7. It was the country's first national election since 1969, when parliamentary elections were last held.

On September 18, 2005, parliamentary elections were held.

see also: List of leaders of Afghanistan, List of Afghanistan Governors

Subdivisions

Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces (velayat) which are further divided into districts.

Main article: Provinces of Afghanistan Main article: Districts of Afghanistan

The 34 provinces are:

File:Afghanistan provinces numbered.png
Map showing provinces of Afghanistan

Geography

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Map of Afghanistan

Main article: Geography of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest. The highest point, at 7485 m above sea level, is Nowshak. 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.

The major cities of Afghanistan are its capital Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.

See also List of cities in Afghanistan, Places in Afghanistan.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is an extremely poor country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising but most people only farm enough food to feed themselves. The economy has suffered greatly from the recent political and military unrest, while severe drought has added to the nation's difficulties in 1998-2001. The majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient food, clothing, housing, medical care, and other 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, many of the country's farmers have resorted to growing cash crops for export instead of food for the sustenance of their people. A notable example of such a crop is the opium poppy (1,300 km² in 2004 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the cultivation of which has largely increased during the last decade: Afghanistan, part of the so-called "Fertile Crescent", has become the first illicit opium producer in the world, before Burma (Myanmar), part of the so-called "Golden Triangle).

International efforts to rebuild Afghanistan lead to the formulation of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA), as a result of the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, and later addressed at the Tokyo Donors Conference for Afghan Reconstruction in January 2002, where $4.5 billion was collected for a trust fund to be administered by the World Bank Group. 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. Two-thirds of the population live on less than US$2 a day. The infant mortality rate is 166 per 1000 births.

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Afghanistan

The population of Afghanistan is divided into a large number of ethnic groups. Because a systematic census has not been held in the country recently, exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnic groups are not available. Therefore most figures are approximations only. According to the CIA World FactBook (updated on 17 May 2005), the ethnic group distribution is as follows: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%.

The official languages of Afghanistan are Persian (local name: Dari) 50% and Pashtu 35%. Other languages include Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%. Also a small number of ethnic minorities, primarily Sikhs and Hindus, speak Punjabi. Bilingualism is common.

According to the CIA World Factbook (updated on 17 May 2005), religiously, Afghans are overwhelmingly Muslim (approximately 80% Sunni and 19% Shi'a). There are also Hindu and Sikh minorities. Afghanistan was once home to a many-centuries-old Jewish minority, numbering approximately 5,000 in 1948. Most Jewish families fled the country after the 1979 Soviet invasion, and only one individual remains today, Zablon Simintov. [5] With the fall of the Taliban a number of Sikhs have returned to the Ghazni, Nangarhar, Kandahar and Kabul Provinces of Afghanistan.

Constitution

Main article: Constitution of Afghanistan

According to the 2004 constitution, Afghanistan is run by a president, who is elected by direct popular vote to a five-year term. The president may only serve two terms. A candidate for president must be at least forty years of age, a Muslim, and a citizen of Afghanistan. A candidate has two vice-presidents. The president serves as head of state and government and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president makes appointments for his cabinet as well as posts in the military, police force, and provincial governerships with the approval of parliament.

The legislative body of Afghanistan is a parliament consisting of two houses: the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) and the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders). The Wolesi Jirga consists of up to 250 members elected to five-year terms through direct elections in proportion to the population of each province. At least two women must be elected from each province. In the Meshrano Jirga, one-third of the members are elected by provincial councils for four years, one-third are elected by district councils of each province for three years, and one-third are appointed by the president for five years, of which half must be women.

The judicial system of Afghanistan consists of the Stera Mahkama (Supreme Court), appeals courts, and lower district courts designated by law. The Stera Mahkama is made up of nine judges appointed by the president with the approval of parliament to a ten-year term. Judges must be at least forty years of age, not belong to a political party, and have a degree in law or Islamic jurisprudence. The Stera Mahkama can judge the constitutionality of all laws in the country.

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 because they were regarded by them as being idolatrous.

Other famous sites include the cities of Herat, Ghazni and Balkh. The Minaret of Jam, in the Hari Rud valley, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The people of Afghanistan being renowned horsemen, the sport known as Buzkashi is popular there. Afghan hounds (a type of running dogs), originated in 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, especially during the Nauroz-celebration. Kabul in the middle part of the 20th century has been likened to Vienna during the 18th and 19th centuries.

See also: Radio Kabul, music of Afghanistan, Islam in 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 and civil war. 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 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 institutions of family and 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. Education is available for both girls and boys.

Literacy of the entire population is estimated at 36%.

Miscellaneous topics

References

  • Griffiths, John C. 1981. Afghanistan: A History of Conflict. André Deutsch, London. Updated edition, 2001. Andre Deutsch Ltd, 2002, ISBN 0233050531.
  • Levi, Peter. 1972. The Light Garden of the Angel King: Journeys in Afghanistan. Collins, 1972, ISBN 0002110423. Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973, Indianapolis/New York, ISBN 0672512521.
  • Moorcroft, William and Trebeck, George. 1841. Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Panjab; in Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz, and Bokhara... from 1819 to 1825, Vol. II. Reprint: New Delhi, Sagar Publications, 1971. Oxford University Press, 1979, ISBN 0195771990.
  • Toynbee, Arnold J. 1961. Between Oxus and Jumna. Oxford University Press, London. ISBN B0006DBR44.
  • Wood, John. 1872. A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus. New Edition, edited by his son, with an essay on the "Geography of the Valley of the Oxus" by Henry Yule. John Murray, London. Gregg Division McGraw-Hill, 1971, ISBN 0576033227.

External links

Look up Afghanistan in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

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