Afghanistan, Central Asia’s interior republic, bordered by Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, China, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the area was dominated by Muslim armies and Mongol kingdoms, and it was also known from Alexander the Great ‘s time as a review area for parts of the historically important Silk Road.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, which has been characterized by internal and external conflicts for generations. The country was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989. Following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, a US-led force invaded the country and overthrew the Taliban sitting in power. Since then, international forces, including Norwegian participation with military personnel, have been at war with the Taliban.
The name Afghanistan derives from the people group of Afghans, as well as the descended -stan, Persian for ‘land’. Afghanistan’s national anthem is Daa watan Afghanistan di (‘This country is Afghanistan’).
Geography and environment
Afghanistan’s land area is 647 500 km². The country is dominated by the large Hindu Kush mountain range and by low mountain vegetation. In the far north, west and south the landscape is more flat. The country has a typical inland climate, with hot summers and cold winters.
Most of the population lives on simple livestock farming, even though only 12 percent of Afghanistan’s land is cultivable. In some places, it has been possible to continue the planting of fruit trees, which, before the last decades of the war, gave many families income, and laid the foundation for a substantial preservation industry. In many places, the country’s considerable coniferous forest areas have suffered major damage. The same goes for almond and nut trees, which have been important for both locals and animals.
War and great poverty have also created significant environmental challenges in many places in Afghanistan. Uneven water supply, lack of treatment plants and poor sanitary conditions still pose great danger to life and health. Unsecured storage of chemicals and runoff from landfills and agriculture also cause environmental and health problems.
People and society
Afghanistan has about 31 million inhabitants (2012). The country has a very young population; half are under 15 years. The authorities’ priorities often reflect the above. A report released by the United Nations Population Fund in October 2013 states that Afghanistan is the “hardest to grow old” country. The report is based on a survey of a total of 91 countries.
The largest population groups are Pashtunians (about 45%), Tajiks (about 25%), Hazarese (about 10%) and Uzbek (about 9%), Turkmen (about 3%) and Baluchians (about 3%). %) The local ethnic affiliation is strong and weakens the national identity. About 36 percent of the population lives below the UN poverty line.
The nomads, the kuchis, are the poorest population. Critically, the situation is also for an increasing number of internally displaced Afghans.
The population consists mainly of Sunni Muslims. The two official languages are pashto and dari. Men and women are largely separated, and various opinion polls show that Afghanistan is the world’s worst country for women. In a 2011 survey by Oxfam, 87% of Afghan women state that they have been subjected to physical violence, rape and / or forced marriage.
In parts of Afghanistan, the health situation is critical, especially for people in remote areas and for internal refugees. Lung infections, diarrhea (especially in the summer months), musculoskeletal disorders, skin infections, parasites, deficiency diseases and malnutrition characterize the disease picture for many. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. HIV / AIDS is also widespread.
State and politics
Afghanistan is an Islamic republic. It is chaired by the president and two vice presidents. These are elected in direct elections for a term of five years, with the possibility of being re-elected once. The president is also the head of government and he appoints the ministers, who must be approved by the National Assembly, Meli Shura.
President from September 2014 is Ashraf Ghani, who took over after Hamid Karzai. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is the “executive head of government”, in fact prime minister.
Administratively, Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces. Each province is governed by a government-appointed governor. A contentious issue in Afghan politics is that politicians and administrative personnel tend to have greater loyalty to local clan leaders than to the Kabul government, which generally has limited control outside the capital.
The population has a tradition of local autonomy based on family dynasties and tribal leaders, and domestic strife has been extensively attempted through so-called jirga. These are council meetings where the local community’s elders have a decisive influence, and where discussions leading up to consensus are central.
The judiciary has three levels, with the Supreme Court as the supreme court; its nine judges are appointed by the president and approved by the National Assembly, with a tenure of 10 years. According to the new constitution, the courts are independent of both the legislative and the executive power. Judgments that result in the death penalty must be approved by the president. The new constitution states that none of the country’s laws must be contrary to Islam, but the constitution is not based on Sharia law.
From June 18, 2013, Afghan police and defense forces formally assumed responsibility for security in the country, while 100,000 foreign soldiers who are still in Afghanistan will have support functions and training. The Afghan forces make up about 350,000 people, but their impact is weakened by weak discipline, corruption, desertion and infiltration by various rebel forces. In addition, the Taliban and other rebel groups have made police and military personnel a priority target for their attacks.
Recent Afghan history is dominated by Pashtun tribes, who under the leadership of Ahmed Shah Durrani created a kingdom based in Kandahar in the south of the country. Under Durrani’s rule, the border was drawn against Pakistan, a border that Pakistani authorities still dispute. The capital was moved from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776, and Afghanistan in the years that followed extensively became a buffer zone between British and Russian imperialism.
Afghanistan gained national independence from the United Kingdom on 19 August 1919 and was formally a monarchy until 1978 when Afghanistan’s democratic republic was established.
The modernization that the country’s king of 1933, Mohammad Zahir Shah, carried out from the mid-1960s was interrupted when the king was deposed in 1973 through a coup d’état. Years of civil war and sharp internal contradictions ensued, and during the Christmas holidays of 1979 Soviet soldiers moved into Afghanistan, allegedly at the request of the then rulers. The so-called mujahedin fought against the invasion forces, with support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States. After nearly 10 years of occupation, the Soviet forces were withdrawn. They left behind major military and civilian casualties as well as extensive material destruction.
The chaotic years that followed led the Taliban militia to emerge as guarantors of peace and order, and from 1996 the religious extremists had control over most of the country. For several years, the al-Qaeda organization had training camps in the country against funding much of the Taliban’s activities. A few weeks after al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, Afghanistan was attacked by an international alliance, which under US leadership quickly defeated the Taliban forces.
At an Afghan UN -led grand assembly, a provisional government was formed in December 2001 dominated by the Tajik-led Northern Alliance, with the Pashtun Hamid Karzai as head of government. In January 2004, a new constitution was passed by a council of 502 members, including 100 women.
Developments since 2013 have shown that the Taliban and other resistance groups are gaining momentum and have increasingly been able to challenge Afghan security forces. This is partly due to the withdrawal of Allied forces from the country, and partly to a marked increase in the number of foreign warriors seeking Afghan territory, especially from and via Pakistan.
In the New Year 2015, the Taliban announced one of its traditional spring offensives. The aim was to maintain control of smuggling routes in the south-west of the country as well as to make new projections against the government and public buildings and installations – partly with the help of suicide bombs. At the turn of the year 2014/15, opposition groups also emerged who have declared support and sympathy with the Iraqi jihadist group Islamic State (IS). Some groups’ allegiance to this extreme unity could eventually weaken the Taliban, but at the same time, actions led by IS, as has already been seen, could dramatically worsen conditions for the civilian population – primarily east of the country, in the border raids against Pakistan.
In March 2016, the Taliban launched another spring offensive with new projections against civilians as well as public buildings. At the same time, the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan, the South African lawyer Nicolas Haysom, gave an briefing to the UN Security Council. He drew a gloomy picture of the siyuation in Afghanistan, a picture with five main points; 1. The Afghan economy is in free fall; very high unemployment, especially among young people. 2. The security situation is very serious; The Taliban has made significant progress. 3. In-depth division within the country’s political elite; bad cooperation between President Ghani and “Prime Minister” Abdullah. 4. About three-quarters of the country’s public budgets are funded by external support. Weak confidence i.a. as a result of widespread corruption creates uncertainty about whether foreign aid will be maintained at the current level.
Economy and business
For decades, the Afghan economy has suffered from acts of war, mismanagement and corruption. The agricultural potential has been under-utilized due to widespread poverty, poor infrastructure and mined areas. Foreign investors, for the same reasons, have been little interested in rebuilding companies or investing in the extraction of the many minerals, including iron and copper, as well as oil and gas resources that Afghanistan possesses.
If the framework conditions are improved, the mining sector will become the main pillar of sustainable development and will be able to finance national security and stabilize the country’s political system. But the fall height is great; Increasing revenues from the mining business can increase corruption, strengthen dubious investors and strengthen the basis for armed conflict.
In 2012, the World Bank figures showed that around 95 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from aid and military presence. The results of extensive aid efforts are debatable and controversial, but the results are particularly significant in health and education. An increasing number of Afghans have received schooling and health care, and the most marked is the improvement for women and girls.
Withdrawal of foreign military forces in 2014 will undoubtedly lead to further deterioration of difficult living conditions for many Afghans. The Afghan authorities have therefore stepped up their efforts to increase foreign investment in the country. Central to this picture are China and India, both of which have funded development projects in Afghanistan over several years, while companies from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are being considered for exploitation of the country’s oil and gas resources.
Knowledge and culture
More than 30 years of war and conflict have destroyed much of the education system in Afghanistan, and the country has extensive illiteracy. During the Taliban regime, girls were denied schooling, and also for men, the education supply was very lacking. Surveys in 2002-03 showed that only every other Afghan man could read and write, while as many as 80 percent of women were illiterate.
Since then, the education system has been central to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the peace process in the country. UNESCO and other UN organizations have been particularly active, with financial and professional support from, among others, Norway. While around one million children attended school in 2001, the number in 2010 was over seven million.
Many years of war and destruction have devastated Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage, but the country can still display unique cultural treasures from periods under Buddhism as well as times under Islamic rule. Statues, distinctive architectural dome buildings, magnificent minarets, rich visual and painting art are key words for a cultural heritage that has at least partially survived weathering and violent impact.
Afghanistan has a rich theater tradition based on street performances in which the narrators, supplemented by songs and ballads, recite in a singing way poems about warlords and religious heroes – their lives and deeds.
Music, like other cultural expressions, was strongly suppressed when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Now the music traditions are expressed with great variety, ethnically and regionally. Most popular are lute instruments in different variants, but you also encounter flutes, drums, mouthpieces and different rhythm instruments. Indian popular music is quite widespread, and at nightclubs with more “modern” touches one can hear western popular music. But even places like this will usually be a little cautious, partly for respect for Islamic orthodoxy which is quite widespread, and partly for not provoking extreme, violent reactions to Western lifestyles.
In 2002, a new currency with the same name as the old coin unit of 1927 was introduced : afghani. Before 1927, the official currency unit was rupee, where 1 rupee was equivalent to 60 paisa.
Weights and Measures
The metric system has been introduced and is increasingly used. Otherwise, local units, for example in Kabul, are used for weight: 1 serre (7.1 kg) of 4 charak (1.77 kg) of 4 pao (442 g) of 4 khurd (110.5 g), for length measurements: 1 gauze = 101.6 cm.