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Afghan historians write of a 5,000 years of recorded history for the land we know as Afghanistan. This land, over these millennia, has been an arena for wars and invasions by many conquerors. Some historian have called Afghanistan the “round about of empires,” while others described it as “the cross-road of Asia”.

Many empires from Alexander the Great in the fourth Century BC, to Genghis Khan in the 13 Century, Tamurlane in the 14 Century, the Indian Moghul in the 16th and 17th Century, the Persians in 17th and 18th Century, the British in 19th Century, the Soviets at the end of the 20th Century and now Americans in the beginning of the 21st Century, have all traversed the length and breath of the Afghanistan, leaving their marks on the country and its population. A lasting sign of some of these invading forces is the people they left behind, (to which I shall return later).

These centuries of wars and occupation have turned Afghans into a warlike people, not only defending their own land but also invading others. The Afghan Pashtuns used to be recruited by the ancient Persians in their forays into Middle East and Greece. The Greek historian, Herodotus in his book, the Persian Wars, talks of a people who wear animal skins, fight with bows and arrows and speak a strange Persian language and call themselves from Paktuike, Pakticus and Paktika. These are no doubt present day Pashtuns from the provinces of Paktia, which is my place of birth, and Paktika. They no longer wear animal skins and have replaced their bows and arrows with machineguns, rocket launchers and an array of comparatively modern weapons, thanks to British, Soviets and American occupations.

Pashtuns were also the majority of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznawi soldiers in the 10th century who built an empire extending from Ghazni the then capital of Afghanistan, eastwards to Delhi and westward to the Mediterranean. Pashtun rule in India continued on and off for several centuries by three main dynasties: The Ghorids, the Lodis and the Suris, who are historically referred to as the Delhi sultanates.

Pashtuns and Afghans in their involvement in the west with the Persians and in the east with India have learned a great deal about the art of governing and wars. But since the neighboring powers have not been willing to let Afghans govern themselves, it has become part of the Afghan psyche to take on a super power at least once every century. For example,

In the 18th Century the western Pashtuns rose against the Persian Safavids, in 1709 and overthrew that 150 year-old empire and then proceeded to occupy the whole of the present day Iran for three decades. In the 19th Century Afghans twice (1839-42 & 1879-81) fought against the British Indian forces and again in 1919 for the last time; In the twentieth Century, Afghans defeated the Soviet Union after ten years of war and occupation leading to an implosion of that Evil empire, and the liberation of Eastern Europe. It is with great regret that Afghans are now facing another (American) super power at the turn of the 21st Century. This regret stems from the fact that America helped them to fight the Soviet Union and now, some Afghans are faced with fighting a former friend and well-wisher.


The name

Yaghistan, as the Amir Abdur Raman referred to his country, particularly the tribal belt between British India and Afghanistan, has been variously translated: "the Land of the Unruly," "Land of the Free," "Land of Rebel" (Coon, 1951b:pp. 295-J2J; Dupree 197J:pp. xvii). The name Afghanistan derives from two Persian words, "Afghan" and "stan" (place or land), which simply means "land of the Afghan." Some non-Afghans such as Iranians confess, at least half jokingly, to believing that Afghan may have derived from the Persian word "afghan" (spelled the same as Afghan, (Ubi), defined as "noisy," "groaning" or "wailing." [3]

Basic Fact Sheet

OFFICIAL NAME Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Pashto: Da Afghanistan Islami Jamhuriat د افغانستان اسلامي جمهوریت) (Dari: Jamhuri-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan جمهوری اسلامی افغانستان)
HEAD OF STATE & HEAD OF GOVERNMENT President Hamid Karzai (from 2004)
NATURE OF GOVERNMENT Emerging democracy
POPULATION 29,928,987 (2005 estimate)
AREA 647,500 sq km (250,000 sq mi)
MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen
LANGUAGES Pashto, Dari
RELIGION Sunni Islam
NATIONAL FLAG Three equal vertical bands of, from left to right, black, red, and green, with the national emblem centered on the red band
NATIONAL EMBLEM The emblem features a mosque with Islamic inscriptions above and below—the shahada, or the Islamic creed, and the name of the nation, respectively—encircled by a garland on the left and right and by a bolder Islamic inscription above.
NATIONAL ANTHEM “So Long as There Is the Earth and the Heavens”
NATIONAL HOLIDAYS May 27 (Independence Day), July 17 (National Day, Republic Day), August 23–25 (Days of Jashn), August 31 (Pashtunistan Day), September 9 (National Assembly Foundation Day), October 15 (Ruz-e-Nejat), various Islamic festivals, including Muharram, Muhammad’s birthday, fi rst day of Ramadan, and Id-ul-Fitr


The culture of war in Afghans is primarily a well-developed response to relentless, almost unceasing external interferences and occupations. Most of these invaders left behind some of their peoples who make up the population of present day Afghanistan. The Shabanide Uzbeks, Turkmen and Tajiks from across the river Amu, the Persian Shi’its from the west and various Indian groups from the main land of the subcontinent of India have settled in Afghanistan over the years. The only people (unless we go back over 5,000 years) who do not have another country or land that they came from is the Pashtuns. But Pashtuns included, Afghanistan is (-just like the relatively young America,) a country of minorities; people whose ethnic majority live across the international border.

There are two categories of people in Afghanistan: the tribes and the ethnic groups. Tribal people live on what they call their tribal land, speak the same language, and believe in a genealogy which connects them to one ancestor. Thus Pashtuns, Turkmen and Baluchis are the only three tribal groups in Afghanistan. While the Pashtuns are one of the largest tribal groups in the world, numbering over 40 million people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Turkmen and the Baluch are small groups with their majority living in Turkmenistan and for the Baluch in Iran and Pakistan.

The rest of the population belonging to a dozen small ethnic groups, the largest of which is Tajik. Ethnic groups are social groups and in Afghanistan they are known after the place of their residence, thus those Dari speakers who live in Kabul, call themselves Kabuli, in Mazar as Mazari, and in one of the many valleys of central and north eastern Afghanistan after those valleys like andarabi, punjshiri etc.

As for culture, there is an Afghan culture as there is an American culture, but all these groups have their own traditions, values and norms which are called resum, adaat, rawaj just name a few and these differ from one group to the other. However, the Pashtuns on the other hand, who make up some 63 Per cent of the population, believe in a common code of behavior which, as their cultural norms, is called Pashtunwali.

Pashtunwali has several institutions and it is through the observance of these institutions that disputes at all levels are settled, armies raised and the day to day life is lived.


Afghanistan is a landlocked nation in Central Asia that covers an area of 647,500 sq km (250,000 sq mi), about the size of Texas. Afghanistan shares its total international frontier of 5,770 km with six neighbors: China (76 km), Pakistan (2,430 km), Iran (936 km), Tajikistan (1206 km), Turkmenistan (744 km), and Uzbekistan (137 km). The border with Pakistan, named the Durand Line, has been contested by Afghanistan since 1893, when it was drawn by the British Indian government. There are no other border disputes.

The capital is Kabul, with a population of 2,678,000. The other major urban centers are Kandahar (316,000), Herat (249,000), and Mazar-i-Sharif (183,000).

There are three main geographic regions. The central highlands, which are parts of the Himalayan chain and total approximately 416,398 sq km (160,771 sq mi), fan out from the Pamir Knot. Peaks on the main ridge, the Hindu Kush, rise above 6,400 m (21,000 ft), with passes up to about 4,600 m (15,000 ft). The northern plains, approximately 103,600 sq km (40,000 sq mi) in area with elevations of about 600 m (2,000 ft), are fertile and populous. The southwestern plateau is an arid zone of approximately 155,399 sq km (60,000 sq mi) with an altitude of about 900 m (3,000 ft). Three-fourths of the country’s land area is covered by mountain ranges.

The principal rivers are the Amu Darya (1,250 km; 777 mi), which rises in the Hindu Kush and fl ows northwestward into the Sea of Aral; the largely unnavigable Kabul River (611 km; 380 mi), which joins the Indus at Attock in Pakistan; and the Helmand River (1,126 km; 700 mi), which fl ows into Hamun, an inland lake.


Afghanistan has a typical continental dry climate with seasonal extremes, marked differences between day and night temperatures, and rapid transition from one season to the next. The mean temperatures are 0.0°C (32°F) in January, 20°C (68°F) in May, 22°C (72°F) in July, and 10.6°C (51°F) in November. In the plains of Jallalabad summer temperatures of −26.1°C (−15°F) have been recorded in the higher plateau areas. The country suffers from the “Wind of 120 Days,” which blows from June to September at velocities exceeding 177 kph (110 mph). Rainfall is scanty, nowhere more than 380 mm (15 in) annually. The rainy season extends from October to April.


Afghanistan is home to over 3,000 plant species, including hundreds of varieties of shrubs, vines, trees, flowers, and fungi. Medicinal plants, such as rue, wormwood, and asafetida are plentiful, and fruit and nut trees are found in many areas. The opium poppy is also heavily cultivated. Abundant animal life includes the gerbil, fl ying squirrel, several varieties of bat, fox, lynx, wild dog, bear, mongoose, shrew, hedgehog, hyena, jerboa, hare, and wild varieties of cat, ass, mountain goat, and mountain sheep. Trout is the most common fi sh, and there are more than 100 species of wildfowl and birds.


The Pashtuns, who are described as true Afghans, are the dominant ethnic group. The Pashtuns are divided into two major subtribes: the Durranis and the Ghilzais, who together make up 42 percent of the population. Most Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims. The Tajiks compose 27 percent of the population and live in northern Afghanistan. The Hazara Mongols, who constitute the third-largest distinct ethnic group, live in the Bamyan region. They are believed to be descendants of the hordes of Genghis Khan and number 9 percent of the population. Other ethnic groups include Aimaks, belonging to the Firuzkuhi, Taimani, Jamshedi, and Taimuri tribes; Baluchis; Brahuis in the southwest; Turkomans; Uzbeks; Nuristanis, formerly known as Kafi rs; and Qisilbashes, or Redheads. Among ethnic aliens are Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews, most of whom are merchants or traders. Westerners are mostly transients.


The official national languages are Pashto, which is spoken by more than 11 million people, and Persian (also Dari or Farsi), spoken by the Tajiks and the Hazaras. It is the principal language of the administrative elite. More than 28 other languages and dialects are spoken in Afghanistan. Many of these languages are speech islands, reflecting Afghanistan’s history and ethnic composition. They include Balochi, Nuristani, Kati, South Turkic, Uzbek, and Kirghiz. Both English and French are taught in Afghan schools as second languages.


The religion of Afghanistan is Islam. About 80 percent of the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Turkomans belong to the Hanafi te rite of the Sunni sect of Islam, 19 percent belong to the Shia sect, and 1 percent belong to the Ismaili sect. Religious minorities include small communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews. The Taliban regime was very intolerant of all religions other than Islam. This intolerance was expressed in a number of ways, such as the wanton destruction of historic statues of the Buddha in 2000 and the institution of the law requiring Hindus to wear distinguishing dress as a mark of humiliation. With the fall of the Taliban and the creation of a new constitution and government, Islam still found a place as the state religion but within the context of social justice and tolerance. The first article of the constitution declares Afghanistan to be an Islamic republic.


The former constitution of Afghanistan was promulgated in 1990 after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. The new multiparty Islamic-oriented constitution had amended the constitution of 1987, reaffi rming Afghanistan’s nonaligned status, strengthening the post of president, and permitting other parties to participate in government. When the Taliban took control in 1996, the constitution was suspended. Following U.S.-led military operations, a transitional government was set up by a conference held in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001. The Transitional Authority then convened a constitutional loya jirga from December 14, 2003, until January 4, 2004, which ended with the approval of a new constitution. That constitution was signed on January 16, 2004, and highlights a strong executive branch, a dominant role for Islam, and basic protections of human rights. The executive branch is led by the president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president has two vice presidents. The president serves a fi ve-year term and is chosen by a majority of over 50 percent, which may not be achieved until after several rounds of voting. Presidents are not allowed to serve more than two terms. The Afghan congress is called the National Assembly and is made up of two houses: the House of the People, whose 250 members are elected for fi ve-year terms, and the House of the Elders, whose members are both appointed and elected. One-third of the House of the Elders is appointed by the president, who is directed by the constitution to include in these appointments at least 50 percent women. The National Assembly makes the laws of the land, which cannot run counter to the tenets of Islam.

The constitution provides for a judiciary, including a nine-member Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal, and also for the institution of the loya jirga, made up of members of the National Assembly and heads of provincial governments. This body meets to decide on matters of extreme importance to the state, including matters of national security and impeachment. According to the constitution the state is obligated to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, the protection of human dignity, the protection of human rights, and the realization of democracy and to ensure national unity and equality among all ethnic groups and tribes. The state shall abide by the UN charter, international treaties, international conventions signed by Afghanistan, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is universal suffrage for those 18 and older.


The National Assembly has two houses: the House of the People and the House of the Elders. Members of the Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People (with no more than 250 seats), are directly elected for fi ve-year terms. The Meshrano Jirga, or House of the Elders, is composed of one representative from each provincial council, one representative from each district council, and a number of presidential appointees. The presidential appointees will include two representatives of nomads and two representatives of the disabled; half of the presidential appointees will be women. On rare occasions the government may convene a loya jirga on issues of independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity; it can amend the provisions of the constitution and prosecute the president; it is made up of members of the National Assembly and chairpersons of the provincial and district councils. Parliamentary elections, the fi rst in more than 30 years, were held in September 2005.


For much of Afghanistan’s history, political parties were illegal and thus operated underground. With the fall of the Taliban, the establishment of a provisional government, and then the presidential election in 2004, numerous political parties were established. Major political parties include Hezb-e-Congra-e-Mili Afghanistan (National Congress Party of Afghanistan), Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Party of Afghanistan), Hezb-e-Nuhzhat-e-Mili Afghanistan (National Movement of Afghanistan), and Jumbish-i-Milli Islami Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan).

There are numerous other smaller parties, pressure groups, and nonoffi cial parties representing political stances ranging from socialist to nationalist and all vying for a nugget of power in the new Afghanistan. Many of the smaller parties are not recognized by the Ministry of Justice. In the October 2004 run-off election Hamid Karzai, an independent candidate, won 55.4 percent of the vote, while his nearest contender, Yonous Qanooni of the Hezb-e-Nuhzhat-e-Mili Afghanistan, won 16.3 percent.


Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces, each with a governor appointed by the government in Kabul. These provinces are further divided into districts or departments with various administrative heads. The shura, or local assemblies, wield real power, collecting taxes and seeing to local security issues. Intensely tribal, Afghanistan in fact operates more effectively in terms of government on the local than on the national level, for the highest loyalties of Afghans remain with family, village, race, ethnicity, language group, and religion—creating what is known as a “Qawm” identity. Thus, in reality much of the country is still run by regional warlords, many of whom are appointed governors. It is the job of the new government in Kabul to try to establish a sense of national identity in Afghans and thus bridge the gap between local autonomy and central authority.


Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution establishes a Western-style legal system, including a nine-member Stera Mahkama, or Supreme Court—wherein nine justices are appointed for 10-year terms by the president, with approval of the Wolesi Jirga—and subordinate High Courts and Appeals Courts. There is also a Minister of Justice. A separate Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission was established by the Bonn Agreement and was charged with investigating human rights abuses and war crimes. The country’s basic legal framework will consist of its 1964 constitution and existing laws and regulations, so long as these do not contradict the Bonn Agreement of 2001 and international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party. A major diffi culty in this regard, however, is the fact that the Taliban burned law books while in power, such that texts of Afghan laws are in short supply. An Islamic country, Afghanistan is also subject to the tenets of Islamic law, known as sharia.


Despite major advances made by the Islamic State of Afghanistan’s new government in the area of human rights, there were still widespread reports of abuse in 2003 and 2004. On the positive side the country’s constitution makes special consideration for ending discrimination and protecting human rights; nevertheless, lawless warlords have been accused of human rights abuses throughout the country. International organizations have also accused U.S. forces of systematic human rights abuses in its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and its techniques for questioning prisoners.


Under the Taliban regime Afghanistan turned inward, so it may be years before the country is able to reestablish itself as a member of the international community. The government of Hamid Karzai is apparently aligned with the United States, if only because of the coalition military presence in the country and the dire need for Western fi nancial aid. The Northern Alliance, which has strong representation in the cabinet, has strong ties with Russia. Pakistan’s infl uence over Afghanistan is likely to diminish under the arrangements set up by the Bonn Conference. Pakistan has sent troops into remote tribal areas to control the border and stem organized terrorist and other illegal cross-border activities. Regular meetings between Pakistani and Afghans and coalition allies aim to resolve periodic claims of boundary encroachments.


Military organization disintegrated after 1992 with the fall of Najibullah’s government. Much of the advanced equipment, including combat aircraft and helicopters, have fallen into a state of disrepair. The Afghan National Army is being trained by the United States with the assistance of the international community. In 2003, $61 million was spent on the military, or 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).


Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country highly dependent on farming and the raising of livestock, specifi cally sheep and goats. Economic considerations have played second fi ddle to political and military upheavals during two decades of war, including the nearly 10-year Soviet military occupation (which ended February 15, 1989). During that confl ict one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering acombined peak of more than six million refugees. In early 2000, two million Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan and about 1.4 million in Iran. Gross domestic product has fallen substantially over the past 20 years because of the loss of labor and capital and the disruption of trade and transport. The majority of the population continues to suffer from insuffi cient food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Inflation remains a serious problem throughout the country. International aid can deal with only a fraction of the humanitarian problem, let alone promote economic development. The economic situation did not improve in 1998–2000, as internal civil strife hampered both domestic economic policies and international aid efforts. Numerical data are likely to be either unavailable or unreliable. Afghanistan was by far the largest producer of opium poppies in 2000, and narcotics traffi cking is a major source of revenue.

With the fall of the Taliban and the infusion of over $2 billion in international assistance in 2002 and 2003, the economic situation had somewhat improved by 2004. The end of a four-year drought also bolstered economic prospects. Yet the decades of confl ict in the country damaged not only infrastructure but also individual initiative. A stable government as well as continued international assistance will be needed for the country to turn its fortunes around over the long term. One stumbling block is the opium trade, which accounts for almost one-third of GDP; the country is under renewed international pressure to curb that trade, which means fi nding substitute crops.


The long civil war and continuing political chaos in the country leave Afghanistan in a diffi cult situation environmentally. Even with less than 3 percent of territory covered with trees in 1993, Afghans have continued to cut forests for fuel and shelter at an alarming rate. By late 2002 between just 1 and 2 percent of Afghanistan’s land area was forestland. That represented a 33 percent decrease from 1979. A four-year drought in 2002 also depleted water supplies from rivers and irrigation canals. Much of the land that was productive prior to the extended fi ghting has been generally devastated by the war and its aftermath, such as through the continuing presence of land mines. Over two dozen species of flora and fauna are on the endangered species lists, including the snow leopard, long-billed curlew, argali sheep, musk deer, tiger, white-headed duck, and Afghan brook salamander.


For much of Afghanistan’s population, living conditions are medieval. A full two million Afghans are nomads, living in tents and following pasturage for their herds. These nomads, both Turkmen and Pashtun, are called kochis. For settled people living conditions are hardly better. Though one of the poorest agricultural countries in the world, Afghanistan has over 80 percent of its population engaged in farming. The land is dry, and less than 10 percent is arable. Thus, except for a very few wealthy landowners, farmers eke out very meager livings. Irrigation is largely unheard of; what canals once existed have been destroyed by decades of war and drought.

Village life is also fairly primitive. Houses are flat roofed and built of mud and straw. Bathing and laundering depend on nearby streams and rivers. Furniture is simple, and families often sleep on the fl at roofs in warmer weather. Children and women gather dung and shape it into patties for fuel. Transportation in the country is still often by horse and cart. Villagers send their wares—agricultural products or arts and crafts—to larger towns, where they are distributed to the five main cities: Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Kunduz.

In the major cities upper-class living conditions approximate those in the West, but the vast majority of the population, both urban and rural, lives near the poverty line. Afghanistan has an infant mortality rate among the highest in the world: 165.96 deaths per 1,000 live births, by a 2004 estimate. Life expectancy was 42.46 years.


Many factors combine to make Afghanistan a medical nightmare. The war and civil strife have destroyed much of the infrastructure of the country, including hospitals and clinics. Access to health facilities, trained doctors, and proper medicines were always lacking, and the situation was only exacerbated during the years of Taliban control. Poor sanitation and limited availability of potable water contribute to alarming rates of infectious diseases in the country. Malaria and typhoid remain major causes for hospital admittance. In 1990 the tuberculosis rate was 278 cases for every 100,000 Afghans. Cholera reached epidemic proportions, with 19,903 cases reported in 1995. As of 2002, 80,000 children were dying of diarrheal disease yearly.

Another factor in the Afghan health crisis is war itself. Untold thousands of land mines are still present throughout the country, causing numerous cases of death and dismemberment every year. Direct casualties of war number in the tens of thousands; close to 4,000 civilians were killed by U.S.-led air strikes between October and December 2001. Since that time, with confl ict continuing, some estimates put the total number of civilians killed at upward of 20,000. By 2004 some of these problems were being addressed by the international community, especially by the Red Cross. Kabul is the center for health care in the country. In 2002 there were four hospital beds and 1.8 doctors for every 10,000 people. The Red Cross had established hospitals in 70 percent of the provinces. Nevertheless, the death rate in 2004 was still 21.12 for every 1,000 persons.


The major infl uences on Afghan food are Iranian and Indian. The fl atbread known as naan is a staple of the diet; it is cooked on an iron plate in a fi re or on the inner wall of a clay oven. Bread is often dipped in a light meat stock and serves as a utensil to scoop other food, as Afghans mostly eat with their hands. Rice is eaten in some districts; cooked in a pilaf of meats and vegetables, it is a major meal. Dairy products constitute a third staple, as yogurt, cream, butter, and dried buttermilk make up a large part of the diet. Eggs are a major source of protein and can be scrambled with tomatoes and onions. Tea is the primary beverage—black in the south and green in the north—and sugar, though expensive, is always added. As an Islamic country, Afghanistan has the major dietary prohibitions of the religion. Alcohol is not allowed, nor is pork or boar. Women and girls do the cooking for the family. The major meals are breakfast and dinner, between which dried fruits and nuts are eaten. A cloth is spread on the floor for meals, around which the family sits. A bowl with fresh water is supplied to wash the hands before and after the food is served. This bowl is called an aftawa-lagan.


According to a 2001 estimate Afghanistan had a labor force of 11.8 million. As of 2004, 80 percent of those were engaged in agricultural work, producing wheat, fruits, nuts, wool, mutton, sheepskins, lambskins, and, most importantly for the economy, opium. By a 2004 estimate 80 to 90 percent of the heroin consumed in Europe came from Afghanistan, and the cultivation of opium was one of the largest contributors to GDP. In 2004, 10 percent of the workforce was involved in industry, including the small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement, hand-woven carpets, natural gas, coal, and copper. Of these trades, the weaving of cloths and carpets are the most important, with whole families engaged in such work, including very young children. Another 10 percent of the workforce was employed in the service sector.

Working conditions are harsh, with few safety laws and few social welfare safety nets such as workers’ compensation, retirement plans, or collective bargaining. Though there was a Central Council of Afghanistan Trade Unions formed in 1978, during the years of Soviet occupation and Taliban rule its powers eroded.


Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, with 2004 rates at 51 percent for males and 21 percent for women. Until civil war broke out in 1989, schooling was free and compulsory for eight years, from ages seven to 15. Elementary education consisted of eight years and secondary school of four years. From 1981 to 1986 the enrollment in primary and secondary school dropped from 29 percent of the school-age population to less than half that number. Outside of Kabul most education was limited to the elementary years. In 1986 only 6 percent of children in the secondary-school age group were in attendance, and that figure has since dropped. In both primary and secondary schools attendance by female students was significantly below that by males.

The 30 years of war had a drastic impact on education. Most rural schools were destroyed by the resistance when the Soviet-backed regime attempted to turn them into political indoctrination centers. Many others were closed because of the danger of regime teachers. Formal education even in major cities such as Kandahar was brought to a virtual standstill as a result of daily fire fights. In 1995 there were fi ve universities in operation. The oldest and largest is the University of Kabul (Pohantoon), founded in 1932. It has nine faculties. The University of Nangargar at Jalalabad has only a faculty of medicine.

The Taliban further eroded educational standards by barring women, who formed a majority of Afghan teachers, from work and education. With the fall of the Taliban and the installment of the transitional government in December 2001, schools reopened for girls, and female teachers returned to work, though they are still vastly outnumbered by their male colleagues. Education is now free and compulsory for at least six years, thought many children and parents in the country ignore that stricture. Attendance rates at schools remain low. In 2004 over one-half of the students of school age did not attend. Approximately 34 percent of the four million Afghan children enrolled in school were girls. In 10 provinces, fewer than one out of every four girls aged seven to 12 attended primary school. In 2002 only 32 percent of males and 11 percent of females graduating from elementary school continued into secondary education; dropout rates are high, particularly among girls. Vocational training is provided in secondary schools and senior high schools, and 6 percent of students were enrolled in the vocational system in 2002. An estimated 1,000 women throughout Afghanistan participated in university entrance examinations in 2002.


During the years of conflict in Afghanistan, many professionals, including scientists and engineers, emigrated to Europe or Pakistan, disrupting scientifi c and technological progress in the country. With the creation of the Islamic State of Afghanistan and elections in 2004, some professionals began to return. Kabul has several institutions of higher learning, including Kabul University, founded in 1932, which has faculties of Science, Pharmacy, Veterinary Medicine, and Geo-Sciences. Kabul Polytechnic College, founded in 1951, offers postgraduate engineering courses. Other cities also have educational facilities. The University of Balkh has about 100 faculty members, and Bayazid Roshan University of Nangarhar, founded in 1962, has faculties of Medicine and Engineering. The Afghanistan Academy of Sciences is the principal scientifi c institution. As of 2002 it had about 180 members. Additionally, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Afghanistan is working with international research teams to rebuild Afghan agriculture.


The 2004 constitution provides for free and uncensored media. There were 21 AM stations and 23 FM stations as of 2003, broadcasting news and music. Radio Free Afghanistan, based on the model of Radio Free Europe, also broadcasts throughout the country. Though on paper there is no press censorship, the media itself still demonstrates restraint after experiencing so many years of control. Many laws still in effect, such as the “insult law,” are open to interpretation and serve to keep the press subservient. Also, powerful warlords resent the truth about them being spoken openly, either on radio or in the newspapers. Threats against journalists are still common. In 2003 the Free Press Defense Foundation was established by a number of Afghan journalists in order to safeguard the freedom of the press in Afghanistan and to increase the number of journalists there.

Among the major newspapers are the Kabul weekly Farda, the Islamic newspaper Payam-i-Mujahid, and the Kabul Press. Malalai is a monthly magazine aimed primarily at women, while Seerat, a weekly newspaper, was the first to be published by women following the departure of the Taliban regime.

The radio is very important in Afghanistan culture. Almost 85 percent of homes have one, and with high illiteracy rates it is a primary mode of information dissemination. Radio Afghanistan is a prominent broadcast station, as is Radio Kabul, noted for its music shows. Kabul TV is the main broadcast television station, though Afghans also receive international broadcasts. The Internet is a growing form of communication and source of news for Afghans.


Formal politesse takes many forms in Afghanistan. With the separation of the sexes, there is very little touching between genders in public. Men will shake the hands of other men, and in general men can be effusive in public and often walk arm in arm. Relatives may hug and kiss after long separations, but restrained public decorum is generally the rule. Children tend to call their elders by titles rather than by names, and men typically call their wives “mother of my son” or “mother of my daughter” rather than using given names. The sense of hospitality is strong in the country. Guests are always asked to sit and share a glass or cup of tea.

Relations between Afghans are often determined by the unwritten codes of behavior called Pashtunwalli. This Pashtun code is subscribed to by most Afghans and deals mostly with honor and pride. Some examples of this unwritten code are melmatia, or being a good and generous host, ghairat, upholding personal and family honor, and namus, defending women’s honor.


A strong sense of family and the kinship tribe is the bedrock of Afghan society. Extended families, connected patrilineally, often share the same household or are gathered in households close to each other. This is true both in the country and in cities, where such extended families and tribes form enclaves and neighborhoods within the larger urban population. Women rule the house and the child-rearing practices, while men represent the family in society.

Marriages are generally arranged, with girls marrying as of about age 16 and boys as of age 18. Men may divorce their wives simply by saying three times in public, “I divorce you.” However, women must go through a judge for relief. Divorce, however, is not common. Children are held in high esteem but are expected to assume responsibilities at an early age. Thus, milestones such as toilet training begin early. As in many male dominated societies, the needs of the sons come before those of the daughters. Contrary to Islamic law, daughters do not inherit household goods or property. These are divided among the sons.


Afghans are physically a blend of many Central Asian groups, and most have a characteristic Mediterranean cast, with dark hair and eyes. Men often wear beards, as is the Islamic custom, while women mostly wear pleated trousers under long dresses and cover their heads with shawls. Many urban women traditionally wear the chadari, an ankle-length cloth covering, like a sack over the whole body, with a mesh insert over the eyes and nose. While in the rural areas, women do not wear Chadari or Burka but rather cover themselves with a big shawl and work along with men in the fields. Men will wear baggy pants, loose, long-sleeve shirts, and vests. Turbans are also worn by men, with styles varying throughout the country. For example, Pashtuns leave part of the turban dangling, while others wrap the head entirely with the material. The pakol, a Nuristani hat that was previously adopted as a sign of the mujahideen resistance, has become popular. It has lost its political signifi cance and is now popular with many men.


  • Encyclopedia ofthe World’s Nationsand Cultures By George Thomas Kurian
  • “Historic Perspective on Afghanistan, its People and Culture” by Nabi Misdaq, Ph.D.
  • Socio-economic and legal political process in a Pashtun village, souteastern Afghanistan by Alef Shah Zadran