Afghanistan: Profile and Photo Gallery

National Geographic News
October 9, 2001
Afghanistan PhotoGallery: Go>>


Excerpted from the U.S.

Afghanistan was invaded and
occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979. The USSR was forced to withdraw
ten years later by anti-communist mujahidin forces supplied
and trained by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and

Fighting subsequently continued among the various
mujahidin factions, but the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban
movement has been able to seize most of the country.

In addition to the continuing civil strife, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines.

Area: 250,000 square miles (647,500 square kilometers)—slightly smaller than Texas

Border countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

Climate: arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers

Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest

Natural resources: natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones

Natural hazards: damaging earthquakes occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding; droughts

Population: 26,813,057 (July 2001 estimate)

Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.2 percent; 15-64 years: 55.01 percent; 65 years and over: 2.79 percent

Life expectancy at birth: 46.24 years

Ethnic groups: Pashtun 38 percent, Tajik 25 percent, Hazara 19 percent, minor ethnic groups (Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch, and others) 12 percent, Uzbek 6 percent

Religions: Sunni Muslim 84 percent, Shi'a Muslim 15 percent, other 1 percent

Literacy (definition: age 15 and over can read and write ): male: 47.2 percent; female: 15 percent (1999 estimate)

Government type: no functioning central government, administered by factions

Capital Kabul

Constitution: none

Executive branch: on 27 September 1996, the ruling members of the Afghan Government were displaced by members of the Islamic Taliban movement; the Islamic State of Afghanistan has no functioning government at this time, and the country remains divided among fighting factions.

Legislative branch: non-functioning as of June 1993

Judicial branch: upper courts were non-functioning as of March 1995 (local Shari'a or Islamic law courts are functioning throughout the country)

Economy: Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats).

Economic considerations have played second fiddle to political and military upheavals during two decades of war, including the nearly 10-year Soviet military occupation (which ended 15 February 1989). During that conflict one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering a combined peak of more than 6 million refugees.

In early 2000, 2 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; severe drought added to the nation's difficulties in 1998-2000.

The majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient 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.

In 1999-2000, internal civil strife continued, hampering both domestic economic policies and international aid efforts.

Afghanistan is the world's largest illicit opium producer, surpassing Burma (potential production in 1999: 1,670 metric tons; cultivation in 1999: 51,500 hectares, a 23 percent increase over 1998); the country is a major source of hashish; and there are an increasing number of heroin-processing laboratories being set up in the country. The major political factions in the country profit from drug trade.

Economic aid: The United States provided about U.S. $70 million in humanitarian assistance in 1997; the U.S. continues to contribute to multilateral assistance through the U.N. programs of food aid, immunization, land mine removal, and a wide range of aid to refugees and displaced persons.

Military: The military does not exist on a national basis; some elements of the former Army, Air and Air Defense Forces, National Guard, Border Guard Forces, National Police Force (Sarandoi), and tribal militias still exist but are factionalized among the various groups

Military manpower fit for military service: 3,561,957 males age 15-49 (2001 estimate)

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