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Geography of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is located in Central Asia and specifically upon the geologic Iranian plateau,
and is 647,500km (similar to the Australian state of New South Wales, or the Canadian
province of Manitoba, and slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas). The country is
landlocked and mountainous, containing the south-western ranges of the Hindu Kush.
There are four major rivers in the country: Amu Darya, Hari Rud, and the Kabul and
Helmand Rivers.Geographic coordinates: 3300N 6500E.

Borders
Afghanistan has a total of 5,529 km of borders, with the longest being the 2,640 km
border on the southeast and south with Pakistan. Afghanistan is also bordered to the west
by Iran (936 km) and to the north by the Central Asian states of Tajikistan (1,206 km),
Turkmenistan (744 km), and Uzbekistan (137 km). Afghanistan's shortest border is on its
eastern frontier with China (76km).

Terrain and agriculture

Topography

Mostly rugged mountains - the Hindu Kush and connected ranges; plains in north
and southwest and large areas of sandy desert near the southern border with
Pakistan.
Elevation extremes
Lowest point: Amu Darya 258 m
Highest point: Noshaq 7,492 m

Land use

Arable land: 12.13%


Permanent crops: 0.22%
Other: 87.65% (2001)

Irrigated land
23,860 km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards
Damaging earthquakes occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding , droughts
Landlocked, the Hindu Kush mountains that run northeast to southwest divide the
northern provinces from the rest of the country; the highest peaks are in the
northern Vakhan (Wakhan Corridor)

Natural resources
Afghanistan's natural resources include gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc,
barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones.

Mountain systems
The Koh-i-Baba overlooking the sources of the Hari Rud, the Helmand, the Kunduz and
the Kabul very nearly reach 17,000 ft (over 5,000 m) in height (Shah Fuladi, the highest,
is 16,870 ft or 5,142 m).

Important passes include the Khyber Pass crossing the Sefid Koh, the Gumal Pass, and
the Bolan Pass across the Toba Kakar Range, all crossing into Pakistan, the Unai Pass
across the Sanglakh Range, and the Kotal-e Salang, connecting Kabul with central and
northern Afghanistan, respectively.

Climate
The brown and tan landscape of deserts and rugged mountains in southern Afghanistan
(top), northwest Pakistan (below), and southeastern Iran (left) encountering a devastating
sandstorm on September 23, 2003. The image shows the green vegetation growing along
the banks of the Helmand River, which flows toward the center of the scene from top
right. The river brings life-giving water to portions of the Margo Desert (center).

The variety of climate is immense, as might be expected. Taking the highlands of the
country as a whole, there is no great difference between the mean temperature of
Afghanistan and that of the lower Himalaya. Each may be placed at a point between 10
C and 15 C (50 F to 60 F). But the remarkable feature of Afghan climate is its
extreme range of temperature within limited periods. The least daily range in the north is
during the cold weather, the greatest in the hot. For seven months of the year (from May
to November) this range exceeds 30 F (17 C) daily. Waves of intense cold occur, lasting
for several days, and one may have to endure a cold of 12 F below zero (24 C), rising
to a maximum of 17 F (8 C). On the other hand the summer temperature is
exceedingly high, especially in the Oxus regions, where a shade maximum of 110 F to
120 F (45 C to 50 C) is not uncommon. At Kabul, and over all the northern part of the
country to the descent at Gandamak, winter is rigorous, but especially so on the high
Arachosian plateau. In Kabul the snow lies for two or three months; the people seldom
leave their houses, and sleep close to stoves. At Ghazni the snow has been known to lie
long beyond the vernal equinox; the thermometer sinks between 10 F and 15 F
(about 25 C); and tradition relates the entire destruction of the population of Ghazni by
snowstorms more than once.

At Jalalabad the winter and the climate generally assume an Indian character. The
summer heat is great everywhere in Afghanistan, but most of all in the districts bordering
on the Indus, especially Sewi, on the lower Helmund and in Seistan. All over Kandahar
province the summer heat is intense, and the simoon is not unknown. The hot season
throughout this part of the country is rendered more trying by frequent dust storms and
fiery winds; whilst the bare rocky ridges that traverse the country, absorbing heat by day
and radiating it by night, render the summer nights most oppressive. At Kabul the
summer sun has great power, though the heat is tempered occasionally by cool breezes
from the Hindu Kush, and the nights are usually cool. At Kandahar snow seldom falls on
the plains or lower hills; when it does, it melts at once.

At Herat, though 800 ft (240 m) lower than Kandahar, the summer climate is more
temperate; and, in fact, the climate altogether is far from disagreeable. From May to
September the wind blows from the northwest with great violence, and this extends
across the country to Kandahar. The winter is tolerably mild; snow melts as it falls, and
even on the mountains does not lie long. Three years out of four at Herat it does not
freeze hard enough for the people to store ice; yet it was not very far from Herat, and
could not have been at a greatly higher level (at Rafir Kala, near Kassan) that, in 1750,
Ahmad Shah's army, retreating from Persia, is said to have lost 18,000 men from cold in a
single night. In the northern Herat districts, too, records of the coldest month (February)
show the mean minimum as 17 F (8 C), and the maximum 38 F (3 C). The eastern
reaches of the Hari Rud river are frozen hard in the winter, rapids and all, and the people
travel on it as on a road.

The summer rains that accompany the southwest monsoon in India, beating along the
southern slopes of the Himalaya, travel up the Kabul valley as far as Laghman, though
they are more clearly felt in Bajour and Panjkora, under the high spurs of the Hindu
Kush, and in the eastern branches of Safed Koh. Rain also falls at this season at the head
of Kurram valley. South of this the Suliman mountains may be taken as the western limit
of the monsoon's action. It is quite unfelt in the rest of Afghanistan, in which, as in all the
west of Asia, the winter rains are the most considerable. The spring rain, though less
copious, is more important to agriculture than the winter rain, unless where the latter falls
in the form of snow. In the absence of monsoon influences there are steadier weather
indications than in India. The north-west blizzards which occur in winter and spring are
the most noticeable feature, and their influence is clearly felt on the Indian frontier. The
cold is then intense and the force of the wind cyclonic. Speaking generally, the
Afghanistan climate is a dry one. The sun shines with splendour for three-fourths of the
year, and the nights are even more clear than the days. Marked characteristics are the
great differences of summer and winter temperature and of day and night temperature, as
well as the extent to which change of climate can be attained by slight change of place.
As the emperor Baber said of Kabul, at one day's journey from it you may find a place
where snow never falls, and at two hours' journey a place where snow almost never
melts.

History of Afghanistan since 1992

After the Soviets withdrew completely from Afghanistan in February 1989, fighting
between the communist backed government and mujahideen continued. With material
help from the Soviets, Mohammad Najibullah's government survived, but after the
collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was overthrown on April 18, 1992 as the forces
of Ahmed Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum captured Kabul.
Seeking to resolve these differences, the leaders of the Peshawar-based mujahideen
groups established an interim Islamic Jihad Council in mid-April to assume power in
Kabul. Moderate leader Prof. Sibghatullah Mojadeddi was to chair the council for 2
months, after which a 10-member leadership council composed of mujahideen leaders
and presided over by the head of the Jamiat-i-Islami, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, was to
be set up for 4 months. During this 6-month period, a Loya Jirga, or grand council of
Afghan elders and notables, would convene and designate an interim administration
which would hold power up to a year, pending elections.

But in May 1992, Rabbani prematurely formed the leadership council, undermining
Mojaddedi's fragile authority. On June 28, 1992, Mojaddedi surrendered power to the
Leadership Council, which then elected Rabbani as President. Nonetheless, heavy
fighting broke out in August 1992 in Kabul between forces loyal to President Rabbani
and rival factions, particularly those who supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-
Islami. After Rabbani extended his tenure in December 1992, fighting in the capital flared
up in January and February 1993. The Islamabad Accord, signed in March 1993, which
appointed Hekmatyar as Prime Minister, failed to have a lasting effect. A follow-up
agreement, the Jalalabad Accord, called for the militias to be disarmed but was never
fully implemented. Through 1993, Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces, allied with the Shi'a
Hezb-i-Wahdat militia, clashed intermittently with Rabbani and Masood's Jamiat forces.
Cooperating with Jamiat were militants of Sayyaf's Ittehad-i-Islami and, periodically,
troops loyal to ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostam. On January 1, 1994,
Dostam switched sides, precipitating large scale fighting in Kabul and in northern
provinces, which caused thousands of civilian casualties in Kabul and elsewhere and
created a new wave of displaced persons and refugees. The country sank even further into
anarchy, forces loyal to Rabbani and Masood, both ethnic Tajiks, controlled Kabul and
much of the northeast, while local warlords exerted power over the rest of the country.

Rise of the Taliban

In reaction to the anarchy and warlordism prevalent in the country, and the lack of
Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, a movement arose called the Taliban.
Many Taliban had been educated in madrassas in Pakistan and were largely from rural
Pashtun backgrounds. This group dedicated itself to removing the warlords, providing
order, and imposing Islam on the country. It received considerable support from Pakistan.
In 1994 it developed enough strength to capture the city of Kandahar from a local
warlord and proceeded to expand its control throughout Afghanistan, occupying Herat in
September 1995, then Kabul in September 1996, and declaring the Islamic Emirate of
Afghanistan (although there was no Emir). Pakistan immediately recognized the Taliban
as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. By the end of 1998, the Taliban occupied about
90% of the country, limiting the opposition largely to a small Tajik corner in the northeast
and the Panjshir Valley. Efforts by the UN, prominent Afghans living outside the country,
and other interested countries to bring about a peaceful solution to the continuing conflict
came to naught, largely because of intransigence on the part of the Taliban.
The Taliban sought to impose an extreme interpretation of Islambased in part upon
rural Pashtun traditionupon the entire country and committed massive human rights
violations, particularly directed against women and girls, in the process. Women were
restricted from working outside the home, pursuing an education, were not to leave their
homes without an accompanying male relative, and forced to wear a traditional body-
covering garment called the burka. The Taliban committed serious atrocities against
minority populations, particularly the Shi'a Hazara ethnic group, and killed
noncombatants in several well-documented instances. In 2001, as part of a drive against
relics of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past, the Taliban destroyed two large statues of the
Buddha outside of the city of Bamiyan and announced destruction of all pre-Islamic
statues in Afghanistan, including the remaining holdings of the Kabul Museum.

In addition to the continuing civil strife, the country suffered from widespread poverty,
drought, a devastated infrastructure, and ubiquitous use of landmines. These conditions
led to about three to four million Afghans suffering from starvation. In 1998 thousands of
people were killed by earthquakes.

U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

From the mid-1990s the Taliban provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi
national who had fought with them against the Soviets, and provided a base for his and
other terrorist organizations. The UN Security Council repeatedly sanctioned the Taliban
for these activities. Bin Laden provided both financial and political support to the
Taliban, as did Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, until American pressure forced them to drop
their public support for the Taliban after September 11, 2001. Bin Laden and his al Qaeda
group were charged with the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es
Salaam in 1998, and in August 1998 the United States launched a cruise missile attack
against bin Laden's terrorist camp in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and al Qaeda are believed
responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, among other crimes.

By September 2001 the remaining opposition to the Taliban had been confined to the
Panjshir Valley and a small region in the northeast (See U.S. invasion of Afghanistan).
The opposition by this time had formed the Afghan Northern Alliance but controlled less
than 5% of the country. Nevertheless, they held onto Afghanistan's diplomatic
representation in the UN as only three countries in the world continued to recognize the
Taliban government. On September 9, agents working on behalf of the Taliban and
believed to be associated with bin Laden's al Qaeda group assassinated Northern Alliance
Defense Minister and chief military commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, a hero of the
Afghan resistance against the Soviets and the Taliban's principal military opponent.
Following the Taliban's repeated refusal to expel bin Laden and his group and end its
support for international terrorism, the U.S. and its partners launched an invasion of
Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.

A period of bombing followed, which for about a month appeared to be having little
effect. The US required the assistance of countries around Afghanistan to provide a route
for the attack, but criticism increased as various mosques, aid agencies, hospitals, and
other civilian buildings were damaged by US bombs. However, the Northern Alliance,
fighting against a Taliban weakened by US bombing and massive defections, captured
Mazar-e Sharif on November 9. It rapidly gained control of most of northern Afghanistan
and took control of Kabul on November 13 after the Taliban unexpectedly fled the city.
The Taliban were restricted to a smaller and smaller region, with Kunduz, the last
Taliban-held city in the north, captured on November 26. Most of the Taliban fled to
Pakistan.

The war continued in the south of the country, where the Taliban retreated to Kandahar.
After Kandahar fell in December, remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda continued to
mount resistance.

Rebuilding Afghanistan

Sponsored by the UN, Afghan factions opposed to the Taliban met in Bonn, Germany in
early December and agreed on a political process to restore stability and governance to
Afghanistan. In the first step, an Afghan Interim Authority was formed and was installed
in Kabul on December 22, 2001. A "Loya Jirga" (Grand Council) was convened in June
of 2002 by former King Zahir Shah, who returned from exile after 29 years. The Loya
Jirga elected Hamid Karzai as president for the two year transitional period.

In March 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.

Current problems that exist for the administration include controlling bands of bandits
roaming Afghanistan's rural sector, removing the debris (and in particular, unmapped
buried landmines) from decades of civil war from the countryside, and rebuilding the
Afghan economy. Political violence also remains a problem. Hamid Kazai was the target
of an unsuccessful assassination attempt in September 5, 2002. Numerous bombs have
exploded in Kabul, targeting the international peacekeepers of the International Security
Assistance Force. The Taliban has not disappeared, and still mounts a resistance.

The treatment of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban was often singled out for
special attention by the Western world:

Women were forced to cover up in a burqa, a cloth that covered the whole body so
no skin would be shown, when in public, and to wear shoes that did not make
noise. In one alleged instance, violation of such laws brought on a public caning
(video).

The Taliban claimed that their policies were favourable to women, but they made little
attempt to promote a positive image of themselves and their policies outside of
Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan, they seem to have made more of an effort; for example,
by crediting the creation of the Taliban to a desire by Mullah Omar to end the rape and
abuses against women that were common place in the period before the Taliban, and by
appealing to the idea that women needed extra protection during the period of fighting.

Neither sex's treatment can be considered Islamic; such practises are not stipulated within
the Qur'an and many rules were made up by the rulers as they went, sometimes with an
out of context quote.

A member of the Taliban's religious police beating a woman in Kabul on September 26,
2001; photograph taken from footage filmed by the Revolutionary Association of the
Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

Golden Needle Sewing School

The Golden Needle Sewing School was an underground school for women in Herat,
Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban.

Because women were not allowed to be educated under the strict interpretation of Sharia
law introduced by the Taliban, women writers belonging to the Herat Literary Circle set
up a group called the Sewing Circles of Herat, which founded the Golden Needle Sewing
School in or around 1996.

Women would visit the school three times a week, ostensibly to sew, but would instead
hear lectures given by professors of literature from Herat University. Children playing
outside would alert the group if the mutaween, or religious police, approached, giving
them time to hide their books and pick up sewing equipment.

"They would arrive in their burqas with their bags full of material and scissors," Christina
Lamb, the author of The Sewing Circles of Herat told Radio Free Europe. " Underneath
they would have notebooks and pens. And once they got inside, instead of learning to
sew, they would actually be talking about Shakespeare and James Joyce, Dostoyevsky
and their own writing. It was a tremendous risk they were taking. If they had been caught,
they would have been, at the very least, imprisoned and tortured. Maybe hanged." Herat
may have been the most oppressed area under the Taliban, according to Lamb, because it
was a cultured city and mostly Sh'ia, both of which the Taliban opposed. Afghanistan's
ethnically and linguistically mixed population reflects its location astride historic trade
and invasion routes leading from Central Asia into South and Southwest Asia. Pashtuns
are the dominant ethnic group, accounting for about 42% of the population. Tajik (27%),
Hazara (9%), Uzbek (9%), Aimaq (4%), Turkmen (3%), Baluch (2%) and other small
groups make up the remaining 4%. Persian (local name: Dari) and Pashto are official
languages. Dari is spoken by more than one-third of the population as a first language and
serves as a lingua franca for most Afghans, though the Taliban use Pashto. Tajik, Uzbek,
and Turkmen are spoken widely in the north. Smaller groups throughout the country also
speak more than 70 other languages and numerous dialects.
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni,
following the Hanafi school of jurisprudence; the remainder is predominantly Shi'a,
mainly Hazara. Despite attempts during the years of communist rule to secularize Afghan
society, Islamic practices pervade all aspects of life. In fact, Islam served as the principal
basis for expressing opposition to the communists and the Soviet invasion. Likewise,
Islamic religious tradition and codes, together with traditional practices, provide the
principal means of controlling personal conduct and settling legal disputes. Excluding
urban populations in the principal cities, most Afghans are divided into tribal and other
kinship-based groups, which follow traditional customs and religious practices.

Demographic data from the CIA World Factbook

Demographics of Afghanistan, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in


thousands.
31,056,997 (July 2006 est.)

Age structure
0-14 years: 44.6% (male 7,095,117/female 6,763,759)
15-64 years: 53% (male 8,436,716/female 8,008,463)
65 years and over: 2.4% (male 366,642/female 386,300) (2006 est.)

Median age
Total: 17.6 years
Male: 17.6 years
Female: 17.6 years (2006 est.)

Population growth rate


2.67% (2006 est.)

Birth rate
46.6 births/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Death rate
20.34 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Net migration rate


0.42 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Population pyramid for Afghanistan
At birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
Under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female
Total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2006 est.)

Infant mortality rate


Total: 160.23 deaths/1,000 live births
Male: 164.77 deaths/1,000 live births
Female: 155.45 deaths/1,000 live births (2006 est.)

Life expectancy at birth


Total population: 43.34 years
Male: 43.16 years
Female: 43.53 years (2006 est.)

Total fertility rate


6.69 children born/woman (2006 est.)

HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.01% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA

Nationality
Noun: Afghan(s)
Adjective: Afghan

Major infectious diseases


degree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid
fever
vectorborne disease: malaria is a high risk countrywide below 2,000 meters from March
through November
animal contact disease: rabies (2005)

Ethnic groups
Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%,
other 4%

Religions
Sunni Muslim 80%, Shi'a Muslim 19%, other 1%

Languages
Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashtu (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily
Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much
bilingualism

Literacy
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write
Total population: 36%
Male: 51%
Female: 21% (1999 est.)

Social conditions
The Pashtuns today are a diverse population with widely varying lifestyles and
perspectives. The effects of globalization have led to the proliferation of so-called
'Western' ideas as well as the infilitration of Saudi-style Wahhabist Islam. Though many
Pashtuns remain tribal and illiterate, others have become urbanized and highly educated.
The ravages of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Afghan wars leading up to
the rise and fall of the Taliban have caused substantial misery amongst the Pashtuns.
Currently, Afghanistan is in a rebuilding phase, while Pashtuns in Pakistan have grown in
numbers and influence. Stability remains elusive for Pashtuns who have had to balance a
practical necessity to survive with a desire to work hard and seek out opportunity.
However, changes amongst the Pashtuns have not come without difficulty.

Pashtun women

Pashtun women greatly vary from the traditional housewives who live in seclusion to
urban workers some of whom seek (and have attained) parity with men. They share with
their menfolk a free-willed, strong and fiercely independent character that values freedom
and self rule.

Social obstacles

Due to numerous social hurdles, the literacy rate for Pashtun women remains
considerably lower than that of males. Abuse against women is also widespread and yet is
increasingly being challenged by women's rights organizations who find themselves
struggling with conservative religious groups as well as government officials in both
Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to researcher Benedicte Grima's book Performance
of Emotion Among Paxtun Women, "a powerful ethic of forbearance severely limits
traditional Pashtun women's ability to mitigate the suffering they acknowledge in their
lives."

Pashtun women often have their legal rights curtailed in favor of their husbands or male
relatives as well. For example, though women are technically allowed to vote in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, many have been kept away from ballot boxes by males.
Traditionally, Pashtun women have few inheritance rights and are often charged with
taking care of large extended families of their spouses.

Positive changes In-spite of obstacles, many Pashtun women have begun a process of
slow change. Some Pashtun women in cities in Pakistan have attained more personal
freedom and autonomy when it comes to their personal lives and some have chosen to
abandon the burqa and often either use the chador or do not cover their heads at all,
which has not been received well by conservative Pashtun men and women. Others have
joined men in business, finance, and other male dominated fields. While most Pashtun
women (like many men) are illiterate, a rich oral tradition and resurgence of poetry has
sparked some interest on the part of both men and women and given hope to many
Pashtun women seeking to learn to read and write. As a sign of further female
emancipation, a Pashtun woman recently became one of the first female fighter pilots in
Pakistan's Airforce. In addition, numerous Pashtun women have attained high political
office in both Pakistan and, following recent elections, in Afghanistan where female
representatives compose one of the highest percentages in the world. Substantial work
remains though for Pashtun women who hope to gain equal rights with Pashtun men who
remain disproportionately dominant in most aspects of Pashtun society. Human rights
organizations including the Afghan Women's Network continue to struggle for greater
women's rights as does the Aurat Foundation in Pakistan which often attempts to
safeguard women from domestic abuse.

Education in Afghanistan. The government of Mohammad Zahir Shah (ruled 193373)


significantly improved Afghanistans education system, making primary schools
available to about half the population less than 12 years of age and expanding the
secondary school system and the national university at Kabul. Despite those
improvements, in 1979 some 90 percent of the population remained illiterate. Beginning
with the Soviet invasion of 1979, successive wars virtually destroyed the education
system. Most teachers fled the country during the Soviet occupation and the subsequent
civil war. By 1996, only about 650 schools were functioning. In 1996 the Taliban regime
banned education for females, and the madrassa (mosque school) became the main source
of primary and secondary education. After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, the
interim government received substantial international aid to restore the education system.
In 2003 some 7,000 schools were operating in 20 of the 34 provinces, with 27,000
teachers teaching 4.2 million children (including 1.2 million girls). Of that number, about
3.9 million were in primary schools. When Kabul University reopened in 2002, some
24,000 students, male and female, enrolled. Five other universities were being
rehabilitated in the early 2000s. Since the end of the dogmatic Taliban era in 2001, public
school curricula have included religious subjects, but detailed instruction is left to
religious teachers. In 2003 an estimated 57 percent of men and 86 percent of women were
illiterate, and the lack of skilled and educated workers was a major economic
disadvantage.

Politics

Politics in Afghanistan has historically consisted of power stuggles, bloody coups and
unstable transfers of power. With the exception of a military junta, the country has been
governed by nearly every system of government over the past century, including a
monarchy, republic, theocracy and communist state. The constitution ratified by the 2003
Loya jirga restructured the government as a Islamic republic consisting of three branches
of power (executive, legislative, and judiciary) overseen by checks and balances.

Afghanistan is currently led by President Hamid Karzai, who was elected in October
2004. Before the election, Karzai led the country after being chosen by delegates of the
Bonn Conference in 2001 to head an interim government after the fall of the Taliban.
While supporters have praised Karzai's efforts to promote national reconciliation and a
growing economy, critics charge him with failing to reign in the country's warlords,
inability to stem corruption and the growing drug trade, and the slow pace of
reconstruction.
The current parliament was elected in 2005. Among the elected officials were former
mujahadeen, Taliban fighters, communists, reformists, and Islamic fundamentalists.
Surprisingly, 28% of the delegates elected were women, 3% more than the 25%
minimum guaranteed under the constitution. Ironically, this made Afghanistan, long
known under the Taliban for its oppression of women, one of the leading countries in
terms of female representation.

The Supreme Court of Afghanistan is currently led by Chief Justice Faisal Ahmad
Shinwari. Dominated by fundamentalist religious figures, the court has issued numerous
questionable rulings, such as banning cable television, seeking to ban a candidate in the
2004 presidential election for questioning polygamy laws, and limiting the rights of
women, as well as overstepping its constitutional authority by issuing rulings on subjects
not yet brought before the court. Though many believed that Karzai would make
reforming the Supreme Court a priority of his administration, as of 2006 he has yet to do
so.