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Afghanistan Country Information

Travel Advice with Country Information from the CIA.

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Afghanistan Map

Background

Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in increased democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist countercoup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahidin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Usama BIN LADIN.

A UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan, and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. KARZAI was reelected in August 2009 for a second term.

The 2014 presidential election was the country's first to include a runoff, which featured the top two vote-getters from the first round, Abdullah ABDULLAH and Ashraf GHANI. Throughout the summer of 2014, their campaigns disputed the results and traded accusations of fraud, leading to a US-led diplomatic intervention that included a full vote audit as well as political negotiations between the two camps.

In September 2014, GHANI and ABDULLAH agreed to form the Government of National Unity, with GHANI inaugurated as president and ABDULLAH elevated to the newly-created position of chief executive officer. The day after the inauguration, the GHANI administration signed the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO Status of Forces Agreement, which provide the legal basis for the post-2014 international military presence in Afghanistan. After two postponements, the next presidential election was held in September 2019.

The Taliban remains a serious challenge for the Afghan Government in almost every province. The Taliban still considers itself the rightful government of Afghanistan, and it remains a capable and confident insurgent force fighting for the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan, establishment of sharia law, and rewriting of the Afghan constitution. In 2019, negotiations between the US and the Taliban in Doha entered their highest level yet, building on momentum that began in late 2018. Underlying the negotiations is the unsettled state of Afghan politics, and prospects for a sustainable political settlement remain unclear.

Geography

Location

Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran

Geographic coordinates

33 00 N, 65 00 E

Area

total: 652,230 sq km

land: 652,230 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 43

Area - comparative

almost six times the size of Virginia; slightly smaller than Texas

Land boundaries

total: 5,987 km

border countries (6): China 91 km, Iran 921 km, Pakistan 2670 km, Tajikistan 1357 km, Turkmenistan 804 km, Uzbekistan 144 km

Coastline

0 km (landlocked)

Maritime claims

none (landlocked)

Climate

arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers

Terrain

mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest

Elevation

mean elevation: 1,884 m

lowest point: Amu Darya 258 m

highest point: Noshak 7,492 m

Natural resources

natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones, arable land

Land use

agricultural land: 58.1% (2018 est.)

arable land: 11.8% (2018)

permanent crops: 0.3% (2018)

permanent pasture: 46% (2018)

forest: 1.85% (2018 est.)

other: 40.1% (2018)

Irrigated land

32,080 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

populations tend to cluster in the foothills and periphery of the rugged Hindu Kush range; smaller groups are found in many of the country's interior valleys; in general, the east is more densely settled, while the south is sparsely populated

Natural hazards

damaging earthquakes occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding; droughts

Environment - current issues

limited natural freshwater resources; inadequate supplies of potable water; soil degradation; overgrazing; deforestation (much of the remaining forests are being cut down for fuel and building materials); desertification; air and water pollution in overcrowded urban areas

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection

signed, but not ratified: Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation

Geography - note

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)

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Afghan(s)

adjective: Afghan

Ethnic groups

Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, other (includes smaller numbers of Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, Pashai, and Kyrghyz) (2015)

note: current statistical data on the sensitive subject of ethnicity in Afghanistan are not available, and ethnicity data from small samples of respondents to opinion polls are not a reliable alternative; Afghanistan's 2004 constitution recognizes 14 ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, and Pashai

Languages

Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 77% (Dari functions as the lingua franca), Pashto (official) 48%, Uzbek 11%, English 6%, Turkmen 3%, Urdu 3%, Pashayi 1%, Nuristani 1%, Arabic 1%, Balochi 1% (2017 est.)

note: data represent most widely spoken languages; shares sum to more than 100% because there is much bilingualism in the country and because respondents were allowed to select more than one language

note: the Turkic languages Uzbek and Turkmen, as well as Balochi, Pashayi, Nuristani, and Pamiri are the third official languages in areas where the majority speaks them

Religions

Muslim 99.7% (Sunni 84.7 - 89.7%, Shia 10 - 15%), other 0.3% (2009 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 40.62% (male 7,562,703/female 7,321,646)

15-24 years: 21.26% (male 3,960,044/female 3,828,670)

25-54 years: 31.44% (male 5,858,675/female 5,661,887)

55-64 years: 4.01% (male 724,597/female 744,910)

65 years and over: 2.68% (male 451,852/female 528,831) (2020 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 88.8

youth dependency ratio: 75.3

elderly dependency ratio: 4.8

potential support ratio: 21 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 19.5 years

male: 19.4 years

female: 19.5 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

Birth rate

36.08 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 13

Death rate

12.57 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 11

Net migration rate

-0.1 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 99

Population distribution

populations tend to cluster in the foothills and periphery of the rugged Hindu Kush range; smaller groups are found in many of the country's interior valleys; in general, the east is more densely settled, while the south is sparsely populated

Urbanization

urban population: 26% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 3.37% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

4.336 million KABUL (capital) (2021)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.85 male(s)/female

total population: 1.03 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Mother's mean age at first birth

19.9 years (2015 est.)

note: median age at first birth among women 25-29

Maternal mortality rate

638 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 11

Infant mortality rate

total: 106.75 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 115.21 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 97.86 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 1

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 53.25 years

male: 51.73 years

female: 54.85 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 227

Contraceptive prevalence rate

18.9% (2018)

note:  percent of women aged 12-49

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 95.9% of population

rural: 61.4% of population

total: 70.2% of population

unimproved: urban: 3.2% of population

rural: 38.6% of population

total: 38.6% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

0.28 physicians/1,000 population (2016)

Hospital bed density

0.4 beds/1,000 population (2017)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 83.6% of population

rural: 43% of population

total: 53.2% of population

unimproved: urban: 16.4% of population

rural: 57% of population

total: 46.8% of population (2017 est.)

HIV/AIDS - deaths

<500 (2019 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: intermediate (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

vectorborne diseases: Crimea-Congo hemorrhagic fever, malaria

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 43%

male: 55.5%

female: 29.8% (2018)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 10 years

male: 13 years

female: 8 years (2018)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

conventional short form: Afghanistan

local long form: Jamhuri-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan

local short form: Afghanistan

former: Republic of Afghanistan

etymology: the name "Afghan" originally referred to the Pashtun people (today it is understood to include all the country's ethnic groups), while the suffix "-stan" means "place of" or "country"; so Afghanistan literally means the "Land of the Afghans"

Government type

presidential Islamic republic

Capital

name: Kabul

geographic coordinates: 34 31 N, 69 11 E

time difference: UTC+4.5 (9.5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

daylight saving time: does not observe daylight savings time

etymology: named for the Kabul River, but the river's name is of unknown origin

Administrative divisions

34 provinces (welayat, singular - welayat); Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Bamyan, Daykundi, Farah, Faryab, Ghazni, Ghor, Helmand, Herat, Jowzjan, Kabul, Kandahar, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Laghman, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Paktika, Paktiya, Panjshir, Parwan, Samangan, Sar-e Pul, Takhar, Uruzgan, Wardak, Zabul

Independence

19 August 1919 (from UK control over Afghan foreign affairs)

National holiday

Independence Day, 19 August (1919)

Constitution

history: several previous; latest drafted 14 December 2003 - 4 January 2004, signed 16 January 2004, ratified 26 January 2004

amendments: proposed by a commission formed by presidential decree followed by the convention of a Grand Council (Loya Jirga) decreed by the president; passage requires at least two-thirds majority vote of the Loya Jirga membership and endorsement by the president

Legal system

mixed legal system of civil, customary, and Islamic (sharia) law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must have been born in - and continuously lived in - Afghanistan

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state:

President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ashraf GHANI (since 29 September 2014); CEO Abdullah ABDULLAH, Dr. (since 29 September 2014); First Vice President Abdul Rashid DOSTAM (since 29 September 2014); Second Vice President Sarwar DANESH (since 29 September 2014); First Deputy CEO Khyal Mohammad KHAN; Second Deputy CEO Mohammad MOHAQQEQ; note - the president is both chief of state and head of government



head of government:

President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ashraf GHANI (since 29 September 2014); CEO Abdullah ABDULLAH, Dr. (since 29 September 2014); First Vice President Abdul Rashid DOSTAM (since 29 September 2014); Second Vice President Sarwar DANESH (since 29 September 2014); First Deputy CEO Khyal Mohammad KHAN; Second Deputy CEO Mohammad MOHAQQEQ



cabinet: Cabinet consists of 25 ministers appointed by the president, approved by the National Assembly

elections/appointments: president directly elected by absolute majority popular vote in 2 rounds if needed for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 28 September 2019 (next to be held in 2024)

election results: Ashraf GHANI declared winner by the Independent Election Commission on 18 February 2020; Ashraf GHANI 50.6%, Abdullah ABDULLAH, Dr. 39.5%, other 0.9%

Legislative branch

description: bicameral National Assembly consists of:
Meshrano Jirga or House of Elders (102 seats; 34 members indirectly elected by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed by district councils to serve 3-year terms, 34 indirectly elected by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed by provincial councils to serve 4-year terms, and 34 appointed by the president from nominations by civic groups, political parties, and the public, of which 17 must be women, 2 must represent the disabled, and 2 must be Kuchi nomads; presidential appointees serve 5-year terms)

Wolesi Jirga or House of People (250 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 5-year terms)



elections:
Meshrano Jirga - district councils - within 5 days of installation; provincial councils - within 15 days of installation; presidential appointees - within 2 weeks after the presidential inauguration
Wolesi Jirga - last held on 20 October 2018) (next to be held in 2023)

election results:
Meshrano Jirga - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; composition - men 84, women 18, percent of women 17.6%
Wolesi Jirga - percent of vote by party NA; seats by party - NA; composition - NA

note: the constitution allows the government to convene a constitutional Loya Jirga (Grand Council) on issues of independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity; it consists of members of the National Assembly and chairpersons of the provincial and district councils; a Loya Jirga can amend provisions of the constitution and prosecute the president; no constitutional Loya Jirga has ever been held, and district councils have never been elected; the president appointed 34 members of the Meshrano Jirga that the district councils should have indirectly elected

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court or Stera Mahkama (consists of the supreme court chief and 8 justices organized into criminal, public security, civil, and commercial divisions or dewans)

judge selection and term of office: court chief and justices appointed by the president with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga; court chief and justices serve single 10-year terms

subordinate courts: Appeals Courts; Primary Courts; Special Courts for issues including narcotics, security, property, family, and juveniles

Political parties and leaders

note - the Ministry of Justice licensed 72 political parties as of April 2019 

International organization participation

ADB, CICA, CP, ECO, EITI (candidate country), FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (NGOs), ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO (correspondent), ITSO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, NAM, OIC, OPCW, OSCE (partner), SAARC, SACEP, SCO (dialogue member), UN, UNAMA, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Roya RAHMANI (since 24 November 2018)

chancery: 2341 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

telephone: [1] (202) 483-6410

FAX: [1] (202) 483-6488

consulate(s) general: Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Ross WILSON (since 18 January 2020)

telephone: [00 93] 0700 108 001

embassy: Bibi Mahru, Kabul

mailing address: U.S. Embassy Kabul, APO AE 09806

FAX: [00 93] 0700 108 564

Flag description

three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), red, and green, with the national emblem in white centered on the red band and slightly overlapping the other 2 bands; the center of the emblem features a mosque with pulpit and flags on either side, below the mosque are Eastern Arabic numerals for the solar year 1298 (1919 in the Gregorian calendar, the year of Afghan independence from the UK); this central image is circled by a border consisting of sheaves of wheat on the left and right, in the upper-center is an Arabic inscription of the Shahada (Muslim creed) below which are rays of the rising sun over the Takbir (Arabic expression meaning "God is great"), and at bottom center is a scroll bearing the name Afghanistan; black signifies the past, red is for the blood shed for independence, and green can represent either hope for the future, agricultural prosperity, or Islam

note: Afghanistan had more changes to its national flag in the 20th century - 19 by one count - than any other country; the colors black, red, and green appeared on most of them

National symbol(s)

lion; national colors: red, green, black

Economy

Economic overview

Prior to 2001, Afghanistan was an extremely poor, landlocked, and foreign aid-dependent country. Increased domestic economic activity occurred following the U.S.-led invasion, as well as significant international economic development assistance. This increased activity expanded access to water, electricity, sanitation, education, and health services, and fostered consistent growth in government revenues since 2014. While international security forces have been drawing down since 2012, with much higher U.S. forces’ drawdowns occurring since 2017, economic progress continues, albeit uneven across sectors and key economic indicators. After recovering from the 2018 drought and growing 3.9% in 2019, political instability, expiring international financial commitments, and the COVID-19 pandemic have wrought significant adversity on the Afghan economy, with a projected 5% contraction.

Current political parties’ power-sharing agreement following the September 2019 presidential elections as well as ongoing Taliban attacks and peace talks have led to Afghan economic instability. This instability, coupled with expiring international grant and assistance, endangers recent fiscal gains and has led to more internally displaced persons. In November 2020, Afghanistan secured $12 billion in additional international aid for 2021-2025, much of which is conditional upon Taliban peace progress. Additionally, Afghanistan continues to experience influxes of repatriating Afghanis, mostly from Iran, significantly straining economic and security institutions.

Afghanistan’s trade deficit remains at approximately 31% of GDP and is highly dependent on financing through grants and aid. While Afghan agricultural growth remains consistent, recent industrial and services growth have been enormously impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and trade cessations. While trade with the People’s Republic of China has rapidly expanded in recent years, Afghanistan still relies heavily upon India and Pakistan as export partners but is more diverse in its import partners. Furthermore, Afghanistan still struggles to effectively enforce business contracts, facilitate easy tax collection, and enable greater international trade for domestic enterprises.

Current Afghan priorities focus on the following goals:

  • Securing international economic agreements, many of which are contingent on Taliban peace progress;
  • Increasing exports to $2 billion USD by 2023;
  • Continuing to expand government revenue collection
  • Countering corruption and navigating challenges from the power-sharing agreement; and
  • Developing a strong private sector that can empower the economy. 

Military and security service personnel strengths

Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have approximately 290,000 active personnel; Ministry of Defense: 185,000; Ministry of Interior: 105,000 (2020)

note: the authorized strength of the ANDSF, the force level that the international community is willing to fund, is 352,000 personnel

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the Afghan Army and Air Force inventory is mostly a mix of Soviet-era and more modern US equipment; since 2010, the US is the leading supplier of arms to Afghanistan, followed by Russia (2020)

Military service age and obligation

18 is the legal minimum age for voluntary military service; no conscription (2017)

Military - note

the Afghan military focuses on internal security threats from several armed groups, particularly the Taliban and militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), al-Qa’ida, and Haqqani Network terrorist groups (see the Terrorist Organizations Appendix); the primary threat to the Afghan Government and its security forces is the Taliban, which has conducted an insurgency since the early 2000s; the Taliban calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan; its political and military decisions are made by a leadership council (Rahbari Shura), currently led by HAIBATULLAH Akhundzada; as of mid-2020, the group had an estimated 60,000 full-time fighters; in addition to their strongholds in the provinces of Helmond and Kandahar, the Taliban has conducted attacks in nearly every Afghanistan province; in late 2020, it was threatening Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province; in 2018, it briefly seized the capitals of Farah and Ghazni provinces; the Taliban has close ties to al-Qaida and the Haqqani Network

since early 2015, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan known as Resolute Support Mission (RSM) has focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan government forces; as of January 2021, RSM included about 10,000 troops from 38 countries

Terrorism

Terrorist group(s)

Haqqani Taliban Network; Harakat ul-Mujahidin; Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami; Islamic Jihad Union; Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham-Khorasan Province; Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps/Qods Force; Jaish-e-Mohammed; Jaysh al Adl (Jundallah); Lashkar i Jhangvi; Lashkar-e Tayyiba; al-Qa’ida; al-Qa'ida in the Indian Subcontinent; Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (2020)

note: details about the history, aims, leadership, organization, areas of operation, tactics, targets, weapons, size, and sources of support of the group(s) appear(s) in Appendix T

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Afghan, Coalition, and Pakistan military meet periodically to clarify the alignment of the boundary on the ground and on maps and since 2014 have met to discuss collaboration on the Taliban insurgency and counterterrorism efforts; Afghan and Iranian commissioners have discussed boundary monument densification and resurvey; Iran protests Afghanistan's restricting flow of dammed Helmand River tributaries during drought; Pakistan has sent troops across and built fences along some remote tribal areas of its treaty-defined Durand Line border with Afghanistan which serve as bases for foreign terrorists and other illegal activities; Russia remains concerned about the smuggling of poppy derivatives from Afghanistan through Central Asian countries

Refugees and internally displaced persons

refugees (country of origin): 72,191 (Pakistan) (2019)

IDPs: 2.993 million (mostly Pashtuns and Kuchis displaced in the south and west due to natural disasters and political instability) (2019)

Illicit drugs

world's largest producer of opium; poppy cultivation increased 63 percent, to 328,304 hectares in 2017; while eradication increased slightly, it still remains well below levels achieved in 2015; the 2017 crop yielded an estimated 9,000 mt of raw opium, a 88% increase over 2016; the Taliban and other antigovernment groups participate in and profit from the opiate trade, which is a key source of revenue for the Taliban inside Afghanistan; widespread corruption and instability impede counterdrug efforts; most of the heroin consumed in Europe and Eurasia is derived from Afghan opium; Afghanistan is also struggling to respond to a burgeoning domestic opiate addiction problem; a 2015 national drug use survey found that roughly 11% of the population tested positive for one or more illicit drugs; vulnerable to drug money laundering through informal financial networks; illicit cultivation of cannabis and regional source of hashish (2018)

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