General Facts and Statistics
Area: 647,500 sq. km. (249,935 sq. mi.)
Capital: Kabul, 2,000,000 (approx.)
Population: 29,863,000 (2005 est.)
Natural gas, petroleum, coal, cooper, chromite, talc, barites, sulphur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones
Land Use: Arable land 12% Permanent pastures 46% Forests and woodland 3% other 39%.
Literacy Rate: 28.7 per cent (According to UN Afghanistan Human Development Report of 2005)
THE NATIONAL FLAG
According to Article 19 of the Afghanistan Constitution, the Afghan flag is made up of three equal parts, with black, red and green colours placed side by side from left to right. Black symbolizes invasion and the bleak era of Afghanistan while red represents the change through bloodshed. Green symbolizes victory and prosperity.
Located in the centre of the flag is the national insignia, flanked by two smaller flags. In the upper-middle part of the insignia the phrases "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet" and "Allah is Great" are written beneath a rising sun. The word "Afghanistan" and the Afghan year 1298 (dating back to 1919 A.D. when the reformist King Amanullah promulgated modern laws) is located in the lower part of the insignia. The insignia is encircled with two branches of wheat.
The National Anthem:
MAP OF AFGHANISTAN AND MAJOR CITIES
The executive branch of the Afghan government consists of a powerful and popularly elected President and two Vice Presidents. A National Assembly consisting of two Houses, the House of People (Wolesi Jirga) with 249 seats and the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) with 102 seats forms the Legislative Branch. There is an independent Judiciary branch consisting of the Supreme Court (Stera Mahkama), High Courts and Appeal Courts. The President appoints the nine members of the Supreme Court with the approval of the Wolesi Jirga.
President Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected President of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004. Previously, Hamid Karzai had been Chairman of the Transitional Administration and Interim President from 2002.
LOYA JIRGA (GRAND ASSEMBLY)
Loya Jirga is a national council of notables, tribal chiefs, religious leaders, which may be called to assemble in order to address a major issue, problem or reform considered important to the nation. Originally called upon by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747, it was time-honoured tradition to gather members of all ethnic groups to support the establishment of modern Afghanistan. Uniquely Afghan in nature, it is a consensus-building mechanism based on the Pashtun institution of Jirga, which in tribal structure refers to the council of elders, tribal leaders, lineages, clans, qaums or heads of families.
During Amir Abdul Rahman Khan's rule (1880-1901), the Loya Jirga included certain Sardars (princes), important khans (rural elites) and religious leaders. That tradition was maintained until the Communist coup in 1978.
In June of 2002, after the Taliban was driven from power, the new Interim Administration was chosen by a Loya Jirga, comprised of about 1,500 delegates from around the country who gathered in Kabul. Each of Afghanistan's 362 districts had at least one seat, with a further seat allotted for every 22,000 people. 160 seats were also given to women. No group was excluded, except for those alleged to have committed acts of terrorism or suspected of crimes. In January of 2004, a second Loya Jirga ratified the newly-drafted Constitution of Afghanistan. The Taliban was not represented, though groups sharing some their views participated.
Major Religious, Ethnic, And Linguistic Groups:
For centuries, Afghanistan has been a mosaic of people with diverse cultures, religions and languages. Afghanistan's ethnically and linguistically rich and mixed population reflects its location at the crossroads of Central, South and Southwest Asia. Communities with separate religions, languages, and ethnic backgrounds have lived side by side for generations. Afghanistan still remains a country of dynamic diversity.
The main ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq, Baluch, Nuristani, and Kizilbash.
Pashto and Dari are Afghanistan's official languages. Afghanistan's Constitution stipulates that all other languages are "official" in the areas in which they are spoken by a majority of the population. Dari is spoken by more than one-third of the population and Pashto is spoken throughout Kabul and eastern and southern Afghanistan. Many Afghans are multi-lingual. Tajik and Turkic languages 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 of the population is predominantly Shi'a; however, a minority of Hindus and Sikhs also reside in Afghanistan.
Women in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, prior to the Soviet occupation and Taliban takeover, was a relatively liberal country with a progressive outlook on women's rights. Afghan women made up 50 percent of government workers, 70 percent of schoolteachers and 40 percent of doctors in Kabul. However, the effects of war and the Taliban regime quickly effaced the rights of women in public life and relegated them to solely the domestic domain.
In 2001, with the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghan women were once again able to enjoy some of the freedoms that had been stripped from them. In particular, the education and health sector have provided greater access to women and advanced their social development in an emergent state.
With the fall of the Taliban, women have been able to re-enter schools and universities. In fact, girls composed a third of the nearly six million children who returned to school this year. Women have also started serving as teachers and faculty members again, and are filling political positions and participating in the national elections.
The health sector is working hard to improve the lives of Afghan women, and, free from the prohibitions of the Taliban, male physicians are now allowed to examine and treat female patients. However, while women can see male doctors, the availability of clinics and hospitals is nonetheless limited. Only 15 percent of births in Afghanistan are attended by qualified health professionals, thus contributing to the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world; one pregnant woman dies for every 6 live births. Besides pregnancy-related deaths, a lack of sanitation and potable water has led to outbreaks of tuberculosis, among which 64 percent of the deaths are women. Continued efforts in the health sector will be pursued to provide women with advanced healthcare and promote their well-being.
Afghan women have suffered through war, poverty, famine and violence, but with the help of the Government of Afghanistan and the international community, they are re-emerging with even stronger voices for change.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Afghanistan's rugged terrain and seasonally harsh climate have presented a challenge to habitants and conquering armies for centuries. Afghanistan extends from the imposing Pamir Mountains in the northeast Wakhan Corridor, through branches of smaller mountain ranges, down to the south-western plateau where the fertile regions of Kandahar merge with the deserts of Farah and Seistan. More than 49 percent of the total land area lies above 2,000 meters. There are a number of smaller mountain ranges spanning Afghanistan but the largest mountains are found in the north-eastern section of the 600 km Hindu Kush mountain range.
Afghanistan is completely landlocked, bordered by Iran to the west (925 kilometres), by the Central Asian States of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north and northeast (2,380 kilometres), by China at the easternmost top of the Wakhan Corridor (96 kilometres), and by Pakistan to the east and south (2,432 kilometres).
For the most part, Afghanistan may be described as semi-arid but regional variations and climate contrasts according to levels of elevation. Annual rainfall is low, but the high mountains contain sources for many streams and rivers which supply water for cultivation.