Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Pakistan and Iran (clockwise from North). The Hindu Kush mountain range frames the landscape into three distinct zones: the Central Highlands, the Northern Plains and the Southwestern Plateau. Temperatures are extreme, ranging between -5°C and 50°C. Though beyond the harsh desert and mountain climates, mineral deposits and agricultural plains thrive alongside the Amu River which meanders through the fertile foothills in the north.
Afghan arts, crafts, cuisine and festivities span centuries as archeological excavations have revealed many hidden treasures of a vibrant and creative past. Unfortunately, much of the tangible has been destroyed or smuggled across international borders, yet the Afghan identity lives on today in intangible attributes of hospitality and cordiality. This bright side of Afghan culture is perhaps best demonstrated in their most loved hobby and community bond: kite flying.
Due to the country's geographic placement astride longstanding trade routes and strategic military strongholds, the people of Afghanistan are culturally mixed. Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks are the four most predominant ethnic groups, each with their own traditions and customs. Although the term 'Afghan' unifies these varying groups as a national identity, it is usually most synonymous with Pashtun culture. Religion is a central part of Afghan life; 80% are Sunni Muslim, 19% are Shia Muslim and 1% do not adhere to the Islamic faith. Prior to the last three decades of war and drought, the majority of rural Afghanis were farmers.
However, dire circumstances have since seen many killed or forced out as refugees.
The 20th and 21st century saw political turmoil and instability at its most extreme. Having gained independence from the British in 1919, the government was later the target of much democratic-communist struggle. In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded to support the communist regime and withdrew ten years later following a decade of devastation. Anarchy reigned throughout a series of subsequent civil wars which climaxed when Kabul conceded to the Taliban in 1996. The US and Allied forces joined anti-Taliban fighters to siege Osama Bin Laden following the September 11 terrorist attacks. During this time the UN established a means of political reconstruction which introduced a new constitution and a democratic election in 2004.
There has been much international scrutiny over the honesty and moral standing of the current government, but the people of Afghanistan are hopeful for a free and peaceful future.
Although international assistance has helped to recover the agriculture and service sector since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the overall state of the economy is still dwindling. Living standards are amongst the poorest in the world as much of the population suffers shortages in housing, education, medical care, clean water and secure jobs. The significant withdrawal of international troops in 2014 has also negatively affected commerce, particularly in services as they largely catered for the needs of foreign security forces. Major industries include handwoven carpets, cement production, furniture, textiles, opium, wheat, fruit and sheep farming.
- Female Vulnerability – Afghan women and children are considered to be society's lowest and routinely fail to access basic human rights. Barriers such as early marriage, low enrolment, poor infrastructure and the lack of female instructors are exacerbated by entrenched cultural norms that oppose female education. They are also regularly thwarted by an inadequate justice system in which authorities rarely properly investigate cases of violence and bring perpetrators to justice. While the Afghan Constitution has outlawed gender-based discrimination and guarantees equality between women and men, reality indicates that the enjoyment of women's rights remains elusive throughout the country.
- Education – Approximately half of Afghan children have not set foot in a classroom. In conjunction with uncertain national security, rugged terrain and lack of school infrastructure has exacerbated low attendance rates and a shortage of skilled teachers. Under the Taliban regime, females were routinely subject to violence and intimidation which prevented them from realising their right to education. These factors have led to an adult literacy rate of just 38%, one of the lowest in the world.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
UNDP - http://www.lk.undp.org/content/srilanka/en/home/countryinfo/
Afghanistan Culture - http://www.afghanistans.com/Information/Climate.htm
UNICEF - http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/files/ACO_Education_Factsheet_-_November_2011_.pdf