Fast Facts

Population:
29,929,000
Capital:
Kabul; 2,956,000
Area:
652,090 square kilometers (251,773 square miles)
Language:
Pashtu, Afghan Persian (Dari), Uzbek, Turkmen, 30 minor langauges
Religion:
Sunni and Shiite Muslim
Currency:
Afghani
Life Expectancy:
46
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $700
Literacy Percent:
36
Map: Afghanistan

Since Alexander the Great, invading armies and peaceful migrations have brought in diverse peoples to this Central Asian crossroads. As a result, Afghanistan is a country of ethnic minorities: Pashtun (38 percent), Tajik (25 percent), Hazara (19 percent), and Uzbek (6 percent). The towering Hindu Kush range dominates and divides Afghanistan. The northern plains and valleys are home to Tajiks and Uzbeks. Pashtuns inhabit the desert-dominated southern plateaus. Hazara live in the central highlands. Kabul, south of the Hindu Kush, is linked by narrow passes to the northern plains.

In 1989 the nine-year Soviet occupation ended, and Muslim rebels toppled the communist regime in 1992, after which rival groups vied for power. From among the various factions arose the Taliban ("students of religion"), a militant Islamic movement. The Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 and imposed Islamic punishments, including amputation and stoning, and banned women from working. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed giant Buddha statues at Bamian in defiance of international efforts to save them. Three weeks after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the U.S. and Britain bombed terrorist camps in Afghanistan; by November 2001 Kabul fell to anti-Taliban forces.

After decades of war, Afghanistan is rebuilding its economy, which is mostly agricultural, and has successfully held elections. A 2004 vote gave the country its first democratically elected president, Hamid Karzai. The government, however, still faces problems with the Taliban and internal security and public services. Afghanistan is the world's largest supplier of opium, and the drug industry continues to make up a substantial part of Afghanistan's economy.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes
  • Agriculture: Opium, wheat, fruits, nuts; wool
  • Exports: Opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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