What Is Afghanistan?
Officially known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in South-Central Asia. The nation is known for its beautiful mountain ranges and scenery, as well as an abundance of natural resources.
With a population of over 38 million people, Afghanistan has been known in the past for its strong cultural scene in terms of art, religion, and family life. The most populous city is the capital Kabul, which is home to over 3 million citizens.
The most widely spoken official languages in Afghanistan are Pashto and Dari, with Dari commonly referred to as “Afghan Persian”. The official religion is Islam, and over 99% of the population is Muslim, with faith being demonstrated through everyday life. This includes the way people dress, how they pray, what they eat, and how they interact.
While Afghanistan has a lot to offer, much talk about the country today centers on the political turmoil and conflict that has plagued the country since the 1980s.
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Where Is Afghanistan? Finding Afghanistan on a Map
Afghanistan shares a border with Pakistan in the south and east; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and China to the far northeast. With an area of 252,000 square miles (652,000 km2), Afghanistan ranks as the 41st largest country in the world (it’s just slightly bigger than France). Much of the Afghan landscape is dominated by the Hindu Kush mountain range at the western end of the Himalayas.
Afghanistan is known for having a continental climate with harsh winters in the central highlands and in the glaciated northeast. This contrasts with the scorching hot summers that can affect the low-lying areas of the southwest and east.
Among Afghanistan’s many natural resources are coal, copper, iron ore, lithium, uranium, rare earth elements, chromite, gold, zinc, talc, barite, sulfur, lead, marble, precious and semi-precious stones, natural gas, and petroleum. In 2010, US and Afghan government officials estimated that the country’s untapped mineral deposits could be worth at least $1 trillion.
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A Historical Overview of Afghanistan
Humans have lived in the area around modern-day Afghanistan since the Middle Paleolithic. The earliest inhabitants lived in small tribes and local kingdoms that rose and fell throughout history. Over time, the land would witness the rise of major empires, among them being the Kushans, Hephthalites, Samanids, Saffarids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Khaljis, Mughals, Hotaks, Durranis, and others.
Afghanistan translates to “land of the Afghans”, and the country has been a site of great strategic importance throughout much of its history. Its location at the crossroads between east and west made it a popular stop along the ancient Silk Road that connected the cultures of the Middle East to other parts of Asia. In fact, the mountainous terrain of the region worked to converge east-west paths in the Indus Valley through the passes over the Hindu Kush.
Given this strategic location, Afghanistan unfortunately has a long history of conflict. The country has seen military campaigns led by Alexander the Great, the Mauryas, Muslim Arabs, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets, and since 2001, the United States and NATO-allied countries. Despite many attempts to control the region, however, Afghanistan has recently been described as “unconquerable”.
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Early History of Afghanistan as a Modern State
The history of Afghanistan as a modern state begins in the 18th century, with the emergence of the Hotak dynasty, and later the Durrani empire. In fact, Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the Durrani empire, is typically credited as the “Father of the Afghanistan”. It was around the start of his empire that we start to see the definitive appearance of an Afghan political entity, independent from outside forces.
By the early 19th century, however, the Durrani empire came to be under constant threat from the Persians in the west and the Sikh empire in the east. This was only conflated by British and Russian interest in the region around the same time. Russia was fearful of British influence in Central Asia, while Britain was afraid of the potential empire Russia was building in Asia. This led to “The Great Game”, a series of political and diplomatic conflicts that raged for most of the 19th century in Central and South Asia.
Afghanistan in the 20th Century
Afghanistan was finally able to free itself from foreign influence in 1919 after the Third Anglo-Afghan War. A monarchy was established under King Amanullah that lasted for nearly 50 years. Eventually, however, this monarchy would be overthrown and a republic was established.
After a second coup in 1978, Afghanistan would become a socialist state and then come under the influence of the Soviet Union. This led to the Soviet–Afghan War of the 1980s. Conflict in the region continued even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and by 1996, most of the country was controlled by the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group.
The Taliban established a totalitarian regime that lasted in Afghanistan until the early 2000s, when they were removed from power as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. A democratically elected government system was formed in the country, but even today, the Taliban still exerts significant control on the country.
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Conflict continues to plague Afghanistan today. Despite democratically transferring power for the first time ever in 2014, the country still finds itself in a state of war. Taliban insurgents continue to pose a threat to the nation’s democracy. And as it stands, the War in Afghanistan, which is still ongoing, is the longest war in US history.
Citizens of Afghanistan must also be wary of their own government, community, and families. This is because strict religious and social limitations are imposed throughout the country, and anyone who opposes Islam or Afghan culture can be severely punished. This is especially true for women in Afghanistan. According to Global Rights, nearly 90% of all women in the country will experience physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, or forced marriage. And the perpetrators of these crimes are more often than not the families of the victim.
Afghanistan has a long, rich history that has been marred by the constant conflict of recent years. One can only hope that this fascinating country will one day find peace.