Afghanistan, officially referred to as Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is one of the least developed countries located in Southwestern Asia. Surrounded by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west and the south, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the north and China in the northeast, Afghanistan is a land-locked country with no seacoast in its borders.
Kabul is the capital as well as the largest city in the country and the official religion is Islam. The official languages are Pashto and Persian. About 80% of the people speak in Persian language, and nearly 50% of the people understand the Pashto language.
The basic currency is Afghani and the sub-unit is Pul. One hundred pul makes one Afghani.
More than 98% of the people in the country are Muslims comprising of more than 20 ethnic groups with Islam, the official religion, being the common link among these ethnic groups. The major ethnic group is the Pashtun accounting for nearly 42% of the population, while the Tajiks account for nearly 38% of the population. The rest 20% include Hazara, Uzbek, Aimak, Turkmen, Baloch and other minor ethnic groups.
Afghanistan is the ideal connecting link between the South and Central Asia with the Middle East. This geo-strategic location of the country had made it vulnerable for a number of attacks by invaders and conquerors. Afghanistan was divided between the Mughal Empire of India and the Safavid Empire of Persia until the 18th century.
In ancient period, it was referred to as the Silk Route and paved way for migration to and from the West and the East. The area was part of the Persian Achaemanian Empire in the 6th Century BC, and was conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC.
The country is broadly divided into three major regions – the northern plains, the central highlands and the southwestern lowlands. Of these three regions, the northern plains are the major agricultural area; and the southwestern lowlands consist primarily of desert and semi-arid land. The central highlands, that includes the Hindu Kush Mountain range, separates the northern plains and the southern lowlands.
The country’s economy is primarily based on agriculture. Apart from agriculture, traditional handicrafts also play an important role in the economy. One of the major exports from the country is the woolen products. Though it has vast mineral resources, most of them remain largely untapped because of the Afghan War of the 1980s and subsequent fighting. In 1992, rebel factions in the country overthrew the then government and established an Islamic Republic. In 1996, the Taliban militia took over and enforced a harsh Islamic order. The unwillingness of the militia Government to extradite Osama Bin Laden, the extremist leader who was responsible for the twin-tower attack on September 11, 2001 in the U.S., led to military conflict between the U.S. Government and the allied nations. Recently some semblance of peace is returning to the region with the conduct of interim elections to the country under the supervision of the NATO-led forces.