About 75% of this landlocked Asian country is inaccessible. The Islamist Taliban, ousted in 2001, continue to fight a guerrilla war against Afghan and NATO-led forces.
Geography: Predominantly mountainous. Highest range is the Hindu Kush. Mountains are bordered by fertile plains. Desert plateau in the south.
Climate: Harsh continental. Hot, dry summers. Cold winters with heavy snow, especially in the Hindu Kush.
People and Society: Mujahideen factions fought first against Soviet invaders (from 1979), and then against each other (after 1989), before the Taliban won control in 1996. Under their strict Islamist regime women were denied all rights and ethnic tensions were exacerbated. The US assisted anti-Taliban forces in 2001 as part of its “war on terrorism.” A new democratic government struggles to maintain control as insurgency continues.
The Economy: Mainly agricultural, severely disrupted by war. Illicit opium trade is big cash earner. Natural gas pipeline planned from the Caspian Sea to Pakistan.
Insight: The UN estimates that it could take 100 years to remove the 10 million landmines laid since 1979
Official Name: Islamic State of Afghanistan
Date of Formation: 1919
Population: 28.1 million
Total Area: 250,000 sq. miles (647,500 sq. km)
Density: 112 people per sq. mile
Languages: Pashtu*, Dari*, Tajik, other
Religions: Sunni Muslim 84%, Shi’a Muslim 15%, other 1%
Ethnic Mix: Pashtun 38%, Tajik 25%, Hazara 19%, Uzbek, Turkmen, other 18%
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Afghani = 100 puls