History & Background
The Islamic State of Afghanistan is located in South Central Asia. Afghanistan's population was estimated at 26.7 million in 2000, making it South Central Asia's fifth largest populated country, as well as its fifth largest land area (251,772 square miles).
Afghanistan is a land-locked country surrounded by Pakistan and India to the east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the north, and Tajikistan and China to the northeast. The Hindu Kush mountain range, with its world-famous Khyber Pass, peaks at about 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). The country's land-locked status played significant roles throughout centuries of historical and social development when invading forces sought control over Asian trading routes and populations.
The people of Afghanistan are called Afghans, although the term originally referred to the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, who comprised about 38 percent of the 2000 population. The remaining ethnic groups were Tajik (25 percent), Hazara (19 percent) and Uzbek (6 percent). Other ethnic groups, such as Aimaks, Turkmen, and Balochs, comprised the remaining 12 percent. While many Afghans were bilingual, about 50 percent of the population primarily spoke Pashtu, 35 percent spoke Afghan Persian (Dari), and another 11 percent spoke Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen).
The Islamic religion was the tie that bound Afghanistan's ethnically and linguistically diverse population. About 99 percent of Afghans were Muslim, with Sunni Muslim being the dominant sect (84 percent) and Shi'a Muslim being the second largest (15 percent). Since about 80 percent of Afghanistan's population lived outside its cities, religion and kinship formed the basis of most social circles in the male-dominated society.
Political, social, and economic chaos overwhelmed Afghanistan at the close of the twentieth century and continued to plague the war-beleaguered nation into 2001. About one-third of the population fled the country when Russia invaded in 1979—occupying it until anticommunist Islamic Afghan ethnic groups joined forces to expel Russian forces in 1989. During Russian occupation more than 2.5 million people fled to Pakistan, another 1.9 million to Iran, and some 150,000 fled to the United States and other countries. According to the United Nations, at the end of the twentieth century, Afghans were the largest refugee population in the world.
Due to the combination of more than twenty years of civil strife and severe drought conditions, Afghanistan had one of the lowest living standards in the world by 1999 with per person gross national product estimated at US$800. In addition, the country's infant mortality rate (149.7) was the world's third highest, and its overall life expectancy (46 years) was the sixteenth lowest in 2000. Significantly, Afghan women suffered the greatest personal loss of freedom during the latter decades of the twentieth century after the controlling Taliban government placed strict prohibitions on their roles, forbidding them from working or attending schools outside their homes or from interacting with unrelated males.
Prior to the onset of civil war, slightly more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's labor force was employed in agriculture, and about one-half of its gross domestic product was agricultural. In 1996 the country exported $80 million worth of fruit, nut, hand woven carpet, wood, cotton, hides, and pelts as well as precious and semiprecious gem products. Afghanistan's largest export product however, was opium. In fact, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Afghanistan was the world's largest producer of illicit opium in 1999. The major political factions accumulated profits from the illegal drug trade.
Although Afghanistan experienced invasions by other civilizations—most notably Alexander the Great (328 B.C.), Genghis Khan (1219 B.C.), Tamerlane (late fourteenth century), and Babur (early sisteenth century)—none of them transformed Afghan society to the extent of the Arabic invasion that brought the Islamic religion to the region in the mid-seventh century. By the end of the ninth century, most Afghans converted to Sunni Islam replacing Buddhism, Hinduism, Zorastrianism, and other religions of previous empires, invaders, and indigenous groups. Even with the wholesale adoption of the Islamic faith, however, Afghanistan remained a loosely organized tribal society until a tribal council elected Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pashtun, as king in 1747, formally establishing the country and its monarchy.
From 1747 until 1978, all of Afghanistan's rulers were from Durrani's Pashtun extended tribe and, after 1818, all were members of that tribe's Mohammadzai clan. The last member of the Pashtun tribal royal family to rule Afghanistan was Sardar Mohammad Daud, former prime minister and a cousin of King Zahir Shah (who reigned from 1933 to 1973). Daud seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1973. Daud abolished the monarchy, abrogated King Zahir's 1964 constitution, and declared himself the first president and prime minister of the Afghanistan "republic."
In April 1978 members of the communist-inspired People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew Daud, killing him and most of his family. The PDPA attempted to institute broad communist-inspired social reforms that contradicted many deeply held Islamic traditions. Many of PDPA's changes were brutally imposed. Thousands of traditional, religious, and intellectual leaders were tortured, imprisoned, or murdered during the PDPA reign.
In September 1979, Hafizullah Amin seized power, thus igniting further rebellion. Amin refused to heed Soviet advice on how to stabilize the country and its government so, in December 1979, Russia invaded (killing Amin) and installed Babrak Karmal as prime minister. Even with substantial Russian support, however, the Karmal regime was only able to establish limited control in the area surrounding the capital city of Kabul.
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