"God is the greatest. there is no god but allah and muhammad is his prophet"
Afghanistan, or, precisely, the islamic republic of afghanistan, is a landlocked central asian country located between china, pakistan, iran, uzbekistan, turkmenistan and tajikistan.
Afghanistan, as a crossroads in the heart of asia, has always been an important place on trade routes, especially on the silk road, but the country has also suffered from its strategic position because it has been the stake of many wars and that long before our era. Although the harshness of its landscapes and climate and the conflicts that have plagued the country over the last few decades have discouraged most tourists, the country offers many treasures to travelers who venture into its mountains and discover a warm, friendly and welcoming population.
Afghanistan at a glance
islamic republic of afghanistan
capital: kabul since 1776
administrative divisions: 34 provinces
population: more than 32 million inhabitants
official languages: pachto and dari
religion: islam, state religion
current president: ashraf ghani
currency: afghani (1 afghani = 100 puli)
conversion into euro: 100 afghani = 1.30 euro
tourism: strongly not recommended due to health risks and terrorist attacks
A mountainous country
The relief of afghanistan is predominantly mountainous and there are more than a hundred summits exceeding 6,000 meters of altitude. The highest point of the country is the nowshak (7,690 meters) located on the border of pakistan. It is part of the hindu kush chain, whose snow-capped peaks provide most of the water to the country because they feed streams that can even cause deadly flooding in the spring.
However, the different rivers are dry before reaching the sea. only the kabul river flows into the aral sea.
Landscapes are arid in most parts of the country, except for a few forests in the eastern regions.
The climate is particularly hostile with significant temperature variations between the north (up to -25 °) and the south of the country (up to 49 °).
An eventful history
Archaeological excavations have made it possible to determine the presence of man in afghanistan dating back to the lower palaeolithic era, more than 100,000 years ago. The first inhabitants probably subsisted from hunting and later on from the rearing of numerous species of birds in the region. The archaeological findings made it possible to establish that there existed a well-organized civilization in afghanistan long before our times. Thus the prehistoric city of mundigak developed in the 4th millennium bc on the shores of helmand while the site of shortugai became an important colony of the indus civilization and was already rich thanks to gold, copper and lead, mining and stone carving including lapis lazuli.
A coveted land
To understand the history of afghanistan, we must go back to the 6th century bc when cyrus ii, the founder of the persian empire, set out to conquer central asia and annexed bactria, a region around the city of bactres (now called balkh, in the north of afghanistan). This vast area, which once occupied much of afghanistan, tajikistan and uzbekistan, had an important cultural influence as a satrapy of the persian monarchy before being conquered by alexander the great in 329 bc. The history of afghanistan is a succession of invasions by the scythians, the parthians, the buddhist kushans and various hindu, arab and turkish tribes.
From the 7th century, islam became the dominant religion of the afghans and in the 11th century the country was considered the center of islamic civilization. in 1526, the turkish babur shah left his capital kabul to defeat the army of the sultan of delhi and founded the mughal empire.
By the mid 18th century, a warrior from the mountains, ahmad shah, brought together the afghan tribes in order to win the battle of panipat, not far from delhi, thus giving birth to the durrani dynasty and giving afghanistan the bulk of its land mass, from tibet to the indian ocean.
The british are taking advantage of the weakening of india in order to settle there and will try to extend their supremacy to afghanistan. The british army, however, experienced a crushing defeat in 1841 when the afghans rebelled against an officer with 16,500 troops in kabul.
The afghans steal the army's equipment, who must also wipe out the fire of the sharpshooters, thus causing a veritable scandal in the ranks of the british soldiers who are decimated or captured and enslaved. The treaty of gandamak concluded in 1879 recognizes the autonomy of afghanistan which respects neutrality, especially during the cold war.
Between civil wars and religious wars
The country became independent in 1921 and the kingdom of afghanistan was founded a few years later by emir amanullah, who was soon overthrown by traditional muslims.
The contemporary history of afghanistan has seen many coups and assassinations of leaders. in the early 1980s, the soviet army invaded the country and faced not only afghan troops but also muslims from other countries to support local resistance. The soviets occupied afghanistan until 1989 and left behind a country that was prey to a civil war between communists and mujahedeen (fighters of the faith), who took over and ruled until 1996, when the taliban took control of kabul. The taliban regime remained until 2001 when hamid karzai came to power, backed by the united states, who wanted to establish a democracy.
An overview of political life in afghanistan
Hamid karzai was elected a president of the republic on october 9th 2004 despite some suspicions of electoral fraud. the new government rejects warlords who have only one representative in the cabinet.
In the same year, afghanistan adopted a constitution that proclaimed islam as a source of law but did not apply the sharia law codifying all public or private moments of muslims. However, the election of hamid karzai did not put an end to the violence in the country and taliban rebels maintain civil war in parts of Afghanistan.
In september 2005, parliamentary elections were held in the country as best they could. this is a historic event, since for the first time women are eligible for parliament and municipal councils. Since 2014, ashraf ghani has succeeded hamid karzai. this economist and anthropologist is from the lôgar and he has been living for a long time in the united states where he was a university professor. He actively participated in the reconstruction of his country after the fall of the taliban and played an important role in the bonn agreements allowing the afghan authorities, backed by the united nations, to return to power after the international military intervention in 2001.
Minister of finance of hamid karzai's government, he became president by defeating abdullah abdullah, representative of the united national front party. he agrees to acknowledge his defeat only through the agreement allowing him to become a head of government.
At present, afghanistan is governed by the president and two vice-presidents, who together with the cabinet represent the executive. legislative power is in the hands of the parliament consisting of the house of the people and the council of elders (senate).
A dynamic economy
Despite a stormy climate and a background of civil war, afghanistan is benefiting from an economy with a good growth rate. there is also a parallel economy of barter and exchange, principles strongly rooted in the traditions of the afghan people.
After the international intervention, the country is trying to open itself up to the world and attract foreign investors by relying in particular on the help of the united states and the bank's reconstruction fund managed by the bank and the trust fund for the law and the order.
In 2001, the country is in ruins, but the millions of refugees who have fled their homelands are gradually returning after having been trained to many jobs. They help to raise afghanistan from its ashes, improve technologies and create attractive banks for private investors. Afghanistan is in a possession of a wealth of natural resources, and its sub-soil, still little used, is full of minerals, coal, gas and precious stones. However, agriculture remains the main activity of afghans. Harvesting only covers the needs of the population. International aid should provide solutions to the problems of drought and cereal diseases in order to export surpluses.
Drought is also the cause of the reduction of more than 50% of livestock in two decades. It has seriously diminished the resources of the population, especially those of the nomads who live from the manufacture of carpets and livestock.
In conclusion, the economic recovery and the improvement of the standard of living (creation of schools, access to health care, reconstruction of housing, etc.) benefit only a small percentage of the population and gdp per capita remains the lowest in the world. More than 60 per cent of afghans live in extreme poverty and isolation due to lack of road infrastructure and safe drinking water.
The afghans, a disparate population
Due to its turbulent history, afghanistan is made up of different distinct ethnic groups. It is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify their composition precisely because there is no census.
The total population has exceeded 32 million but the rate of growth is particularly high and it is estimated that the afghans will be more than 50 million by 2025. this is due in particular to the return of refugees who fled civil wars and a high fertility rate of 5.3 children per woman.
However, this fertility is offset by infant mortality, which reaches a sad record, with 16% of children not reaching adulthood. There are about 40 languages and dialects in afghanistan, including the two official ones, the pachto and the dari. the farsi close to the dari is the main foreign language. The afghans are divided into a dozen ethnic groups, the main ones being:
• the majority pashtuns in the country represent the founding warrior people of afghanistan. they express themselves in pashto, an indo-european language. they are widely represented in political and cultural life. from sunni muslim confession, the pashtun people are welcoming and cultivated, adept at free opinion.
• the hazaras occupy part of central afghanistan where they try to survive by raising sheep and offering crafts (jewelry, carpets). their origin remains unclear and several theories are advanced, notably a mongolian or turkish ancestry. the hazaras speak a persian dialect dotted with mongolian words, the dari. they are mostly shiite duodecimains
• tajiks from the iranian plateaus who settled mainly in the north-east of the country. they also speak dari.
• uzbeks of turkish origin express themselves in uzbek, a dialect close to turkish.
These important ethnic groups coexist with several tribes such as the aimak, persian nomad tribe living on the highlands of the northwest, turkmens and kyrgyz of turkish origin, baluchis of iranian origin, nouristanis descendants of indo-european migrations as well as minorities of indian origin who express themselves in panjabi.
Most afghans are sunni muslims or shiites. Less than 1% of the population is hindu, sikh, jewish or christian.
A little of culture
Afghanistan has a long history and therefore has seen great moments of prosperity that have contributed to the emergence of cities and its cultural influence. unfortunately the incessant conflicts have destroyed many historical monuments.
The city of kabul was particularly damaged. The capital is slowly recovering and important construction work has been undertaken since 2001 offering a curious mix, a city of tradition with modern architecture. tourists can still admire some historical remains such as the fort destroyed by the english and rebuilt identically in the 19th century, the garden sheltering the tomb of the sovereign bābour, the former royal palace transformed into a presidential residence, the remains of the darulaman palace and various mausoleums.
The city museum that had been the prey of the iconoclastic taliban was rebuilt and some of the works were restored. however, the travelers can discover some curiosities and interesting sights including:
• the city of herat founded by alexander the great on the silk road. one can admire the citadel ekhtiyaruddin built in the early 14th century, the friday mosque and the mausoleum of goharshad, built in honor of the favorite wife of emperor shah rukh, who died in 1457.
• the archaeological site of the bamiyan valley whose buddhas carved from the rock were destroyed by the taliban
• the town of balkh, the remains of its citadel, its madrassa (law school) dating from the 17th century and the sanctuary of kwaja parsa.
• the city of kandahar, the former imperial capital and main city of the pashtuns, remarkable for its red mosque. the afghan cuisine is simple, little varied and mainly composed of dried fruit, vegetables and legumes as well as cereals. the dishes are cooked in oil and sometimes served with mutton or beef, the whole is flavored with herbs and spices.
The daily dish of the afghan peasant is qrouti or kechek, a mixture of yoghurt, cereal, onions and tomatoes served in soup or on a slice of mana'ich bread, a kind of baked cake.
Afghans mainly drink sweet, black or green tea, flavored with cardamom and served with dried fruit. An unsafe country for tourists the unstable situation in Afghanistan and the significant risks of terrorist attacks and attacks or kidnappings aimed at the western countries make it impossible to visit the country under normal security conditions. In addition, crime often linked to drug traffic is particularly important. It is extremely dangerous to travel alone, night or day, in kabul or simply to carry valuables. Roads are also dangerous because of the many attacks of vehicles, including public transport.
All tourist stays are strongly not recommended. The business trips should be undertaken with precaution and can only be carried out after having been notified to the embassy. In terms of health, the almost total absence of drinking water and the lack of hygiene are the cause of many diseases, including cholera, rabies and leprosy. It is important to follow strict measures such as never to consume raw foods and use only water in encapsulated or boiled water.
The protection against mosquito bites responsible for malaria is also required.
It is recommended to be vaccinated against diphtheria-tetanus-poliomyelitis, hepatitis a, typhoid fever, rabies.