Davis: Do you want to chat about Afghanistan?

General View

Afghanistan has spent the last 3 decades in the news for all the wrong reasons. While visiting has not been advisable for several years, it has much to offer the intrepid traveller. That said, even the more adventurous should consider looking elsewhere for thrill seeking at the moment.. Temperatures in the central highlands are below freezing for most of the winter, and snow is common at higher elevations.. Summertime highs in lower elevations (such as Jalalabad or Mazar e Sharif) can exceed 50 C / 120 F In higher areas such as Kabul, summer temperatures can be 30 C / 90 F and winter around 0 C / 30 F The most pleasant weather in Kabul is during April, May and September..

Mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest. The Hindu Kush mountains run northeast to southwest, dividing the northern provinces from the rest of the country, with the highest peaks found in the northern Wakhan Corridor.. The lowest point is Amu Darya at 258 m, and the highest is Nowshak at 7,485 m. Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse country. Tribal and local allegiances are strong, which complicates national politics immensely.. The largest ethnic group is the Pashtun, followed by Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and others..

Baloch tribesmen, still largely nomadic, can be found anywhere between Quetta in Pakistan and Mashad in Iran, including much of western Afghanistan. They make marvellous rugs, if somewhat simple.. There are thousands of Hindus and Sikhs living in different cities but mostly in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar who belong to the Punjabi, Sindhi, Kabuli, and Kandhari ethnic groups.. Hazaras in the central mountains look much more Asiatic than other Afghans. According to some theories, they are descended from Genghis Khan's soldiers..

The two largest linguistic groups speak Pashto and Dari (Afghan Persian). Pashto speakers predominate in the south and east, Dari in the north, west and central Afghanistan. About 11% of the population have Turkic languages, Uzbek.. or Turkmen, as their first language. Many of them are in the north, near Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Minor native language groups include Nuristanis, Pashais and Pamiris, found in small pockets in the east and northeast.. Mir Wais Hotak rose up against the Persians in 1709 and established the Hotaki dynasty, with its capital at Kandahar. It later included what is now Iran and Iraq but the Hotaki dynasty collapsed in 1738..

In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani re established Afghanistan and expanded it to include much of Pakistan as well as northeastern Iran and the Western parts India.. The country has a long history of warfare, mostly against invaders such as Darius I, Alexander of Macedon, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, and the British.. Its recent history is no exception.. After the April 1978 revolution and successful coup by pro Communist forces, the Soviet Union invaded in December 1979 to support the new socialist government..

By February 1989 all Soviet forces withdrew from the country but fighting continued between Soviet backed Afghan government forces and mujahideen rebels, who were funded by the United States, Saudi Arabia and others while trained by Pakistan and Iran.. The Taliban grew out of this chaos in late 1994, providing a solution to what was by this time a civil war. Backed by foreign sponsors, and inspired by a conservative sect of Islam, the Taliban developed as a political force to end the civil war and bring security to the country..

They seized the capital of Kabul in late 1996 and controlled most of the country by 2000, aside from some areas in the northeast.. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda militants to the United States, though they did offer to try Osama in their own shariah court if the US government shared " solid evidence " of his alleged guilt with them, and also expressed willingness in principle to consider extraditing Osama to a neutral country for a trial before a shariah court there if such an action would stave off US led invasion..

The US refused to share whatever evidence they had with the Taliban and considered the Taliban's offers insufficient, so they and their allies chose to take military action with support from anti Taliban Afghans — mainly Kazakhs and Kirghiz from the north of the country who fought in the Northern Alliance — causing the Taliban's government to fall in December 2001.. That same month, representatives from all ethnic groups of Afghanistan met in Germany and agreed to form a new government with Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority. Following a nationwide election in 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan..

A year later, in 2005, legislative elections were held and the country's parliament began functioning again. In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out anti government elements, the country suffers from widespread election fraud, poverty, corruption, and opium cultivation.. In 2005, Afghanistan and the US signed a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a long term relationship. In 2012, Afghanistan and the US signed another more important strategic partnership agreement..

It also signed strategic partnership agreements with India, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and many other nations. In the mean time, around 50 billion US dollars is being spent on the reconstruction of the country.. Officially 220V 50 Hz. Electricity supplies are erratic, but slowly improving in major cities. Voltage can drop to below 150V in some places. The Afghans' enthusiasm for homemade generators or modifying low quality ones means that the frequency and voltage can also vary wildly..

There are three types of electrical outlets likely to be found in Afghanistan. They are the old British standard BS 546 and the newer British standard BS 1363. But the European standard CEE 7/7 " Schukostecker " or " Schuko " is the standard and obviously most common.. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travellers should pack adapters for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Afghanistan. You may also find cheap universal adapters in the local markets.. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby – a hilarious account of pioneer trekking in Nuristan in the 1950s.

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart – a fascinating post 9/11 travelogue of Stewart's walk from Herat to Kabul just after the fall of the Taliban.. The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini – a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of childhood in Afghanistan. Good Morning Afghanistan by Waseem Mahmood - a true account of the setting up of the first public radio station in Kabul after the Taliban fell.. An Unexpected Light; Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliot — a true travelogue from the period between the expulsion of the Soviets and the ascension of the Taliban. He went everywhere..

For a Pagan Song by Jonny Bealby - a brilliant account of the author's journey to retrace the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling's heroes in The Man Who Would Be King to discover the land of Kafiristan and the people who inhabit the region..

General Info

Afghanistan ifnstn, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in Central Asia and South Asia. It has a population of approximately 31 million people, making it the 42nd most populous country in the world.. It is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far northeast. Its territory covers 652,000 km2, making it the 41st largest country in the world.. Human habitation in Afghanistan dates back to the Middle Paleolithic Era, and the country's strategic location along the Silk Road connected it to the cultures of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia..

Through the ages the land has been home to various peoples and witnessed many military campaigns, notably by Alexander the Great, Arab Muslims, Genghis Khan, and in the modern era by Western powers.. The land also served as a source from which the Kushans, Hephthalites, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Khiljis, Mughals, Durranis, and others have risen to form major empires.. The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Hotaki and Durrani dynasties in the 18th Century. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the " Great Game " between British India and the Russian Empire..

Following the 1919 Anglo Afghan War, King Amanullah and King Mohammed Zahir Shah attempted modernization of the country. A series of coups in 1973, 1978, and 1979 was followed by a Soviet invasion and a series of civil wars that devastated much of the country..

What To See

Afghanistan has several sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including;. the Band e Amir National Park in Bamyan Province. the Minaret of Jam, north of Herat. the Buddhist sculptures at Bamiyan, largely destroyed by the Taliban. Almost every Afghan town has a fine mosque. Those of Herat and Mazar i Sharif are particularly remarkable..

How To Get In

Most visitors need to apply for a visa in advance, and are often easier to obtain than you might expect. See the Afghanistan Foreign Ministry's visa webpage.. Kabul International Airport (IATA; KBL) in Kabul is the main entry point to the country. In late 2008, the barely functioning old terminal was refurbished and is now being used for domestic flights, while the brand new Japanese constructed terminal is up and running and fielding international flights.. The national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, is flying with a small fleet of about 14 Airbuses and Boeings (plus Antonovs). They have daily flights from Dubai, and periodic flights from Frankfurt, Islamabad, Delhi, Istanbul, Baku and Tehran..

Ariana is particularly bad at keeping to schedules, flights can be cancelled or delayed without notice.. A better option is the independent operator Kam Air, which has twice daily flights from Dubai, twice weekly flights from Delhi and weekly flight from Almaty, Istanbul and Mashad. Some of the flights on the Dubai to Kabul route stop in Herat if you'd prefer to enter the country there.. Pamir Airways is a new private airline that offers daily flights between Kabul and Dubai (USD330 inbound, USD210 outbound), some stopping in Herat. Safi Air also provides flights between Dubai and Kabul..

They are the only safety accredited airline in Afghanistan. Safi is the only Afghan airline allowed to fly into Europe and has direct flights to Frankfurt. The service is good and planes are sound.. Air Arabia flies 4 times per week from Sharjah - however they have currently suspended operations. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flies 4 times per week from Islamabad and 1 time per week from Peshawar to Kabul.. Another route in may be via through Tehran or Mashad in Iran. Iran Air has periodic flights from Tehran to Kabul. Air India operates six flights a week from Delhi to Kabul. Turkish Airlines also began flights between Kabul and Istanbul in 2011..

Flights to other cities such as Mazar e Sharif may be available if you can hook up with the charter company PACTEC however seating is very limited.. There are a number of roads into Afghanistan;. From Peshawar, Pakistan via the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad, in the east.. From Quetta, Pakistan to Kandahar, in the south.. From Mashad, Iran to Herat, in the west.. From Uzbekistan to Mazar e Sharif, in the north.. From Tajikistan to Kunduz, in the northwest.. As of mid 2009, none of these routes can be considered safe. The Khyber and the Quetta to Kandahar route are particularly dangerous..

Buses run regularly between Jalalabad and Peshawar, Pakistan. Also, between Herat and Mashad, Iran. Afghani buses are thoroughly checked by Iranian border police for possible drugs, so expect delays..

How To Get Around

Planes fly between Kabul and the major cities (Kandahar, Herat and Mazar e Sharif) at varying frequency. If weather is suitable, flights are operated daily. Most flights depart cities in the mornings before 11 AM only.. Civilian airplanes are not operated after sundown.. There is a growing network of public transportation between the country's cities. Buses ply some routes and Toyota vehicles have a near monopoly on minivan (HiAce) and taxi (Corolla) transportation.. A new highway connects Kabul and Mazar i Sharif. The highway is in good condition and is considered " relatively " safe. The trip takes a minimum of 5 hr. The highway goes through the famous Salang Mountains and cross the Hindu Kush mountain ranges..

If you hire a relatively new Toyota Corolla, this would cost you about USD100 (if bargained by a local) for one direction from the Mazar Station in Kabul to anywhere in Mazar i Sharif.. There is no metered taxi in large parts of Afghanistan. Taxis are yellow and clearly identifiable. You should normally strike a deal with the driver before you take a seat. You can consider 2–3 km of road in ideal conditions to be around USD1 worth (AFN50).. Jeeps and Land Cruisers are available for hire along with drivers who speak some English (do not keep your hopes high that you might bump into one of them). There are tour operators in Kabul that can provide a car and guide; these people are available for hire at the Kabul International Airport itself..

Petrol stations are scarce in the countryside, and fuel is expensive.. Paved roads are the exception, not the rule, and even those roads can be in poor repair. Once outside the major cities expect dirt roads (which turn to mud during rain or snow melt).. The highway between Kabul and Bagram is dominated by military convoys and " jingle trucks ".. A new highway links Kabul to Kandahar. The highway is in good condition but should not be considered safe due to frequent attacks by anti government forces such as the Taliban who often plant powerful mines (bombs) next to highways in which civilians are killed, and the poor standard of driving..

The trip takes a minimum of 5 hours..

Videos

How To Get In

Most visitors need to apply for a visa in advance, and are often easier to obtain than you might expect. See the Afghanistan Foreign Ministry's visa webpage.. Kabul International Airport (IATA; KBL) in Kabul is the main entry point to the country. In late 2008, the barely functioning old terminal was refurbished and is now being used for domestic flights, while the brand new Japanese constructed terminal is up and running and fielding international flights.. The national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, is flying with a small fleet of about 14 Airbuses and Boeings (plus Antonovs). They have daily flights from Dubai, and periodic flights from Frankfurt, Islamabad, Delhi, Istanbul, Baku and Tehran..

Ariana is particularly bad at keeping to schedules, flights can be cancelled or delayed without notice.. A better option is the independent operator Kam Air, which has twice daily flights from Dubai, twice weekly flights from Delhi and weekly flight from Almaty, Istanbul and Mashad. Some of the flights on the Dubai to Kabul route stop in Herat if you'd prefer to enter the country there.. Pamir Airways is a new private airline that offers daily flights between Kabul and Dubai (USD330 inbound, USD210 outbound), some stopping in Herat. Safi Air also provides flights between Dubai and Kabul..

They are the only safety accredited airline in Afghanistan. Safi is the only Afghan airline allowed to fly into Europe and has direct flights to Frankfurt. The service is good and planes are sound.. Air Arabia flies 4 times per week from Sharjah - however they have currently suspended operations. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flies 4 times per week from Islamabad and 1 time per week from Peshawar to Kabul.. Another route in may be via through Tehran or Mashad in Iran. Iran Air has periodic flights from Tehran to Kabul. Air India operates six flights a week from Delhi to Kabul. Turkish Airlines also began flights between Kabul and Istanbul in 2011..

Flights to other cities such as Mazar e Sharif may be available if you can hook up with the charter company PACTEC however seating is very limited.. There are a number of roads into Afghanistan;. From Peshawar, Pakistan via the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad, in the east.. From Quetta, Pakistan to Kandahar, in the south.. From Mashad, Iran to Herat, in the west.. From Uzbekistan to Mazar e Sharif, in the north.. From Tajikistan to Kunduz, in the northwest.. As of mid 2009, none of these routes can be considered safe. The Khyber and the Quetta to Kandahar route are particularly dangerous..

Buses run regularly between Jalalabad and Peshawar, Pakistan. Also, between Herat and Mashad, Iran. Afghani buses are thoroughly checked by Iranian border police for possible drugs, so expect delays..

How To Get Around

Planes fly between Kabul and the major cities (Kandahar, Herat and Mazar e Sharif) at varying frequency. If weather is suitable, flights are operated daily. Most flights depart cities in the mornings before 11 AM only.. Civilian airplanes are not operated after sundown.. There is a growing network of public transportation between the country's cities. Buses ply some routes and Toyota vehicles have a near monopoly on minivan (HiAce) and taxi (Corolla) transportation.. A new highway connects Kabul and Mazar i Sharif. The highway is in good condition and is considered " relatively " safe. The trip takes a minimum of 5 hr. The highway goes through the famous Salang Mountains and cross the Hindu Kush mountain ranges..

If you hire a relatively new Toyota Corolla, this would cost you about USD100 (if bargained by a local) for one direction from the Mazar Station in Kabul to anywhere in Mazar i Sharif.. There is no metered taxi in large parts of Afghanistan. Taxis are yellow and clearly identifiable. You should normally strike a deal with the driver before you take a seat. You can consider 2–3 km of road in ideal conditions to be around USD1 worth (AFN50).. Jeeps and Land Cruisers are available for hire along with drivers who speak some English (do not keep your hopes high that you might bump into one of them). There are tour operators in Kabul that can provide a car and guide; these people are available for hire at the Kabul International Airport itself..

Petrol stations are scarce in the countryside, and fuel is expensive.. Paved roads are the exception, not the rule, and even those roads can be in poor repair. Once outside the major cities expect dirt roads (which turn to mud during rain or snow melt).. The highway between Kabul and Bagram is dominated by military convoys and " jingle trucks ".. A new highway links Kabul to Kandahar. The highway is in good condition but should not be considered safe due to frequent attacks by anti government forces such as the Taliban who often plant powerful mines (bombs) next to highways in which civilians are killed, and the poor standard of driving..

The trip takes a minimum of 5 hours..

What To Buy

The Afghani (AFN) is, not surprisingly, the currency of Afghanistan. As of December, 2009, USD1 equals about AFN48.50, while €1 trades about AFN70.. Haggling is very much part of the tradition.. Afghanistan's most famous products are carpets. There are carpets described as " Afghan ", but also at least two other carpet weaving traditions. The Baluchi tribes in the south and west weave fine rugs, and the Turkoman tribes in the north do as well; both groups are also found in neighbouring countries..

All three types tend to use geometric patterns in the design, usually with red as the background colour and with repeated elements called " guls " to make the pattern. Generally, these are not as finely woven as carpets from the cities of neighbouring Iran.. However, many of them are quite beautiful and their prices are (assuming good haggling) well below those of the top Iranian carpets.. Baluchi rugs are usually small since nomadic people cannot use large looms; sizes up to 1.5 by 2 metres (4 x 7 feet) are common, but not many beyond that. They are popular with travellers because they are fairly portable..

One very common type is a prayer rug, just large enough for one person to kneel facing Mecca. Another is the " nomad's chest of drawers " — a bag, often beautifully decorated, that is a saddlebag when travelling and hangs on the wall of the tent when camped.. Turkoman rugs, often labelled " Bokhara " in the Western rug trade, come in all sizes and a very broad range of quality. Some are woven by nomads, with the same range of sizes and types as Baluchi rugs.. Others are made in city workshops; the best of these are almost as finely woven and almost as expensive as top grade Persian carpets. One fairly common design is the Hatchli, a cross shape on a large rug..

Afghan rugs are generally made in city workshops, mainly for the export trade. They are often large; 3 x 4 metres (10 x 12 feet) is common. Most are quite coarsely woven to keep costs down, but others have a fairly fine weave.. If you need a big rug for the living room at a moderate price, these are likely to be your best choice.. It is fairly common for rugs woven by nomads — such as many Baluchi rugs and some Turkoman — to show minor irregularities. The loom is dismantled for transport and re assembled at the new camp, so the rug may not turn out perfectly rectangular..

Vegetable dyes are often used, and these may vary from batch to batch, so some colour variation (arbrash) occurs and this may be accentuated as the rug fades. To collectors, most such irregularities fall into the " that's not a bug; it's a feature " category; they are expected and accepted.. In fact, a nice arbrash can considerably increase the value of a rug.. Turkoman designs are widely copied; it is common to see " Bokhara " carpets from India or Pakistan, China produces some, and the Afghan carpet designs show heavy Turkoman influence. To collectors, though, the original Turkoman rugs are worth a good deal more..

Good Baluchi rugs are also quite valuable in Western countries. Afghan rugs, or lower grade Baluchi and Turkoman rugs, generally are not collectors' items; most travellers will find the best buys among these.. Experts might pay premium prices for the top grade rugs, but amateurs trying that are very likely to get severely overcharged.. Kelims are flat woven fabric with no pile. These are nowhere near as tough as carpets and will not survive decades on the floor as a good carpet will. However, some are lovely, and they are generally cheaper than carpets..

Things like purses made of carpet or decorated with kelim weave are also common.. Another common product and popular souvenir is the Afghan sheepskin coat. These have the wool on the inside for warmth and the leather on the outside to block wind, rain and snow. They often have lovely embroidery.. Two cautions, though. One is that the makers use the embroidery to hide flaws in the leather; top quality coats will have little or no embroidery.. The other is that Australian customs have been known to incinerate these coats on arrival, to protect their large sheep population from diseases (notably anthrax) that poorly tanned Afghan products might carry..

There are also various bits of metalwork — heavily decorated pots, vases and platters, and some quite nice knives.. Guns are very common in Afghanistan and some are of considerable interest to historians and collectors.. The traditional Afghan jezail is a long muzzle loading rifle often elaborately inlaid with brass or mother of pearl. Be cautious about actually firing one of these. The genuine ones are quite old, perhaps with metal fatigue or other problems.. Many of the jezails available are not genuine, just copies made recently for the tourist trade; these were never designed to be fired and are more likely to kill the shooter than to hit a target..

There are also pass made rifles, from the Khyber Pass area. The most common are copies of the 19th century British army Martini Henry rifle, a single shot lever action weapon. Some are.451 caliber like the original Martini Henry, but some take a more modern round.. 303 is common.. Until the Russian invasion in the late 70s — when anyone who could kill a Russian, rob an armoury, or pay the price (i e, almost any Afghan) got an AK 47 — these were the most common rifle in Afghanistan.. There are also pass made copies of various other guns, anything from Webley revolvers to AK 47s. Quality is often dodgy, in particular the steel is often of low quality, and firing any of these guns is risky..

Ammunition made in the pass often contained less powder or lower grade powder than the standard ammo; some pass made guns blow up if subjected to the higher stress of standard ammo.. These make a rather problematic souvenir. Importing a firearm anywhere can be difficult and it may be impossible in some places. If you are travelling overland and passing through several countries before you reach home, it is almost certainly not worth the trouble. Also, if you actually fire any Afghan gun, there is a risk that it will blow up in your face..

What To Eat

There are three main types of Afghan bread;. Naan - Literally " bread ". Thin, long and oval shaped, its mainly a white / whole wheat blend. Topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, or some combination of these.. Upon request, customers may be able to get all white flour and a helping of oil, which makes it rich and delicious.. Obi Non - Uzbek style bread. Shaped like a disc and thicker than naan. Usually made with white flour.. Lavash - Very thin bread. Similar to the lavash elsewhere. Usually used as plating for meats and stews..

Rice dishes are the " king " of all foods in Afghanistan. The Afghans have certainly taken much time and effort in creating their rice dishes, as they are considered the best part of any meal.. Wealthier families will eat one rice dish per day. The Afghan royalty spent much time on rice preparation and invention as evidenced in the sheer number of rice dishes in their cookbooks. Weddings and family gatherings must feature several rice dishes and certainly reputations can be made in the realm of rice preparation..

Kabuli Pulao (or Kabuli Palaw, Qabili Palaw, Qabili Palau or simply Palau) - An Afghan rice dish consisting of steamed rice mixed with lentils, raisins, carrots, and lamb.. It is baked in the oven and topped with fried sliced carrots and raisins. Chopped nuts like pistachios or almonds may be added as well. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the middle of the dish.. It is the most popular dish in Afghanistan, and is considered the national dish.. Chalao White rice. Extra long grains such as Basmati is required. First parboiled, then drained, and finally baked in an oven with some oil, butter, and salt. This method creates a fluffy rice with each grain separated, unlike Chinese or Japanese rice..

Chalao is served mainly with qormas (korma; stews or casseroles). Palao - Cooked the same as chalao, but either meat & stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas for which some rices are named after.. Caramelized sugar is also sometimes used to give the rice a rich brown color.. Yakhni Palao - Meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice.. Zamarod Palao - Spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence ' zamarod ' or emerald..

Qorma Palao - Qorm'eh Albokhara wa Dalnakhod mixed in before the baking process. Bore Palao - Qorm'eh Lawand added. Creates a yellow rice.. Bonjan e Roomi Palao - Qorm'eh Bonjan e Roomi (tomato qorma) added at baking process. Creates a red rice.. Serkah Palao - Similar to yakhni palao, but with vinegar and other spices.. Shebet Palao - Fresh dill, raisins added at baking process.. Narenj Palao - A sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.. Maash Palao - A sweet and sour palao baked with mung beans, apricots, and bulgur (a kind of wheat). Exclusively vegetarian..

Alou Balou Palao - Sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.. Sticky Rices - Boiled medium grain rice cooked with its meat, herbs, and grains. Because the water is not drained, it forms a sticky rice texture. Notable dishes include Mastawa, Kecheri Qoroot, and Shola.. When white rice is cooked to a sticky consistency it is called bata, and is usually eaten with a qorma, such as Sabzi (spinach) or Shalgham (turnips). A sweet rice dish called Shir Birenj (literally milk rice) is often served as dessert..

Qorma is a stew or casserole, usually served with chawol. Most qormas are onion based. Onions are fried, then meat is added, as are a variety of fruits, spices, and vegetables depending on the recipe.. Finally water is added and left to simmer. The onion caramelizes and creates a richly colored stew. There exist over 100 qormas.. Qorma Alou Bokhara wa Dalnakhod - onion based, with sour plums, lentils, and cardamom. Veal or chicken.. Qorma Nadroo - onion based, with yogurt, lotus roots, cilantro, and coriander. Lamb or veal..

Qorma Lawand - onion based, with yogurt, turmeric, and cilantro. Chicken, lamb, or beef.. Qorma Sabzi - sauteed spinach and other greens. Lamb. Qorma Shalgham - onion based, with turnips, sugar; sweet and sour taste. Lamb.. Pasta is called " khameerbob " in Afghanistan and is often in the shape of dumplings. These native dishes are wildly popular. Due to the time consuming process of creating the dough for the dumplings, it is rarely served at large gatherings such as weddings, but for more special occasions at home;.

Mantu - A dish of Uzbek origin. Dumplings filled with onion & ground beef. Mantu is steamed and usually topped with a tomato based sauce and a yogurt or qoroot based sauce. The yogurt based topping is usually a mixture of yogurt, sour cream, and garlic.. The qoroot based sauce is made of goat cheese and is also mixed with garlic. Sometimes a qoroot and yogurt mixture will be used. The dish is then topped with dried mint.. Ashak - Kabul dish. Dumplings filled with leeks. Boiled and then drained. Ashak is topped with garlic mint qoroot or a garlic yogurt sauce and a well seasoned ground meat mixture..

Afghan kebab is most often found in restaurants and outdoor vendor stalls. Sometimes they are put into shishas. Families rarely serve homemade kebab in their home due to the need of inaccessible equipment.. The most widely used meat is lamb. Recipes differ with every restaurant, but Afghan kebab is usually marinated with a blend of spices, and served with naan, rarely rice. Customers have the option to sprinkle sumac, locally known as ghora, on their kebab.. The quality of kebab is solely dependent on the quality of the meat..

Pieces of fat from the sheep's tail (jijeq) are usually added with the lamb skewers to add extra flavor. Other popular kebabs include lamb chops, ribs, kofta (ground beef) and chicken; all of which are found in better restaurants.. Chapli kebab, a specialty of eastern Afghanistan, is a fried hamburger. The original recipe of chapli kebab dictates a half meat (or less), half flour mixture, which renders it lighter in taste, and less expensive.. Bolani, made in a very similar way as Mexican Quesadilla..

Afghan Cake (similar to pound cake sometimes with real fruit or jelly inside). Gosh Feel (thin, fried pastry covered in powdered sugar and ground pistachios). Fernea (Milk and cornstarch very sweet, similar to rice pudding without the rice). Mou rubba (fruit sauce, sugar syrup and fruits, apple, sour cherry, various berries or made with dried fruits " Afghan favorite is the Alu Bakhara "). Kulcha (Variety of cookies, baked in clay ovens with char wood). Narenge Palau (dried sweet orange peel and green raisins with a variety of nuts mixed with yellow rice glazed with light sugar syrup).

Options For Drink

Since Afghanistan is an Islamic country, alcohol consumption is illegal. However, it is tolerated in Western restaurants in Kabul..

Where To Sleep

Hotels and guesthouses are available in all major cities, and while some may not meet international standards they are usually friendly and reliable..

Connect

Fixed line service is available in major cities (digital in Kabul) and mobile phones in most cities. SIM cards are available and international calls to Europe / US typically cost less than USD0.5 / minute.. Outside of major cities your options are limited to a satellite phone.. An Afghanistan number should is of the form + 93 30 539-0605 where " 93 " is the country code for Afghanistan, the next two digits are the area code and the remaining 7 digits are the " local " part of the subscriber number that can be called from within that particular area code using abbreviated dialing..

You need to dial " 0 " in front of the geographic area code (of 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 for fixed lines) from outside that particular area code (but when still within Afghanistan).. Mobile numbers in Afghanistan must always be dialed with all digits (10 digits, including a " 0 " prefixing the " 70n " within Afghanistan), no matter where they are being called from.. The 70n is a mobile prefix, not an " area code ", as such and the third digit (the n part) denotes the original mobile network assigned. An example mobile number looks like + 93 700-202-496..

Roshan + 93 (0) 79 997 1333. The most reliable service with the widest coverage. SMS is possible to most countries. SIM cards cost USD5, local calls are AFN5 / minute (10 cents / min).. Afghan Wireless Privately owned with 20% ownership by the government. AWCC has the only communications ring around the country offering high speed mobile and data services throughout all provinces. AWCC also offers the highest speed fibre based connections to the outside world, with roaming to over 300 other operators in 120 countries..

Services include Voice, FAX, GPRS and EDGE data services along with WiMAX and dedicated high speed internet service with 45MB links to NYC and 45MB links to Paris. SIM cards cost USD1, local calls are AFN4.99 / minute billing in seconds.. Areeba / MTN + 93 (0) 77 222 2777. The cheapest cell service, offers the least coverage. SIM cards cost USD3, local calls are AFN5.5 / minute.. Etisalat + 93 (0) 78 688 8888. A large network provider from the UAE, is the latest GSM network in Afghanistan. It became the first company to begin 3G services in early 2012..

Thuraya is the most reliable..

How To Stay Safe

Afghanistan is a volatile country, and downright dangerous in the southern and eastern areas. Non essential travel is strongly discouraged. Banditry is some what of an ancient tradition in many parts of the country, including in the northern areas.. In addition to that, the Taliban insurgents have declared abduction of foreigners to be one of their primary goals. In July 2007, twenty three Koreans were kidnapped from a public bus in Ghazni province, south of Kabul.. Two of them were murdered while the rest were set free several weeks later after controversial negotiations with the Korean government..

The northern part of the country is considered to be safer than the south and east; however, occasional incidents can still occur anywhere and a seemingly safe place can become the opposite in an instant.. Several reporters for German media were killed in the northern parts of Afghanistan, most likely by criminals or anti westerners. 10 doctors (8 foreigners and 2 translators) were murdered in August 2010.. Landmines and other UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) remain a problem across the country, so plan to stick to well worn paths, avoid red and white painted rocks, and do not touch or move any suspicious looking item..

According to the Afghan Red Crescent Society, approximately 600-700 people are injured or killed every year in accidents due to landmines and UXO. This is greatly reduced from over 1,600 in 2002. While travelling in Afghanistan you are likely to see mine clearance organisations at work.. Insects and snakes are also something to be careful of, and the mountainous country has many vicious tiny creatures such as scorpions, spiders, centipedes, bees, etc. In some areas, altitude sickness is a significant risk..

Homosexual activity between consenting adults is punishable by an assortment of harsh punishments, including death, under Afghan law. LGBT travelers should exercise tremendous discretion.. If, after considering the risks, you still choose to travel in Afghanistan, hiring an armed escort or travelling with an experienced guide are ways to decrease the risks. You should also check with your embassy, and be clear on what they can and cannot do for you in an emergency..

History

Excavations of prehistoric sites by Louis Dupree and others suggest that humans were living in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming communities in the area were among the earliest in the world.. An important site of early historical activities, many believe that Afghanistan compares to Egypt in terms of the historical value of its archaeological sites.. The country sits at a unique nexus point where numerous civilizations have interacted and often fought. It has been home to various peoples through the ages, among them the ancient Iranian peoples who established the dominant role of Indo Iranian languages in the region..

At multiple points, the land has been incorporated within large regional empires, among them the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Indian Maurya Empire, and the Islamic Empire.. Many kingdoms have also risen to power in what is now Afghanistan, such as the Greco Bactrians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Kabul Shahis, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Kartids, Timurids, Mughals, and finally the Hotaki and Durrani dynasties that marked the political origins of the modern state.. Archaeological exploration done in the 20th century suggests that the geographical area of Afghanistan has been closely connected by culture and trade with its neighbors to the east, west, and north. Artifacts typical of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found in Afghanistan..

Urban civilization is believed to have begun as early as 3000 BCE, and the early city of Mundigak may have been a colony of the nearby Indus Valley Civilization.. After 2000 BCE, successive waves of semi nomadic people from Central Asia began moving south into Afghanistan; among them were many Indo European speaking Indo Iranians. These tribes later migrated further south to India, west to what is now Iran, and towards Europe via the area north of the Caspian Sea.. The region as a whole was called Ariana..

The people shared similar culture with other Indo Iranians. The ancient religion of Kafiristan survived here until the 19th century. Another religion, Zoroastrianism is believed by some to have originated in what is now Afghanistan between 1800 and 800 BCE, as its founder Zoroaster is thought to have lived and died in Balkh.. Ancient Eastern Iranian languages may have been spoken in the region around the time of the rise of Zoroastrianism. By the middle of the 6th century BCE, the Achaemenid Persians overthrew the Medes and incorporated Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria within its eastern boundaries..

An inscription on the tombstone of King Darius I of Persia mentions the Kabul Valley in a list of the 29 countries that he had conquered.. Alexander the Great and his Macedonian forces arrived to the area of Afghanistan in 330 BCE after defeating Darius III of Persia a year earlier in the Battle of Gaugamela.. Following Alexander's brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the region as one of their easternmost territories until 305 BCE, when they gave much of it to the Indian Maurya Empire as part of an alliance treaty..

The Mauryans introduced Buddhism and controlled the area south of the Hindu Kush until they were overthrown about 185 BCE. Their decline began 60 years after Ashoka's rule ended, leading to the Hellenistic reconquest of the region by the Greco Bactrians.. Much of it soon broke away from the Greco Bactrians and became part of the Indo Greek Kingdom. The Indo Greeks were defeated and expelled by the Indo Scythians in the late 2nd century BCE.. During the first century BCE, the Parthian Empire subjugated the region, but lost it to their Indo Parthian vassals. In the mid to late first century CE the vast Kushan Empire, centered in modern Afghanistan, became great patrons of Buddhist culture, making Buddhism flourish throughout the region..

The Kushans were defeated by the Sassanids in the 3rd century CE. Although the Indo Sassanids continued to rule at least parts of the region. They were followed by the Kidarite Huns who, in turn, were replaced by the Hephthalites.. By the 6th century CE, the successors to the Kushans and Hepthalites established a small dynasty called Kabul Shahi.. Between the 4th and 19th centuries, the northwestern area of modern Afghanistan was referred to by the regional name Khorasan. Two of the four capitals of Khorasan are now located in Afghanistan, while the regions of Kandahar, Zabulistan, Ghazni, Kabulistan, and Afghanistan formed the frontier between Khorasan and Hindustan..

Arab Muslims brought Islam to Herat and Zaranj in 642 CE and began spreading eastward; some of the native inhabitants they encountered accepted it while others revolted. The land was collectively recognized by the Arabs as al Hind due to its cultural connection with Greater India.. Before Islam was introduced, people of the region were multi religious, including Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Surya and Nana worshipers, Jews, and others. The Zunbils and Kabul Shahi were first conquered in 870 CE by the Saffarid Muslims of Zaranj..

Later, the Samanids extended their Islamic influence south of the Hindu Kush. It is reported that Muslims and non Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the Ghaznavids rose to power in the 10th century.. Afghanistan became one of the main centers in the Muslim world during the Islamic Golden Age. By the 11th century, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni defeated the remaining Hindu rulers and effectively Islamized the wider region, with the exception of Kafiristan.. The Ghaznavid dynasty was defeated and became the Nasher Khans. They were replaced by the Ghurids, who expanded and advanced the already powerful Islamic empire. In 1219 AD, Genghis Khan and his Mongol army overran the region..

His troops are said to have annihilated the Khorasanian cities of Herat and Balkh as well as Bamyan.. The destruction caused by the Mongols forced many locals to return to an agrarian rural society. Mongol rule continued with the Ilkhanate in the northwest while the Khilji dynasty administered the Afghan tribal areas south of the Hindu Kush until the invasion of Timur, who established the Timurid dynasty in 1370.. During the Ghaznavid, Ghurid, and Timurid eras, the region produced many fine Islamic architectural monuments and numerous scientific and literary works..

Babur, a descendant of both Timur and Genghis Khan, arrived from Fergana and captured Kabul from the Arghun dynasty. From there he began dominating control of the central and eastern territories of Afghanistan.. He remained in Kabulistan until 1526 when he invaded Delhi in India to replace the Lodi dynasty with the Mughal Empire. From the 16th century to the early 18th century, the region was contested between the Khanate of Bukhara, the Persian Safavid dynasty, and the Mughal Empire.. Mir Wais Hotak, the chieftain of the Ghilzai tribe, successfully rebelled against the declining Safavids in 1709. Along with Ghaznavid Khan Nasher, he overthrew and killed Gurgin Khan, and made the Afghan region independent from Persia..

By 1713, Mir Wais had decisively defeated two larger Persian armies, one led by Khusraw Khn and the other by Rustam Khn. The armies were sent by Sultan Husayn, the Shah of Persia, to re take control of the Kandahar region.. Mir Wais died of natural causes in 1715 and was succeeded by his brother Abdul Aziz, who was soon killed by Mir Wais' son Mahmud for treason. Mahmud led his Afghan army in 1722 to the Persian capital of Isfahan, captured the city after the Battle of Gulnabad and proclaimed himself King of Persia..

The Persians rejected Mahmud, and after the massacre of thousands of religious scholars, nobles, and members of the Safavid family, the Hotaki dynasty was ousted and banished from Persia by Nader Shah after the 1729 Battle of Damghan.. In 1738, Nader Shah and his Afsharid forces captured Kandahar, the last Hotaki stronghold, from Shah Hussain Hotaki, at which point the incarcerated 16 year old Ahmad Shah Durrani was freed and made the commander of Nader Shah's four thousand Abdali Afghans, joining him in his invasion of India..

After the death of Nader Shah in 1747, the Afghans chose Durrani as their head of state. Durrani and his Afghan army conquered present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Khorasan and Kohistan provinces of Iran, and Delhi in India.. He defeated the Indian Maratha Empire, and one of his biggest victories was the 1761 Battle of Panipat.. In October 1772, Durrani died of natural causes and was buried at a site now adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar. He was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah, who transferred the capital of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776..

After Timur's death in 1793, the Durrani throne passed down to his son Zaman Shah, followed by Mahmud Shah, Shuja Shah and others.. The Afghan Empire was under threat in the early 19th century by the Persians in the west and the British backed Sikhs in the east. Fateh Khan, leader of the Barakzai tribe, had installed 21 of his brothers in positions of power throughout the empire.. After his death, they rebelled and divided up the provinces of the empire between themselves. During this turbulent period, Afghanistan had many temporary rulers until Dost Mohammad Khan declared himself emir in 1826..

The Punjab region was lost to Ranjit Singh, who invaded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in 1834 captured the city of Peshawar. In 1837, during the Battle of Jamrud near the Khyber Pass, Akbar Khan and the Afghan army killed Sikh Commander Hari Singh Nalwa.. By this time the British were advancing from the east and the first major conflict during the " Great Game " was initiated.. Following the 1842 defeat of the British Indian forces and victory of the Afghans, the British established diplomatic relations with the Afghan government and withdrew all forces from the country. They returned during the Second Anglo Afghan War in the late 1870s for about two years to assist Abdur Rahman Khan defeat Ayub Khan..

The United Kingdom began to exercise a great deal of influence after this and even controlled the state's foreign policy. In 1893, Mortimer Durand made Amir Abdur Rahman Khan sign a controversial agreement in which the ethnic Pashtun and Baloch territories were divided by the Durand Line.. This was a standard divide and rule policy of the British and would lead to strained relations, especially with the later new state of Pakistan.. After the Third Anglo Afghan War and the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, King Amanullah Khan declared Afghanistan a sovereign and fully independent state..

He moved to end his country's traditional isolation by establishing diplomatic relations with the international community and, following a 192728 tour of Europe and Turkey, introduced several reforms intended to modernize his nation.. A key force behind these reforms was Mahmud Tarzi, an ardent supporter of the education of women. He fought for Article 68 of Afghanistan's 1923 constitution, which made elementary education compulsory. The institution of slavery was abolished in 1923.. Some of the reforms that were actually put in place, such as the abolition of the traditional burqa for women and the opening of a number of co educational schools, quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders..

Faced with overwhelming armed opposition, Amanullah Khan was forced to abdicate in January 1929 after Kabul fell to rebel forces led by Habibullah Kalakani. Prince Mohammed Nadir Shah, Amanullah's cousin, in turn defeated and killed Kalakani in November 1929, and was declared King Nadir Shah.. He abandoned the reforms of Amanullah Khan in favor of a more gradual approach to modernisation but was assassinated in 1933 by Abdul Khaliq, a Hazara school student.. Mohammed Zahir Shah, Nadir Shah's 19 year old son, succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. Until 1946, Zahir Shah ruled with the assistance of his uncle, who held the post of Prime Minister and continued the policies of Nadir Shah..

Another of Zahir Shah's uncles, Shah Mahmud Khan, became Prime Minister in 1946 and began an experiment allowing greater political freedom, but reversed the policy when it went further than he expected.. He was replaced in 1953 by Mohammed Daoud Khan, the king's cousin and brother in law. Daoud Khan sought a closer relationship with the Soviet Union and a more distant one towards Pakistan.. Afghanistan remained neutral and was neither a participant in World War II nor aligned with either power bloc in the Cold War. However, it was a beneficiary of the latter rivalry as both the Soviet Union and the United States vied for influence by building Afghanistan's main highways, airports, and other vital infrastructure..

In 1973, while King Zahir Shah was on an official overseas visit, Daoud Khan launched a bloodless coup and became the first President of Afghanistan. In the meantime, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto got neighboring Pakistan involved in Afghanistan.. Some experts suggest that Bhutto paved the way for the April 1978 Saur Revolution.. In April 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan seized power in Afghanistan in the Saur Revolution. Within months, opponents of the communist government launched an uprising in eastern Afghanistan that quickly expanded into a civil war waged by guerrilla mujahideen against government forces countrywide..

The Pakistani government provided these rebels with covert training centers, while the Soviet Union sent thousands of military advisers to support the PDPA government.. Meanwhile, increasing friction between the competing factions of the PDPA the dominant Khalq and the more moderate Parcham resulted in the dismissal of Parchami cabinet members and the arrest of Parchami military officers under the pretext of a Parchami coup.. In September 1979, Nur Muhammad Taraki was assassinated in a coup within the PDPA orchestrated by fellow Khalq member Hafizullah Amin, who assumed the presidency. Distrusted by the Soviets, Amin was assassinated by Soviet special forces in December 1979..

A Soviet organized government, led by Parcham's Babrak Karmal but inclusive of both factions, filled the vacuum. Soviet troops were deployed to stabilize Afghanistan under Karmal in more substantial numbers, although the Soviet government did not expect to do most of the fighting in Afghanistan.. As a result, however, the Soviets were now directly involved in what had been a domestic war in Afghanistan. The PDPA prohibited usury, declared equality of the sexes, and introducing women to political life..

The United States has been supporting anti Soviet forces as early as mid 1979. Billions in cash and weapons, which included over two thousand FIM 92 Stinger surface to air missiles, were provided by the United States and Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.. The 10 year Soviet war in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of over 1 million Afghans, mostly civilians, and the creation of about 6 million refugees who fled Afghanistan, mainly to Pakistan and Iran.. Faced with mounting international pressure and numerous casualties, the Soviets withdrew in 1989 but continued to support Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah until 1992..

From 1989 until 1992, Najibullah's government tried to solve the ongoing civil war without Soviet troops on the ground but with economic and military aid.. Najibullah tried to build support for his government and tried to portray his government as Islamic, and in the 1990 constitution the country officially became an Islamic state and all references of communism were removed.. Nevertheless, Najibullah did not win any significant support, and with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, he was left without foreign aid. This, coupled with the internal collapse of his government, led to his ousting from power in April 1992..

After the fall of Najibullah's government in 1992, the post communist Islamic State of Afghanistan was established by the Peshawar Accord, a peace and power sharing agreement under which all the Afghan parties were united in April 1992, except for the Pakistani supported Hezb e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.. Hekmatyar started a bombardment campaign against the capital city Kabul, which marked the beginning of a new phase in the war.. Saudi Arabia and Iran supported different Afghan militias and instability quickly developed. The conflict between the two militias soon escalated into a full scale war..

Due to the sudden initiation of the war, working government departments, police units, and a system of justice and accountability for the newly created Islamic State of Afghanistan did not have time to form.. Atrocities were committed by individuals of the different armed factions while Kabul descended into lawlessness and chaos. Because of the chaos, some leaders increasingly had only nominal control over their commanders. For civilians there was little security from murder, rape, and extortion..

An estimated 25,000 people died during the most intense period of bombardment by Hekmatyar's Hezb i Islami and the Junbish i Milli forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who had created an alliance with Hekmatyar in 1994.. Half a million people fled Afghanistan.. Southern and eastern Afghanistan were under the control of local commanders such as Gul Agha Sherzai and others. In 1994, the Taliban also developed in Afghanistan as a political religious force.. The Taliban took control of Kabul and several provinces in southern and central Afghanistan in 1994 and forced the surrender of dozens of local Pashtun leaders..

In late 1994, forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud held on to Kabul and bombardment of the city came to a halt. The Islamic State government took steps to open courts, restore law and order, and initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation and democratic elections.. Massoud invited Taliban leaders to join the process but they refused.. The Taliban's early victories in 1994 were followed by a series of defeats that resulted in heavy losses that led analysts to believe the Taliban movement had run its course. The Taliban started shelling Kabul in early 1995 but were repelled by forces under Massoud..

On 26 September 1996, as the Taliban, with military support from Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia, prepared for another major offensive, Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul. The Taliban seized Kabul on 27 September 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.. They imposed on the parts of Afghanistan under their control their political and judicial interpretation of Islam, issuing edicts especially targeting women.. According to Physicians for Human Rights, " no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment. ".

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Massoud and Dostum created the United Front. The United Front included Massoud's predominantly Tajik forces, Dostum's Uzbek forces, and Hazara and Pashtun factions under leaders such as Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdul Haq, and Abdul Qadir.. The Taliban defeated Dostum's forces during the Battles of Mazar i Sharif. The Taliban committed systematic massacres against civilians in northern and western Afghanistan. Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, was responsible for sending tens of thousands of Pakistanis to fight alongside the Taliban and bin Laden against Northern Alliance forces. In 2001 alone, there were believed to be 28,000 Pakistani nationals fighting inside Afghanistan..

From 1996 to 2001, the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri was harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and bin Laden sent thousands of Arab recruits to fight against the United Front.. Massoud remained the only leader of the United Front in Afghanistan. In the areas under his control, Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women's Rights Declaration. The fighting also caused around 1 million people to flee Taliban controlled areas.. From 1990 to September 2001, 400,000 Afghan civilians have reportedly died in the wars..

On 9 September 2001, Massoud was assassinated by two French speaking Arab suicide attackers inside Afghanistan, and two days later the September 11 attacks were carried out in the United States.. The US government identified Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as the perpetrators of the attacks, and demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden. After refusing to comply with the US demand, the October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. During the initial invasion, US and UK forces bombed parts of Afghanistan and worked with ground forces of the Northern Alliance to remove the Taliban from power and destroy al Qaeda training camps..

In December 2001, after the Taliban government was toppled and the new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai was formed, the International Security Assistance Force was established by the UN Security Council to help assist the Karzai administration and provide basic security.. Taliban forces also began regrouping inside Pakistan, while more coalition troops entered Afghanistan and began rebuilding the war torn country.. Shortly after their fall from power, the Taliban began an insurgency to regain control of Afghanistan. Over the next decade, ISAF and Afghan troops led many offensives against the Taliban but failed to fully defeat them..

Afghanistan remained one of the poorest countries in the world due to a lack of foreign investment, government corruption, and the Taliban insurgency.. Meanwhile, the Afghan government was able to build some democratic structures, and, on December 7, 2004, the country changed its name to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.. Attempts were made, often with the support of foreign donor countries, to improve the country's economy, healthcare, education, transport, and agriculture. ISAF forces also began to train the Afghan armed forces and police. In the decade following 2002, over five million Afghan refugees were repatriated to the country, including many who were forcefully deported from Western countries..

By 2009, a Taliban led shadow government began to form in many parts of the country. US President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would deploy another 30,000 U.S. soldiers to the country in 2010 for a period of two years.. In 2010, Karzai attempted to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban and other groups, but these groups refused to attend and bombings, assassinations, and ambushes intensified.. After the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, many prominent Afghan figures were assassinated, AfghanistanPakistan border skirmishes intensified, and many large scale attacks by the Pakistani based Haqqani Network took place across Afghanistan..

The United States warned the Pakistani government of possible military action within Pakistan if the government refused to attack these forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, as the United States blamed rogue elements within the Pakistani government for the increased attacks.. The Pakistani Army began to intensify their attacks against these groups as part of the War in North West Pakistan.. Following the 2014 presidential election President Hamid Karzai left power and Ashraf Ghani became President on 29 September 2014..

In anticipation of the 2014 NATO withdrawal and a subsequent expected push to regain power by the Taliban, the anti Taliban United Front groups have started to regroup under the umbrella of the National Coalition of Afghanistan and the National Front of Afghanistan..

Economy

Afghanistan is an impoverished and least developed country, one of the world's poorest because of decades of war and lack of foreign investment. As of 2013, the nation's GDP stands at about 45.3 billion with an exchange rate of 20.65 billion, and the GDP per capita is 1,100.. The country's exports totaled 2.6 billion in 2010. Its unemployment rate is about 35 and roughly the same percentage of its citizens live below the poverty line. According to a 2009 report, about 42 of the population lives on less than 1 a day..

The nation has less than 1.5 billion in external debt and is recovering with the assistance of the world community.. The Afghan economy has been growing at about 10 per year in the last decade, which is due to the infusion of over 50 billion in international aid and remittances from Afghan expats. It is also due to improvements made to the transportation system and agricultural production, which is the backbone of the nation's economy.. The country is known for producing some of the finest pomegranates, grapes, apricots, melons, and several other fresh and dry fruits, including nuts..

Many sources indicate that as much as 11 or more of Afghanistan's economy is derived from the cultivation and sale of opium, and Afghanistan is widely considered the world's largest producer of opium despite Afghan government and international efforts to eradicate the crop.. While the nation's current account deficit is largely financed with donor money, only a small portion is provided directly to the government budget. The rest is provided to non budgetary expenditure and donor designated projects through the United Nations system and non governmental organizations..

The Afghan Ministry of Finance is focusing on improved revenue collection and public sector expenditure discipline. For example, government revenues increased 31 to 1.7 billion from March 2010 to March 2011.. Da Afghanistan Bank serves as the central bank of the nation and the " Afghani " is the national currency, with an exchange rate of about 47 Afghanis to 1 US dollar.. Since 2003, over 16 new banks have opened in the country, including Afghanistan International Bank, Kabul Bank, Azizi Bank, Pashtany Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, and First Micro Finance Bank..

One of the main drivers for the current economic recovery is the return of over 5 million expatriates, who brought with them fresh energy, entrepreneurship and wealth creating skills as well as much needed funds to start up businesses.. For the first time since the 1970s, Afghans have involved themselves in construction, one of the largest industries in the country. Some of the major national construction projects include the 35 billion New Kabul City next to the capital, the Ghazi Amanullah Khan City near Jalalabad, and the Aino Mena in Kandahar..

Similar development projects have also begun in Herat, Mazar e Sharif, and other cities.. In addition, a number of companies and small factories began operating in different parts of the country, which not only provide revenues to the government but also create new jobs. Improvements to the business environment have resulted in more than 1.5 billion in telecom investment and created more than 100,000 jobs since 2003.. Afghan rugs are becoming popular again, allowing many carpet dealers around the country to hire more workers..

Afghanistan is a member of SAARC, ECO, and OIC. It is hoping to join SCO soon to develop closer economic ties with neighboring and regional countries in the so called New Silk Road trade project.. Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul told the media in 2011 that his nation's " goal is to achieve an Afghan economy whose growth is based on trade, private enterprise and investment ". Experts believe that this will revolutionize the economy of the region.. Opium production in Afghanistan soared to a record in 2007 with about 3 million people reported to be involved in the business, but then declined significantly in the years following..

The government started programs to help reduce poppy cultivation, and by 2010 it was reported that 24 out of the 34 provinces were free from poppy growing.. In June 2012, India advocated for private investments in the resource rich country and the creation of a suitable environment therefor.. Michael E O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution estimated that if Afghanistan generates about 10 bn per year from its mineral deposits, its gross national product would double and provide long term funding for Afghan security forces and other critical needs..

The United States Geological Survey estimated in 2006 that northern Afghanistan has an average 2.9 billion barrels of crude oil, 15.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 562 million bbl of natural gas liquids.. In December 2011, Afghanistan signed an oil exploration contract with China National Petroleum Corporation for the development of three oil fields along the Amu Darya river in the north.. Other reports show that the country has huge amounts of lithium, copper, gold, coal, iron ore, and other minerals. The Khanashin carbonatite in Helmand Province contains 1,000,000 metric tons of rare earth elements..

In 2007, a 30 year lease was granted for the Aynak copper mine to the China Metallurgical Group for 3 billion, making it the biggest foreign investment and private business venture in Afghanistan's history.. The state run Steel Authority of India won the mining rights to develop the huge Hajigak iron ore deposit in central Afghanistan. Government officials estimate that 30 of the country's untapped mineral deposits are worth between 900 bn and 3 trillion.. One official asserted that " this will become the backbone of the Afghan economy " and a Pentagon memo stated that Afghanistan could become the " Saudi Arabia of lithium "..

In a 2011 news story, the CSM reported, " The United States and other Western nations that have borne the brunt of the cost of the Afghan war have been conspicuously absent from the bidding process on Afghanistan's mineral deposits, leaving it mostly to regional powers. ".

Culture

The Afghan culture has been around for over two millennia, tracing back to at least the time of the Achaemenid Empire in 500 BCE. It is mostly a nomadic and tribal society, with different regions of the country having their own traditions, reflecting the multi cultural and multi lingual character of the nation.. In the southern and eastern region the people live according to the Pashtun culture by following Pashtunwali, which is an ancient way of life that is still preserved. The remainder of the country is culturally Persian and Turkic..

Some non Pashtuns who live in proximity with Pashtuns have adopted Pashtunwali in a process called Pashtunization, while some Pashtuns have been Persianized. Millions of Afghans who have been living in Pakistan and Iran over the last 30 years have been influenced by the cultures of those neighboring nations.. Afghans display pride in their culture, nation, ancestry, and above all, their religion and independence. Like other highlanders, they are regarded with mingled apprehension and condescension, for their high regard for personal honor, for their tribe loyalty and for their readiness to use force to settle disputes..

As tribal warfare and internecine feuding has been one of their chief occupations since time immemorial, this individualistic trait has made it difficult for foreigners to conquer them.. Tony Heathcote considers the tribal system to be the best way of organizing large groups of people in a country that is geographically difficult, and in a society that, from a materialistic point of view, has an uncomplicated lifestyle.. There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes, and the Afghan nomads are estimated at about 23 million..

The nation has a complex history that has survived either in its current cultures or in the form of various languages and monuments. However, many of its historic monuments have been damaged in recent wars.. The two famous Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban, who regarded them as idolatrous. Despite that, archaeologists are still finding Buddhist relics in different parts of the country, some of them dating back to the 2nd century.. This indicates that Buddhism was widespread in Afghanistan. Other historical places include the cities of Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni, Mazar i Sharif, and Zarang. The Minaret of Jam in the Hari River valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site..

A cloak reputedly worn by Islam's Prophet Muhammad is kept inside the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar, a city founded by Alexander and the first capital of Afghanistan. The citadel of Alexander in the western city of Herat has been renovated in recent years and is a popular attraction for tourists.. In the north of the country is the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, believed by many to be the location where Ali was buried. The Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture is renovating 42 historic sites in Ghazni until 2013, when the province will be declared as the capital of Islamic civilization..

The National Museum of Afghanistan is located in Kabul.. Although literacy is low, classic Persian and Pashto poetry plays an important role in the Afghan culture. Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in the region, to the level that it has integrated itself into culture.. Some notable poets include Rumi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Sanai, Jami, Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Khalilullah Khalili, and Parween Pazhwak.. The Afghan mass media began in the early 20th century, with the first newspaper published in 1906. By the 1920s, Radio Kabul was broadcasting local radio services. Afghanistan National Television was launched in 1974 but was closed in 1996 when the media was tightly controlled by the Taliban..

Since 2002, press restrictions have been gradually relaxed and private media diversified. Freedom of expression and the press is promoted in the 2004 constitution and censorship is banned, although defaming individuals or producing material contrary to the principles of Islam is prohibited.. In 2008, Reporters Without Borders ranked the media environment as 156 out of 173 countries, with the 1st being the most free. Around 400 publications were registered, at least 15 local Afghan television channels, and 60 radio stations..

Foreign radio stations, such as Voice of America, BBC World Service, and Radio Free EuropeRadio Liberty broadcast into the country.. The city of Kabul has been home to many musicians who were masters of both traditional and modern Afghan music. Traditional music is especially popular during the Nowruz and National Independence Day celebrations.. Ahmad Zahir, Nashenas, Ustad Sarahang, Sarban, Ubaidullah Jan, Farhad Darya, and Naghma are some of the notable Afghan musicians, but there are many others..

Most Afghans are accustomed to watching Bollywood films from India and listening to its filmi hit songs. Many major Bollywood film stars have roots in Afghanistan, including Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Feroz Khan, Kader Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, and Celina Jaitley.. In addition, several Bollywood films, such as Dharmatma, Khuda Gawah, Escape from Taliban, and Kabul Express have been shot inside Afghanistan.. The Afghanistan national football team has been competing in international football since 1941. The national team plays its home games at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, while football in Afghanistan is governed by the Afghanistan Football Federation..

The national team has never competed or qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but has recently won an international football trophy in the SAFF Championship. The country also has a national team in the sport of futsal, a 5 a side variation of football.. Cricket, which is a newly introduced sport in Afghanistan fueled by the success of the Afghan national cricket team, is growing in popularity. Afghanistan participated in the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifier, 2010 ICC World Cricket League Division One, and the 2010 ICC World Twenty20, where they played India and South Africa..

It won the ACC Twenty20 Cup in 2007, 2009, and 2011. More recently the under 19 team played in the 2012 ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup. The Afghanistan Cricket Board is the official governing body of the sport and is headquartered in Kabul.. The Ghazi Amanullah Khan International Cricket Stadium serves as the nation's main cricket stadium, followed by the Kabul National Cricket Stadium. Several other stadiums are under construction. Domestically, cricket is played between teams from different provinces..

Other popular sports in Afghanistan include basketball, volleyball, taekwondo, and bodybuilding. Buzkashi is a traditional sport, mainly among the northern Afghans. It is similar to polo, played by horsemen in two teams, each trying to grab and hold a goat carcass.. The Afghan Hound originated in Afghanistan and was originally used in hunting..

Communication

Telecommunication services in the country are provided by Afghan Wireless, Etisalat, Roshan, MTN Group, and Afghan Telecom. In 2006, the Afghan Ministry of Communications signed a 64.5 million agreement with ZTE for the establishment of a countrywide optical fiber cable network.. As of 2011, Afghanistan had around 17 million GSM phone subscribers and over 1 million internet users, but only had about 75,000 fixed telephone lines and a little over 190,000 CDMA subscribers. 3G services are provided by Etisalat and MTN Group..

In 2014, Afghanistan leased a space satellite from Eutelsat, called AFGHANSAT 1.

Health

According to the Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the 15th least developed country in the world. The average life expectancy is estimated to be around 60 years for both sexes. The country has the ninth highest total fertility rate in the world, at 5.64 children bornwoman.. It has one of the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, estimated in 2010 at 460 deaths100,000 live births, and the highest infant mortality rate in the world, estimated in 2012 to be 119.41 deaths1,000 live births..

Data from 2010 suggest that one in ten children die before they are five years old. The Ministry of Public Health plans to cut the infant mortality rate to 400 for every 100,000 live births before 2020.. The country currently has more than 3,000 midwives, with an additional 300 to 400 being trained each year.. A number of hospitals and clinics have been built over the last decade, with the most advanced treatments being available in Kabul. The French Medical Institute for Children and Indira Gandhi Childrens Hospital in Kabul are the leading children's hospitals in the country..

Some of the other main hospitals in Kabul include the 350 bed Jamhuriat Hospital and the Jinnah Hospital, which is still under construction. There are also a number of well equipped military controlled hospitals in different regions of the country.. It was reported in 2006 that nearly 60 of the population lives within a two hour walk of the nearest health facility, up from 9 in 2002. The latest surveys show that 57 of Afghans say they have good or very good access to clinics or hospitals.. The nation has one of the highest incidences of people with disabilities, with around a million people affected. About 80,000 people are missing limbs; most of these were injured by landmines. Non governmental charities such as Save the Children and Mahboba's Promise assist orphans in association with governmental structures..

Demographic and Health Surveys is working with the Indian Institute of Health Management Research and others to conduct a survey in Afghanistan focusing on maternal death, among other things..

Geography

A landlocked mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest, Afghanistan is variously described as being located within Central Asia or South Asia.. It is part of the US coined Greater Middle East Muslim world, which lies between latitudes 29 N and 39 N, and longitudes 60 E and 75 E The country's highest point is Noshaq, at 7,492 m above sea level.. It has a continental climate with harsh winters in the central highlands, the glaciated northeast, and the Wakhan Corridor, where the average temperature in January is below 15 C, and hot summers in the low lying areas of the Sistan Basin of the southwest, the Jalalabad basin in the east, and the Turkestan plains along the Amu River in the north, where temperatures average over 35 C in July..

Despite having numerous rivers and reservoirs, large parts of the country are dry. The endorheic Sistan Basin is one of the driest regions in the world.. Aside from the usual rainfall, Afghanistan receives snow during the winter in the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains, and the melting snow in the spring season enters the rivers, lakes, and streams.. However, two thirds of the country's water flows into the neighboring countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. The state needs more than US2 billion to rehabilitate its irrigation systems so that the water is properly managed..

The northeastern Hindu Kush mountain range, in and around the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, is in a geologically active area where earthquakes may occur almost every year. They can be deadly and destructive sometimes, causing landslides in some parts or avalanches during the winter.. The last strong earthquakes were in 1998, which killed about 6,000 people in Badakhshan near Tajikistan. This was followed by the 2002 Hindu Kush earthquakes in which over 150 people were killed and over 1,000 injured..

A 2010 earthquake left 11 Afghans dead, over 70 injured, and more than 2,000 houses destroyed.. The country's natural resources include coal, copper, iron ore, lithium, uranium, rare earth elements, chromite, gold, zinc, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, marble, precious and semi precious stones, natural gas, and petroleum, among other things.. In 2010, US and Afghan government officials estimated that untapped mineral deposits located in 2007 by the US Geological Survey are worth between 900 bn and 3 trillion..

At 652,230 km2, Afghanistan is the world's 41st largest country, slightly bigger than France and smaller than Burma, about the size of Texas in the United States.. It borders Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and China in the far east..

Demographics

As of 2012, the population of Afghanistan is around 31,108,077, which includes the roughly 2.7 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan and Iran. In 1979, the population was reported to be about 15.5 million.. The only city with over a million residents is its capital, Kabul. Other large cities in the country are, in order of population size, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar i Sharif, Jalalabad, Lashkar Gah, Taloqan, Khost, Sheberghan, and Ghazni.. Urban areas are experiencing rapid population growth following the return of over 5 million expats. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the Afghan population is estimated to increase to 82 million by 2050..

Afghanistan is a multiethnic society, and its historical status as a crossroads has contributed significantly to its diverse ethnic makeup. The population of the country is divided into a wide variety of ethnolinguistic groups. Because a systematic census has not been held in the nation in decades, exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnic groups are unavailable. An approximate distribution of the ethnic groups is shown in the chart below Because a systematic census has not been held in the nation in decades, exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnic groups are unavailable. An approximate distribution of the ethnic groups is shown in the chart below.

The 2004present estimates in the above chart are supported by recent national opinion polls that measured how a group of about 804 to 7,760 local residents in Afghanistan felt about the current war, political situation, as well as the economic and social issues affecting their daily lives.. Seven of the surveys were conducted between 2004 to 2012 by the Asia Foundation and one between 2004 to 2009 by a combined effort of the broadcasting companies NBC News, BBC, and ARD.. Pashto and Dari are the official languages of Afghanistan; bilingualism is very common. Both are Indo European languages from the Iranian languages sub family. Dari has always been the prestige language and a lingua franca for inter ethnic communication..

It is the native tongue of the Tajiks, Hazaras, Aimaks, and Kizilbash. Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, although many Pashtuns often use Dari and some non Pashtuns are fluent in Pashto.. Other languages, including Uzbek, Arabic, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi, and Nuristani languages, are the native tongues of minority groups across the country and have official status in the regions where they are widely spoken.. Minor languages also include Pamiri, Brahui, Hindko, and Kyrgyz. A small percentage of Afghans are also fluent in Urdu, English, and other languages..

Over 99 of the Afghan population is Muslim; approximately 8085 are from the Sunni branch, 1519 are Shi'a, and roughly 3 are non denominational Muslims.. Until the 1890s, the region around Nuristan was known as Kafiristan because of its non Muslim inhabitants, the Nuristanis, an ethnically distinct people whose religious practices included animism, polytheism, and shamanism.. There are small minorities of Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrianists, Sikhs, and Hindus. There was a small Jewish community in Afghanistan who had emigrated to Israel and the United States by the end of the twentieth century; only one Jew, Zablon Simintov, remained by 2005..

Education

Education in the country includes K12 and higher education, which is supervised by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. The nation's education system was destroyed due to the decades of war, but it began reviving after the Karzai administration came to power in late 2001.. More than 5,000 schools were built or renovated in the last decade, with more than 100,000 teachers being trained and recruited. More than seven million male and female students are enrolled in schools, with about 100,000 being enrolled in different universities around the country; at least 35 of these students are female..

As of 2013, there are 16,000 schools across Afghanistan. Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak stated that another 8,000 schools are required to be constructed for the remaining 3 million children who are deprived of education.. Kabul University reopened in 2002 to both male and female students. In 2006, the American University of Afghanistan was established in Kabul, with the aim of providing a world class, English language, co educational learning environment in Afghanistan.. The capital of Kabul serves as the learning center of Afghanistan, with many of the best educational institutions being based there. Major universities outside of Kabul include Kandahar University in the south, Herat University in the northwest, Balkh University in the north, Nangarhar University and Khost University in the east..

The National Military Academy of Afghanistan, modeled after the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a four year military development institution dedicated to graduating officers for the Afghan Armed Forces. The 200 million Afghan Defense University is under construction near Qargha in Kabul.. The United States is building six faculties of education and five provincial teacher training colleges around the country, two large secondary schools in Kabul, and one school in Jalalabad.. The literacy rate of the entire population has been very low but is now rising because more students go to schools. In 2010, the United States began establishing a number of Lincoln learning centers in Afghanistan..

They are set up to serve as programming platforms offering English language classes, library facilities, programming venues, Internet connectivity, and educational and other counseling services. A goal of the program is to reach at least 4,000 Afghan citizens per month per location.. The Afghan National Security Forces are provided with mandatory literacy courses. In addition to this, Baghch e Simsim was launched in late 2011 to help young Afghan children learn.. In 2009 and 2010, a 5,000 OLPC - One Laptop Per Child schools deployment took place in Kandahar with funding from an anonymous foundation. The OLPC team seeks local support to undertake larger deployment..

How To Talk

Pashto and Dari, an Afghan dialect of Persian, are the official languages of Afghanistan; many Afghans speak both. The latest CIA country profile mentions that Dari is spoken by about 50%, mainly in the Kabul, Herat, Mazar e Sharif and Central Afghanistan regions.. Pashto is spoken by 35%, mainly in the south and east; it is also spoken in neighbouring Pakistan. The remaining are Turkic native language, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen, and there are also 30 minor languages such as Balochi.. You'll find a few people in Kabul who speak a little English, but otherwise it isn't widely understood..

The English language is at its apex in Afghanistan. The percentage of those who now speak some English has reached unprecedented rates. President Karazai and his cabinet are fluent in English. English was taught in the past from the 7th grade, but now is taught from the fourth grade.. Signs in English in the streets are becoming common now all over the country. English is the second foreign language in Afghanistan..

Etymology

The name Afghnistn is believed to be as old as the ethnonym Afghan, which is documented in the 10th century geography book Hudud ul -'alam. The root name " Afghan " was used historically in reference to the Pashtun people, and the suffix " - stan " means " place of " in Sanskrit. Therefore, Afghanistan translates to " land of the Afghans, originally an ill defined territory which did not include many parts of the present state but did comprise large districts now within the boundary of Pakistan..

The Constitution of Afghanistan states that " he word Afghan shall apply to every citizen of Afghanistan. ".

Cities

Kabul - in the east, the capital city. Bamiyan - The remains of the Buddhas. Once considered one of the wonders of the world, these tall stone carvings were destroyed by the Taliban in a notorious act of cultural vandalism.. Ghazni - in the south east, between Kabul and Kandahar. Herat - in the west, gateway to Iran, has a strong Persian influence and several interesting historical sites. Jalalabad - in the east, between Kabul and the Khyber Pass. Kandahar - a Taliban influenced southern city, not safe for travel at this time.

Kunduz - A major city in the northeast, and crossing point to Tajikistan. Mazar e Sharif - home to the impressively tiled Blue Mosque, and the staging point for trips into Uzbekistan.

Other Destinations

Balkh - Once one of the greatest cities in the region and capital of ancient Bactria. Although much of it lies in ruins, the remaining architectural and cultural elements remain little changed since Alexander the Great set foot there.. Band e Amir National Park - 5 stunningly turquoise lakes in a remote and beautiful setting, not far from Bamiyan.. The Khyber Pass is the gateway to India, historic route of invasion and trade.. The Minaret of Jam is well off the beaten path but some say worth the journey - possible as a roundtrip from Herat or when traversing the Central Route from Herat to Kabul..

Panjshir Valley - a beautiful trekking area, leading to the famous Anjuman Pass.. The Salang Pass is a high mountain pass and tunnel linking Kabul to the north.. Shamali Plain north of Kabul. Shamali, meaning " windy " or " northern ", is a green plain which produced a lot of the food for central Afghanistan. From Kabul it extends north through Charikar, Parwan province to Jabal os Saraj.. The Taliban destroyed the irrigation systems and it is only just beginning to recover.. Gardez - a beautiful major town in a mountain valley southeast of Kabul..

Transportation

Air transport in Afghanistan is provided by the national carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines, and by private companies such as Afghan Jet International, East Horizon Airlines, Kam Air, Pamir Airways, and Safi Airways.. Airlines from a number of countries also provide flights in and out of the country. These include Air India, Emirates, Gulf Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, and Turkish Airlines.. The country has four international airports Herat International Airport, Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kandahar International Airport, and Mazar e Sharif International Airport. There are also around a dozen domestic airports with flights to Kabul andor Herat..

As of 2014, the country has only two rail links, one a 75 km line from Kheyrabad to the Uzbekistan border and the other a 10 km long line from Toraghundi to the Turkmenistan border.. Both lines are used for freight only and there is no passenger service as of yet. There are various proposals for the construction of additional rail lines in the country.. In 2013, the presidents of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a 225 km line between Turkmenistan Andkhvoy Mazar i Sharif Kheyrabad. The line will link at Kheyrabad with the existing line to the Uzbekistan border. Plans exist for a rail line from Kabul to the eastern border town of Torkham, where it will connect with Pakistan Railways..

There are also plans to finish a rail line between Khaf, Iran and Herat, Afghanistan.. Traveling by bus in Afghanistan remains dangerous due to careless and intoxicated bus drivers as well as militant activities. The buses are usually older model Mercedes Benz and owned by private companies. Serious traffic accidents are common on Afghan roads and highways, particularly on the KabulKandahar and the KabulJalalabad Road.. Newer automobiles have recently become more widely available after the rebuilding of roads and highways. They are imported from the United Arab Emirates through Pakistan and Iran. As of 2012, vehicles more than 10 years old are banned from being imported into the country..

The development of the nation's road network is a major boost for the economy due to trade with neighboring countries. Postal services in Afghanistan are provided by the publicly owned Afghan Post and private companies such as FedEx, DHL, and others..

What To Respect

While the majority of women across Afghanistan still wear the burqa or chadori, in cities like Kabul and Herat many opt for the Middle Eastern style hijab. Western women are highly encouraged to wear any type of head scarf (especially outside Kabul).. As a general rule, the people get more conservative as you move further south..

Governance

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic consisting of three branches, the executive, legislative, and judicial. The nation was led by Hamid Karzai as the President and leader since late 2001 till 2014.. Currently the new president is Ashraf Ghani with Abdul Rashid Dostum and Sarwar Danish as vise presidents. Abdullah Abdullah serves as the chief executive officer. The National Assembly is the legislature, a bicameral body having two chambers, the House of the People and the House of Elders.. The Supreme Court is led by Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi, a former university professor who had been a legal advisor to the president..

The current court is seen as more moderate and led by more technocrats than the previous one, which was dominated by fundamentalist religious figures such as Chief Justice Faisal Ahmad Shinwari, who issued several controversial rulings, including seeking to place a limit on the rights of women.. According to Transparency International's 2010 corruption perceptions index results, Afghanistan was ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world. A January 2010 report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that bribery consumed an amount equal to 23 of the GDP of the nation..

A number of government ministries are believed to be rife with corruption, and while President Karzai vowed to tackle the problem in late 2009 by stating that " individuals who are involved in corruption will have no place in the government ", top government officials were stealing and misusing hundreds of millions of dollars through the Kabul Bank.. Although the nation's institutions are newly formed and steps have been taken to arrest some, the United States warned that aid to Afghanistan would be greatly reduced if the corruption is not stopped..

The 2004 Afghan presidential election was relatively peaceful, in which Hamid Karzai won in the first round with 55.4 of the votes. However, the 2009 presidential election was characterized by lack of security, low voter turnout, and widespread electoral fraud.. The vote, along with elections for 420 provincial council seats, took place in August 2009, but remained unresolved during a lengthy period of vote counting and fraud investigation.. Two months later, under international pressure, a second round run off vote between Karzai and remaining challenger Abdullah was announced, but a few days later Abdullah announced that he would not participate in the 7 November run off because his demands for changes in the electoral commission had not been met..

The next day, officials of the election commission cancelled the run off and declared Hamid Karzai as President for another five year term.. In the 2005 parliamentary election, among the elected officials were former mujahideen, Islamic fundamentalists, warlords, communists, reformists, and several Taliban associates. In the same period, Afghanistan reached to the 30th highest nation in terms of female representation in parliament.. The last parliamentary election was held in September 2010, but due to disputes and investigation of fraud, the swearing in ceremony took place in late January 2011. The 2014 presidential election ended with Ashraf Ghani winning by 56.44 votes..

Afghanistan is administratively divided into 34 provinces, with each province having its own capital and a provincial administration. The provinces are further divided into about 398 smaller provincial districts, each of which normally covers a city or a number of villages.. Each district is represented by a district governor.. The provincial governors are appointed by the President of Afghanistan and the district governors are selected by the provincial governors. The provincial governors are representatives of the central government in Kabul and are responsible for all administrative and formal issues within their provinces..

There are also provincial councils that are elected through direct and general elections for a period of four years. The functions of provincial councils are to take part in provincial development planning and to participate in the monitoring and appraisal of other provincial governance institutions.. According to article 140 of the constitution and the presidential decree on electoral law, mayors of cities should be elected through free and direct elections for a four year term. However, due to huge election costs, mayoral and municipal elections have never been held..

Instead, mayors have been appointed by the government. In the capital city of Kabul, the mayor is appointed by the President of Afghanistan.. The following is a list of all the 34 provinces in alphabetical order. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of maintaining the foreign relations of Afghanistan. The state has been a member of the United Nations since 1946. It enjoys strong economic relations with a number of NATO and allied states, particularly the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Turkey..

In 2012, the United States designated Afghanistan as a major non NATO ally and created the U.S. Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.. Afghanistan also has friendly diplomatic relations with neighboring Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China, and with regional states such as India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, and South Korea.. It continues to develop diplomatic relations with other countries around the world.. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan was established in 2002 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1401 in order to help the country recover from decades of war. Today, a number of NATO member states deploy about 38,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force..

Its main purpose is to train the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Armed Forces are under the Ministry of Defense, which includes the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Air Force.. The ANA is divided into 7 major Corps, with the 201st Selab in Kabul followed by the 203rd in Gardez, 205th Atul in Kandahar, 207th in Herat, 209th in Mazar i Sharif, and the 215th in Lashkar Gah.. The ANA also has a commando brigade, which was established in 2007. The Afghan Defense University houses various educational establishments for the Afghan Armed Forces, including the National Military Academy of Afghanistan..

The National Directorate of Security is the nation's domestic intelligence agency, which operates similar to that of the United States Department of Homeland Security and has between 15,000 to 30,000 employees. The nation also has about 126,000 national police officers, with plans to recruit more so that the total number can reach 160,000.. The Afghan National Police is under the Ministry of the Interior and serves as a single law enforcement agency all across the country. The Afghan National Civil Order Police is the main branch of the ANP, which is divided into five Brigades, each commanded by a Brigadier General..

These brigades are stationed in Kabul, Gardez, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar i Sharif. Every province has an appointed provincial Chief of Police who is responsible for law enforcement throughout the province.. The police receive most of their training from Western forces under the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan. According to a 2009 news report, a large proportion of police officers were illiterate and accused of demanding bribes.. Jack Kem, deputy to the commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, stated that the literacy rate in the ANP would rise to over 50 by January 2012..

What began as a voluntary literacy program became mandatory for basic police training in early 2011. Approximately 17 of them tested positive for illegal drug use. In 2009, President Karzai created two anti corruption units within the Interior Ministry.. Former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said that security officials from the US, Britain, and the European Union will train prosecutors in the unit.. The southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan are the most dangerous due to militant activities and the flourishing drug trade. These particular areas are sometimes patrolled by Taliban insurgents, who often plant improvised explosive devices on roads and carry out suicide bombings..

Kidnapping and robberies are also reported. Every year many Afghan police officers are killed in the line of duty in these areas.. The Afghan Border Police are responsible for protecting the nation's airports and borders, especially the disputed Durand Line border, which is often used by members of criminal organizations and terrorists for their illegal activities.. A report in 2011 suggested that up to 3 million people were involved in the illegal drug business in Afghanistan. Many of the attacks on government employees may be ordered by powerful mafia groups..

Drugs from Afghanistan are exported to neighboring countries and worldwide. The Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics is tasked to deal with these issues by bringing to justice major drug traffickers..

Regions

English spellings of Afghan place names vary. For example, Q may replace K as in Qandahar or Qunduz. Kunduz will be seen spelled as Konduz, Qunduz, Qundoz, Qundoze and variations on these.. Bamiyan is often spelled as Bamian or Bamyan. Khowst may be spelt as Khost..

Work

Many foreigners are finding well paid work in Afghanistan as part of the reconstruction efforts. Often with the UN or other non governmental organisations. Most of these jobs are within Kabul. Local wages are very low, especially outside of Kabul.. However, everyone should read and understand the travel advice published by their respective governments or in the Stay safe section below. You will need a work visa if you are planning on working on a US military base..

How To Stay Healthy

Afghanistan has its fair share of health issues, and it would be wise to consult a travel doctor ahead of your trip about vaccinations and health risks. Respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and food related illness are common, and malaria is a risk in many parts of the country.. Afghanistan is one of the dustiest countries in the world, and you should be prepared to be covered in it and breathing it for most of your stay, even in the major cities.. Pollution from diesel engines can also make life unpleasant..

Flies are notoriously heinous here, likely due to poor sanitation. Winter brings some relief, but they come back full strength when spring arrives.. Food should be approached with a discerning eye, as hygiene standards can often be lacking. Hot, freshly cooked food is generally safer. Bottled water is also advised, unless you have your own purification system.. Bring any prescription medicine you may need from your home country, and don't count on being able to find it locally. You may also consider carrying pain relievers and anti diarrheals, as they'll be hard to find outside of major cities..

As in most parts of Asia, squat toilets are the norm, with toilet paper optional and sometimes scarce. Western style toilets are seen occasionally in newer buildings and some private homes..