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Afghanistan (ăfgănˈĭstănˌ, ăfgänˌĭstänˈ), officially Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, republic (2020 est. pop. 38,930,000), 249,999 sq mi (647,497 sq km), S central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Iran on the west, by Pakistan on the east and south, and by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on the north; a narrow strip, the Vakhan (Wakhan), extends in the northeast along Pakistan to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. The capital and largest city is Kabul.

Land and People

The great mass of the country is steep-sloped with mountains, the ranges fanning out from the towering Hindu Kush (reaching a height of more than 24,000 ft/7,315 m) across the center of the country. There are, however, within the mountain ranges and on their edges, many fertile valleys and plains. In the south, and particularly in the southwest, are great stretches of desert, including the regions of Seistan and Registan. To the north, between the central mountain chains (notably the Selseleh-ye Kuh-e Baba, or Koh-i-Baba, and the Paropamisus) and the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, which marks part of the northern boundary, are the highlands of Badakhshan (with the finest lapis lazuli in the world), Afghan Turkistan, the Amu Darya plain, and the rich valley of Herat on the Hari Rud (Arius) River in the northwest corner of the country (the heart of ancient Ariana). The regions thus vary widely, although most of the land is dry.

The rivers are mostly unnavigable; the longest is the Helmand, which flows generally southwest from the Hindu Kush to the Iranian border. Its water has been used since remote times for irrigation, as have the waters of the Hari Rud and of the Amu Darya. The Kabul River, beside which the capital stands, is particularly famous because it leads to the Khyber Pass and thus S to Pakistan.

Although warfare in Afghanistan during the late 20th cent. caused substantial population displacement, with millions of refugees fleeing into Pakistan and Iran, regional ethnicity remains generally the same as it had been before the unrest. Tajiks live around Herat and in the northeast; Uzbeks live in the north, and nomadic Turkmen live along the Turkmenistan border. In the central mountains are the Hazaras, of Mongolian origin. In the eastern and south central portions Afghans (or Pashtuns), who make up the country's largest ethnic group, are dominant, and Baluchis live in the extreme south. Dari, also called Farsi (Afghan Persian), Pashto (Afghan), and various Turkic tongues (mainly Uzbek and Turkmen) are the country's principal languages. A unifying factor is religion, almost all the inhabitants being Muslim; the large majority (about 80%) are Sunni, the minority Shiite. In addition to Kabul, important cities include Kandahar, Herat, and Jalalabad.


Agriculture is the main occupation, although less than 10% of the land is cultivated; a large percentage of the arable land was damaged by warfare during the 1980s and 90s. Largely subsistence crops include wheat and other grains, fruits, and nuts. The opium poppy, grown mainly for the international illegal drug trade, is the most important cash crop. The country is the world's largest producer of opium (and morphine and heroin are increasingly produced in the country from opium as well), and of hashish, obtained from hemp (cannabis); both are produced especially in S Afghanistan. Grazing is also of great importance in the economy. The fat-tailed sheep are a staple of Afghan life, supplying skins and wool for clothing and meat and fat for food.

Mineral wealth is virtually undeveloped, except for natural gas. There are significant deposits of iron, copper, niobium, cobalt, gold, and molydenum; other minerals include rare earths, asbestos, silver, potash, and aluminum. Oil fields are found in the north. Some small-scale manufactures produce cotton and other fabrics, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, and processed agricultural goods. Extremely high levels of unemployment—about 40% in 2005—have resulted from the general collapse of Afghanistan's industry.

Opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, lambskins (Karakul), and gemstones are the main exports; capital goods, foodstuffs, textiles and other manufactured goods, and petroleum products are the main imports. As a result of civil war, exports have dwindled to a minimum, except for the illegal trade in opium, morphine, heroin, and hashish. The country has also become an important producer of heroin, which is derived from opium. Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international assistance. The main trading partners are Pakistan, the United States, and India.

Road communications throughout the country are poor, although existing roads have undergone reconstruction since the end of Taliban rule; pack animals are an important means of transport in the interior. A road and tunnel under the Salang pass, built (1964) by the Russians, provides a short, all-weather route between N and S Afghanistan. Significant railroad construction did not take place until the 21st cent., with the first major line opening in 2011.


Afghanistan was governed under the constitution of 2004 until the Taliban takeover in September 2021. At that time, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was restored, with Hasan Akhund, one of the Taliban's original founders, named acting Prime Minister. Administratively, the country is divided into 34 provinces.


Early History

The location of Afghanistan astride the land routes between the Indian subcontinent, Iran, and central Asia has enticed conquerors throughout history. Its high mountains, although hindering unity, helped the hill tribes to preserve their independence. It is probable that there were well-developed civilizations in S Afghanistan in prehistoric times, but the archaeological record is not clear. Certainly cultures had flourished in the north and east before the Persian king Darius I (c.500 B.C.) conquered these areas. Later, Alexander the Great conquered (329–327 B.C.) them on his way to India.

After Alexander's death (323 B.C.) the region at first was part of the Seleucid empire. In the north, Bactria became independent, and the south was acquired by the Maurya dynasty. Bactria expanded southward but fell (mid-2d cent. B.C.) to the Parthians and rebellious tribes (notably the Saka). Buddhism was introduced from the east by the Yüechi, who founded the Kushan dynasty (early 2d cent. B.C.). Their capital was Peshawar. The Kushans declined (3d cent. A.D.) and were supplanted by the Sassanids, the Ephthalites, and the Turkish Tu-Kuie.

The Muslim conquest of Afghanistan began in the 7th cent. Several short-lived Muslim dynasties were founded, the most powerful of them having its capital at Ghazna (see Ghazni). Mahmud of Ghazna, who conquered the lands from Khorasan in Iran to the Punjab in India early in the 11th cent., was the greatest of Afghanistan's rulers. Jenghiz Khan (c.1220) and Timur (late 14th cent.) were subsequent conquerors of renown. Babur, a descendant of Timur, used Kabul as the base for his conquest of India and the establishment of the Mughal empire in the 16th cent. In the 18th cent. the Persian Nadir Shah extended his rule to N of the Hindu Kush. After his death (1747) his lieutenant, Ahmad Shah, an Afghan tribal leader, established a united state covering most of present-day Afghanistan. His dynasty, the Durrani, gave the Afghans the name (Durrani) that they themselves frequently use.

The Afghan Wars and Independence

The reign of the Durrani line ended in 1818, and no predominant ruler emerged until Dost Muhammad became emir in 1826. During his rule the status of Afghanistan became an international problem, as Britain and Russia contested for influence in central Asia. Aiming to control access to the northern approaches to India, the British tried to replace Dost Muhammad with a former emir, subordinate to them. This policy caused the first Afghan War (1838–42) between the British and the Afghans. Dost Muhammad was at first deposed but, after an Afghan revolt in Kabul, was restored. In 1857, Dost Muhammad signed an alliance with the British. He died in 1863 and was succeeded, after familial fighting, by his third son, Sher Ali.

As the Russians acquired territory bordering on the Amu Darya, Sher Ali and the British quarreled, and the second Afghan War began (1878). Sher Ali died in 1879. His successor, Yakub Khan, ceded the Khyber Pass and other areas to the British, and after a British envoy was murdered the British occupied Kabul. Eventually Abd ar-Rahman Khan was recognized (1880) as emir. In the following years Afghanistan's borders were more precisely defined. Border agreements were reached with Russia (1885 and 1895), British India (the Durand Agreement, 1893), and Persia (1905). The Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907 guaranteed the independence of Afghanistan under British influence in foreign affairs. Abd ar-Rahman Khan died in 1901 and was succeeded by his son Habibullah. Despite British pressure, Afghanistan remained neutral in World War I. Habibullah was assassinated in 1919. His successor, Amanullah, attempting to free himself of British influence, invaded India (1919). This third Afghan War was ended by the Treaty of Rawalpindi, which gave Afghanistan full control over its foreign relations.

Attempts at Modernization and Reform

The attempts of Amanullah (who, after 1926, styled himself king) at Westernization—including reducing the power of the country's religious leaders and increasing the freedom of its women—provoked opposition that led to his deposition in 1929. A Tajik tribal leader, Bacha-i-Saqao, or Habibullah Kalakani, held Kabul for a few months until defeated by Amanullah's cousin, Muhammad Nadir Khan, who became King Nadir Shah. The new king pursued cautious modernization efforts until he was assassinated in 1933. His son Muhammad Zahir Shah succeeded him. Afghanistan was neutral in World War II; it joined the United Nations in 1946.

When British India was partitioned (1947), Afghanistan wanted the Pathans of the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan), who had been separated from Afghan's Pashtuns by the Durand Agreement of 1893, to be able to choose whether to join Afghanistan, join Pakistan, or be independent. The Pathans were only offered the choice of joining Pakistan or joining India; they chose the former. In 1955, Afghanistan urged the creation of an autonomous Pathan state, Pushtunistan (Pakhtunistan). The issue subsided in the late 1960s but was revived by Afghanistan in 1972 when Pakistan was weakened by the loss of its eastern wing (now Bangladesh) and the war with India.

In great-power relations, Afghanistan was neutral until the late 1970s, receiving aid from both the United States and the Soviet Union. In the early 1970s the country was beset by serious economic problems, particularly a severe long-term drought in the center and north. Maintaining that King Muhammad Zahir Shah had mishandled the economic crisis and in addition was stifling political reform, a group of young military officers deposed (July, 1973) the king and proclaimed a republic. Lt. Gen. Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan, the king's cousin, became president and prime minister. In 1978, Daud was deposed by a group led by Noor Mohammed Taraki, who instituted Marxist reforms and aligned the country more closely with the Soviet Union. In Sept., 1979, Taraki was killed and Hafizullah Amin took power. Shortly thereafter, the USSR sent troops into Afghanistan, Amin was executed, and the Soviet-supported Babrak Karmal became president.

The Afghanistan War and Islamic Fundamentalism

In the late 1970s the government faced increasing popular opposition to its social policies. By 1979 guerrilla opposition forces, popularly called mujahidin (“Islamic warriors”), were active in much of the country, fighting both Soviet forces and the Soviet-backed Afghan government. In 1986, Karmal resigned and was replaced by Mohammad Najibullah. The country was devastated by the Afghanistan War (1979–89), which took an enormous human and economic toll. After the Soviet withdrawal, the government steadily lost ground to the guerrilla forces. In early 1992, Kabul was captured, and the guerrilla alliance set up a new government consisting of a 50-member ruling council. Burhanuddin Rabbani was named interim president.

The victorious guerrillas proved unable to unite, however, and the forces of guerrilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar launched attacks on the new government. As fighting among various factions continued, Afghanistan was in effect divided into several independent zones, each with its own ruler. Beginning in late 1994 a militia of Pashtun Islamic fundamentalist students, the Taliban, emerged as an increasingly powerful force. In early 1996, as the Taliban continued its attempt to gain control of Afghanistan, Rabbani and Hekmatyar signed a power-sharing accord that made Hekmatyar premier. In September, however, the Taliban, under the leadership of Mullah Muhammad Omar, captured Kabul and declared themselves the legitimate government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan; they imposed a particularly puritanical form of Islamic law in the two thirds of the country they controlled. They also allowed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, to establish an extensive terrorist training complex near Kabul. The Taliban controlled some 90% of the country by 2000, but their government was not generally recognized by the international community (the United Nations recognized President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Northern Alliance). Continued warfare had caused over a million deaths, while 3 million Afghans remained in Pakistan and Iran as refugees. Adding to the nation's woe, a drought in W and central Asia that began in the late 1990s and continued through the early 2000s was most severe in Afghanistan. In September 2001, in a severe blow to the Northern Alliance, Massoud died as a result of a suicide bomb attack by assassins posing as Arab journalists. Two days after that attack, devastating terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which bin Laden had sanctioned, prompted new demands by U.S. President Bush for his arrest.

When the Taliban refused to hand bin Laden over, the United States launched (Oct., 2001) attacks against Taliban and Al Qaeda (bin Laden's organization) positions and forces. The United States also began providing financial aid and other assistance to the Northern Alliance and other opposition groups. Assisted by U.S. air strikes, opposition forces ousted Taliban and Al Qaeda forces from Afghanistan's major urban areas in November and December. Several thousand U.S. troops began entering the country in November. In early December a pan-Afghan conference in Bonn, Germany, appointed Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun with ties to the former king, as the nation's interim leader, replacing President Rabbani. By Jan., 2002, the Taliban and Al Qaeda had largely lost control of the country, although most of their leaders and unknown numbers of their forces remained at large. Control of the country largely reverted to the regional warlords who held power before the Taliban, and those warlords remained a powerful in subsequent years; other forces, such as that led by Hekmatyar, opposed the new regime. Britain, Canada, and other NATO nations provided forces for various military, peacekeeping, and humanitarian operations, and many other nations also agreed to contribute humanitarian aid.

The former king, Muhammad Zahir Shah, returned to the country from exile to convene (June, 2002) a loya jirga (a traditional Afghan grand council) to establish a transitional government. Karzai was elected president (for a two-year term), and the king was declared the “father of the nation.” By the end of 2002, the country had achieved a measure of stability. Reconstruction proceeded slowly, and central governmental control outside Kabul was limited. A return to economic health also was hindered by a persistent drought that continued through 2004. in the Kabul area. A new constitution was approved in Jan., 2004, by a loya jirga. It provided for a strong executive presidency and contained some concessions to minorities, but tensions between the dominant Pashtuns and other ethnic groups remained. Karzai was elected to the presidency in Oct., 2004, in the country's first democratic elections. The vote, which generally split along ethnic lines, was peaceful, but it was marred by some minor difficulties. Karzai's new cabinet consisted largely of technocrats and was ethnically balanced, although Pashtuns generally held the more important posts.

The spring of 2005 was marked by an increase in attacks by the Taliban and their allies. National and provincial legislative elections were held in Sept., 2005; in some locales the balloting was marred by fraud. Tensions with Pakistan increased in early 2006, and by the end of the year President Karzai had accused elements of the Pakistani government of directly supporting the Taliban. May, 2006, saw the U.S.-led coalition launch its largest campaign against Taliban forces since 2001; some 11,000 troops undertook a summer offensive in four S Afghan provinces, where the Taliban had become increasingly stronger and entrenched. In July, NATO assumed responsibility for peacekeeping in S Afghanistan, taking over from the coalition. NATO troops were engaged in significant battles with the Taliban through 2007, particularly in Kandahar prov. NATO took command of all peacekeeping forces in the country, including some 11,000 U.S. troops, in October. In May 2007, NATO forces killed the top Taliban field commander, Mullah Dadullah, but Taliban forces continued to mount guerrilla attacks on the outskirts of the capital and in the north.

During 2007-08, Afghan civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes and other military operations became a source of anger and concern among Afghans. Significant, if sporadic, fighting with insurgents also continued through 2008, as the Taliban mounted some of their most serious attacks since 2002. As the year progressed, U.S. forces mounted strikes against insurgent sanctuaries across the Pakistan border, leading to tensions with Pakistan. In Apr., 2008, President Karzai escaped an assassination attempt unhurt. In July, Karzai accused Pakistani agents of being behind insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, among them a suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

Although the majority of the Afghan refugees abroad repatriated in the years following the overthrow of the Taliban, it was estimated in 2008 that some 3 million Afghanis were still refugees, with most of those in Pakistan and Iran, and those numbers did not significantly diminish in subsequent years. Afghanistan continued to suffer from a weak central government and weak economy, which exacerbated the insurgency and led to an increase in illegal drug production. By early 2008, some $25 billion in international development aid had been pledged, and three fifths of that actually spent. The effectiveness of the aid was greatly reduced by government corruption, spending on foreign consultants and companies (sometimes required under the terms of the aid), wasteful spending practices, and sharp imbalances nationally in the distribution of the aid.

In Jan., 2009, the Afghan election commission postponed the presidential election until August. A major U.S. and Afghan offensive against the Taliban in Helmand prov. was launched in July, 2009; at the same time, U.S. forces began a wider use of counterinsurgency tactics in their attempts to secure the Afghan countryside. The Aug., 2009, presidential election was marred by extensive fraud. Preliminary results gave Karzai 55% of the vote, but a review discounted so many ballots that a runoff was required. The runoff election was canceled, however, and Karzai declared the winner when Abdullah Abdullah, his opponent, withdrew in November in protest, asserting that the runoff would also be subject to fraud.

In late 2009, U.S. President Obama announced that U.S. forces would increase by 30,000 combat and training troops, and NATO allies pledged an additional 7,000 troops. The 2010 increase brought the foreign forces supporting the Afghan government to nearly 120,000, with Americans constituting roughly two thirds of the troops. The escalation was designed to counteract Taliban gains, and led to increased fighting and increased American casualties.

In Jan., 2010, the election commissioned postponed the May parliamentary elections to September, because of a lack of funding and concerns with security and logistics. In February NATO and Afghan forces mounted an offensive in Helmand prov. that won control over the strategic town of Marjah by March; later that month more gradual efforts began to reestablish government control over Kandahar. In June. 2010, a three-day national peace jirga [assembly] involving some 1,600 delegates supported Karzai's plans for peace talks with the Taliban, but the Taliban and other Islamist rebels publicly denounced the jirga. In the Sept., 2010, election for the Wolesi Jirga, roughly 40% of the electorate voted, but the election was marred by political violence and fraud. Karzai's government subsequently launched its own investigation into the results, though its legal standing to do so was questionable. In June, 2011, that investigation overturned the results of a quarter of the seats, provoking a crisis with the Wolesa Jirga, where many members rejected the decisions and raised (July) the possibility of impeaching Karzai. Karzai disbanded his tribunal in August, and the election commission then overturned nine results it had previously finalized, but many lower house members also rejected that decision.

Meanwhile, in 2010 the Kabul Bank, the country's largest private bank, with executives and major shareholders who had government connections, came to the brink of collapse due to mismanagement, fraud, and a run on the bank; some $860 million was lost to fraudulent loan schemes. In September the central bank was forced to take control of the bank. In 2011 the unresolved situation with the bank led the World Bank to delay disbursing funds to the country, and the governor of the central bank resigned and fled Afghanistan (June), saying that his life had been threatened in connection with the Kabul Bank investigation.

In June, 2011, after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, U.S. President Obama announced that American forces would be withdrawn at a quickened pace, with some 30,000 troops to leave within a year's time. The troops, which had some success against the Taliban in parts of the south, were increasingly turning their focus toward E Afghanistan. At about the same time, NATO forces began the lengthy process of turning responsibility for security in the country to Afghan forces. In July the head of Kandahar's provincial council, who was Karzai's half-brother and a powerful and controversial figure, was assassinated. In September ex-president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who had been leading peace talks with the Taliban, was also assassinated, but subsequently talks between the government and Taliban continued to occur at intervals.

A NATO summit in May, 2012, approved the withdrawal of all foreign combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Relations between the president and NATO forces in the subsequent months were at times strained and complicated, but in June, 2013, Afghan forces assumed overall responsibility for the country's security. As NATO troops were withdrawn from many areas, the Taliban responded with increased attacks, and Afghan forces were stretched and forced to cede control some territory. There also was an increase in civilian deaths and injuries from 2013 after a drop in 2012, and that continued in subsequent years. In some cases Taliban forces succeeding in seizing control (if only for a time) of strategic locations, most notably Kunduz in N Afghanistan in 2015 (also contested in 2016) and in S Afghanistan in 2015–16, and in 2016 Taliban forces were as successful as they had been since they were overthrown.

In Nov., 2013, the United States and Afghanistan negotiated an agreement covering the continued operations of U.S. troops in the country after 2014, but Karzai subsequently refused to sign it until after the Afghan presidential election in 2014. In the election's first round in April, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, placed first with 45% and second with 32% of the vote, respectively. After the runoff in June, Abdullah accused Ghani's supporters of fraud after initial reports suggested Ghani had a million vote lead. The preliminary results, released in July, showed Ghani winning with 56% of the vote, but Abdullah asserted he had won. An international audit of the vote failed to resolve the charges of fraud, but both sides agreed in September to establish a power-sharing government with Ghani as president.

Ghani's government subsequently signed the security agreement with the United States, and in Oct., 2015, the United States announced plans to slow the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. forces, so that some troops would remain in the country until at least 2017. In Sept., 2016, Ghani's government signed a peace accord with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces, although much less significant than the Taliban, had opposed the government since 2002. The Taliban controlled roughly half the country by mid-2017 and in subsequent years increasingly mounted attacks designed to inflict casualties on the police and army as well as mounting attacks on government bases and provincial centers.

The United States, under the new Trump administration, announced (2017) that it would increase U.S. forces by several thousand in support of the Afghan military and abandon any timetable for withdrawal, leading to expectations that U.S. forces would remain into the 2020s. Subsequently, however, the United States engaged in talks with the Taliban and there were reports of planned U.S. withdrawals, but there were no direct negotiations involving the Afghan government, which had concerns about the talks. By late 2019, the United States had reduced its forces in the country by 2,000, leaving it with somewhat more than 12,000 troops, and the abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Syria that October raised questions about the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.

Parliamentary elections, three years overdue, were held in October, 2018, but were marred by mismanagement and charges of fraud, and parliament did not sit until Apr., 2019. Meanwhile, presidential elections scheduled for Apr., 2019, were postponed until Sept., 2019; the election, held amid some Taliban attacks, was seen as a contest primarily between Ghani and Abdullah, and turnout was much lower than in 2014. Preliminary results, announced in December, indicated that Ghani, had won 50.6% of the vote; Abdullah accused the government of fraud. That tally and Ghani's victory were confirmed in Feb., 2020, but Abdullah continued to assert he was rightful president, and a power-sharing agreement was reached in May.

In March the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement that called for a significant reduction in U.S. and NATO troops by May, and the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces in 14 months, and the United States soon began reducing its forces. The agreement obligated the Taliban to reduce its attacks and cut ties with Al Qaeda, and called for a prisoner swap and negotiations with the Afghan government. Ghani's government, which had not been a party to the talks, offered a conditional, progressive prisoner swap during negotiations, which the Taliban rejected. Both sides nonetheless began releasing some prisoners; at the same time, fighting also continued. Afghanistan was also divided by the competing claims of Ghani and Abdullah. Prisoner releases were finally completed by September, and government and Taliban began talks that month. In November the United States unexpectedly announced an accelerated troop withdrawal that cut the remaining U.S. troops to around 2,500 in Jan., 2021. The full withdrawal of American and NATO troops was completed in August 2021; soon after, the central government collapsed and the Taliban regained control of the country. The Taliban announced the formation of an interim government in September. International aid was suspended, and widespread economic collapse and famine occurred in the country.


See J. Kaye, History of the War in Afghanistan (1851); H. B. Hanna, The Second Afghan War (1899); P. M. Sykes, A History of Afghanistan (2 vol., 1940; repr. 1975); V. Gregorian, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan (1969); R. T. Stewart, Fire in Afghanistan, 1914–1929 (1973); G. Arney, Afghanistan (1990); L. P. Goodson, Afghanistan's Endless War (2001); S. G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (2009); S. Tanner, Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban (2009); T. Barfield, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (2010); R. Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979–89 (2011); F. Hiebert and P. Cambon, Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (museum catalog, 2011); A. M. Kalinovsky, A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (2011); P. Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan (2011); R. Chandrasekaran, Little America: The War within the War for Afghanistan (2012); P. Bergen and K. Tiedemann, Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders between Terror, Politics, and Religion (2013); B. R. Rubin, Afghanistan from the Cold War through the War on Terror (2013); W. Dalrymple, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839–42 (2013).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.


Table 1. Administrative Divisions of Afghanistan
Province (wilayat)Area (sq km)Population (1967, estimate)Administrative center
Main Source: The Kabul Times Annual, 1967
Badghis ..........25,500293,200Qala Nau
Baghlan ..........13,500622,900Baghlan
Balkh ..........15,600325,100Mazar-i-Sharif
Farah ..........59,600293,800Farah
Faryab ..........21,000299,400Maimana
Ghazni ..........31,100918,200Ghazni
Ghor ..........35,800297,000Chaghchaharan
Helmand ..........53,200352,300Bust
Herat ..........41,700630,200Herat
Jozjan ..........21,700395,600Shibarghan
Kabul ..........3,300954,300Kabul
Kapisa ..........4,700370,800Mahmud-e-Eraqi
Konarha ..........9,700302,800Asadabad
Laghman ..........8,300244,500Miterlam
Logar ..........4,300284,100Baraki-Barak
Nangarhar ..........7,100761,200Jalalabad
Nlmroze ..........54,300112,000Zaranj
Parwan ..........9,000815,200Chari-khar
Samangan ..........15,800193,600Samangan
Takhar ..........17,500471,000Taliqan
Uruzgan ..........32,500458,000Tlrin
Zabul ..........20,700329,100Qalat-e-Ghilzayi

Afghanistan is located in the southwestern part of Central Asia. It is bounded on the north by the USSR (the length of the Soviet-Afghan border is about 2,350 km), on the west by Iran, on the south and east by Pakistan and India, and on the northeast by China. Its area is 647,500 sq km (UN data). The population was estimated at 16.1 million in 1968, based on data from the UN Demographic Yearbook. Capital, Kabul. Administratively, Afghanistan is divided into 28 provinces or wilayats (see Table 1).

Afghanistan is a constitutional monarchy. The existing constitution was adopted in 1964. The head of state is a king (the padishah) endowed with broad powers by the constitution, which allow him to exert considerable influence on the country’s foreign and domestic policy. The king is the head of the executive branch—he exercises his power through the government, which he appoints (a cabinet of ministers)—and is the commander in chief. He is empowered to declare war and conclude treaties of peace, confirm international agreements, appoint ambassadors, convene and disperse the parliament, designate new elections, confirm and promulgate laws, issue edicts with the force of law, appoint some members of the upper chamber of parliament, appoint the chairman and members of the supreme court, and so on.

Although the bases of the constitutional-monarchical system were declared to be immutable, the adoption of the Constitution of 1964 created the possibility for a certain expansion of parliamentarism in Afghanistan—the system of forming the upper chamber of the parliament was changed (previously all its members had been appointed by the king) and its prerogatives were restricted; the rights of the lower chamber were expanded (in the areas of legislature, the right to express no confidence in the government, and such); freedom of speech, the press, and assembly were proclaimed; and political parties were permitted. In 1965 an election law was adopted which for the first time gave women the right to vote, and established universal, direct, and secret suffrage. All citizens 20 years of age who have not been deprived of their political rights by the courts are allowed to vote.

Legislative power is exercised by a bicameral parliament. The lower house—the People’s Jirga—is elected by the population for four years. The upper house is the Jirga of Elders; one-third of its members are appointed by the king for five years, and the other two-thirds are elected by provincial assemblies, or jirgas (one representative from among the members of each provincial jirga) for a period of three years and by the population of the provinces (one representative from each province) for a period of four years. The government is formally responsible to the People’s Jirga. The government, the members of parliament, and the Supreme Court (if a legislative project involves the judicial system or legal procedure) have the right of legislative initiative.

The Great Jirga occupies a special place in Afghanistan’s system of state bodies. It is composed of all the deputies of the parliament and the chairmen of the provincial jirgas. It is convened by edict of the king to examine certain questions of succession (for example, in the case of the abdication of the king) or amendments to the constitution. In certain instances, the Great Jirga is charged with resolving questions of prosecution of members of the government or Supreme Court.

The head of each province is a governor appointed by the king. The provincial jirga, elected by the population, is the representative institution of the province; it operates as a consultative organ to the governor. In large cities, the citizens elect municipal bodies.

The judicial system includes the Supreme Court (the highest judicial instance), appellate courts in every province, and civil and military courts of original jurisdiction. All judges are appointed by the king. In deciding judicial affairs, judges are guided by sharia (the religious-legal norms of Islam), as well as by existing legislation.


Afghanistan is located in the northeast of the Iranian plateau. The surface of the country falls off from high mountain ranges in the north and east to interior highlands and undrained basins. Desert and semidesert landscapes of the subtropical belt predominate. Considerable areas of Afghanistan are inaccessible and have not been widely studied.

Terrain. Mountains occupy about three-quarters of the territory of Afghanistan. A relatively small area is occupied by the peripheral plains in the north (the Bactrian plain), west, and south. The latitudinal belt of mountains of northern Afghanistan includes the Paropamisus, Safed Koh, and Band-i-Turkestan. To the east, the mountains give way to the central and eastern Hindu Kush ranges (Mount Tirga-ran, 6,729 m), the highest in Afghanistan, which are marked by extremely steep slopes and glaciation. To the south of the Hindu Kush are the strongly peneplained mountains of central Afghanistan, medium in altitude and intricately dissected in the west (notable are the Mazar Range and the Koh-i-Khurd, up to 4,000 m), where they form the Hazara-jat plateau, and lower in the east, where they are cut by broad river valleys and undrained basins (the Ghazni-Kandahar plateau). In the south and southwest of the country there are high plains with a number of basins, in which the sandy Registan and Garmser deserts and the stony and clayey Dasht-i-Margo Desert are found. On the borders with Iran and Pakistan there are cavities with salt marshes and lakes (Gaud-i-Zirreh, the northern part of Hamun, and others). Spurs of the Sulaiman Range form a narrow belt along Afghanistan’s eastern border.

Geological structure and mineral resources. Afghanistan is basically located in an alpine folded-mountain belt. Northern Afghanistan is covered with limestones and disintegrated rock formations of the Cretaceous and Cenozoic eras. Deposits of natural gas (Shibarghan) and seepings of oil (Angot) date to the Lower Cretaceous period; deposits of barite, celestite, and sulfur date to the Paleocene. Cretaceous and Cenozoic deposits, slightly dislocated in the most recent period of activization, lie on folded rocks of the Paleozoic and—in places—Triassic and Jurassic periods. Coal deposits are associated with these periods; deposits of combustible gas, rock (common) salt (Taliqan, Takcha Khana), and gypsum date to the Upper Jurassic. Coal-bearing layers of the Jurassic period and lava and disintegrated rocks of the Triassic period are displayed near the axial Paropamisus-Hindu Kush zone. The zone is composed of metamorphosed Precambrian rocks, which bear deposits of lazurite (Sar-i-sang) and beryllium ores in pegmatite veins (in Nuristan), shales, sandstones, limestones, and lava of the Paleozoic era. These rocks are crushed in the folds of a variscitic plication and permeated by granitoids of the Carboniferous and Jurassic periods. Deposits of iron ore (Hajigak, where more than 100 million tons have been prospected), lead, zinc, (Farinjal, Bibi-Gauhar, Tulak), and gold (Badakhshan, Ghazni) have been dated to these periods. In the south Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks, broken through by young ultrabasites and granitoids, are developed. In Hazarajat subplatform deposits of Paleozoic and Precambrian rocks jut out from under Mesozoic deposits. In the southeast Cretaceous and Paleocene rocks, crushed into linear folds by alpine tectonic movements, are developed. The remaining regions of the country experienced orogenesis.

Climate. The climate is dry and subtropical. The average temperature in July is between 24° and 32°C; at altitudes of 2,500–4,000 m, it is about 10°C. Winter on the plains is mild and changeable; the average temperature in January is 0–8°C. In places there may be freezing spells of -20°C to -30CC. At altitudes above 3,000 m, the snow cover lasts six to eight months. The maximum precipitation comes in winter and spring as a result of cyclonic activity. On the southern plains 40–50 mm of precipitation falls annually, on the interior highlands there is 200–250 mm, and on the windward slopes of the Hindu Kush, 400–600 mm. In the southeast, which gets monsoons from the Indian Ocean, there is about 800 mm of precipitation a year (mainly in the summer).

Rivers and lakes. The country’s river network is distributed very unequally. It is most dense in the east and northeast. Most of the rivers drain into the interior region of the country—the Murghab, Hari Rud, Farah Rud, Hel-mand, Amu Darya (in its upper course, the Piandzh) and its tributaries, the Kokcha, Surkhab, and others. The Kabul River (a tributary of the Indus) flows into the basin of the Indian Ocean. The rivers are primarily fed by the melted waters of mountain snow (in the spring) and glaciers (in the summer). The rivers of the plains are at flood level in the spring; in the summer they become shallow, and many disappear in the sands or their waters are taken up for irrigation. The power resources of the rivers have been poorly utilized. There are few lakes. In the summer small desert lakes either dry up or turn into salt marshes. There are subsoil waters in many areas of Afghanistan; they are the main source of water for irrigating and watering the land and supplying settled areas with water.

Soils and flora. Subtropical mountain desert gray-brown (especially in the south and west) and mountain sierozem soils are most common. There are sizable areas of drifting and semjanchored sands. In the mountain regions of the north, there are mountain meadow-steppe, mountain-meadow, and also mountain brown soils.

The flora is primarily of the dry-steppe and desert types. Xerophytes (milk vetch, Acantholimon, camel’s burr, kuzinia, and so on) predominate on the interior plateaus. In the deserts there is wormwood and salt-marsh vegetation; saxaul and ephemera grow in the sands. In the Paropamisus there are sparse growths of juniper and pistachio trees in combination with frigana (xerophytic shrub and semishrub vegetation), and in the northern foothill plains there are subtropical desert plant communities of sedge and meadow grass. In the mountainous regions of Nuristan bordering on Pakistan there are small areas of forest of the Western Himalayan type—evergreen oaks appear up to 2,000–2,400 m; pines, fir, and Himalayan cedars, up to 3,300–3,400 m. At higher altitudes there are gnarled forests and subalpine and alpine meadows. The forests of the eastern Hindu Kush alternate with shrub and alpine-meadow formations.

Fauna. The fauna of Afghanistan belongs to two subregions of the Holarctic Region—the Central Asian and the Mediterranean. Mountain and desert fauna predominate. Hoofed animals include wild rams, goats, Middle Asian gazelles, boars, and asses; predators include wolves, hyenas, leopards, and jackals; reptiles include tortoises and snakes (the poisonous ones are the pit vipers, cobra, Levantine viper, and adders). The bird population is extensive. There are many insects, including agricultural pests (locusts) and poisonous arachnida (karacurt, scorpions).

Natural regions. Among the natural regions of Afghanistan are the Bactrian foothill plain, with ephemeral vegetation of the subtropical desert; the mountains of northern Afghanistan, with a dry, subtropical climate, mountainous semideserts and deserts in the lower belt, and sparse growths of trees and mountain steppes in the upper belt; the eastern Hindu Kush—cold alpine deserts with glaciation—and Western Badakhshan, with mountain meadows and small sections of trees and shrubs; the interior deserted uplands and plateaus (Hazarajat, Ghazni-Kandahar), dominated by xerophytic shrubs and subtropical steppe; the southern and western un-drained deserted plains with small salt lakes; and the mountain monsoon southeast, with summer rains and mountain forests of the Western Himalayan type.


[Efremov, lu. K.] “Fiziko-geograficheskii ocherk.” In Sovremennyi Afganistan. Moscow, 1960.
Zarubezhnaia Aziia: Fizicheskaia geografia. Moscow, 1956.
Muhammad Ali. Afganistan. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from English.)
Humlum, J. La géographie de l’Afganistan. Copenhagen, 1959.

N. V. ALEKSANDROVSKAIA and V. P. KOLCHANOV (geological structure)

More than 20 peoples belonging to different language groups live in Afghanistan. The Afghans comprise somewhat more than half of the population (more than 8 million people; data here and below are from 1967 estimates—there have been no general censuses in the country). The Tajiks inhabit a number of western and northeastern provinces (about 3.25 million people), Uzbeks (over 1.5 million) and Turkomans (about 300,000) live in the north, the Hazaras (about 1.4 million) live in the central part of Afghanistan, and the Chahar Aimaks (about 450,000) live in the provinces of Herat and Ghor (in the northwest). The Nuristanis (over 100,000), Baluchis (over 100,000), Pashais (about 100,000), Kirghiz, Kazakhs, Karakalpaks, small groups of Arabs, and others also live in Afghanistan. There are two state languages in the country—Pashto (Afghan) and Dari (Farsi-Kabuli). Islam is the state religion. There are three calendar systems in present-day Afghanistan: the solar Hegira (official), the lunar Hegira, and the Gregorian.

The population is composed predominantly of peasants. In 1965 the total economically active population (UN data) was 4,955,000; of these 87 percent were engaged in agriculture. The working class is on the increase. In 1968, according to various estimates, about 350,000 people were employed in industry, construction, and transportation. Approximately 2.5 million people still lead nomadic and seminomadic lives. The stationary population is distributed very unequally. In the fertile valleys and oases, population density exceeds 100 per sq km. The river valleys on the Bactrian plain, the basin of the Kabul River, the valley of the Hari Rud River, and the oases on the Arghandab River are particularly densely populated. The southern deserts and the alpine regions of central and northeastern Afghanistan are almost uninhabited.

About 10 percent of the population lives in cities. The growth of cities accelerated in the 1950’s and 1960’sasaresult of the formation of a unified internal market and the development of industry. The country’s large cities are Kabul (with suburbs, about 500,000 people), Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kunduz.


Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Archaeological evidence shows that the northern part of what is today Afghanistan was inhabited by man in the early Stone Age (the Kara-Kamar cave) and the southern part in the Bronze Age (settlements of agricultural tribes from the fourth to second millennia B.C. are known). Large oases arose in the first half of the first millennium B.C., as irrigation developed. The formation of early social class relations and the establishment of the first states (the oldest of which was Bactria) on the territory of Afghanistan date from this time. In the 530’s B.C., the territory of present-day Afghanistan was brought into the Achaemenid state; in 330–329 B.C. it was conquered by Alexander of Macedonia, after which it became a possession of the Seleucids. The Greco-Bactrian kingdom (with its center in northern Afghanistan) arose about 250 B.C. and lasted until 140–130 B.C. In the period of the Great Kushans (late first to the fourth century A.D.), the center of whose state was located in northern Afghanistan, cities continued to flourish, craft production and money circulation grew, and culture and art developed. The spread of Buddhism began. The power of the Kushans was undermined by the Sassanids, who gained control of part of Afghanistan. In the fifth and sixth centuries, much of Afghanistan was conquered by the rulers of the Ephthalite tribal union.

After the Ephthalite union disintegrated in the 560’s under attacks by the Turks and Sassanids, the territory of Afghanistan was fragmented into small holdings; the rulers of some of these became vassals of the Turkish khanate, and others became vassals of the Sassanids. Political fragmentation, the decline of cities, and the appearance of numerous castles in rural areas of Bactria and neighboring countries in the sixth and seventh centuries were apparently the product of the strengthening of the small landowning aristocracy and the formation of early feudal relations.

The Arabs subjugated most of Afghanistan in the seventh and eighth centuries. From the ninth century it was ruled by the Tahirid and Saffarid dynasties; about the year 900, it came under the control of the Samanid emirs of Bukhara. There was significant development in the economy, culture, and art during the ninth and tenth centuries. Islam spread from the seventh to the tenth centuries. Popular movements of the seventh to tenth centuries against the authority of the caliphates and the local dynasties were led by the Kar-mathians, Harijites, and other sects. From the 960’s to the 1130’s, Afghanistan was part of the Ghaznavid state. The Ghaznavid state began to disintegrate in the early 1130’s in the face of attacks by the Seljuks and, later, the Ghurids. Most of Afghanistan became part of the Ghurid state (1148–1206), the heart of which was Ghur—a mountainous region to the east and southeast of Herat, settled by the Ghurids. The Ghurids and, later, the Afghans played a prominent role in the political history of Afghanistan and to some extent in neighboring countries in the 12th to 14th centuries. The main territories where the Afghan nationality (the Pushtuns) took shape were the Sulaiman mountains and the Ghazni-Kandahar and Quetta-Pishin highlands. The sources of Afghan ethnogenesis go back to the ancient population of these territories, who spoke in languages of the East Iranian group (to which the present Afghan language, Pashto, belongs); the Bactrians, Saki, and Ephthalites apparently participated in the early stages of the process, and the Indians (especially in the south), Tajik, and possibly Turkic elements played a later role. The first references to the Afghans are found in sixth century sources. The study of the mutual relations between the Afghans and the Tajiks, who made up the bulk of the population of the Herat and other Afghan oases, is very important to the history of Afghanistan.

The Mongol invasion in the 13th century served as a brake on the economic and cultural development of the population of Afghanistan for a long time. The onerous consequences of this were gradually overcome under the Kurt state (13th—14th centuries) but were not completely eliminated even under the Timurids, although in the Timurid possessions the economy revived considerably and the culture of feudal society, in which feudal forms of landed property and the military-feudal system were developed, flourished. In the 16th century, the territory of Afghanistan was conquered by the Great Moguls and the Safavids. In the course of a long struggle against the authority of the Moguls and the Safavids, the prerequisites for the unification of the Afghans into an independent state—a process that had been hampered by their fragmentation into numerous tribes and clans—were created. The social structure of the Afghans was characterized by a patriarchal orientation (the family was organized in a military manner) on the one hand and on the other by the development of feudal relations. In the 1560’s the increase of property inequality and of class contradictions among the Afghans led to a mass popular movement against the Great Moguls and the Afghan nobility led by the Roshani sect. Many tribes followed their leadership, but differences prevented the development of firm unity. The Roshani movement was suppressed in the late 1630’s.

Afghan feudal principalities (such as the Khattak principality of Akora) arose in the 16th century—evidence of the social and economic prerequisites for the development of a feudal state organization among the Afghans. Along with the leaders of the Afridi tribe, Khushhalkhan Khattak, the ruler of Akora, led a great uprising against the Great Moguls; from 1672 to 1675 it embraced most of the Afghan tribes. In 1709 the Ghilzais revolted against the Safavids, and an independent Ghilzai principality formed in Kandahar. In 1716 the independent principality of the Abdali tribe arose in Herat. In the 1730’s these principalities were conquered by Nadir. However, after the death of Nadir Shah (1747), his state disintegrated.

Modern times. The Afghans united on the ruins of Nadir Shah’s state (1747) to form a unified, independent state (the Durrani state), whose head was Ahmad Khan. The khans of the Abdali tribe (Durrani) held the dominant position in the newly established state. The Afghan tribes retained their family-tribal structure and clan organization; they retained independence in domestic affairs even into the 19th century. The jirga (council of members of the tribe) played an important role in the internal life of the Afghan tribes. For the most part, Afghans were free from taxes, but they were obliged to supply the shah with warriors. Ahmad Shah extended the boundaries of the state, conquering Punjab, Kashmir, Sind, Sirkhind, Baluchistan, Khorasan, Balkh, and some other areas on the left bank of the Amu Darya. Imposts collected from the conquered regions were the main source of revenue for the shah’s treasury. Afghan khans used their influence in the state to seize lands from poor tribesmen. The growth of feudal property was accompanied by the struggle of the Afghan nobility for independence from the central authority, which had been weakened by uprisings of subjugated peoples and by mutinies by Afghan khans. The successors of Ahmad Shah lost most of his conquests, and in 1818 the Durrani state disintegrated into the principalities of Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Peshawar.

The unification of the most important regions of the Afghan tribes into Ahmad Shah’s state was of great historical importance. It created favorable conditions for the disunited Afghan tribes to move closer together. The Kabul principality became the nucleus for the reunification of Afghanistan, which was begun by Dost Muhammad. In 1838, English aggression interrupted this process. A popular war led to the expulsion of the troops of the English East India Company from Afghanistan in 1842, and Dost Muhammad continued the work of unifying Afghanistan—in 1855 Kandahar was annexed and, in 1863, Herat. Under the emir Sher Ali (reigned 1863–79) the subjugation of the left-bank regions of the Amu Darya was completed, and Badakhshan was subdued. Sher Ali strengthened the central authority, expanded the army, and organized a postal service. The second Anglo-Afghan war (1878–80) hampered his reforms. The stubborn resistance of the peoples of Afghanistan forced England to renounce its plans to conquer Afghanistan. Abdul Rahman—the grandson of Dost Muhammad—came to power in 1880. He obtained the withdrawal of English forces from Afghanistan but accepted British control over the country’s foreign policy. In 1893, threatening war, England achieved the inclusion of lands of the border Afghan tribes (to the south and southeast of the so-called Durand line) within the boundaries of its colony, India. Toward the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a relatively centralized feudal state took shape—a process that was furthered by Abdul Rahman Khan’s reforms. He reestablished a regular army, put the administrative apparatus and tax collection system in order, and partially limited the activity of foreign commercial capital. Despite the dominance of feudal relations and despite the country’s outward isolation—forcibly established by the British—cities grew in Afghanistan, trade and crafts developed, the ties of the landlords with the market were strengthened, and a national commercial bourgeoisie appeared. The prerequisites for these changes were political consolidation, the growing specialization of agriculture, and the development of the domestic market. Under Emir Habibullah (reigned 1901–19) efforts were made to Europeanize the upper elements of the state (for example, the first secular educational institutions with instruction on the European model were established). Social and political thought began to stir in Afghanistan in the early 20th century, a process which was greatly influenced by the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia and the revolutionary movement of the neighboring countries of the East. The Young Afghan movement arose in this period. Its ideological leader was the poet and publicist Mahmud Tarzi.

Afghanistan maintained neutrality during World War I (1914–18). The German-Austrian-Turkish mission to Afghanistan of 1915–16 was unsuccessful in its efforts to draw the country into the war.

Development of capitalism in independent Afghanistan (since 1919). The Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia introduced fundamental changes into Afghanistan’s international position, creating favorable conditions for the winning of independence. The position of national forces within the country was strengthened, and patriotic actions were stirred up. In February 1919, Amanullah Khan became emir. His government was guided by the ideas of the Young Afghans. On Feb. 28,1919, Amanullah Khan proclaimed Afghani Stan’s independence, which guaranteed him the support of the army and of broad masses of the population. England rejected the proposal of the Afghan government (Mar. 3, 1919) to put Anglo-Afghan relations on a footing of equality and unleashed its third aggressive war against Afghanistan (May-June, 1919). Soviet Russia offered friendly support to Afghanistan and was the first to recognize its sovereignty (Mar. 27, 1919). V. I. Lenin’s message of May 27, 1919, to the emir of Afghanistan expressed Russia’s readiness to exchange embassies immediately. (The exchange of ambassadors took place that same year.) The position of Soviet Russia and the upsurge of the anti-imperialist struggle in the East aided Afghanistan in its struggle for independence. England recognized the independence of Afghanistan by the preliminary treaty of Rawalpindi on Aug. 8, 1919. Final recognition followed in 1921, after the conclusion of a Soviet-Afghan treaty in February of that year. On Aug. 31, 1926, Afghanistan and the USSR signed the Treaty of Neutrality and Mutual Non-aggression.

During 1919–28, reforms directed toward overcoming feudal backwardness and promoting the development of capitalist relations were implemented in Afghanistan (laws encouraging industry, 1921; laws on the unlimited right of property in land, its free purchase and sale, 1923; reforms expanding secular education, and so on). In 1923, Afghanistan’s first constitution was promulgated.

These bourgeois transformations were opposed by the tribal khans and the clergy, who were supported by British imperialism. They exploited the difficult situation of the peasantry, whose interests were not taken into consideration by the Young Afghan government. At the end of 1928, an antigovernment uprising led by Bacha-i Saqao began in the country. Amanullah Khan was forced to abdicate. Bacha-i Saqao (who ruled under the name Habibullah) seized power in January 1929 and abolished all the reforms. Muhammad Nadir—formerly minister of war in Amanullah’s government—rebelled against Bacha-i Saqao. In October 1929 he took Kabul and was proclaimed king. He established the present ruling dynasty. The new constitution, promulgated in 1931, strengthened the clergy’s position in education and law and secured the participation of the nobility of the tribes in the state administration; at the same time, in accordance with the constitution, the elected People’s Council with consultative rights was established. In 1933, Nadir’s son, Zahir Shah, became king. In the 1930’s, with state support, associations of national merchants (shirkats) were established. Measures are being taken to create factory industry.

Soviet-Afghan economic relations unfailingly responded to the interests of Afghanistan. A new Soviet-Afghan treaty in 1931 on neutrality and mutual nonaggression helped strengthen Afghanistan’s independence.

On Sept. 7, 1939, after the start of World War II (1939–45), the government of Afghanistan declared its neutrality. However, fascist Germany and Italy, which had intensified their activity in Afghanistan during the prewar years, attempted to divert it from its position. German and Italian agents tried to organize anti-Soviet diversions from within Afghanistan and to undertake military adventures on the Afghan-Indian border. As a result of the appeal of the governments of the USSR (Oct. 11, 1941) and England (Oct. 9, 1941), the fascist agents were expelled from Afghanistan. Although Afghanistan did not participate in the war, it experienced serious economic difficulties as a result of the disruption of its world economic ties.

By the end of World War II, Afghanistan was still an economically underdeveloped country with important feudal vestiges in agriculture, which engaged about 90 percent of the population; the number of industrial, transportation, and construction workers did not exceed 40,000. The increase in agrarian overpopulation, while national industrial output was at a low level, was accompanied by a systematic deterioration in the situation of rural and urban workers. The imperialists of the United States and England exploited the country’s economic difficulties. The United States, perceiving Afghanistan’s interest in selling karakul wool on the American market, granted it burdensome loans on condition that it pay the labor expenditures of the American firm of Morrison-Knud-sen, which had for many years (since 1946) been operating an ineffective irrigation project in the south of the country. In the 1950’s, West German capital began its active penetration of Afghanistan’s economy. The attempt to draw Afghanistan into the aggressive imperialist military blocs in Asia also constituted a threat to the country’s independence. In this regard, in order to exert pressure on Afghanistan, the English and American imperialists attempted to exploit Afghan-Pakistani differences in the matter of self-determination of the Pushtuns, who lived to the south and southeast of the Durand line (now within the boundaries of Pakistan). Economic difficulties and the growth of social contradictions led to the appearance of oppositional social trends in Afghanistan. Members of the small and middle bourgeoisie and the national intelligentsia played a leading role in these movements. They advocated an accelerated rate of growth of productive forces and the democratization of the state system, and they opposed colonialism. Political groups arose in 1950–51 on the basis of the Awakened Youth movement that had developed around 1947; these groups published the first unofficial newspapers in Afghanistan and advanced various bourgeois-democratic demands (that political parties be allowed, that the government be responsible to parliament, and so on). The activity of these groups was banned during 1952–53. With the accession to power of the government of Muhammad Daud (1953–63), which proclaimed a policy of controlled economy, a number of important measures of a state-capitalist nature were carried out—state organizations and mixed joint-stock companies for foreign trade were created; state control over industrial enterprises and banking was established; state industrial, irrigation, and road and transportation construction increased; the credit system was expanded, and so on. The two plans for economic development of 1956/57–1960/61 and 1962/63–1966/67 aimed at accelerating the development of productive forces. However, agriculture remained the fundamental branch of Afghanistan’s economy. Cooperation with the USSR and other socialist countries, which expanded considerably in the 1950’s and 1960’s, played a vital role in the economic development of Afghanistan; it gave the country practical possibilities of establishing the prerequisites for economic independence. As stipulated in the Soviet-Afghan agreements on economic and technical cooperation, a number of projects were built in Afghanistan with the aid of the USSR. Soviet-Afghan cultural relations have been expanded in accordance with the agreement of 1960. The share of the socialist countries, including the USSR, in the total foreign trade turnover of Afghanistan reached 47 percent in 1967/68. On the basis of its cooperation with the socialist countries, Afghanistan strengthened its sovereign position in its relations with the capitalist world, to a large extent resolving the problem of transit of goods, thereby also furthering the consolidation of the country’s political independence. The economic measures implemented in Afghanistan in the mid-1960’s accelerated the formation of economic regions and a national market and expanded the sphere of wage labor. All this aided the country in overcoming precapitalist vestiges in its economy and social relations. Capitalist evolution has been made more difficult by the resistance of the feudal-clerical reactionary forces to new things, the unresolved status of the agrarian question, and the maintenance of semifeudal forms of exploitation of the peasantry. The past also retains considerable influence in ideology, law, and everyday life. At the same time, the correlation of social forces in the country is increasingly favorable to reforms in state and political, as well as economic, life. From 1963 to 1965, the cabinet of Muhammad Yusuf implemented constitutional reform which aimed at the gradual adaptation of existing institutions to the needs of capitalist development. The 1964 constitution promoted the revival of social movements which worked for the realization of the constitution’s legal declarations. This was reflected in demonstrations in Kabul during 1965–66, and in the publication during 1966–67 of several unofficial (private) newspapers. Those involved in the movement generally came from the petite and middle bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia; they advocated national-bourgeois democratic programs. During the same period, publications appeared which for the first time reflected political views that had formed under the influence of socialist ideology. The ruling classes (landlords and representatives of the big bourgeoisie) advanced an ideology propagandizing the concept of national unity on paths of moderate evolution. Work began in 1965 on the first law on political parties.

In foreign relations, Afghanistan actively cooperates with the nonaligned countries. The positive neutralism has been the basis of Afghanistan’s international course, which supports peaceful coexistence and disarmament and opposes colonialism. This foreign policy corresponds to the fundamental interests of Afghanistan and is supported by the USSR and other socialist countries.

In 1965 the Soviet-Afghan treaty of 1931 was extended. In 1959 the Soviet Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Afghanistan was established, and in 1960 the Society for Afghan-Soviet Friendship was established in Afghanistan. The reciprocal visits of state figures of both countries promotes the strengthening of relations between the USSR and Afghanistan.


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Bibliografaa Afganistana: Literatura na russkom iazyke. Compiled by T. I. Kukhtina. Moscow, 1965.

V. A. ROMODIN (to 1919) and R. T. AKHRAMOVICH (since 1919)

General state of the economy. Afghanistan is an agrarian country. Although feudal and semifeudal vestiges survive, capitalist relations of production are developing steadily. Irrigated farming and pasture livestock raising are the bases of the economy. Agriculture creates about 80 percent of the gross national product; industry, about 8 percent. Handicraft production is important. Factory and plant industry is still only in the process of development. After World War II (1939–45), the state began to play a large role in the economic life of Afghanistan. In the 1950’s the government implemented a number of important measures for the development of the national economy—the organization of state and mixed enterprises and the introduction of regulation into industry, foreign trade, transport, banking, and so on; this allowed the country to embark on long-range economic planning. Afghanistan has carried out two five-year plans for economic development (1956/57–1960/61 and 1962/63–1966/67); a third five-year plan has been adopted (1967/68–1971/72).

Afghanistan has received all manner of support in economic construction from the USSR and other socialist countries. With technical and financial aid from the USSR, bakery and house-building complexes and asphalt-cement and motor vehicle repair plants were built in Kabul in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gas fields were opened in the north, and gas pipelines were laid to the border with the USSR and to Mazar-i-Sharif. An irrigation canal and hydroelectric power plant were built on the Kabul River in the area of Jalalabad, and the Sardeh Dam was constructed (near Ghazni); the mechanized port of Sher Khan on the Piandzh River, a hydroelectric plant in Pul-i-Khumri, and a dam and hydroelectric plant at Nagalu were built. The Kabul-Sher Khan highway (length about 400 km, with a tunnel 2.7 km long through the mountainous Hindu Kush Range at an altitude of 3,300 m) and the Kushka-Herat-Kandahar highway (680 km) were constructed. Under construction (1970) are a nitrogen fertilizer plant in Mazar-i-Sharif and the Pul-i-Khumri-Mazar-i-Sharif-Shibarghan highway.

Agriculture. For much of Afghanistan, a combination of sedentary agriculture and nomadic or seminomadic livestock raising is typical. Farming predominates, especially in the provinces of Kabul, Herat, and Balkh. Agriculture remains at a low level of productivity, based on manual labor of métayers and peasants with little land; they use primitive agricultural implements. Only one-third of the agricultural produce goes to market. The system of land property acts as a brake on the development of productive forces in agriculture. Large landlords dominate in landholding. A total of 73 percent of all cultivated land is owned by 40,000 landlords (6.5 percent of the total number of landowners) with over 20 hectares (ha) of land each. More than 500,000 peasant families have no land and are forced either to rent it from landlords on terms virtually amounting to bondage or to work as farmhands. In the infertile mountain regions of Hazarajat and Badakhshan, peasant ownership of land is relatively widespread. The state owns mainly wastelands and pasture, in addition to forests and sections of land where minerals have been discovered. Communal tribal landownership is losing its importance.

FARMING. The total area of cultivated land is about 7.8 million ha, of which 5.3 million ha requires irrigation. About 2.6 million ha of irrigated land and 1.3 million ha of bogara (dry-farming) land are planted with agricultural crops annually; the remaining arable land lies fallow or is in disuse. As much as 70 percent of all arable land is concentrated in northern Afghanistan, where the main tracts of bogara fields are located in the foothills. The greatest areas of irrigated agriculture are in the basins of the Kabul, Hari Rud, Helmand, Surkhab, and Balkh rivers. Small irrigation works predominate—primitive dams with aryks and, in the broad valleys of southern Afghanistan, karezes (underground irrigation canals). Engineered dams began to be built only after World War II.

Afghanistan is characterized by a diversity of cultivated crops and a predominance of grains (see Table 2).

Wheat, which accounts for about 55 percent of the value of plant produce, is cultivated in many regions on irrigated and bogara fields, especially on bogara lands in northern Afghanistan. The valleys of the Logar, Surkhab, and Alishang rivers are mainly planted with rice. Corn is raised primarily in

Table 2. Cultivated areas and yield of main agricultural crops
1 Yearly average
2 Cotton fiber
 Area (ha)Yield (ha)
Wheat ..........2,000,0002,341,0002,500,0001,700,0002,279,0002,200,000
Rice ..........180,000210,000225,000331,000319,000345,000
Corn ..........350,000500,000505,000350,000700,000730,000
Cotton ..........21,000101,000121,0007,000226,000219.0002
Sugar beets ..........4,0004,0004,00030,00060,00060,000

the southeast (the provinces of Nangarhar and Paktia); barley is grown on the bogara lands of the foothills and in the mountains (at altitudes of up to 3,600 m). Millet is grown in insignificant quantities. Leguminous plants—lentils, chick peas, haricots, and peas—are sown in mountainous regions. Viticulture is practiced almost everywhere (especially in the provinces of Kandahar, Kabul, and Herat—the harvest of grapes in 1967 was 200,000 tons), as is orchard farming (apricots, peaches, quinces, apples, and pomegranates). Nuts are harvested (almonds, walnuts, and wild pistachios and jalguz). Various kinds of garden melon crops are raised in the Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and other oases. Cultivation of the main industrial crops—cotton, oil-bearing plants (mainly flax, sesame, and colza), sugar beets, and sugarcane—is concentrated in northern Afghanistan.

LIVESTOCK RAISING. Agriculture gives way to livestock raising—the most important and marketable branch of which is sheep raising—in the spurs of the Sulaiman Mountains, on the western Bactrian plain, and in the deserts of southern and southwestern Afghanistan. In 1966/67 there were 20 million sheep and 3.2 million goats. Nomads mainly raise sheep and goats, primarily fat-tailed sheep. In the spring, when vegetation in the desert southern regions of the country becomes parched, the nomads drive their herds to the plains of northern Afghanistan and the alpine meadows in the mountains, returning to wintering places in the south with the onset of cold weather. Flocks of karakul sheep (5.5–6.5 million head) are grazed in the rich pastures of northern Afghanistan; Afghanistan occupies third place in the world (after the USSR and the Republic of South Africa) in output of karakul (1.5–2.5 million hides a year). Cattle (3.6 million head in 1966/67), oxen, and small numbers of buffalo and yaks are raised primarily on peasant farms, where they are used for field work; nomads have camels, and horses are owned mainly by prosperous strata of the population. There is silkworm breeding in the regions of Herat, Baghlan, Jalalabad, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Wood is procured in the forests of the eastern and southern regions.

Industry. Factory industry began to develop only in the late 1930’s. All the most important electric power, extractive, and manufacturing enterprises (except textiles) belong to the state or to mixed state-private joint-stock companies.

Coal is mined at deposits at Karkar, Ishpushta, and Dara-Yusuf in the north, and rock (common) salt is mined primarily near the city of Taliqan. Lapis lazuli is extracted from the mountains of Badakhshan (the Sar-i-sang deposits). The extraction of natural gas has begun near the city of Shibarghan; it is in part supplied to the USSR through a pipeline. In 1967/68 the established capacity of electric power plants was 227,000 kilowatts (kW), including 212,000 kW from hydroelectric plants. The most important hydroelectric plants were constructed on the Kabul River at Nagalu (capacity 67,500 kW) and Sorubi and at the head dam of the Jalalabad irrigation canal.

The most developed branches of manufacturing are textiles, food, initial processing of agricultural raw materials, construction, and building materials. The main enterprises of the textile industry are the cotton enterprises in Gulbahar, the cotton processing factory in Pul-i-Khumri, and the wool-weaving factory in Kandahar. Important plants of the food industry are the fruit-canning plant in Kandahar, the sugar plant in Baghlan, the oil-extracting plant in Kunduz, and the bakery complex in Kabul. Among the most notable enterprises of the construction and building materials industry are two cement plants—in Pul-i-Khumri (120,000 tons of cement a year) and Jabal us Siraj (over 30,000 tons of cement a year)—and the house-building complex and asphalt-concrete plant in Kabul.

The dynamics of production of the main industrial products is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Output of most important industrial products
Electric power, million kW-hr.....16119357
Coal, tons ..........16,00048,000152,000
Salt, tons ..........17,00026,00032,000
Cement tons..........37,000124,000
Cotton cloth, million m ..........142464

About 200,000 people are engaged in handicraft production (carpets, cloth, crockery, and footwear). Afghan carpets, produced mainly in the north, are of international renown and are exported.

Transportation. Afghanistan has no railroads (a railroad branch less than 10 km long was constructed in 1960 between Kushka, USSR, and Toraghundi). Motor transport is most important in long-distance hauling and servicing foreign trade. In 1967 there were 7,500 km of highways, 1,200 of which were asphalt and 700 of which were concrete. The circular route Kabul-Kandahar-Herat-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul, which links the country’s most important cities, is particularly important. In 1967 there were 45,100 motor vehicles in service in the country, 27,600 of which were automobiles. Pack animals (camels, horses, and donkeys) are used extensively in transporting freight between small cities, in rural areas, and to some extent for the transport of import and export freight. The only navigable river is the Amu Darya (Piandzh), which is used by small vessels. There are a mechanized port, Sher Khan, and two docks—Kelif and Tash Gozar. Air transport serves foreign and domestic communications. The main airports are at Kabul, Kandahar, and Bag-ram. (The first two are international.)

Foreign trade. A total of 80–90 percent of Afghanistan’s exports is in karakul, wool, cotton, fruits, grapes, raisins, and nuts. Afghanistan imports various industrial goods. Its main trading partners in 1967/68 were (export and import in percent; estimate) the USSR (33.2 and 48.1), the USA (8.3 and 12.8), India (16.3 and 4.5), West Germany, England, Pakistan, Japan, and Czechoslovakia. The USSR buys cotton, wool, oilseeds, skins, and hides from Afghanistan and supplies it with industrial equipment, motor vehicles and spare parts, petroleum products, ferrous metals, cotton fabric, sugar, crockery, bicycles, radio receivers, and so on. India and Pakistan import mainly fresh and dried fruits, nuts, wood, and medicinal herbs from Afghanistan; Afghanistan imports fabrics, tea, and footwear from India. Karakul is exported primarily to the USA. The monetary unit of Afghanistan is the afghani; in the exchange rate of the State Bank of the USSR (April 1970) 100 afghanis was equal to 2.01 rubles.

Economic and geographic regions. There are four economic regions in the process of formation in Afghanistan. Intensive irrigation agriculture is developed in the river valleys of the Kabul region. Vegetable farming and dairy farming of the local type, viticulture, and winter pasturing take place here. In the Jalalabad oasis, sugarcane is grown, and there are plantations of citrus fruits and date palms. The region’s center is Kabul.

The Bactrian region occupies the Bactrian plain and the bordering foothills and mountains; it is the main cereal region (wheat and other grains). There is commercial cultivation of rice, cotton, and sugarcane. Seminomadic sheep-raising in this region provides 90 percent of the country’s karakul. It provides summer pasture for the nomads from the south. The regions of the cities of Kunduz, Baghlan, and Pul-i-Khumri are notable for their industry. Mazar-i-Sharif is a large commercial city.

In the Herat region, farming is concentrated in large oases on the Hari Rud River. There is irrigation agriculture (two harvests a year); wheat, legumes, oil-bearing plants, and vegetables are grown. There is orchard farming and viticulture. Herat is the region’s center.

The Kandahar region includes the oases on the Helmand River and its tributaries and vast desert plains. Nomadic sheep-raising is practiced in the deserts; orchard farming and viticulture, in the oases. The center of the region is Kandahar.


Sovremennyi Afganistan. Moscow, 1960.
Afganistan: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1964.
Puliarkin, V. A. Afganistan: Ekonomicheskaia geografia. Moscow, 1965.
Poliak, A. A. Ekonomicheskii stroi Afganistana. Moscow, 1964.
Golovin, Iu. M. Afganistan: Ekonomika i vneshniaia torgovlia. Moscow, 1962.
“Narody Afganistana.” In Narody Perednei Azii. Moscow, 1957.
Gurevich, N. M. Ekonomicheskoe razvitie Afganistana. Moscow, 1966.
Pikulin, M. G. Ocherki po agrarnomu voprosu ν Afganistane. Tashkent, 1965.
Davydov, A. D. Agrarnyi stroi Afganistana. Moscow, 1967.
Cherniakhovskaia, N. I. Razvitie promyshlennosti i polozhenie rabochego klassa Afganistana. Moscow, 1965.


Afghanistan’s armed forces consist of land forces and an air force. The king is the commander in chief. The Ministry of National Defense has direct responsibility for leadership of the armed forces. There are about 80,000 land troops (1968). The army’s organizational structure consists of army corps which include infantry divisions and corps units, individual brigades, regiments, and battalions. The air force numbers about 7,000 men and has fighter planes, bombers, transport planes, and helicopters. In addition to the armed forces, there is a military gendarmerie with about 18,000 men; it is under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and is intended to perform border service and maintain domestic order. Armed forces are recruited on the basis of the universal military service law. In peacetime men 22 years of age are drafted for two-year tours of duty.

Medicine and public health. There are no precise official public health statistics in Afghanistan. Infectious diseases are most prevalent in the country. Outbreaks of cholera are recorded (899 people were infected in 1960, and 199 died; there were 1,564 cases in 1965, and 323 died). Cases of typhus are constantly recorded. Malaria occurs throughout the country, with the exception of regions over 2,000 m in elevation. According to data of the World Health Organization, 30 percent of the population is afflicted with tuberculosis. Only in Kabul do people receive vaccinations against tuberculosis. Syphilis and gonorrhea are widespread in the cities. Trachoma afflicts 10–13 percent of the population of Kabul and as much as 75 percent of the population in some rural areas. The universal use of open reservoirs for water supply and poor purification of drinking water result in the spread of typhoid fever and dysentery. Helminthiasis afflicts 90 percent of the population. The most common noninfectious diseases are rickets, pellagra, cirrhosis of the liver, bladder stones, and sarcoma.

On the Bactrian plain there are intensive breeding grounds of skin leishmaniasis (rodents and large sand eels are the carriers) and three-day and tropical malaria. Trichuriasis is prevalent. There are concentrations of endemic goiter in the Amu Darya (Piandzh) valley and scurvy in desert regions. There are also centers of skin leishmaniasis in the mountains of northern Afghanistan, and outbreaks of mosquito fever develop periodically; there are isolated cases of tick spirochetosis. Skin leishmaniasis (in Herat and Kandahar provinces) and mosquito fever appear in interior uplands. Trachoma is evident on a mass scale. Cases of anthrax are recorded. The main centers of leprosy are in Hazarajat. Those afflicted with leprosy (about 30,000 people) live in families, primarily in separate villages. Endemic goiter is prevalent in western Badakhshan. On the southern and western desert plains, scurvy and disruptions of the water-salt exchange predominate.

The Ministry of Public Health coordinates work in this area. Each province has a public health service, headed by a director who is responsible for preventive service for the population and who also directs the province’s central hospital. State institutions and private physicians provide medical aid. In 1965 there were 67 hospitals in Afghanistan, with 2,600 beds (0.17 beds per 1,000 population), 59 public health centers, 71 polyclinics, 11 dispensaries for the prevention and treatment of diseases, 12 medical aid stations, and 11 mobile clinics. In 1966 there were 721 doctors (one per 21,000 inhabitants), 146 dentists, 157 pharmacists, 465 nurses, and 108 midwives in service. Doctors are trained at the medical school of the University of Kabul (since 1932, 30–40 doctors a year have been graduated) and the medical school in Jalalabad (since 1963). Since 1956, along with plans for economic development, five-year plans for the development of public health have also been implemented. Smallpox has been eliminated, and a successful campaign against malaria is being waged. The USSR and the World Health Organization have greatly assisted Afghanistan in its battle against disease and in the training of medical personnel.


Veterinary services. The nature of pathology of agricultural animals in Afghanistan is determined by the nomadic and transhumant types of livestock-raising in mountainous conditions. Brucellosis, tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, pulmonary pneumonia of cattle, anthrax, African horse plague, and, in some areas, cattle plague create unfavorable conditions for livestock-raising. There are incidents of glanders. In the mountains and interior highlands, communicable diseases of agricultural animals are prevalent (anaplasmosis, babesiasis). Most of the livestock is afflicted with helminthiasis. There are numerous skin diseases (mange, ringworm).

Almost no measures for disease prevention and treatment are being carried out. No veterinary control has been established over the cattle trade, raw livestock produce, or cattle processing. Only middle-level veterinary specialists are trained in the country. In 1963, Afghanistan and the USSR signed a veterinary-sanitary convention by which the USSR aids Afghanistan in its struggle against the diseases of agricultural animals.


Until the end of the 19th century, there were only Muslim schools in Afghanistan; their program basically amounted to the memorization of excerpts from the Koran in Arabic. The first secular school—the Habibia lycée—was opened in 1903. The present system of education began to take shape after the independence of the country was proclaimed (1919). Public education is supervised by the Ministry of Education, which was created in 1921. Although compulsory elementary education for children from 7–8 to 13–14 years of age was established by the constitution of 1931, it has been poorly implemented in practice. Instruction is in one of the state languages, Pashto or Dari; the second state language is a compulsory school subject starting in the fourth grade. Instruction is free and separate at all levels. The programs of all schools give much attention to the study of the Muslim religion. There are a considerable number of Muslim schools.

Elementary school is six years in the city and three years in rural areas. Three-year intermediate schools follow the six-year elementary schools; they prepare the students to enter high school or technical school and to engage in practical activity. High schools have three-year programs; graduates earn the baccalaureate, which gives them the right to enter institutions of higher education. During the academic year 1967/68, there were over 447,000 pupils in elementary schools and 54,300 students in intermediate and high schools.

Professional and technical training is given in four-year vocational schools which follow the six-year elementary school. Secondary specialized education is given in three- to four-year schools (technical, commercial, agricultural, art, and so on), which accept graduates of intermediate schools. Teachers for elementary schools are trained in three-year pedagogical schools that follow the intermediate schools. Teachers for intermediate schools are trained in an advanced pedagogical college (two years of study after secondary school), and teachers for high schools are trained at the University of Kabul. During the 1967/68 school year, there were 7,300 students in vocational schools and over 6,000 students in pedagogical schools. The most important institution of higher education is the University of Kabul (opened in 1946 on the base of previously created departments, the first of which was the medical department, founded in 1932). The university has departments of medicine, law and political science, natural sciences, literature, economics, engineering, agriculture, pedagogy, and Muslim law. In 1963, the first department—medicine—of a future university was opened in Jalalabad. During the school year 1968/69, more than 3,600 students studied in these institutions of higher education. Teaching began in the Polytechnical Institute in Kabul, built with the aid of the USSR, in 1967. The institute trains engineers in geology, the prospecting and exploitation of mineral deposits, the technology of petroleum and gas refining, industrial and civil construction, highways, and so on. The institute was planned for 1,200 students; during the school year 1967/68, more than 200 students were enrolled in it.

The largest library in Afghanistan is the Public Library in Kabul (founded 1920; 60,000 volumes). The most notable of the museums is the Kabul Historical and Ethnographic Museum (founded 1922). Among its exhibits are many works of art, from archaeological finds to the works of contemporary Afghan artists, ancient manuscripts, miniatures, and much else.


The formation of the first scientific institutions in Afghanistan began just before World War II (1939–45). National specialist cadres in natural and technical sciences are trained primarily in the departments of the University of Kabul—medicine (founded 1932); natural sciences (founded 1941, with divisions of physics and mathematics, chemistry and biology, mining geology, and meteorology, and laboratories for spectrum analysis, optics, and radioelec-tronics); engineering (founded 1956, with scientific research laboratories for civil construction, electrical engineering, mechanics, physics, and chemistry); and agriculture (founded 1956, with laboratories for plant microbiology, entomology and zoology, agronomy, soils and irrigation, general chemistry, veterinary science, agrotechnics, and physiology). The USSR has extended great assistance to Afghanistan in the training of specialists. In particular, the Polytechnical Institute (with 15 scientific research laboratories) in Kabul was built with Soviet aid. This scientific and technical center was officially opened in 1969. Among the first Afghan scholars were Muhammad Anas, Abdul azim Ziyam, Abdulghafar Kakar, Muhammad Faqar, and Muhammad Siddiq.

In 1960 a chemistry science center was established in Kabul; it is to serve as the basis for the establishment of the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Scientific research work in hydrology, agriculture, geology, medicine, and so on is being expanded. A division of geological prospecting has been established in the Ministry of Mining Affairs and Industry, and geological research is under way with the aid of Soviet specialists in the north of the country and West German specialists in the south. The Afghan geologists Sultan Muhammad Pupul, Ghula Ali Khan, and Abdulla Nasari have published a number of works on geology; Muhammad Zaman and Muhammad Akram have published works on geography.

A number of scientific laboratories have been organized by specialized agencies of the UN (in particular, UNESCO) which are represented in Afghanistan.

Foreign expeditions and scholars have carried out important research work on the natural resources of Afghanistan. The fundamental work Zemledel’cheskii Afganistan (Agricultural Afghanistan) was written by the Soviet scholars N.I. Vavilov and D. D. Bukinich as early as the 1920’s. The Polish scholar A. Stenz carried out work on hydrology and meteorology in the 1940’s.

The results of scientific research work in the natural and technical sciences are published in the journals of the University of Kabul— Science (since 1963), Geography (since 1962), Pashtani tabi majala (Afghan Medical Journal; since 1955), and llrn wa fun (Science and Technology; since 1962). The civil aviation administration has published the journal Hava (Air) since 1957.


Until the formation of the Durrani state (1747), Afghan historiography consisted mainly of works on the history of different tribes or groups of tribes. In the mid-18th century, chronicles connected with the history of the entire Afghan people began to predominate. A departure from the tradition of the medieval chronicles became evident in the early 20th century.

Modern historical science began to develop in Afghanistan after the achievement of independence (1919). Afghan historians devote much attention to the history of medieval and modern Afghanistan (Ahmad Ali Kohzad, Abdulhay Habibi, Muhammad Othman Sidqi, Ali Ahmad Naimi, Mail Haravi, Halilulla Halili, Fiqri Seljuki, and others). Among the main subjects are the liberation struggle of the Afghans in the 18th century and the birth of the Durrani state (the works of Abdul Raouf Benawa, Mir Ghuliam Muhammad Ghobar, and Azizal-Din Popalzai) and the history of Afghanistan in the 19th century (the research of Said Qasim Rishtia, Sadiqullah Rishtin, Muhammad Qasim Ahang, and others). Turning to the events of the 19th century, connected with Afghanistan’s resistance to the aggressive policies of England, many Afghan historians denounced colonialism. The study of contemporary Afghan history expanded in the 1950’s and 1960’s (the memoirs of Marshal Shah Wali and the works of Muhammad Ali, Ravan Farhadi, Amanulla Hasrat, and others). The methodology of most of the research is determined by dominant national-bourgeois ideological conceptions.

The centers for historical research in Afghanistan today are the Historical Society (founded 1942), which publishes the journals Ariana (since 1943) and Afghanistan (since 1946; in English and French), the historical and philological academy Pashto Tolana (founded 1937), and the University of Kabul (founded 1946).


The first works in economics (mainly surveys) were devoted primarily to general problems of economics—the history of economic theory (Said Sharif Sharaf), international trade (Enayatulla Anvar), methods of economic statistics (Agabi), and so on. Research works on the problems of Afghanistan’s economy have also appeared. Abdul Hadi Kamal’s dissertation on agrarian relations in Afghanistan was published in Zürich in 1954, Haidar Davar’s dissertation on handicraft and factory industry in Afghanistan was published in Cologne in 1961, and Keshawarz (Muhammad Naser) published a book on agriculture and livestock-raising in Afghanistan in Kabul in 1962. The plans, accounts, and economic surveys on various branches of the Afghan economy published by the Ministry of Planning in the collections Survey of Progress (since 1958) constitute important sources for economic research. Materials on economics and economic theory are published in the journal Iqtisad (since 1931), the newspapers lslah and Anis, the yearbook Da Afganistan kalani (since 1932), the quarterly Da Afganistan bank (since 1957), and elsewhere. Material on the structure and activity of all ministries and departments of Afghanistan was published in 1968 in the anniversary collection Afghanistan During the Past 50 Years. Specialists in economics are trained in the economics department (established 1957) of the University of Kabul.


The most highly developed branches of philology are lexicography and lexicology. The Pashto-Persian Dictionary (1951–54), the Farsi-Pashto Dictionary (1957–58), and other works have been published. Descriptive work on the living dialects of local languages, in order to compile a linguistic atlas, is under way. Literary work is represented by textual criticism, which involves the preparation, editing, and publication of landmarks of national literature and folklore. Tazkir—the tradition of compiling anthologies—has been enriched by elements of modern theory and criticism. Most notable is the three-volume anthology Contemporary Writers (1962–67) by A. Benawa. Translation is an important part of philological work; it has increased interest in Russian and Soviet philology and works of Russian and Soviet literature.

Philology in Afghanistan is characterized by the predominance of traditional methods with a tendency toward the introduction of contemporary methods. Thus, in linguistics, along with descriptive methods, there is experimental research and field work with the use of recordings and questionnaires. In literary criticism, in addition to traditional poetics, contemporary theory and criticism are developing. Among the best-known modern philologists in Afghanistan are Sidiq-ullah Rishtin, Abdul Raouf Benawa, and Kiamuddin Hadim.

The main centers of scientific research work in philology are the academy Pashto Tolana, the literature department of the University of Kabul, and the linguistics research division established under its auspices. Philological work is published in separate monographs and also as articles in the journal Kabul (published by the Pashto Tolana academy), the journals of the literature department of the University of Kabul Vazhma (since 1957) and A dab (since 1954), and the yearbook Da Afganistan kalani (since 1932).



Sovremennyi Afganistan. Moscow, 1960. Pages 295–314.
Afganistan: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1964. Pages 148–54.
Masson, V. M., and V. A. Romodin. Istoriia Afganistana, vol. 2. Moscow, 1965. Pages 419–66.

The first newspaper in Afghanistan, Shams un-Nahar, was published in 1875, but the birth of the modern Afghan press was marked by the publication of the newspaper Seraj-al-Akhbar, founded by Mahmud Tarzi, in 1911. (It appeared until 1919.) By 1970 about 40 newspapers were being published in Afghanistan, the most important of which are lslah (since 1929, circulation 15,000 in 1968), published in Pashto and Dari, the official organ of the Afghan government; Anis (since 1927, circulation 30,000), in Pashto and Dari, semiofficial; Hewad (since 1949, circulation8,000), in Pashto, organ of the Ministry of Information and Culture; and Kabul Times, published since 1962 by the Afghan information agency Bakhtar (founded 1939) in English (circulation 13,000). More than ten private newspapers are published in Afghanistan (1969), and they have a significant influence on social life. About 40 periodicals are published, including Zhowandoon (since 1949), Pashtun zhagh (since 1941), lrfan (since 1924), Kabul (since 1931), Mairmun (since 1953), and Kandahar (since 1960).

Radio broadcasting began in the 1920’s, but the equipment of the Kabul radio station was destroyed during the uprising of Bacha-i Saqao (1929). The Radio Afghanistan broadcasting center is located in Kabul. (It was established in 1941.) Domestic radio broadcasting is on three channels, in Pashto and Dari; broadcasting to foreign countries is in English, Urdu, Russian, Arabic, German, and French.

Afghan literature has developed in two languages, Pashto and Dari (Farsi-Kabuli). Folklore traditions have greatly influenced literature. For many peoples of Afghanistan (the Baluchis, Nuristanis, and others), folklore remains the primary means of satisfying aesthetic needs. Different varieties of parables are popular among the people— hikayats, fairy tales, and legends and traditions about the exploits of epic heroes. The poetic genre is especially rich. The verses and songs of the Afghans (sindiri), Turkomans (aidim), and Tajiks (tarane) invariably accompany them in daily life. The works of the classical poets of the tenth to 15th centuries (Rudaki, Firdausi, Saadi, and others) in Persian (Farsi) are the common heritage of the modern literatures of Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan.

Information on Pashto literature up to the 15th century is fragmentary and contradictory. Only two sources have survived, the Lives of the Saints and the Unknown Treasure. The most authentic work of Pashto written literature is the history of the Afghans’ campaigns of conquest, written in the early 15th century, The Cadastral Book of Sheik Mali. The Roshani sect, which preached “equality of all people before god” (second half of the 16th-first half of the 17th century), enjoyed popularity among the people. Bayazid Ansari, the founder of the movement, and his followers put their philosophical teachings into literature. The secular feudal poetry of the 17th and 18th centuries left significant traces—the patriotic poetry of Khushhalkhan Khattak, the moving lyrics of Abdul Rahman, the courtly works of Abdul Hamid, and the inspired lines about the “eternally young and beautiful” motherland written by Ahmad Shah Durrani.

After the formation of the Durrani state (1747), local literary tradition in Farsi-Kabuli took shape and feudal-aristocratic tendencies in written literature became stronger. The heroic struggle of the Afghans against the British colonialists gave birth to patriotic poetry—popular (the poems of the ashugs [folk singers], and the ballads of Nur Sahib, Nurad-din, and others) and court poetry (Hamid Kashmiri’s poem Book of Akbar, 1844). The foundation of modern literature was laid in the early 20th century by the enlighteners Mahmud Tarzi, Ghuliam Muhiddin Afghan, Salih Muhammad, and others.

But only after Afghanistan became independent (1919) did literature find social expression. The ideas of patriotism and service to the people became the leitmotiv in the works of most writers. The cycle of prose poems of Abdul Raouf Be-nawa, permeated with sympathy for the people, enjoys broad popularity. Gul Patsha Ulfat is the author of profound verses and philosophical essays in prose. Peasant life is reflected in the stories and tales of Nur Mohammed Taraki. Kiamal-Din Hadim and Sadiq Allah Rishtin created a genre of travel sketches. Ziya Qarisada represents a lyrical song genre in the folk tradition. Motifs from popular legends lie at the heart of the stories of Abdul Rahman Pazhwak; his heroes come into conflict with the conservative foundations of society. With the development of capitalist relations in the country’s economy, the range of literary themes has expanded, and the scope of genres and creative methods of even the writers who long adhered to traditionalism (Abd-al-Haqq Betab, Halilulla Halili, and others) have changed fundamentally.


Aslanov, M. G. “Afganskii fol’klor i ego izuchenie ν SSSR.” Tr. Moskovskogo in-ta vostokovedeniia, 1947, vol. 5.
Lebedev, K. A. “Afganskaia narodnaia poeziia.” In the collection Voprosy iazyka i literatury stran Vostoka. Moscow, 1958.
Gerasimova, A., and G. Girs. Literatura Afganistana. Moscow, 1963.
Rishtin, Sadiq Allah. Da pashto da adab tarikh. Kabul, 1333 A.H. (A.D. 1954).
Bihruz, Muhammad Husayn. “Adabiyat i Afghanistan.” In Ariana dairat-al-maarif (Afghan Encyclopedia), parts 12–14. Kabul, 1334–1335 A.H. (A.D. 1955–56).


The monuments of architecture and art in Afghanistan go back to the fourth and third millennia B.C. (the remains of the village of Mundigak, cliff drawings). Art of the period of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom formed under the influence of Hellenistic art (the cities of Bactria and Bagram). Ruins of numerous Buddhist monasteries (made of clay, adobe, and sometimes stone) have been preserved; their layout is rectangular, with an interior courtyard and stupas—massive constructions with hemispherical tops (near Bactria, in Hadda, and elsewhere). In the Bamian Valley, a vast cave monastery with huge statues of Buddha in wall niches was built during the first to eighth centuries. Sculpture and painting (the sculpture of Hadda, first to fifth centuries; the sculpture and murals of the Buddhist monastery in Fonduqistan, sixth and seventh centuries) were used extensively in the structures of this period. Sanctuaries of local religions have been preserved (the temple on the hill of Surkh Kotal, second and early third centuries, and others). Medieval Afghan art is related to the artistic traditions of Central Asia, Iran, and, to some extent, India. Fortified cities sprang up; castles, mosques, and tombs made of fired brick with arched and cupola roofs, decorated with patterned brickwork, carved terra-cotta and stucco (in the 15th century, with glazes) were constructed. The outstanding monuments include Lashkargah Palace in Bust (11th century); the star-shaped memorial towers in Ghazni (12th century); the minaret near the village of Jam (between 1153 and 1202); the cathedral mosque with galleries around the courtyard in Herat (early 13th-14th centuries); the Gauhar Shad mausoleum with its patterned, ribbed cupola and minarets (in the Musalla ensemble in Herat, 1417–38); and the mausoleum-mosque of Hoja Abu Nasr Parsa in Balkh (15th century)—the last two faced with glazed tiles. Fine art is represented mainly by the miniatures of the Herat school, which are known from the early 15th century (for example, Shah Name, 1430, and Golestan Palace in Tehran) and which flowered in the second half of the 15th century in the works of the outstanding miniaturist Kemaleddin Behzad, his pupil Qasim Ali, and other artists working in court workshops. Over the centuries, decorative applied art—metalworking, ceramics, and carpet-making—have reached a high level.

In modern Afghanistan, intensive construction of residential and public buildings and hydraulic works is being carried out. Afghan architects (Ismatulla Seraj, Abdulla Breshna) and architects of other countries (including Soviet architects) are at work. Kabul, the capital, is being constructed with planned public services and amenities (the master plan was worked out in 1965 by the architect Seraj, with the assistance of Soviet specialists). The most notable structures in Kabul include the university, a hotel, and the airport. With the aid of the Soviet Union, a house-building complex has been established, and large-panel residential construction is under way. Along with modern laconic forms and new materials (concrete, glass), traditional ones are also used (the column of Abidii Maiwand in Kabul, trimmed with blue tiles and black marble, was constructed in the 1950’s; Seraj was the architect).


The most important contemporary artists of Afghanistan are the painters Abdul Ghaffour Breshna (genre painter and landscapist), Abdulaziz Tarzi (a landscapist and scene-painter), Gausuddin (a genre and portrait painter), and Humayun Ittimadi (who paints stylized historical pictures). Sculptors include Mohammed Haidar and Mohammed Reza Kandahar i. There is a school of decorative and applied art in Kabul.



Arunova, M. R. “O nekotorykh obshchikh rezul’tatakh arkheo-logicheskikh raskopok ν Lashkargakhe.” Kratkie soobshcheniia In-ta vostokovedeniia AN SSSR, [issue] 33. Moscow, 1959.
Pugachenkova, G. A. Iskusstvo Afganistana. Moscow, 1963.
Veimarn, B. V. “Afganistan i ego khudozhniki.” Iskusstvo, 1965, no. 3.
Mémoires de la Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan, vols. 1–16. Paris, 1928–59.
A Survey of Persian Art. . . , vol. 2. London-New York, 1939. Pages 981–1045, 1119–43.
Stchoukine, J. Les peintures des manuscrits timurides. Paris, 1954.
Iran: Persian Miniatures. New York, 1956. (UNESCO, no. 7.)
Mustafa, M. Persian Miniatures of Behzad and His School . . . . London, 1960.
Afghanistan und seine Kunst. Prague, 1968.

The music of Afghanistan is a complex interweaving of the musical cultures of different peoples—among them, the Afghans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkomans, and Baluchis. It was actively influenced by the folk music of India and Iran. The sources of professional music in Afghanistan go back to the eighth to sixth centuries B.C. and are connected with the sacred melodies of religious ceremonies. Court singers and musicians subsequently adopted the Persian system of notation. Canonized forms of court music were preserved up to the early 20th century. However, the development of musical culture has been determined most of all by folk music.

Afghan folk music is monodic; it is marked by diatonic modes and modes with augmented seconds with the melody in a diapason of fourths and fifths. The most popular genre is the couplet song (landyi)—two metrically unequal melodic constructions. The texts of the landyi have diverse subjects. Dance songs are distinguished by rhythmic precision; wedding songs are marked by a melodic-recitative style. The ghazal, muhammas, and charbait genres are complex in structure and are usually performed by professional musicians. Musical instruments include plucked strings (tambur, rubab, dilrubab), bowed strings (sarinda, gijak), percussive strings (santur, chang), winds (surna, binbaja, shpilay, tula), keyboards (harmonium), and percussions (nagara, damama, darial, dupra, dulkai).

The country’s greatest musical figure is Qasim Afghan, who has trained many contemporary Afghan musicians. The musicians and instrumentalists Muhammad Omar, Muham-madin Zakheil, and the singer Hafizulla Hiyal, among others, have received European musical training. The art of modern ashugs is popular (Sher Ahmad Ghaznevi, Rahmat Gul, Mir Haidar, and others).

Since 1941 the musical editorial board of Kabul Radio, which has opened three-year music courses (directed by Abdul Ghaffour Breshna), has been a center for professional music; orchestras of national instruments and variety have been established. There are many amateur choral groups in the country. In the 1960’s a group of Afghan students studied at the Moscow Conservatory.


Beliaev, V. Afganskaia narodnaia muzyka. Moscow, 1960.
Benawa, Abdul Raouf va Ferrokh. Chand ahang-i Pashtu. Kabul, 1947.
Delor, J. “Afghan Music.” Afghanistan, 1946, vol. 1, no. 3.


The roots of theatrical spectacles in Afghanistan lay in the deep past: mass presentations were organized as early as the tenth-12th centuries at the court of the Ghaznavid shahs. Acts by wandering mummers—puppeteers, animal tamers, and so on—have long been popular among the people.

Modern theater arts developed after the country achieved independence (1919).

The first amateur theater began in Kabul in the early 1920’s; the plays it performed were educational in nature. Traveling amateur troupes, which appeared in the mid-1930’s, also performed plays of a kind; they formed the nucleus for the permanent drama groups which later developed. There are two theaters in Kabul: Pohyni Nyndare (founded in the mid-1940’s) and Dy Kabul Nyndare (founded in 1947). There are amateur troupes at educational institutions.

During this same period, Afghan dramaturgy developed. In their plays, Rashid Latif-; Abdul Ghaffour Breshna, Mohammed Ali Raunak, Abdulkayum Beset, and others made efforts to reflect the life of different strata of the population of Afghanistan, posing sharp contemporary questions (for example, The Salon Specialist by Rashid Latif and Fire Under Ashes by Abdulkayum Beset). Playwrights often directed their own works. Well-known actors included Abdulkayum Beset and Rafik Sadik. Theater groups included translated plays in their repertory—the works of Molière, Shakespeare, N. V. Gogol, A. P. Chekhov, and A. N. Ostrovskii. Actors and directors are trained by workshops of the Pohyni Nyndare theater group and the Theater School (established 1956).


Stolz, K. “Le théâtre afghan.” Afghanistan, 1954, vol. 9, no. 3.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Capital city: Kabul

Internet country code: .af

Flag description: Three vertical bands of black (hoist), red, and green, with a gold emblem centered on the red band; the emblem features a temple-like structure encircled by a wreath on the left and right and by an inscription above pronouncing the Muslim faith: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet” and “Allah is Great.”

National anthem: “Soroud-e-Melli” (Hymn of the People)

Geographical description: Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran

Total area: 249,935 sq. mi. (647,500 sq. km.)

Climate: Arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers

Nationality: noun: Afghan(s); adjective: Afghan

Population: 31,889.923 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%

Languages spoken: Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%; much bilingualism

Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shi’a Muslim 19%, other 1%

Legal Holidays:

Independence DayAug 19
Liberation DayFeb 15
Victory DayApr 28
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic in central Asia: became independent in 1919; occupied by Soviet troops, 1979--89; controlled by mujaheddin forces from 1992 until 1996 when Taliban forces seized power; in the US-led 'war against terrorism' (2001) the Taliban were overthrown and replaced by an interim administration; generally arid and mountainous, with the Hindu Kush range rising over 7500 m (25 000 ft.) and fertile valleys of the Amu Darya, Helmand, and Kabul Rivers. Official languages: Pashto and Dari (Persian), Tajik also widely spoken. Religion: Muslim. Currency: afghani. Capital: Kabul. Pop.: 24 926 000 (2004 est.). Area: 657 500 sq. km (250 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005