Afghanistan (officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) may not be high on everyone’s ‘must visit‘list because of its recent troubledpast. It is, however, a truly historic land which encompasses some breathtaking mountain scenery, beautiful lakes and a wealth of bird and animal life. The majority of its people still live simple lives close to nature and the seasons. Its natural resources have provided its people’s livelihood for centuries, whether farming, livestock grazing, huntingor building with the abundant local stone.

Where Exactly Is It?

Afghanistan is alandlocked mountainous country, with plains in the north and southwest. It straddles Central and South Asia and shares borders with Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Its area is approximately 652,000 square kilometers which makes it the 41st largest country in the world. With a 32-million person population, it holds a similar positionin the list of the most populous countries (in fact it is 41st). Its capital city, Kabul has a population of about three and a half million people.

An Archaeologist’s Dream

Diggings at some of the archaeological sites in Afghanistan suggest that humans were living in the area at least 50,000 years ago and that farming communities there were amongst the earliest anywhere. Many historians believe that Afghanistan is comparable to Egypt in terms of the importance of its archaeological sites.

A Strategic Crossroads

The country’s checkered history has in fact been molded by its position. It sits in a unique area where numerous civilizations have interacted and often fought. Its strategic location along the ‘Silk Road’ fostered early connections to Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

The land which is now called Afghanistan has been home to various civilizations throughout the ages including the ancient Iranian people from whom the dominant Indo-Iranian languages originated. At different points in history the land has been incorporated in a wealth of large regional empires and kingdoms and witnessed many military campaigns notably by Alexander the Great, Muslim Arabs, the Mongols, the British and the Soviet Russians.

Recent Times

The recent political history of the modern state of Afghanistan stems from the time in the late 19th century when it became a buffer state in the “Great Game” between British India and the Russian Empire. After the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1926, it was established as a constitutional monarchy under King Amanullah Khan. In 1933 the crown was inherited by King Mohammed Zahir Shah and he reigned for 39 years. During his reign the kingdom joined the League of Nations (1934) and remained neutral and pursued a diplomatic policy of non-alignment during the World War II.

King Zahir Khan was overthrown by his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan in 1972. Daoud Khan successfully established a republican Afghan Government and became its first president.

Communist Influence

There was more turbulence ahead,however,when Daoud Khan’s centrist government was overthrown by left wing military officers in April 1978. The leader was Nur Mohammed Taraki and power was shared by two Marxist-Leninist political groups which forged close links with the Soviet Union. The new government had little popular support and organized ruthless purges against opponents. They also instigated unpopular land and social reforms which were bitterly resented by the devoutly Muslim and mainly anti-communist population. Armed resistance to the government arose from different Islamic tribal and urban groups – collectively known as the mujahideen (those who engage in jihad).

These insurgencies directly led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late December 1979 with the purpose of supporting the Communist government. Soviet troops remained in the country until February 1989. The withdrawal did not herald the longed for peace however, and more conflict was to besmirch the troubled republic.

Whenever we think of Afghanistan the thoughts that come to mind are of the Taliban and that girl with the beautiful eyes who graced the cover of National Geographic one time. We think of a country tortured by decades of war and of women hidden away whose right to freedom had been robbed.

Although it might seem that the country has been living a permanent state of war since the dawn of time, in the past Afghanistan had the potential to be a pretty modern and forward thinking place. One of Internet’s favourite “you-won’t-believe-it’s-real” photographs is one that depicts a group of Afghan girls in front of a university, studying and – gasp – wearing mini-skirts and that 1970s’ extra high coiffure (if you haven’t, go look it up, it’s totally worth the fuss). But how come the country did not fulfil the promise behind those students?

Afghanistan was recognised as a sovereign nation at the beginning of the 1920s; soon after, King Amanullah Khan followed with this plan to modernise the country and introduced several reforms, including making elementary education compulsory for all people – the constitution of 1923 guaranteed the right to free education. Of course not many people were over the moon with these changes, and he was forced to abdicate. The next king, his cousin, switched the reforms (perhaps a little to forward to some) in favour of a more gradual approach to modernisation. Unfortunately, he was assassinated a few years later.

With that Mohammed ZahirShahis crowned king, and he ruled from 1933 to 1973; during that time, he governed with the assistance of Prime Ministers. They managed not only to not be involved in WW II but also benefited from the rivalry between USA and URSS – as both countries vied for Afghanistan’s support they built motorways, airports, and other major infrastructure.

King Zahir Shah’s reign ended when former PM Daoud Khan launched a coup and became president; a few years later the Saur Revolution broke and the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (a communist party) took control. The socialist agenda of the party was stark clear: modernise and secularise (i.e., become non-religious) the country, declare the equality of genders and introduce women into politics. While that seem like a good idea, the way that the PDPA decided to carry it on was not. You see, they were trying to push drastic changes and were very harsh about it.

Well, here is where our tale gets very ugly, very fast: some people – especially the very religious folk at the countryside weren’t keen on those changes imposed by the government; the regimen, then,had an incredibly violent response to it, which led to yet another civil war. Only this time the soviets were involved, because of the party. And because the soviets were involved, so were the USA. The aftermath of this was over one million dead (mostly civilians) and other 6 million refugees who fled the country.

The soviets withdrew in 1989 (because of international pressure over the number of deaths), but the wars continued. President Mohammad Najibullah tried to put a halt to them, but was unsuccessful. Because of the chaotic situation the government couldn’t establish any working departments or police units; Afghanistan was being governed by local commands. Cue more death and insecurity.

In 1996 the Taliban seized control of Kabul and instituted the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. A rigorous religious group, they forced the strictest form of sharia law on the population. Their rules were so restrictive that human rights agencies describe their actions as violently forcing people into house arrest.

When they refused to comply with the USA after the attacks of September 2001 a coalition between American, British, and opposition group Northern Alliance was formed to take the Taliban down. More than a decade later, the war still goes on, but the government (established with foreign help) was able to rebuild some structures and work on improving healthcare, education and economy.

Hindered by war and the Taliban’s actions, Afghanistan is now one of the poorest and underdeveloped countries. Could those people who smiled so brightly for a photo in 1970 ever predict such dire future? Could any of us?

The Taliban regime, which started in the 1990s and still affects the lives of the Afghan people, was known internationally for the adoption if the strictest form of the Sharia law – mostly when it comes to women.

Because among the horrors of war, women saw most of their rights be cut down practically in one fell swoop. While it’s true that the majority of the population was basically held in home arrest, for women the situation was aggravated by the misogynist interpretation of the sacred book. The burqa was reinstate after decades of banishment; they weren’t allowed outside the house without an appropriate male escort, which meant that women could no longer work outside the household – and that caused a veritable crisis, since they made up significant part of the country’s workforce. Since women weren’t allowed to teach many schools simply shut down, leaving both girls and boys without any formal education.

It’s a hellish situation, and, in order to remind us that this monstrosity exists and to celebrate those who have to live under it, I’d like to present some Afghani women who made a difference to their country!

· Anahita Ratebzad (October 1931 – 7 September 2014)


The first woman to have an active role in the Afghan government. Founding member of the communist party, medical doctor and women’s rights activist, Ratebzad started making noise in the 1950s, when she and a group of women who uncovered their faces and went to work – in public; she also worked as a nurse, tending to male patients, a feat unheard of thus far. After a year as Education Minister she became deputy head of state until 1986. When the mujahidin took over Ratebzad and her family were forced to escape the country; she was living in Germany by the time of her death.

· Sitara Achakzai (1956/1957 – 12 April 2009)


One of many women assassinated by the Taliban for daring to defend women’s rights. Months before her death she commemorated the International Women’s Day by leading a sit-in of 11,000 Afghan women gathered to pray for peace. She was also a local politician in Kandahar, and vocal about empowering women to take jobs and demand equal rights. Achakzai was killed in front of her house, as she arrived from a meeting.

· Malalai Kakar (1967-28 September 2008)


The first woman to graduate from the Kandahar Police Academy, Lieutenant Colonel Kakar was also head of the department of crimes against women. Policewomen are invaluable for law enforcement in Afghanistan, since gender division is still very strong: female cops can perform searches on women for concealed weapons and maintain decorum when the police need to enter a household with women inside. She too was murdered just outside her house, as she prepared to leave for work. Since her assassinationmany other officers were also murdered by the Taliban.

· Safia Ahmad Jan (1941–25 September 2006)


Not only a women’s right advocate, Jan had stayed in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime to secretly teach girls. She was chief of the Woman’s Affairs department in Kandahar, position that Jan occupied for five years. Like Achakzai and Kakar she was killed near her house.

· Malalai Joya (born April 25, 1978)


As a Parliamentarian in the National Assembly of Afghanistan Joya called out – publicly – the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Parliament, causing her to be dismissed from in 2007. A human-rights activist and public denouncer of injustice and wrongdoing, Joya today travels the world speaking against the people who stand between Afghanistan and true democracy, always accompanied by armed guards after surviving four assassination attempts.

· Maryam Durani (born 1987)


The receiver of the International Women of Courage Award of 2012 and the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award in 2014 may be young, but has a lot on her CV. Besides having degrees in business, law and political science, Durani is a people’s representative in the provincial council and owner of Merman Radio of Kandahar, which broadcast specifically to women, and the Malalai Maiwandi Internet cafe, the first free internet café for women in the country.

History of Afghanistan in a Specific Point of View

Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, who brought the different Afghan tribes together into a unified nation. Archeologists have placed many historical empires as having lived in this area, such as: the Medes, Persians, and Alexander the Great’s campaign. For many years Afghanistan was caught in a constant cycle of occupation and the ongoing power struggle for land.

In 1978, the communist party influenced a civil war which would last for 15 years, leaving millions dead in its wake. In 1988, Osama bin Laden formed the al-Qaida with the initial agenda of forcing out communist control and reestablishing strict Sharia law. After overthrowing communist control, Bin Laden developed training camps in Afghanistan and enforced strict laws that resulted in mass genocide for those who did not comply. Citizens were forced to comply with a strict curfew, the education and employment of women was completely abolished. Women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort at any time. Public mutilations and executions became common practice in this country. While the people of Afghanistan continued to suffer under Osama Bin Laden’s dictatorship, the world looked on in horror as the Twin Towers fell in New York City due to the hijacking of passenger planes. This terrorist attack, claimed by Bin Laden, resulted in thousands of American deaths and the subsequent occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S.

History of Afghanistan in a Specific Point of View

The citizens of the U.S. typically hesitant about war demanded a War with the Taliban. The occupation of Afghanistan began in 2001 when United States troops rolled through the scorching dessert of Afghanistan. This lasted until 2014 when the majority of US forces were pulled out, leaving a residual peace keeping force in this region. The amount of US troop still occupying Afghanistan has led to some controversial discussions about the real purpose behind the United States occupation of this country. The people of Afghanistan, although used to the chaos brought about by the tumultuous reign of Osama Bin Laden, suffered greatly during this time of war. Entire villages were wiped out, due to the unhappy chance that their location fell in between two powers warring for oil and land.

There was no turning back the clocks for these war torn lands, as the damage done was nearly irreversible. When the war came to a close, thousands of refugees lucky enough to escape had been evicted from their homes. Many bodies of those not so lucky still lay unburied among the ruins of what was once their home. Despite the efforts of many different humanitarian projects such as OCHA and the Red Cross, the turmoil and war is still blatantly visible on this country like a gaping scar. Some of the many challenges faced by this country include complete lack of clean water, minimal to non-existent medical care, and a poor education system. This country is in need of peace and humanitarian aid to heal the many years of turmoil and drought faced by this country. Sadly peace has not come to this country yet, as Taliban forces continue to wage war against US trained Afghan troops. This continued fighting has become increasingly brutal, bringing casualty rates up higher than the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. On top of this, the extremist group ISIS has taken up occupation in this region. ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq was founded by a group of extremists in 1999. The ISIS presence has brought genocide and terror to all those who refuse to submit. Their works of terror have reached all the way to France resulting in the recent bombing which killed over a hundred civilians. Although turmoil continues to rage in this country, the people of Afghanistan remain strong and unbroken, an inspiration to people all around the world to rise above their surroundings and persevere.

There is no doubt that Afghanistan remains a very poor country with significant internal problems. It is unlikely to receive many casual visitors in the foreseeable future, indeed travel within the country is still heavily restricted. Kabul has hotels which cater to the foreign traveler, as well as some attractions. Kabul province is the only one in the country which has a greater urban than rural population. According to the UN, more than 70% of the population still lives in rural areas.

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 and Afghanistan has been a constitutional republic for more than ten years now. There are still insurgencies associated with extreme Islamic groups.


In 2001, girls did not attend school by decree of the Taliban, and there were only about one million boys in education.By 2012, according to the World Bank, there were 7.8 children attending school, including 2.9 million girls. Girls’ dropout rates are still very high in secondary schools. The adult literacy rate of just 39% is one of the lowest in the world, but with recent developments in education this number is slowly increasing.

Although there are now more of them, many schools still operate from tents, houses and even under trees. The World Bank states that of 180,000 teachers, only 52% meet minimum required standards. Many of the others are however receiving in-service training.

The Position of Women

Under the Taliban, not only were girls forbidden from attending school, but also women were forbidden from going out to work.

Afghan women get married young and typically have five children on average. According to the CIA World Factbook, the country has the 10th highest birth rate in the world. In 2007, 52 percent of Afghan women were married by the age of 20. Literacy rates amongst women are still low and Unicef figures suggested a rate of just 22% in 2011. This said, an increasing number of women are beginning to embark upon careers for themselves. More than a quarter of government employees are now women and they are being employed by the government at a faster rate than men. Women are now also employed by the police and the army. British officers helped to establish a military academy which aims to train 100 female army officers each year.

In spite of these advances, violence against women is still a problem. Beatings, forced marriage and withdrawal of economic support are still prevalent. It is difficult to change traditional attitudes and women are sometime forcibly prevented from participating in social activities.


Afghanistan is a landlocked, mountainous, traditional country with poor infrastructure and communications. It remains a very poor country despite encouraging recent steps forward. The percentage of people in Afghanistan considered to be living below the poverty line is 36%. This ranges from 29% in urban areas to 36% in rural areas and 52% amongst the country’s nomadic population. Afghanistan also has a large refugee problem. More than six million people returned after the Taliban were displaced and the government estimates that up to a third of them still need support.

In 2010, Afghanistan had the lowest gross national income per head of population in the whole of Asia. In 2008 the unemployment rate was estimated at 35%. Only 5.5% of the population has access to the internet but there has been a recent surge in the number of mobile phone owners.


There have been positive advances in health care over the past decade. Average life expectancy has increased from 56 to 60 and there have been significant decreases in the infant and maternal mortality rates. According to the UN, access to safe drinking water has improved and reached 60.8% in 2011. Access to proper sanitation has also advanced but much more so in urban than rural areas.


Unfortunately Afghanistan’s biggest export is still opium. Although efforts have been made to persuade farmers to diversify, the country still produces 90%of the world’s opium. Other exports include fruit and nuts, hand woven carpets and wool. Imports include machinery, food, textiles and petroleum products.

Apparently Afghanistan has rich natural resources including natural gas, but this has yet to be exploited because of the political instability. It has a very low rate of energy use – one of the lowest in the world just 28% of the population (mostly urban dwellers) is connected to the national power grid and the service is unreliable.

This then is a snapshot of modern Afghanistan. It is a country which has had more than its share of upheaval and has still many problems. But life is slowly improving and the hope is that the advances continue to be maintained and the people can live with a lasting peace.

Disclaimer: the following post is based solely on my opinions. Which in turn are based on Internet research. As with everything in life, it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

After a development spurt in the 1970s sponsored by the extinct URSS Afghanistan seems to have entered a state of permanent war. The never-ending conflict has taken its toll on the country and sometimes it feels like there’s no way out of this misery and onto a better future. I’d like to take a moment to just examine the current situation of the country and offer my thoughts on the matter.

The Past

Afghanistan became a sovereign country in the beginning of the 20th century. The decades between the 1930s and the 70s were of stability and the government leaned more and more on the soviet side, which meant investments in infrastructure, modernisations and social reforms that saw an increasing participation of women in public life – including attending university and becoming part of the workforce.

In the late 1970s the People’s Democratic Party Afghanistan (PDPA) launched a coup and took over the country. What had the potential to be a good thing (the party prohibited usury, declared the equality of genders and introduced women in politics) was handled with violence and intolerance, including inside the party itself. The result was a civil war opposing the Party and the Mujahidin, at first – the war escalated from guerrilla proportions to being a sophisticated international affair in which the USA and the URSS were closely involved.

The aftermath of the Soviet War was chaos: although the international forces withdrew,the government was unable to put the pieces back together and create a united nation. It wasn’t an easy feat for the Taliban to take over, in 1996, and they did it at the cost of thousands of lives. The group controlled the country by applying an extremely strict and misogynist version of the Sharia law, which not only led millions fleeing out of the country but also removed half the workforce of the country from public life; moreover, they weren’t able to supress the conflicts within the country and against other nations – besides the casualties, Afghanistan saw the ruin of its infrastructure.

Following the attacks of 9/11 the country was invaded by military forces from around the world seeking to destroy Al-Qaeda (who had a safe place in Afghanistan under the Taliban); associated with them was the Northern Alliance, a rebel group bent on removing the Taliban from the government.

The Present

After more than ten years of war, the results could not be any different: the number of casualties is monumental and the country was left, at least for a while, in shards. Following the destruction of pretty much everything, the international forces that had arrived in the country as combative switched their efforts to the reconstruction of Afghanistan once their opponents had been somewhat neutralised. As a result, hospitals, schools and other basic infrastructure were rebuilt, and the people started returning to the country.

Economically, Afghanistan is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Its economy is based on agriculture; however the production of pomegranates, melons, grapes and apricots is overshadowed by the cultivation of opium. And more and more women are retaking their public life and re-entering the work force, as the 2004 Constitution calls for gender equality.

The great challenge faced by Afghanistan is garnering international investments; far from stability due to the mini-wars waged locally and largely dependent on donated money, it’s not shocking that investors don’t see the country as a possible candidate.

The Future

At the last U.N. General Assembly (2015) Afghanistan delivered a very much-improved image of the country: better life expectancy, better literacy and diminished gender gap, all due to a democratic regime (one could argue the meaning of this data, since the base for comparison was a state of war).

The focus was strengthening the idea that Afghanistan is, in fact, developing and is an ideal candidate for foreign investments, especially because one of their sources of income is mining, with the land being rich in coal, copper, gold, lithium, etc., oil and natural gas liquids.

Behind all these statements, the appeal for international support – while Afghanistan isn’t able stop all internal conflicts they’ll need foreign help. For now, it’s implausible to see the country standing on its own two feet on the near future. But it’s possible to glimpse it being slowly rebuilt and overcoming the stigma of war, all because of millions of brave men and women who work everyday towards such goal.

For the people who, like me, were born in the 1980s, it seems like Afghanistan has been fighting an endless war. Whilst it’s true that the country has been under a nearly constant state of conflict since the ending of the 1970s the main wars happened for a myriad of reasons. I’ll list them below and try and offer a brief explanation about them.

  • Soviet War (1979-1989)

The actions of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, public allied to the former Soviet Union, caused people to revolt against the regime. The opposing group, the Mujahidin, fought against the violence used by the party to force their agenda on the country. As the soviets entered the conflict, supplying men and weapons, so did the USA – transforming the conflict into another piece of the Cold War that wasn’t so cold. After thousands of deaths, public pressure forced the URSS out of the war in 1989 – but not ending the conflict.

  • I Civil War (1989-1992)

In the wake of the Soviet War president Najibullahs government tried to solve the war without the aid of the Soviet Union but was unable to do so; when the URSS was dissolved, he was left unaided both from internally and externally – which led to Najibullah’s removal from government. An interim government was established and was to be followed by general elections – as an agreement signed by all Mujahidin parties (the Peshawar Accord) with the exception of Hezb-e Islami of GulbuddinHekmatyar.

  • II Civil War (1992-1996)

Hekmatyar didn’t want to share the government of Afghanistan with other parties; he was convinced that a coalition would not be strong enough to unite and stabilise the country. He was confident he’d be able to gain sole power of Afghanistan. After failing to gather support for his cause and to seize Kabul, Hekmatyar started bombarding the city; since the government structure wasn’t instituted yet, these attacks generated a wave of chaos. Several militias appeared, each controlling different regions of the country, and at this point the power of the central government was practically only nominal.

  • III Civil War (1996-2001)

One of the militias that operated in Afghanistan was the Taliban. A devout group who claimed to be against warlords, the Taliban at first appeared to be a solid option for the Afghan people. However, they refused invitations to be part of the new political process and continue advancing and taking over the country. Soon, however, their extremely strict and misogynist application of the Sharia law would be cause for worry.

They were met with resistance by the Northern Alliance, led by Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum. Massoud had been part of the resistance against the communist government; he firmly believed in a democratic regime and arduously against the Taliban not only for their undemocratic government but also for their distortion of the Sharia law and Islam.

It is believed that about 400,000 people died between 1990 and 2001.

  • War in Afghanistan

After the attacks of 9/11 the USA requested that Afghanistan surrender Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al-Qaeda – terrorist group who had found safe haven in the country under the Taliban. When the Taliban refused, the USA, United Kingdom and NATO launched an offensive that lasted more than ten years; they were joined by the Northern Alliance.

The Taliban was brought down from government and, despite the fact that the USA officially removed its troops in 2014, the state of war continues, with several nations still militarily present in Afghanistan. The Taliban began an insurgency to retake control over the country, and mainly operates in the south.

The war was largely criticised for it’s high number of civilian casualties during its first years; later, as the situation became more stable, the forces were redirected from combat to construction – with the foreign aid Afghanistan was able to rebuild some infrastructure, like roads, schools and hospitals. There have been talks of a peace negotiation   so it’s something to keep an eye on.