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BACKGROUND NOTES: AFGHANISTAN
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Official Name: Islamic State of Afghanistan
Area: 648,000 sq. km. (252,000 sq. mi.); slightly
smaller than Texas. Cities (1993 est.): Capital--Kabul
(est. 800,000). Other cities--Kandahar (226,000); Herat
(177,000); Mazar-e-Sharif (131,000); Jalalabad (58,000);
Terrain: Landlocked; mostly mountains and desert.
Climate: Dry, with cold winters and hot summers.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Afghan(s).
Population: 17.7 million (1993 estimate, including about
1.4 million refugees in Pakistan and 2 million refugees
in Iran). Annual growth rate: 2.5% (1993 est.).
Ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Aimaq,
Turkmen, Baluch, Nuristani.
Religions: Sunni Muslim 84%, Shi'a Muslim 15%.
Languages: Pashto, Dari (Afghan Persian).
Education: Years compulsory--6. Literacy--about 29%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1993)--169 /1,000. Life
expectancy (1992 est.)--45 yrs. (male); 43 yrs. (female).
Work force: Mostly in rural agriculture; number cannot
be estimated due to conflict.
Type: Afghanistan identifies itself as an "Islamic
Independence: August 19, 1919 (from U.K.).
Organization: Interim government is a presidential
system with a prime minister and cabinet.
Political parties: The 10 major Afghan political
factions are largely based on the former resistance
organizations. About half are Islamist in orientation;
the other are more traditional or secular. President
Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society)
and Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami
(Islamic Party) have been bitter rivals for political
influence in Afghanistan.
Flag: Adopted in 1992, the flag has three horizontal
bands--green, white, and black--with the great seal of
Afghanistan superimposed on the bands.
GDP: $3 billion (1991 est.).
Natural resources: Natural gas, oil, coal, copper, talc,
barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron, salt, precious and
Agriculture (at least 65% of GDP): Wheat, corn, barley,
rice, cotton, fruit, nuts, karakul pelts, wool, mutton.
Industry (estimated 20% of GDP): Small-scale production
for domestic use of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes,
fertilizer, and cement; handwoven carpets for export.
Trade (1992 est.): Exports--$1 billion: carpets, rugs,
fruit and nuts, natural gas, cotton, oil-cake, karakul.
Major markets--Central Asian Republics, EEC, India,
Pakistan. Imports--$1.7 billion: petroleum products,
sugar, manufactured goods, edible oils, tea. Major
suppliers--Central Asian Republics, Japan, Singapore,
France, India, Pakistan.
1994 market exchange rate: 2,400 Afghanis=U.S. $1.
Afghanistan's ethnically and linguistically mixed
population reflects its location astride historic trade
and invasion routes leading from Central Asia into South
and Southwest Asia. Pashtuns are the dominant ethnic
group, accounting for about 38% of the population. Tajik
(25%), Hazara (19%), Aimaq (6%), Uzbek (6%), Turkmen
(2%), and other small groups are also represented. Dari
(Afghan Persian) and Pashto are official languages. Dari
is spoken by more than one-third of the population as a
first language and serves as a lingua franca for most
Afghans. Tajik, Uzbek, and Turkmen are spoken widely in
the north. More than 70 other languages and numerous
dialects are also spoken by smaller groups throughout the
Afghanistan is an Islamic country. An estimated 84% of
the population is Sunni; the remainder is predominantly
Shi'a, including Isma'ilis, Hazaras, and the Qizilbash.
Despite attempts during the years of communist rule to
secularize Afghan society, Islamic practices still
pervade all aspects of life. Likewise, Islamic religious
tradition and codes provide the principal means of
controlling personal conduct and settling legal disputes.
Excluding urban populations in the principal cities, most
Afghans are divided into clans and tribal groups, which
follow centuries-old customs and religious practices.
Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia,
has had a turbulent history. In 328 BC, Alexander the
Great entered the territory of present-day Afghanistan,
then part of the Persian Empire, to capture Bactria
(present-day Balkh). Invasions by the Scythians, White
Huns, and Turks followed in succeeding centuries. In AD
642, Arabs invaded the entire region and introduced
Arab rule quickly gave way to the Persians, who
controlled the area until conquered by the Turkic
Ghaznavids in 998. Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030)
consolidated the conquests of his predecessors and turned
Ghazni into a great cultural center as well as a base for
frequent forays into India. Following Mahmud's short-
lived dynasty, various princes attempted to rule sections
of the country until the Mongol invasion of 1219. The
Mongol invasion, led by Genghis Khan, resulted in the
destruction of many cities, including Herat, Ghazni, and
Balkh, and the despoliation of fertile agricultural
Following Genghis Khan's death in 1227, a succession of
petty chieftains and princes struggled for supremacy
until late in the 14th century, when one of his
descendants, Tamerlane, incorporated Afghanistan into his
own vast Asian empire. Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane
and the founder of India's Moghul dynasty at the
beginning of the 16th century, made Kabul the capital of
an Afghan principality.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of what is known
today as Afghanistan, established his rule. A Pashtun,
Durrani was elected king by a tribal council after the
assassination of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah at
Khabushan in the same year. Throughout his reign,
Durrani consolidated chieftainships, petty
principalities, and fragmented provinces into one
country. His rule extended from Mashhad in the west to
Kashmir and Delhi in the east, and from the Amu Darya
(Oxus) River in the north to the Arabian Sea in the
south. All of Afghanistan's rulers until the 1978
Marxist coup were from Durrani's Pashtun tribal
confederation, and all were members of that tribe's
Mohammadzai clan after 1818.
Collision between the expanding British and Russian
Empires significantly influenced Afghanistan during the
19th century. British concern over Russian advances in
Central Asia and growing influence in Persia culminated
in two Anglo-Afghan wars. The first (1839-42) resulted
not only in the destruction of a British army, but is
remembered today as an example of the ferocity of Afghan
resistance to foreign rule. The second Anglo-Afghan war
(1878-80) was sparked by Amir Shir Ali's refusal to
accept a British mission in Kabul. This conflict brought
Amir Abdur Rahman to the Afghan throne. During his reign
(1880-1901), the British and Russians officially
established the boundaries of what would become modern
Afghanistan. The British retained effective control over
Kabul's foreign affairs.
Afghanistan remained neutral during World War I, despite
German encouragement of anti-British feelings and Afghan
rebellion along the borders of British India. The Afghan
king's policy of neutrality was not universally popular
within the country, however.
Habibullah, Abdur Rahman's son and successor, was
assassinated by members of an anti-British movement in
1919. His third son, Amanullah, regained control of
Afghanistan's foreign policy after launching the Third
Anglo-Afghan war with an attack on India in the same
year. During the ensuing conflict, the war-weary British
relinquished their control over Afghan foreign affairs by
signing the Treaty of Rawalpindi in August 1919. In
commemoration of this event, Afghans celebrate August 19
as their Independence Day.
Reform and Reaction
King Amanullah (1919-29) moved to end his country's
traditional isolation in the years following the Third
Anglo-Afghan war. He established diplomatic relations
with most major countries and, following a 1927 tour of
Europe and Turkey--which had seen modernization and
secularization under Attaturk--introduced several reforms
intended to modernize the country. Some of these, such
as the abolition of the traditional Muslim veil for women
and the opening of a number of coeducational schools,
quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders. The
weakness of the army under Amanullah further jeopardized
his position. He was forced to abdicate in January 1929
after Kabul fell to forces led by Bacha-i-Saqao, a Tajik
brigand. Prince Nadir Khan, a cousin of Amanullah's, in
turn defeated Bacha-i-Saqao in October of the same year.
With considerable Pashtun tribal support, Khan was
declared King Nadir Shah. Four years later, however, he
was assassinated in a revenge killing by a Kabul student.
Mohammad Zahir Shah, Nadir Khan's 19-year-old son,
succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973.
In 1964, King Zahir Shah promulgated a liberal
constitution providing for a two-chamber legislature to
which the king appointed one-third of the deputies. The
people elected another third, and the remainder were
selected indirectly by provincial assemblies. Although
Zahir's "experiment in democracy" produced few lasting
reforms, it permitted the growth of unofficial extremist
parties of both left and right. This included the
communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan
(PDPA), which had close ideological ties to the Soviet
Union. In 1967, the PDPA split into two major rival
factions: the Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Nur
Muhammad Taraki and supported by the military, and the
Parcham (Banner) faction led by Babrak Karmal. The split
reflected deep ethnic, class, and ideological divisions
within Afghan society.
Zahir's cousin, Sardar Mohammad Daoud, served as his
Prime Minister from 1953 to 1963. During his tenure as
Prime Minister, Daoud solicited military and economic
assistance from both Washington and Moscow and introduced
controversial social policies. Daoud's alleged support
for the creation of a Pashtun state in the Pakistan-
Afghan border area heightened tensions with Pakistan and
eventually resulted in Daoud's dismissal in March 1963.
Daoud's Republic (1973-78) and the April 1978 Coup
Amid charges of corruption and malfeasance against the
royal family and poor economic conditions caused by the
severe 1971-72 drought, former Prime Minister Daoud
seized power in a military coup on July 17, 1973. Daoud
abolished the monarchy, abrogated the 1964 constitution,
and declared Afghanistan a republic with himself as its
first President and Prime Minister. His attempts to
carry out badly needed economic and social reforms met
with little success, and the new constitution promulgated
in February 1977 failed to quell chronic political
Seeking to exploit more effectively mounting popular
disaffection, the PDPA reunified with Moscow's support.
On April 27-28, 1978, the PDPA initiated a bloody coup
which resulted in the overthrow and death of Daoud and
most of his family. Nur Muhammad Taraki, Secretary
General of the PDPA, became President of the
Revolutionary Council and Prime Minister of the newly
established Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Opposition to the Marxist government emerged almost
immediately. During its first 18 months of rule, the
PDPA brutally imposed a Marxist-style "reform" program
which ran counter to deeply rooted Islamic traditions.
Decrees advocating the abolition of usury, changes in
marriage customs, and land reform were particularly
misunderstood and upsetting to highly conservative
villagers. In addition, thousands of members of the
traditional elite, the religious establishment, and the
intelligentsia were imprisoned, tortured, or murdered.
Conflicts within the PDPA also surfaced early and
resulted in exiles, purges, imprisonments, and
By the summer of 1978, a major revolt in the Nuristan
region of eastern Afghanistan spread into a country-wide
insurgency. In September 1979, Hafizullah Amin, who had
earlier been the Prime Minister and minister of defense,
seized power from Taraki after a palace shootout. Over
the next two months, instability plagued Amin's regime as
he moved against perceived enemies in the PDPA. By
December, party morale was crumbling, and the insurgency
The Soviet Invasion
The Soviet Union moved quickly to take advantage of the
April 1978 coup. In December 1978, Moscow signed a new
bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation with
Afghanistan, and the Soviet military assistance program
increased significantly. The regime's survival
increasingly was dependent upon Soviet military equipment
and advisers as the insurgency spread and the Afghan army
began to collapse.
By October 1979, however, relations between Afghanistan
and the Soviet Union were tense as Hafizullah Amin
refused to take Soviet advice on how to stabilize and
consolidate his government. Faced with a deteriorating
security situation on December 24, 1979, large numbers of
Soviet airborne forces, joining thousands of Soviet
troops already on the ground, began to land in Kabul
under the pretext of a field exercise. On December 26,
these invasion forces killed Hafizullah Amin and
installed Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham
faction, as Prime Minister. Massive Soviet ground forces
invaded from the north on December 27.
Following the invasion, the Karmal regime, although
backed by an expeditionary force of about 120,000 Soviet
troops, was unable to establish authority outside Kabul.
As much as 80% of the countryside, including parts of
Herat and Kandahar, eluded effective government control.
An overwhelming majority of Afghans opposed the communist
regime, either actively or passively. Afghan freedom
fighters (mujahidin) made it almost impossible for the
regime to maintain a system of local government outside
major urban centers. Poorly armed at first, in 1984 the
mujahidin began receiving substantial assistance in the
form of weapons and training from the U.S. and other
In May 1985, the seven principal Peshawar-based guerrilla
organizations formed an alliance to coordinate their
political and military operations against the Soviet
occupation. Late in 1985, the mujahidin were active in
and around Kabul, launching rocket attacks and
assassinating high government officials. The failure of
the Soviet Union to win over a significant number of
Afghan collaborators or to rebuild a viable Afghan army
forced it to bear an increasing responsibility for
fighting the resistance and for civilian administration.
Soviet and popular displeasure with the Karmal regime led
to its demise in May 1986. Karmal was replaced by
Muhammad Najibullah, former chief of the Afghan secret
police (KHAD). Najibullah had established a reputation
for brutal efficiency during his tenure as KHAD chief.
As Prime Minister, though, Najibullah was ineffective and
highly dependent on Soviet support. Undercut by deep-
seated divisions within the PDPA, regime efforts to
broaden its base of support proved futile.
The Geneva Accords and Aftermath
By the mid-1980s, the tenacious Afghan resistance
movement--aided by the United States, Saudi Arabia,
Pakistan, and others--was exacting a high price from the
Soviets, both militarily within Afghanistan and by
souring the U.S.S.R.'s relations with much of the Western
and Islamic world. Although informal negotiations for a
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway
since 1982, it was not until 1988 that the Governments of
Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States and
Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement
settling the major differences between them. The
agreement, known as the Geneva accords, included five
major documents, which, among other things, called for
U.S. and Soviet non-interference in the internal affairs
of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the right of refugees to
return to Afghanistan without fear of persecution or
harassment, and, most importantly, a timetable that
ensured full Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by
February 15, 1989. About 14,500 Soviet and an estimated
one million Afghan lives were lost between 1979 and the
Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Significantly, the mujahidin were neither party to the
negotiations nor to the 1988 agreement and, consequently,
refused to accept the terms of the accords. As a result,
civil war did not end with the Soviet withdrawal,
completed as scheduled in February 1989. Instead, it
escalated. Najibul-lah's regime, though failing to win
popular support, territory, or international recognition,
was able to remain in power until 1992.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Soviet-supported Najibullah regime did not collapse
until the defection of General Abdul Rashid Dostam and
his Uzbek militia in March 1992. However, as the
victorious mujahidin entered Kabul to assume control over
the city and the central government, a new round of
internecine fighting began between the various militias,
which had coexisted only uneasily during the Soviet
occupation. With the demise of their common enemy, the
militias' ethnic, clan, religious, and personality
differences surfaced, and the civil war continued.
Seeking to resolve these differences, the leaders of the
Peshawar-based mujahidin groups agreed in mid-April to
establish a 51-member interim Islamic Jihad Council to
assume power in Kabul. Moderate leader Professor
Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was to chair the council for three
months, after which a 10-member leadership council
composed of mujahidin leaders and presided over by the
head of the Jamiat-i-Islami, Professor Burhanuddin
Rabbani, was to be set up for a period of four months.
During this six-month period, a Loya Jirga, or grand
council of Afghan elders and notables, would convene and
designate an interim administration which would hold
power up to a year, pending elections.
But in May 1992, Rabbani prematurely formed the
leadership council, undermining Mojaddedi's fragile
authority. In June, Mojaddedi surrendered power to the
Leadership Council, which then elected Rabbani as
President. Nonetheless, heavy fighting broke out in
August 1992 in Kabul between forces loyal to President
Rabbani and rival factions, particularly those who
supported Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami. After
Rabbani convened a highly controversial council to extend
his tenure in December 1992, fighting in the capital
flared up in January and February 1993. The Islamabad
accord, signed in March 1993, which appointed Hekmatyar
as Prime Minister, failed to have a lasting effect. A
follow-up agreement, the Jalalabad accord, called for the
militias to be disarmed but was never fully implemented.
Through 1993, Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces, allied
with the Shi'a Hezb-i-Wahdat militia, clashed
intermittently with Rabbani and Masood's Jamiat forces.
Cooperating with Jamiat were militants of Sayyaf's
Ittehad-i-Islami and, periodically, troops loyal to
ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostam. On January
1, 1994, Dostam switched sides, precipitating large-scale
fighting in Kabul and in northern provinces, which caused
thousands of civilian casualties in Kabul and elsewhere
and created a new wave of displaced persons and refugees.
The central government exercises only limited control
over the countryside, where local leaders and militia
commanders, some with only nominal allegiance to any of
the national figures battling for power in Kabul, hold
sway. A date for elections in Afghanistan has yet to be
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Minister of Finance--Abdul Karim Khalili
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Hidayat Amin Arsala
Charge d'Affaires to the U.S.--Abdul Rahim
Afghanistan maintains an embassy in the United States at
2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-
Historically, there has been a dearth of information and
reliable statistics about Afghanistan's economy. This
was exacerbated by the Soviet invasion and ensuing civil
war, which destroyed much of the underdeveloped country's
infrastructure and disrupted normal patterns of economic
The Afghan economy continues to be overwhelmingly
agricultural, despite the fact that only 15% of its total
land area is arable and less than 6% currently is
cultivated. Agricultural production is constrained by an
almost total dependence on erratic winter snows and
spring rains for water; irrigation is primitive.
Relatively little use is made of machines, chemical
fertilizer, or pesticides.
Grain production is Afghanistan's traditional
agricultural mainstay. Overall agricultural production
declined an average of 3.5% per year between 1978 and
1990. This can be attributed to sustained fighting,
instability in rural areas, prolonged drought, and
deteriorated infrastructure. Soviet efforts to disrupt
production in resistance-dominated areas also contributed
to this decline. Furthermore, Soviet efforts to
centralize the economy through state ownership and
control and consolidation of farmland into large
collective farms contributed to lower production.
The war against the Soviet Union and the ensuing civil
war also led to migration to the cities and refugee
flight to Pakistan and Iran, further disrupting normal
agricultural production. Recent studies indicate that
agricultural production and livestock numbers are less
than one-half of what they were in 1978. It is estimated
that Afghanistan's food production levels are about 15%
lower than what is necessary to feed the population.
Shortages are exacerbated by the country's already
limited transportation network, which has deteriorated
due to damage and neglect resulting from war and the
absence of an effective central government.
Opium is increasingly becoming a source of cash for many
Afghans, especially since the breakdown in central
authority after the Soviet withdrawal. Opium is easy to
cultivate and transport and offers a quick source of
income for returning refugees and other impoverished
Afghans. Afghanistan is the second-largest producer of
raw opium in the world, after Burma. In 1993, despite
efforts by the U.S. and others to encourage alternative
crops, poppy and opium production increased 8% and 7%,
respectively, from a year earlier. Much of Afghanistan's
opium production is shipped to laboratories in Pakistan
and refined into heroin which is either consumed by a
growing South Asian addict population or exported,
primarily to Europe and North America.
Trade and Industry
Trade accounts for a small portion of the Afghan economy,
and there are no reliable statistics relating to trade
flows. Since the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of
the Soviet Union, other limited trade relationships
appear to be emerging with Iran, Pakistan, and the West.
Afghanistan trades little with the United States; its
1992 trade is estimated at $6 million. Afghanistan does
not enjoy U.S. most-favored-nation (MFN) trading status,
which was revoked in 1986.
Afghanistan is endowed with a wealth of natural
resources, including extensive deposits of coal, salt,
chromium, iron ore, gold, fluorite, talc, copper, and
lapis lazuli. Unfortunately, the country's remote and
rugged terrain, and inadequate transportation network,
usually have made mining these resources unprofitable.
The most important resource has been natural gas, first
tapped in 1967. At their peak during the 1980s, natural
gas sales accounted for $300 million a year in export
revenues (56% of the total). Ninety percent of these
exports went to the Soviet Union to pay for imports and
debts. However, during the withdrawal of Soviet troops
in 1989, Afghanistan's natural gas fields were capped to
prevent sabotage by the mujahidin. Restoration of gas
production has been hampered by internal strife and the
disruption of traditional trading relationships following
the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Landlocked Afghanistan has no rail-ways, but the Amu
Darya (Oxus) River, which forms part of Afghanistan's
border with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, has
barge traffic. During their occupation of the country,
the Soviets completed a bridge across the Amu Darya and
built a motor vehicle and railroad bridge between Termez
Most roadbuilding occurred in the 1960s, funded by the
U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Soviets built a road and
tunnel through the Salang Pass in 1964, connecting
northern and southern Afghanistan. A highway connecting
the principal cities of Herat, Kandahar, Ghazni, and
Kabul forms the primary road system.
The highway system requires significant reconstruction,
and regional roads are in a state of disrepair. The poor
state of the Afghan transportation and communication
networks has further fragmented and hobbled the
Economic Development and Recovery
Afghanistan embarked on a modest economic development
program in the 1930s. The government founded banks,
introduced paper money, established a university,
expanded primary, secondary, and technical schools, and
sent students abroad for education. In 1956, the Afghan
Government promulgated the first in a long series of
ambitious development plans. By the late 1970s, these
had achieved only mixed results due to flaws in the
planning process as well as inadequate funding and a
shortage of the skilled managers and technicians needed
These constraints on development have been exacerbated by
the flight of refugees and the disruption and instability
stemming from the Soviet occupation and ensuing civil
war. Today, economic recovery and long-term development
will depend on establishing an effective and stable
The UN and the international donor community continue to
provide considerable humanitarian relief. Since its
inception in 1988, the umbrella UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan
(UNOCHA) has channeled $512 million in multilateral cash
assistance to Afghan refugees and vulnerable per-sons
inside Afghanistan. The U.S. and Japan are the leading
contributors to this relief effort. One of its key tasks
is to eliminate from priority areas (such as villages,
arable fields, and roads) some of the estimated 10
million land-mines which continue to litter the Afghan
landscape. Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country
in the world; mine-related injuries number up to 100 per
month. Without successful mine clearance, refugee
repatriation, political stability, and economic
reconstruction will be severely constrained.
The UN, through the UN Development Program (UNDP), is
expected to play a major role in post-war recovery and
reconstruction of Afghanistan. In November 1993, the
UNDP Action Plan for the Immediate Rehabilitation of
Afghanistan identified more than $600 million in quick-
impact development projects which could be implemented
within two years where security conditions permit.
Before the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan pursued a policy
of neutrality and nonalignment in its foreign relations.
In international forums, Afghanistan generally followed
the voting patterns of Asian and African non-aligned
countries. Following the Marxist coup of April 1978, the
Taraki Government developed significantly closer ties
with the Soviet Union and its communist satellites.
After the December 1979 invasion, Afghanistan's foreign
policy mirrored that of the Soviet Union. Afghan foreign
policy-makers attempted, with little success, to increase
their regime's low standing in the non-communist world.
With the signing of the Geneva accords, Najibullah
unsuccessfully sought to end Afghanistan's isolation
within the Islamic world and in the Non-Aligned Movement.
Most Western countries, including the United States,
maintained small diplomatic missions in Kabul during the
Soviet occupation. Many subsequently closed their
missions due to instability and heavy fighting in Kabul.
Although a few states have reestablished a diplomatic
presence in Kabul, most embassies, including that of the
United States, remain closed.
Two areas--Pashtunistan and Baluchistan--have long
complicated Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan.
Controversies involving these areas date back to the
establishment of the Durand Line in 1893 dividing Pashtun
and Baluch tribes living in Afghanistan from those living
in what later became Pakistan. Afghanistan vigorously
protested the inclusion of Pashtun and Baluch areas
within Pakistan without providing the inhabitants with an
opportunity for self-determination. Since 1947, this
problem has led to incidents along the border, with
extensive disruption of normal trade patterns. The most
serious crisis lasted from September 1961 to June 1963,
when diplomatic, trade, transit, and consular relations
between the countries were suspended.
The 1978 Marxist coup further strained relations between
the two countries. Pakistan took the lead diplomatically
in the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the
Organization of the Islamic Conference in opposing the
Soviet occupation. During the war against the Soviet
occupation, Pakistan served as the primary logistical
conduit for the Afghan resistance. Pakistan, aided by UN
agencies, private groups, and many friendly countries,
continues to provide refuge to about 1.4 million Afghans.
Much of Afghanistan remains dependent on Pakistani links
for trade and travel to the outside world, and Pakistan
views Afghanistan as eventually becoming its primary
route for trade with Central Asia.
Afghanistan's relations with Iran have fluctuated over
the years, with periodic disputes over the water rights
of the Helmand River as the main issue of contention.
Following the Soviet invasion, which Iran opposed,
relations deteriorated. The Iranian consulate in Herat
closed, as did the Afghan consulate in Mashhad. The
Iranians complained of periodic border violations
following the Soviet invasion. In 1985, they urged
feuding Afghan Shi'a resistance groups to unite to oppose
the Soviets. Iran supported the cause of the Afghan
resistance and provided limited financial and military
assistance to rebel leaders who pledged loyalty to the
Iranian vision of Islamic revolution. Iran provides
refuge to about 2 million Afghans.
In the 19th century, Afghanistan served as a strategic
buffer state between czarist Russia and the British
Empire in the sub-continent. Afghanistan's relations
with Moscow became more cordial after the Bolshevik
Revolution in 1917. The Soviet Union was the first
country to establish diplomatic relations with
Afghanistan after the Third Anglo-Afghan war and signed
an Afghan-Soviet non-aggression pact in 1921, which also
provided for Afghan transit rights through the Soviet
Union. Early Soviet assistance included financial aid,
aircraft and attendant technical personnel, and telegraph
The Soviets began a major economic assistance program in
Afghanistan in the 1950s. Between 1954 and 1978,
Afghanistan received more than $1 billion in Soviet aid,
including substantial military assistance. In 1973, the
two countries announced a $200-million assistance
agreement on gas and oil development, trade, transport,
irrigation, and factory construction. Following the 1979
invasion, the Soviets augmented their large aid
commitments to shore up the Afghan economy and rebuild
the Afghan military. They provided the Karmal regime an
unprecedented $800 million. The Soviet Union supported
the Najibullah regime even after the withdrawal of Soviet
troops in February 1989. Today, unresolved questions
concerning Soviet MIA/POWs in Afghanistan remain an issue
between Russia and Afghanistan.
Tajik rebels based in Afghanistan in July 1993 attacked a
Russian border outpost in Tajikistan, killing 25 Russians
and prompting Russian retaliatory strikes which caused
extensive damage in northern Afghanistan. Reports of
Afghan support for the Tajik rebels have led to cool
relations between the two countries.
Afghanistan's relations with newly independent Tajikistan
have been complicated by ongoing political upheaval and
civil war in Tajikistan which spurred some 100,000 Tajiks
to seek refuge in Afghanistan in late 1992 and early
1993. Tajik rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of
Russian-backed former communist Imamali Rahmanov began
operating from Afghan bases and recruiting Tajik refugees
into their ranks. These rebels, reportedly aided by
Afghans and a number of foreign Islamic extremists,
conduct cross-border raids against Russian and Tajik
security posts and seek to infiltrate fighters and
materiel from Afghanistan into Tajikistan.
The first extensive American contact with Afghanistan was
made by Josiah Harlan, an adventurer from Pennsylvania
who was an adviser in Afghan politics in the 1830s and
reputedly inspired Rudyard Kipling's story, "The Man Who
Would be King."
After the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1934,
the U.S. policy of helping developing nations raise their
standard of living was an important factor in maintaining
and improving U.S.-Afghan ties. From 1950 to 1979, U.S.
foreign assistance provided Afghanistan with more than
$500 million in loans, grants, and surplus agricultural
commodities to develop transportation facilities,
increase agricultural production, expand the educational
system, stimulate industry, and improve government
In the 1950s, the U.S. declined Afghanistan's request for
defense cooperation but extended an economic assistance
program focused on the development of Afghanistan's
physical infrastructure--roads, dams, and power plants.
Later, U.S. aid shifted from infrastructure projects to
technical assistance programs to help develop the skills
needed to build a modern economy. The Peace Corps was
active in Afghanistan between 1962 and 1979.
After the April 1978 coup, relations deteriorated. In
February 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was murdered
after Afghan security forces burst in on his kidnapers.
The U.S. then reduced bilateral assistance and terminated
a small military training program. All remaining
assistance agreements were ended after the Soviet
Following the Soviet invasion, the United States
supported diplomatic efforts to achieve a Soviet
withdrawal. In addition, generous U.S. contributions to
the refugee program in Pakistan played a major part in
efforts to assist Afghans in need. U.S. efforts also
included helping Afghans living inside Afghanistan. This
cross-border humanitarian assistance program increased
Afghan self-sufficiency and helped Afghans resist Soviet
attempts to drive civilians out of the rebel-dominated
countryside. During the period of Soviet occupation of
Afghanistan, the U.S. provided about $3 billion in
military and economic assistance to Afghans and the
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul was closed in January 1989 for
security reasons. The U.S. has supported the peaceful
emergence of a broad-based government representative of
all Afghans and has been active in encouraging a UN role
in the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
The U.S. provides financial aid for mine-clearing
activities and other humanitarian assistance to Afghans
through international organizations.
In addition to the efforts of the UN and other donors,
the U.S. has provided $328 million in direct bilateral
assistance to Afghanistan since 1985 through its cross-
border program based in Islamabad, Pakistan. However,
assistance levels have fallen dramatically in recent
years due to overall budgetary constraints in the U.S.
and the difficulties inherent in administering a cross-
border aid program. For these reasons, the program is
scheduled for closure by the end of 1994.
During the Soviet occupation, the United Nations was
highly critical of the U.S.S.R.'s interference in the
internal affairs of Afghanistan and was instrumental in
obtaining a negotiated Soviet withdrawal under the terms
of the Geneva accords.
In the aftermath of the accords and subsequent Soviet
withdrawal, the United Nations has assisted in the
repatriation of refugees and has provided humanitarian
aid such as health care, educational programs, and food
and has supported mine-clearing operations. The UNDP and
associated agencies have undertaken a limited number of
development projects. However, the UN reduced its role
in Afghanistan in 1992 in the wake of fierce factional
strife in and around Kabul. The UN Secretary General has
designated a personal representative to head the Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to
Afghanistan (UNOCHA) and the Office of the Secretary
General in Afghanistan and Pakistan (OSGAP), both based
in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Travel advisory: The U.S. Department of State warns all
U.S. citizens not to travel to Afghanistan. Westerners
remain vulnerable to politically and criminally motivated
attacks and violence, including robbery, kidnaping, and
hostage-taking. Landmines are still prevalent throughout
the countryside. There is no U.S. embassy in
Afghanistan, and no other diplomatic mission represents
U.S. interests or provides consular services.
Climate and clothing: Kabul's climate is similar to
Denver's, but drier and dustier. Winter lasts from
December through February; summer, mid-May to mid-
September. Because of cultural sensitivities,
conservative attire is essential.
Customs: Visas required. No immunization requirements
at present, but this is subject to change. Check latest
Health: No health controls or sanitation regulations
govern the safety of foods in markets and restaurants.
Travelers and foreign residents are advised to boil
drinking water, cook fruits, vegetables, and meats
thoroughly, and not to consume local dairy products.
Transportation: Ariana Airlines provides international
flights to and from Afghanistan. Bakhtar Airlines
provides internal flights between Kabul and regional
centers such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar.
Taxis are available in Kabul; buses are often overcrowded
Telecommunications: The reliability of
telecommunications into and out of Afghanistan is erratic
at best. Kabul is 9-1/2 hours ahead of Eastern standard
time. Commercial cables from the U.S. may take several
days to arrive under the best of circumstances.
Published by the United States Department of State --
Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public
Communication -- Washington, DC
Managing Editor: Peter Knecht -- Editor: Peter Freeman
Department of State Publication 7795 -- Background Notes
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.
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