Afghanistan: its geography, peoples and history

Afghanistan is a land of mountains and desert plains situated at the western end of the Himalaya range. It covers an area of about 647 500 square kilometres and is bordered to the west by Iran, to the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to the east by China, and to the southeast by Pakistan.


A complex system of mountain ranges forms a backbone trending across the country from NE to SW. The rugged Hindu Kush occupy the central-eastern and eastern area, reaching their highest point in the peak of Naochak (7485 m). Eastwards the Hindu Kush is contiguous with the Himalayan ranges. To the west it decreases in height and passes into a knot of ranges before fanning-out into a series of foothills and then desert plains in the west of the country. The Hindu Kush acts as a watershed between the Kabul-Indus river system to the southeast and the Amu Darya river system draining towards the north. A third river system drains towards the southwest to the border with Iran. The climate of the country ranges from arid to semi-arid with cold winters and hot summers.


The population of Afghanistan is estimated to be around 28 500 000, composed of a number of ethnic groups, the principals being the Pashtuns and Tajiks. The country is divided into 32 administrative provinces with the seat of central government being in Kabul (population 4 million).

Recent history

Recent Afghan history has been one of almost constant conflict. This was precipitated in 1973 by the overthrow of the monarchy by Mohammad Doud, who imposed a republic and declared himself President. Subsequently, Doud was overthrown and executed during a Marxist revolution in 1978, which led to the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Around a million Afghans lost their lives in a decade of civil war that ensued between the Islamic Mujahideen, and the Soviet armed forces and the army of its puppet Afghan Government. Eventually, the Soviet forces withdrew with the Mujahideen finally taking Kabul in 1992. Infighting began soon after and the country slid into a state of anarchy as one faction fought another. It was in 1994 that the Taleban began to emerge in the south and their control eventually spread to most of the country, including Kabul in 1996. The Taleban were swept from power in late 2001, following the bombing of Afghanistan by American and allied forces in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Following the fall of the Taleban, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as head of an interim Government in December 2001 and was elected interim head of State in June 2002. A new constitution was adopted in January 2004, which led to the Presidential election in October 2004 and returned Mr Karzai as the Head of State. In December 2004, a new cabinet of Ministers was sworn in.

Afghanistan remains extremely poor and highly dependent on aid with living standards amongst the lowest in the world. However, growing political stability and continued international commitment to Afghanistan's reconstruction create an optimistic outlook for maintaining improvements to the economy over the coming years.

. . . A new constitution was adopted in January 2004, which led to the Presidential election in October 2004 and returned Mr Karzai as the Head of State . . .