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The country of Afghanistan consists of a land-locked Asian country that has an area of 652,225 square kilometers and is surrounded going in a clockwise direction from the south by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. The area that makes up the country of Afghanistan has historically been the link between Central Asia, the Middle East, and India. Therefore it has seen many invaders come and go and leave back a semblance of their religion and culture in the area, without really dominating the country for extended periods of time. This has led to Afghanistan comprising different fiercely independent ethnic groupings. Violence has been a part of the history of the country and continues to even today, in view of the strategic importance of the country. Afghanistan swallowed up in this vortex of continued violence is economically backward and dependent on the international community to provide sustenance and maintain peace and stability.
History Government and Politics
The history of violence in Afghanistan is the reflection of the country being caught between the dominating powers of the region, since the collapse of the Mongol Empire in the sixteenth century. This power struggle for domination of Afghanistan started with between the Mughal dynasty in India and the Safavid dynasty of Iran, which culminated in Afghanistan freeing itself in 1747 under the Pashtun leader Ahmad Shah, who managed to get the disparate tribal and ethnic groupings to forge unity. The Ahmad Shah dynasty was to rule Afghanistan for nearly two centuries, but it was not bereft of violence. European powers had more than started their territorial ambitions over the region. Russia and Britain were the competing European powers in the region at the start of the nineteenth century, and the conflicting interests between Russia and Britain caused Britain to send invading armies into Afghanistan, which set up puppet regimes in Afghanistan from time to time as a means of controlling their interests in the country.
Finally, Afghanistan became a British Protectorate till the end of the First World War in 1919, when Afghanistan under its then ruler Amanullah declared independence from the British. There were skirmishes between the British and Afghanistan, as Britain tried to regain control, but in a short, while Britain lost interest in Afghanistan, and it remained Independent. The ensuing period saw rulers come and go through assassination and abdication till the rule of Muhammad Zahir Shah. He was the last king of Afghanistan and ruled for about four decades. This period may be considered as the period when a semblance of development took place in this nation plagued with violence.
In 1973 king Zahir Shah was overthrown and Afghanistan comes to a republic under Daoud a family member of the king. The fires of violence in the country were reignited and remain lit to this day. Daoud had managed to seize power with the assistance of a pro-Soviet Union political party the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). In his belief that he had consolidated his power in Afghanistan Daoud decided to take on the PDPA, which was his downfall. The PDPA ousted Daoud in a coup in 1978 and took the reigns of Afghanistan. The PDPA attempted to make the Muslim-dominated Afghanistan a secular nation and this led to the traditional tribesmen rising up against the PDPA in 1979. The consequence was the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by the Soviet Union and the installation of the puppet government of Karmal.
These were the days of the Cold War and it was not long before the United States of America entered the arena to counter the ambitions of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The American strategy was to arm the Mujahideen, consisting of several Islamic fundamentalist groups fighting the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Gradually the willingness of the Soviets to continue this war of attrition in Afghanistan was eroded and they left the country in 1989. The departure of the Soviet Union witnessed the rise of the warlords dominating different parts of the country and violence in the country continued as different groupings of warlords attempted to dominate the country. This background allowed the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, and the creation of the Pakistani Intelligence to seize power in Afghanistan. The Taliban made Afghanistan a Muslim theocratic state.
Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda were considered responsible for the attacks on America in September 2001, and Osama bin Laden and his group sought refuge in Afghanistan to avoid the American repercussions. The Americans demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and the elements of the Al Qaeda. When this was not forthcoming the Americans launched air and ground attacks in Afghanistan.
The American operation was called Operation Enduring Freedom. With the assistance of opposition elements, the final outcome was the overthrowing of the Taliban government. Some of its leaders along with Osama bin Laden went into hiding in the mountainous regions. To search out the elements of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and provide peace and stability in Afghanistan the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by the Americans and essentially comprising of forces from NATO remains in Afghanistan. With assistance from the United States, the United Nations, and ISAF a democratically elected government under the leadership of President Karzai governs the country, subsequent to the creation of a new constitution that established Afghanistan as the Islamic Republic. Peace and stability still elude Afghanistan as the ISAF has still not been able to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In July 2008, the population of Afghanistan was estimated at 32,738,376, comprising 44.6% of people up to the age of 14 (7,474,394 males and 7,121,145 females), 53% in the age group 15-64 (8,901,880 males and 8,447,983 females), and 2.4 percent in the age group 65 years and older (383,830 males and 409,144 females). The median age for both males and females is 17.6, and the population is growing at the rate of 2.626%, with a birth rate of 45.82.100 population and a death rate of 19.56/1000 population. Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 44.21 years. Afghanistan is made up of several ethnic groups varying proportions that witnesses the Pashtuns at 42%, Tajik at 27%, Hazara at 9%, Uzbek at 9%, Aimak at 4%, Turkmen at 3%, Baloch at 2%, and others at 4% of the population. The country is predominantly Muslim comprising eighty percent Sunni Muslims, nineteen percent Shi’a Muslims, and one percent others. 43.1% of the male population in Afghanistan can read and write, while only 12.6% of the female population can read and write.
Language, Religion, and Culture
The many ethnic groupings have given a myriad of languages used in Afghanistan. There are two official languages made up of Afghan Persian or Dari, used by nearly 50% of the population, and Pashto used by 35% of the population. Then there is the Turkic language essentially Uzbek and Turkmen, which is used by 11 of the population. The remaining 4% consists of 30 minor languages, which are predominantly Balochi and Pashai. The presence of so many languages in the country has led to much bilingualism in Afghanistan.
Islam is the essential religion of Afghanistan and in spite of the different affiliations of the Sunnis and Shi’as, there is agreement on the supremacy of Islam, as in most of the Muslim states. The influence of Islam is so strong that it pervades into every stream of life in Afghanistan from politics to the way of life of the people. The food that they eat is governed by Islamic laws, in which meat meats like pork are prohibited, while meat that is consumed has to become from other animals, whose slaughter is governed by Islamic law. Social activities are again intertwined with Islam and there is gender bias, with the women restrained to domestic and family activities, while the men participate in social and other activities. Marriage customs follow Islamic guidance, and as a result, polygamy is accepted. On the whole, the culture of the country is governed by Islam, with variations originating from the different ethnic founding.
Relations with Other Nations
The reliance of the current government in Afghanistan on external support economically and in the maintenance of peace and stability coupled with American strategic interests has seen the development of a special relationship with the United States of America and other NATO countries. In the current dispensation, the United States of America is the chief influence over Afghanistan. Afghanistan looks forward to fellow Muslim nations in the Middle East, but the strong influence of America on Afghanistan acts as a hindrance to the development of these natural ties.
Afghanistan has always been the playground for influential neighbors to try and increase their influence and it continues to be so. Pakistan with its proximity to Afghanistan and its influence on the Taliban is a major player in Afghanistan. Relationships between the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan have soured over the Afghan perception that Pakistan continues to harbor elements of the Taliban opposed to it. (7). Iran has always considered Afghanistan special with its Persian-speaking population and also as the means to link up with the Persian-speaking populations in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It, therefore, continues to try and increase its influence in Afghanistan. India is not a direct neighbor of Afghanistan but is an influential member of the region. Good relationships have existed in the past and continue to develop between India and Afghanistan, on the basis of Indian assistance in infrastructural development and other assistance.
The strategic location of Afghanistan has made it a target for other countries to try and impose their influence. The country of Afghanistan was born from violence and violence has been a close associate of the nation from a historical perspective. Things have not changed and violence continues to plague this nation to the detriment of its people.
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- Rais, Rasul Bakshi. “Conflict in Afghanistan: Ethnicity, Religion and Neighbours”. Ethnic Study Reports 22.1 (1999): 1-12.
- Asraf, Fahimida. “INDIA-AFGHANISTAN RELATIONS: POST-9/11”. 2007.