Background: Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 Communist counter-coup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan Communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama BIN LADIN. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. Karzai was re-elected in August 2009 for a second term. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability - particularly in the south and the east - remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government.
Location: Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran
Area land: 652,230 sq km
Area water: 0 sq km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Country name conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Country name conventional short form: Afghanistan
Country name former: Republic of Afghanistan
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.3% (male 6,464,070/female 6,149,468); 15-64 years: 55.3% (male 8,460,486/female 8,031,968); 65 years and over: 2.4% (male 349,349/female 380,051) (2011 est.);
Population growth rate: 2.375% (2011 est.)
Birth rate: 37.83 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Death rate: 17.39 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
Net migration rate: 3.31 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female; under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female; 15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.92 male(s)/female; total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2011 est.);
Infant mortality rate: total: 149.2 deaths/1,000 live births; male: 152.75 deaths/1,000 live births; female: 145.47 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.);
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 45.02 years; male: 44.79 years; female: 45.25 years (2011 est.);
Total fertility rate: 5.39 children born/woman (2011 est.);
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.01% (2001 est.);
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: NA;
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA;
Nationality: noun: Afghan(s); adjective: Afghan;
Ethnic groups: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%;
Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%;
Languages: 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;
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write; total population: 28.1%; male: 43.1%; female: 12.6% (2000 est.);
GDP (purchasing power parity): $29.81 billion (2010 est.); $27.38 billion (2009 est.); $22.34 billion (2008 est.);
GDP (official exchange rate): $16.63 billion (2010 est.);
GDP - real growth rate: 8.9% (2010 est.); 22.5% (2009 est.); 3.4% (2008 est.);
GDP - per capita (PPP): $1,000 (2010 est.); $1,000 (2009 est.); $800 (2008 est.);
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 31%; industry: 26%; services: 43%;
Population below poverty line: 36% (FY08/09);
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%; highest 10%: NA%;
Labor force: 15 million (2004 est.);
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 78.6%; industry: 5.7%; services: 15.7% (FY08/09 est.);
Unemployment rate: 35% (2008 est.); 40% (2005 est.);
Budget: revenues: $1 billion; expenditures: $3.3 billion;
Industries: small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, apparel, food-products, non-alcoholic beverages, mineral water, cement; handwoven carpets; natural gas, coal, copper;
Industrial production growth rate: NA%;
Electricity - production: 285.5 million kWh (2009 est.);
Electricity - consumption: 231.1 million kWh (2009 est.);
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2008 est.);
Electricity - imports: 230 million kWh (2007 est.);
Statistics: CIA World Factbook.
(Farsi-language daily), Kabul
(non-governmental press agency), Kabul
(Independent news agency), Kabul
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If the region is ever to be broken from a perpetual state of war, political mechanisms need to create the kind of accord that can make peace and stability realistic possibilities in the region.
Nine years of entanglement in Afghanistan have produced little result. It is time for the United States to consider a wholly different approach.
The Australian government announced a freeze on asylum claims from Afghans, despite the fact that human rights organizations unanimously report that Afghan civilians face just as much danger as ever.
With military spending out of control and the war in Afghanistan now more protracted than Vietnam, the United States simply refuses to downscale its biggest liability.