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Home>> Wold City Guide >> Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Area: 647,500 sq km Capital: Kabul
Big Cities: Kabul,Kandahar,Mazar-i-Sharif,Charikar Currency: Afghani
Language: Dari Persian, Pashtu (both official), other Turkic and minor languages Religions: Islam (Sunni 80%, Shiite 19%), other 1%
Industries: small-scale production of textiles, soap, furniture, shoes, fertilizer, cement; handwoven carpets; natural gas, coal, copper Leaders: Ahmad Shah Durrani, Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Resources: natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones Exports: opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semiprecious gems
 
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History : Darius I and Alexander the Great were the first to use Afghanistan as the gateway to India. Islamic conquerors arrived in the 7th century, and Genghis Khan and Tamerlane followed in the 13th and 14th centuries.In the 19th century, Afghanistan became a battleground in the rivalry between imperial Britain and czarist Russia for control of Central Asia. Three Anglo-Afghan wars (1839–1842, 1878–1880, and 1919) ended inconclusively. King Zahir Shah ruled Afghanistan for 40 years, from 1933 to 1973. He was not regarded as an inspired or imaginative leader, and indeed he hardly led at all, preferring to take it easy and to let the tribes govern themselves. Not much good was said about Zahir Shah at that time, but today almost all Afghans long for his return, considering what happened after he was removed from power. In about 1955, the Government of Afghanistan approached the United States of America for military assistance. Afghanistan wanted not only weapons but also to send her officers to the United States for military training. President Eisenhower considered this request but rejected it. Eisenhower said that Afghanistan was too far flung in location. American interests did not extend that far. Every country was asking for hand-outs, and the line had to be drawn somewhere. Eisenhower decided to draw the line at Afghanistan. In September, 1979, almost exactly one year later, there was a shoot out. The forces of Tureki tried to kill Hafizullah Amin, the Prime Minister. Taroon jumped in the way and took the first bullet, a bullet which was meant for Amin. The Amin group fired back, killing Tureki. Tureki and Taroon were both dead. Amin, a former graduate student at Columbia University in New York City majoring in Education, became president of Afghanistan. Amin invited Herbert Penzl, a professor of Linguistics and German at the University of California at Berkeley who had written the definitive book on the Pashtu language, to come Afghanistan. Penzl went to Afghanistan and found Amin to be "supremely confident".The story of Afghanistan is in so many ways a very tragic one. Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished nations of the world. It is one of the most war-torn, most ravaged, and most beleaguered of nations. It is a nation that has been beset by invasion, external pressure and internal upheaval since before the time of Alexander the Great. Its people are a people who have endured more than most of us can ever imagine. In fact, for many Afghanis, all that has changed in the last one thousand years are the weapons which have been used against so many of them. It is therefore with great sadness and respect that I tell the story of Afghanistan.Historically the Pashtun nationality has been the most dominant. The term Afghan, for example, generally is viewed by other peoples in the country to refer to the Pashtuns. The royal families of the country were Pashtun, and today the Pashtun represent about 50% of the total population. Tajiks come in second with 25%, and the rest make up considerably smaller percentages.The United Nations, hardly a radical source of information, has estimated that up to 8 million Afghanis may starve this winter due to a shortage of food, made all the more severe by the intentional U.S. disruption of humanitarian aid, and bombing of Red Cross and other humanitarian aid facilities inside the country. At least hundreds, and more likely thousands, have been killed by U.S. bombs, and many more are dieing as the Northern Alliance and Taliban warlords fight it out. Hundreds of thousands of land mines and unexploded cluster bombs lay scattered across the nation’s landscape. And there is no end in sight to the misery. It’s hard to say how much longer the Taliban will continue to fight, or when the U.S. will end its war. Afghanistan’s future, like its past, looks very dark indeed. Currently Northern Alliance warlords, southern Pashtun warlords, opportunistic émigré politicians, and even supporters of the aging deposed autocrat King Zahir Shah, are arguing about who will be the exploiter-in-chief of the devastated land. Most likely they will come up with some sort of coalition government – that will perhaps hold the different factions together, perhaps not. In the end it matters little, since none of the figures involved represent the people of this country, and none of them seem to have ever had their interests at heart.A third enduring pattern in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been the gradual extension of Russian controlinto Central Asia. The strategies used by the tsar’s generals to subdue the khans north of the Amu Darya may have beeninstructive to Soviet commanders who moved across the river in 1979. The Afghans, like the Turks and Iranians, historically have had both a fear of the Soviet Union and a desire to benefit from relations with their northern neighbor.Finally, one cannot examine Afghan history without noting the key role of Islam. Even Genghis Khan was unable to uproot Islam, and within two generations his heirs had become Muslims. Religious leaders have always played a political roleand, as in many other nations, religion has served as a means of political expression. An important, if often unacknowledged, event in Afghan history that played a role in the politics of Afghanistan’s neighbors and the entire region up to the present was the rise in the tenth century of a strong Sunni dynasty- the Ghaznavids-whose power prevented the eastward spread of Shiism from Iran and thereby assured that the majority of Muslims in Afghanistan and South Asia would become Sunnis.

Geography : Afghanistan is a land-locked country located in Central Asia. It is dominated by mountains that cover two thirds of its surface. The rest of the landscape is made up of desert and fertile plains. The country can be divided into three distinct regions - the Central Highlands, the Northern Plains and the Southwestern Plateau.The flat plains and foothills make up the northernmost area of the country. This is the most fertile region and it is here that most of the food is grown. Crops include corn, rice, barley, wheat, vegetables, cotton, fruits and nuts.Afghanistan is rich in minerals that include uranium, copper, gold, iron, and chrome. There are also precious stone deposits as well as natural gas and petroleum reserves.Afghanistan's rugged terrain and seasonally harsh climate have not deterred foreign invaders who coveted this land or sought to cross it on the road to further conquests. The history of Afghanistan is replete with tales of invasion. Yet the rugged landscape combined with the fiercely independent spirit of the Afghan people have seriously impeded and often repulsed would-be conquerors. Afghanistan, approximately the size of Texas, is bordered on the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, on the extreme northeast by China, on the east and south by Pakistan, and by Iran on the west. The country is split east to west by the Hindu Kush mountain range, rising in the east to heights of 24,000 ft (7,315 m). With the exception of the southwest, most of the country is covered by high snow-capped mountains and is traversed by deep valleys.Mountains dominate the landscape, forming a terrigenous skeleton, traversing the center of the country, running generally in a northeast-southwest direction. More than 49 percent of the total land area lies above 2,000 meters. Although geographers differ on the division of these mountains into systems, they agree that the Hindukush system, the most important, is the westernmost extension of the Pamir Mountains, the Karakorum Mountains, and the Himalayas.These mountainous areas are mostly barren, or at the most sparsely sprinkled with trees and stunted bushes. True forests, found mainly in the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Paktiya, cover barely 2.9 of the country's area. Even these small reserves have been disastrously depleted by the war and through illegal exploitation. The forests are in fact in a crisis situation. A 1996 a FAO report estimated that of the 4.7 million acres of forests existing at the beginning of the war, in 1979, considerably less than one million acres survive today.The plate-tectonic activity in Afghanistan has contributed to the creation of the geologic riches of the country, but has also produced frequent earthquakes; around fifty are recorded each year. Although most are relatively mild, the most severe earthquake in recent history occurred on 29 July 1985. Afghanistan has a total of 5529 km of borders, with the longest being the 2,640 km border on the southeast and south with Pakistan. Afghanistan is also bordered to the west by Iran (936 km) and to the north by the Central Asian states of Tajikistan (1,206 km), Turkmenistan (744 km), and Uzbekistan (137 km). Afghanistan's shortest border is on its eastern frontier with China (76km).

Climate :The climate is typical of an arid or semiarid steppe, with cold winters and dry summers. The mountain regions of the northeast are subarctic with dry and cold winters. In the mountains bordering Pakistan, a divergent fringe effect of the monsoon, generally coming from the southeast, brings tropical air masses that determine the climate between July and September. At times, these air masses advance into central and southern Afghanistan, bringing increased humidity and some rain. Temperature and precipitation are controlled by the exchange of air masses. The highest temperatures and the lowest precipitation prevail in the drought-ridden, poorly watered southern plateau region, which extends over the boundaries with Iran and Pakistan. The climate of the Turkistan Plains, which extend northward from the Northern Foothills, represents a transition between mountain and steppe climates. Aridity increases and temperatures rise with descending altitudes, becoming the highest along the lower Amu Darya and in the western parts of the plains.The variety of climate is immense, as might be expected. Taking the highlands of the country as a whole, there is no great difference between the mean temperature of Afghanistan and that of the lower Himalaya. Each may be placed at a point between 10 °C and 15 °C (50 °F to 60 °F). But the remarkable feature of Afghan climate is its extreme range of temperature within limited periods.At Jalalabad the winter and the climate generally assume an Indian character. The summer heat is great everywhere in Afghanistan, but most of all in the districts bordering on the Indus, especially Sewi, on the lower Helmund and in Seistan. All over Kandahar province the summer heat is intense, and the simoon is not unknown.The summer rains that accompany the southwest monsoon in India, beating along the southern slopes of the Himalaya, travel up the Kabul valley as far as Laghman, though they are more clearly felt in Bajour and Panjkora, under the high spurs of the HinduKush, and in the eastern branches of Safed Koh. Rain also falls at this season at the head of Kurram valley. South of this the Suliman mountains may be taken as the western limit of the monsoon's action. It is quite unfelt in the rest of Afghanistan, in which, as in all the west of Asia, the winter rains are the most considerable.

Culture : The culture of the region today known as Afghanistan has been around for millennia and is - since the Arab-Muslim conquest - largely influenced by Islam. Different regions of the country have their own unique traditions, reflecting the multi-cultural and multi-lingual character of the nation. For example, the Pashtuns practice Pashtunwali, which is a pre-Islamic cultural tradition. There are also other traces of pre-Islamic traditions, most of all by religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism. Afghanistan has been a crossroads for India, Iran, and Central Asia which has influenced its culture. In recent years, Baha'i Faith has also spread throughout the country. Afghanistan consists of a variety of ethnic groups called Afghans, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslim, usually either followers of Sunni or Shia Islam. Afghans are related to many of the ethnic groups in Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.The arts and crafts Afghanistan map contains striking architectural remnants of all ages, including Greek and Buddhist stupas (shrines or reliquaries) and monasteries, arches, monuments, intricate Islamic minarets (the tall, slender towers on mosques), temples and forts. Among the most famous sites are the great mosques of Herat and Mazar-e Sharif; the minaret of a mosque at Jam in the west central highlands; the 1000-year-old Great Arch of Qal'eh-ye Bost; the Chel Zina (Forty Steps) and rock inscriptions made by Mughal emperor Babur in Kandahar; the Great Buddha of Bamian (55 m/180 ft tall); the "Towers of Victory" in Ghazni; and Emperor Babur's tomb and the great Bala Hissar fort in Kabul. The culture Afghanistan map reflects its ancient roots and position as a crossroads for invading ethnic groups and traditions. Whatever the Afghans make is always very attractive; even common grain bags to carry produce are often embroidered to make them more beautiful. Since the 1980s, Afghanistan has been involved in near constant violence. As such, music has been suppressed and recording for outsiders minimal. During the 1990s, the Taliban government banned instrumental music and much public music-making. In spite of arrests and destruction of musical instruments, Afghan musicians have continued to ply their trade into the present. Kabul has long been the regional cultural capital, but outsiders have tended to focus on the city of Herat, which is more closely related to Iranian music. Lyrics across the country are typically in Persian and Pashto. Hindi songs from Bollywood films are also very popular in Afghanistan. Among musicians of Afghan origin who have made substantial contributions to the development of classical Hindustani music is Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash, a forefather of the world famous sarod player Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Bangash had moved from Ghazni to Gwalior in central India. He transformed the Afghan instrument rubab into the sarod, which belongs to the tube zithers of Indian tradition.The culture of Afghanistan reflects its ancient roots and position as a crossroads for invading ethnic groups and traditions. Little the Afghans make is unattractive; even common grain bags to carry produce to market are often embroidered to make them more beautiful. A camel caravan of nomads often looks like a circus parade, with the animals decked out in woven finery. The Islamic traditions of fine calligraphy and graphic arts are evoked in the fine filigreed flourishes that decorate many buildings. Poetry and poets are revered. Although the people of Afghanistan may have been sorely stressed by centuries of warfare and a difficult environment, their arts have prospered nonetheless.

Food : The type of food served in Afghan cuisine is quite unique. It has been well documented that the foods, tastes and spices of Afghan food are a rather tasteful blend of the regions that surround Afghanistan. Unlike food from it's neighbors to the east, the spices used in Afghan dishes, are neither too hot nor pungent, and in contrast to it's western neighbors, Afghan food is not bland. In fact may western travelers find the foods of Afghanistan a perfect blend of exoticness and good taste. The types off food served are also symbolic for example Qaabuli Pallow is the crown of Afghan cooking and served to special guests or on special occasions such as weddings. Letee is served to new mothers because of its easy on the stomach yet high nutritive value. Dogh is best enjoyed on a hot summer's day and Mahi is served during Nowroz (New Year). Afghans are very fond of meat. in different ways but popular is a siji of lamb which can be found everywhere, it is little bit like BBQ but they made it in Tandoor. and also they drink too much Kehwa (tea) .The restaurant inside Zar Negar Hotel (with different owner) costs Af50 for pulao (rice with meat). There're some local restaurants and hawkers (selling chicken soup and mantoo, a Chinese dumpling) near Zar Negar Hotel. The food everywhere in the local restaurants are almost the same. If you don't mind to spend a few more money, Popo'Lano Italian Restaurant makes a good choice, Af60/soup, Af200/lasagna, Af220/steak, Af40/capaccino, bill are in but not too many foreigners staying inside. Highly recommended is the Mustafah Hotel near Chicken Street, there's no sign outside but it's very famous. It's next to "Shoaib Photo Studio" and a pharmancy.

Travelling : Large areas of Afghanistan remain highly insecure. NATO-led military operations are ongoing against the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Acts of violence, often targeting foreigners, continue to occur in Kabul.Visitors should maintain a very high level of security awareness, avoid demonstrations and political gatherings, avoid travelling alone and in the dark, and contact their consular representative for the latest information.Afghanistan is among the most heavily mined countries on earth. Extreme caution should be taken when venturing into areas that may be mined.Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is extremely limited and unreliable.  Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions.  Credit card transactions are not available.  International bank transfers are very limited, as the banking system is just becoming operational.  One ATM machine exists at Standard Charter Bank in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using it.Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices.  Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts.  Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles.  Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways.  An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordnance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Make two photocopies of valuables such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home. While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

Things to do : Visit Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul; Although it is estimated that after the fighting in 2001, at least one-third of all public buildings and approximately 40% of the houses were completely destroyed, a few conventional attractions for tourists remain, including the Gardens of Babur and a well-presented museum, and the ancient walls of the citadel Bala Hissar. There are plans to re-open the National Gallery. Tour Jalalabad, the capital of the Nangarhar Province, which used to be an attractive winter resort, with many cypress trees and flowering shrubs. After an early morning hot shower and a pot of chai we went out and found a new place to stay, the Shabistan Hotel on Kocha-e-Morgha, better known as Chicken Street.