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Country Profile

Area: 251,740 square miles (652,000 sq km)
Population: estimated to be 29.1 million (UN) with an estimated total of two million refugees in Pakistan and 800,000 in Iran (UNHCR)
Capital city: Kabul, population estimated to be 3.9 million (Afghan Central Statistics Office). Other main cities are Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif.
People: The population comprises numerous ethnic groups, the major ones being Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Chahar Aimaks and Turkmen.
Language: Dari (related to Farsi) and Pashto
Religion: approximately 99% Islam -around 80% of whom are Sunni Muslim
Currency: The Afghani
Government: The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Head of State: Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Vice Presidents: Mohammad Fahim Khan, Abdul Karim Khalili
Foreign Minister: Dr Zalmai Rassoul
Defence Minister: Gen Abdul Rahim Wardak
Interior Minister: Bismillah Khan Mohammadi
Finance Minister: Omar Zakhilwal
Counter-Narcotics Minister: Ahmad Moqbel Zarar

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The health infrastructure in Afghanistan damaged or destroyed by years of conflict, is gradually being re-established by the Afghan Government with the help of the international community. The health services inherited at the end of 2001 were limited in capacity and coverage, and while the Ministry of Health has shown leadership the health status of the Afghan people is still among the worst in the world. The majority of the population lacks access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities. Disease, malnutrition and poverty are rife and an estimated 6.5 million people remain dependant on food aid.

-- 13.5% of babies dies during or shortly after birth (UNDP, 2007)

-- 26% of children die before reaching the age of 5 (UNDP, 2007)
-- Maternal mortality rate: 1600 per 100000 live births (UNDP, 2007)
-- More than three million Afghans benefited from rural water supply and sanitation activities in the country. 10119 water points, 66 networks and 1713 water reservoirs have been constructed.

-- 32.5% of the rural population has access to safe drinking water (UNAMA 2008)

The World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development and the European Community are helping the Afghan Ministry of Health, through NGOs, to provide a basic healthcare service to the entire population. The package consists of services for maternal and newborn health; child health and immunisation; nutrition; communicable disease; mental health; disability; and the supply of essential drugs. The Ministry of Health has established a Child and Adolescent Health Department and a Department of Women and Reproductive Health to tackle high infant and maternal mortality rates.

-- 83% of the population now has access to medical facilities, compared to 9% in 2004 (NATO, June 2007)

-- 76% of children under the age of five have been immunised against childhood diseases (NATO, June 2007)

-- More than 4000 medical facilities have been opened since 2004 (NATO, June 2007)

Immunisation is having a real impact. In March 2006, a Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and World Bank nationwide campaign was launched to immunise 7 million children, in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, against polio. Since 2002 UN agencies have administered 16 million vaccinations against measles, saving an estimated 35,000 lives. Cholera and diarrhoeal diseases are being tackled through health education, water chlorination and the construction of wells throughout the country.

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$16.631 billion (2010 estimate) . Per capita GDP has increased from US$200 to US$561 since 2002. (Global Finance, June 2011 ).
Growth rate: Real GDP growth has averaged 14.8% in the last six years. The inflation rate is estimated to be at 0.5% for 2010 with a forecast rate of 3.4% for 2011(Global Finance, June 2011). Despite ongoing security problems, Afghanistan has been able to sustain a strong economic growth rate, ranging from 26% in 2002/3 to 14% in 2005/6. The growth rate slowed in 2006/7 due to drought, but has continued to be strong, with a predicted 8% average growth this year. The economy is estimated to have grown by 22% last year on the back of good harvests. Government tax revenues exceeded $1 billion for the first time last year (DfiD, June 2011).
The country is now at 167 in the World Bank Doing Business Rankings, and doing business has gradually become easier since 2006. Opium cultivation is declining and the country as a whole is becoming less dependent on growing poppies, which now constitute just 5% of the size of the legal economy. (DfiD, June 2011).
Principal industries: Textiles, fruit and nuts, soap, furniture, shoes, fertiliser, hand woven carpets, cement, natural gas, coal and copper
Exchange rate: 71.18 Afghanis = 1GBP ( June 2011 )
Afghanistan’s economy has been seriously damaged by decades of war. The main activity remains agriculture (which involves around 80% of the population), both subsistence and some commercial. The main traditional crops are grain, rice, fruit, nuts and vegetables. But all have been severely affected by drought in recent years. Industry is small scale and includes handicrafts, textiles, carpets, and some food processing. Exports consist of mainly fruit, nuts, vegetables and carpets.

In November 2010, Turkey hosted the fourth meeting of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA). The RECCA process aims to increase economic cooperation and trade between Afghanistan and its neighbours. The fifth RECCA will be held in Tajikistan in November 2011.

In April 2007 Afghanistan became the eighth member of the South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), a regional platform for improved economic and social development in South Asia.

Afghanistan possesses a wide variety of mineral resources including natural gas, coal, oil and gemstones, but the security situation has precluded their effective utilisation. Drugs, mainly opium, dominate illegal exports and, coupled with smuggling to adjacent countries, underpin a large black economy.

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At the crossroads of central Asia, Afghanistan is proud of having preserved its national identity in the face of the often intrusive interests of other regional powers. The foundation of modern Afghanistan is usually attributed to Ahmad Shah Abdali (1747-72) who built an empire in Afghanistan as Mughal power declined in northern India and British influence rose. The Anglo-Russian struggle for influence in Central Asia, the ‘Great Game', in the nineteenth century fuelled three British Afghan Wars in 1839-42, 1878-81 and 1919. For much of the twentieth century successive Afghan governments worked to preserve the independence of the country amidst tumultuous changes: the advances and retreat of European influence in the Middle East; the change from Tsarist to Communist ambition in the north; and independence for, and partition of, British India.

After the Second World War (in which Afghanistan remained neutral), a liberal, largely urban government attempted to modernise a rural and traditional Muslim society. In 1973 Prime Minister Daud overthrew King Zahir Shah and established a republic. Daud was overthrown himself in 1978 by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, who tried to impose a socialist state. This led to armed resistance by conservative Islamic elements, and in 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Soviet intervention lasted ten years and sparked a bitter civil war with anti-Soviet mujahideen forces, supported by considerable outside aid. The departure of Soviet troops in 1989 did not bring an end to the conflict, as mujahideen groups began to struggle among themselves. By 1994 the Pashtun Taliban began to emerge as the dominant power in Afghanistan, taking Kabul in October 1996 and controlling most of the country by 1998. They were opposed by mujahideen commanders Massoud, Dostum and others in the predominantly Tajik and Uzbek United Front (previously the Northern Alliance).

The Taliban were already largely isolated internationally, but after 11 September 2001 they came under immense international military pressure for their refusal to give up Usama bin Laden. After the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, the United Nations brought together leaders of Afghan ethnic groups in Germany. The Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions (known as the Bonn Agreement (PDF) ( ), signed on 5 December 2001, set out a road map for the restoration of representative government in Afghanistan.

In June 2002 an Emergency Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) established a Transitional Administration to govern until elections could be held. The Loya Jirga marked the first opportunity for decades for the people of Afghanistan to play a decisive role in their future. It concluded with the election of Hamid Karzai as President of the Transitional State of Afghanistan. The Transitional Administration came to an end with the Presidential election of October 2004 (see Politics section).

A new Afghan Constitution (PDF) ( was agreed on 4 January 2004 during the Constitutional Loya Jirga, establishing a presidential system of government with all Afghans equal before the law. It enshrined human rights and gender equality within the Afghan political system, and guaranteed a number of seats for women in both Houses of the National Assembly (Parliament). There are also provisions for minority languages and the rights of the Shia minority.

See also: BBC News Country Timeline: Afghanistan (

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President Karzai was inaugurated on 19 November 2009, at a ceremony in Kabul attended by the UK Foreign Secretary, Pakistani President Asif Zardari, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other Foreign Ministers from the EU, Russia, China, India, UAE, Japan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

In President Karzai’s inauguration speech, he outlined five key areas in which the Government of Afghanistan and international community would work to drive forward progress over the next few years of his term in office. These were; security, governance, reintegration, economic development, and regional engagement.
Following on from President Karzai’s inaugural speech, the UK Prime Minister announced the London Conference to be held in early 2010.

The London Conference was held on 28 January 2010. It was attended by more than 70 countries including all 43* ISAF contributing nations, the Government of Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s six regional neighbours, the UN, the EU and international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The outcome of the Conference was an agreement (Communiqué) between the international community and the Government of Afghanistan, which included: measures to tackle corruption; better co-ordinated development assistance; enhanced sub-national government to improve delivery of services to all Afghans; and increased regional co-operation to combat terrorism, violent extremism and the drugs trade. President Karzai also announced his intention to develop a national Peace and Reintegration Programme, to offer a way back into mainstream society for those who renounced violence and terrorism and who agreed to respect the Afghan Constitution.

In July 2010 a follow up conference was held in Kabul. The ensuing Kabul Communiqué set out the Afghan-led “Kabul Process” which aims to accelerate Afghanistan’s ability to govern itself, to reduce dependence on the international community, to enhance Afghanistan’s security forces and to provide better protection for the rights of all its citizens. Progress on these commitments is monitored by the Joint Coordination Monitoring Board which brings together Afghan Ministries and the international donor community to discuss these issues on a regular basis.

An Afghan-led political process, culminating in an inclusive and sustainable settlement, is needed to underpin the military progress. There are a number of opportunities in 2011 to advance progress on the political process. These include a regional conference in Turkey in November and the Bonn Conference in December. The Bonn Conferencewill focus on the political process, transition and the international community’s long term engagement post 2014.

* Note: there are now 46 ISAF contributing nations - ISAF (

Afghanistan's relations with the UK

The UK is committed to helping Afghanistan achieve stability, security and prosperity, to the benefit of the Afghan people, the United Kingdom and the world community.

The UK restored resident diplomatic ties with Afghanistan when the Interim Administration was inaugurated on 22 December 2001. British diplomatic staff left in February 1989 due to the deteriorating security situation that followed the Soviet withdrawal. The UK restored resident diplomatic ties with Afghanistan when the Interim Administration was inaugurated on 22 December 2001 and reopened the UK mission in Kabul. Today the embassy has over 200 staff representing HMG and working to support Afghanistan on issues such as rule of law and counter narcotics. The UK also leads the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand Province where the UK coordinates development programmes to assist the local population and secure a prosperous Afghanistan.

Recent visits

Bilateral relations between the UK and Afghanistan are strong with frequent high-level visits in each direction.

Recently examples include the visit of Prime Minister David Cameron to Afghanistan in December 2010 and President Karzai’s visit to the UK in March 2011.

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Afghanistan is bordered to the west by Iran, to the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and to the east and south by China and Pakistan.

Its topography is dominated by irregular highlands which increase in height from the west to the east (where peaks over 22,965 feet or 7000 metres are found) and form part of the Hindu Kush. Almost half of the country lies at about 2,000 metres or more above sea level. Afghanistan constitutes a major watershed with the Oxus (Amu-Darya) rising on the north side of the Hindu Kush and flowing into central Asia, whereas on the south side several rivers form tributaries of the Indus. The climate is of an arid steppe type with dry summers and cold winters. Water supplies vary widely within Afghanistan. Although some areas regularly receive heavy snowfalls in winter, there has been widespread drought in recent years.

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Trade and investment with the UK

The long-term future of Afghanistan depends upon the revival of its economy. The UK is committed to assisting that through supporting and increasing trade with, and investment in, Afghanistan.

The main investment opportunities in Afghanistan are in the areas of mineral, infrastructure, agriculture, services and tourism. There are significant mining opportunities in Afghanistan that include a great wealth of rare earth metals and other precious metals which offer opportunities for investment in both exploration as well as related services. Geological work has discovered numerous deposits of iron, copper, gold, uranium and rare earth minerals. The Ministry of Mines is determined to open up other mines to foreign investment alongside major policy and regulatory reforms that will provide a better business-enabling environment.

Drawing on £1m of UK funding, the World Bank has established the Afghanistan Investment Guarantee Facility (AIGF). The AIGF is designed to help bridge the gap between investors’ desires to tap business opportunities in the country and concerns about political risks. The facility, administered by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), will mitigate key risks for foreign investors by providing political risk guarantees (insurance) for their investments. More about AIGF (

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The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is governed by an elected Executive President supported by two Vice Presidents and a Cabinet of Ministers. The work of the Executive is overseen and scrutinised by a bicameral Parliament - the Afghan National Assembly. This is comprised of two chambers. The Lower House, or Wolesi Jirga (House of the People), contains 249 members that are directly elected to represent 35 multi-member constituencies - 34 provincial constituencies and one country-wide constituency for the Kuchi nomad community. 68 seats in the Lower House are reserved exclusively for women. The Upper House, or Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders), consists of 102 Senators. Two thirds of these are indirectly elected by local councils and one third are appointed by the President. Of the Presidential appointees, half have to be women, two must be from the disabled and impaired population and two must be Kuchi nomads.

Presidential Elections

On 9 October 2004, Afghanistan held its first ever Presidential elections. On 3 November 2004, Hamid Karzai was officially confirmed as the winner with 55.4% of the vote (a 70% turnout was recorded). This was a significant milestone in Afghanistan’s history and evolution as a democracy. The joint UN-Afghan election commission officially announced the winner after an independent panel of experts, set-up to investigate alleged voting irregularities, concluded that these had not affected the outcome. On 20 August 2009, President Karzai was re-elected in the first Afghan-run elections for over 30 years. As no Presidential candidate gained more than 50% of the vote in the first round of voting a second round run-off was scheduled between the two leading candidates, Hamid Karzai and Dr Abdullah Abdullah. However, Dr Abdullah withdrew from the contest and on 2 November, the Afghan Independent Election Commission announced the winner to be President Karzai.

Parliamentary and Provincial Elections

On 18 September 2005 the Afghan population took part in the first Parliamentary elections for 36 years. These elections were more complex and a greater logistical challenge than the Presidential elections of 2004. 12.5 million Afghan voters registered, and 2735 candidates stood for election. 51.5% of eligible voters turned out on polling day – 41% of these were women. Parliamentary elections were again held on 18 September 2010. These were held under difficult circumstances and were by no means free of malpractice. However, the Afghan electoral authorities overcame considerable logistical and security challenges to deliver a broadly satisfactory process on Polling Day. The current Afghan Parliament convened for the first time on 26 January.

Details of 2010 Parliamentary Elections can be found in the Global Issues ( section of the website.

Sub-national governance

At the local level, Afghanistan is administered by Provincial Governors advised by elected Provincial Councils. Provincial elections take place every four years, and were held in 2005 (alongside the Parliamentary elections) and in 2009 (alongside the Presidential elections). Each of Afghanistan’s 34 Provincial Councils also elects two of its members to sit in the Upper House of the Afghan Parliament as Senators.

In March 2010 the Afghan Government approved a new Sub-National Governance Policy. This was a key outcome of the London Conference on Afghanistan and demonstrates the commitment of the Afghan Government to delivering services for the Afghan people at the local level. The new policy defines the responsibilities and authority of local administrators, strengthens local governance structures and will improve the delivery of services locally.

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Last Updated: June 2011

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