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Afghanistan is a land-locked and mountainous country, bordered by Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the north and east. It sits at an important geo-strategic location, at the crossroads of Central Asia.
The population of Afghanistan is estimated at 31.1 million (July 2013, CIA World Factbook). Afghanistan is an Islamic country with a diverse population. The 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan recognizes the following ethnicities: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Turkman, Aymaq, Nuristani, Pachai, Qizilbash, Baluch, Arab, and Kirghiz. Afghanistan is also a youthful country, with an estimated median age of 18 years old for both men and women.
Afghanistan has had a turbulent history. Having acted as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires in centuries past, and following a brief period of democracy in the twentieth century, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. This led to other countries, including the United States, becoming involved, and a long and destructive war began.
Even after the Soviets withdrew in 1989, civil war continued. In 1996, a hard-line movement called the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul, and within a couple of years their forces occupied almost all of the country.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. and its coalition allies launched a military campaign in Afghanistan in October 2001, which led to the fall of the Taliban later that year.
A conference sponsored by the United Nations and held in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001 created an interim government and established an agreement among four Afghan groups (excluding the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an Islamist party) to restore stability and build a permanent government. A new constitution was ratified in January 2004, and in October 2004, Afghanistan held its first national democratic presidential election. More than 8 million Afghans voted, more than 40% of whom were women.
Yet the situation in Afghanistan remains fragile. A decade after the international intervention there, the country faces considerable obstacles to stability. 2010 marked the deadliest year on record for Afghans and international forces, with more casualties in the first nine months of the year than in the entirety of 2009. Efforts to guarantee stability continue to be undermined by the Taliban-led insurgency that has access to safe-havens in Pakistan. President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated for his second term in November 2009 following a highly contested election, and the U.S. and others continue to work with the Afghan government and other partners to combat corruption and strengthen state security and governance institutions.
Violent conflict persists in parts of Afghanistan and the U.S. maintains a military presence there, which will continue to draw down with a transition to a lead role by Afghanistan’s own forces by December 2014. Concerns about the international community’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan following the transition to Afghan security lead in 2014 are central to current dialogue and decision-making, as are the impending 2014 national elections.
To stay current on the latest developments in the conflict, visit USIP.org.
The United States Institute of Peace operates an office in Kabul, providing a full-time presence on the ground in that country to assist with planning, implementing, and overseeing all USIP projects there. The staff is comprised of Americans and Afghans who play an indispensable role in providing the latest information from the ground and who support and administer all of USIP’s programs throughout the country.
USIP is actively involved in a number of initiatives in Afghanistan, with a focus on strengthening peaceful reconciliation; building the capacity to mitigate conflict; enhancing the rule of law; improving cooperation for peace, security and economic development; and promoting a better understanding in the U.S. policy community of critical issues related to the country. Examples of our work include training senior advisors from the U.S. Department of Defense who are working with the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior, and training a network of Afghan conflict facilitators to prevent violence and mediate at the local community levels.
USIP is actively involved in a number of initiatives in Afghanistan, with a focus on promoting a secure environment; building the rule of law; strengthening public education and civil society; and promoting a better understanding in the U.S. policy community of critical issues related to the country.
More information about our work in and on Afghanistan
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