Afghanistan: Background & Geography

Introduction Afghanistan
Background:
Afghanistan's recent history is a story of war and civil unrest. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979, but was forced to withdraw 10 years later by anti-Communist mujahidin forces supplied and trained by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others. The Communist regime in Kabul fought on until collapsing in 1992. Fighting subsequently erupted among the various mujahidin factions, giving rise to a state of warlordism that eventually spawned the Taliban. Backed by foreign sponsors, the Taliban developed as a political force and ultimately seized power in 1996. The Taliban were able to capture most of the country, outside of Northern Alliance strongholds primarily in the northeast. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US, Allied, and Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban. In late 2001, major leaders from the Afghan opposition groups and diaspora met in Bonn, Germany, and agreed on a plan for the formulation of a new government structure that resulted in the inauguration of Hamid KARZAI as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) on 22 December 2001. The AIA held a nationwide Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) in June 2002, and KARZAI was elected President by secret ballot of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan (TISA). In December 2002, the TISA marked the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Taliban. The Transitional Authority convened a Constitutional Loya Jirga from 14 December 2003 until 4 January 2004 and ended with the approval of a new constitution. The constitution was signed on 16 January 2004 and highlights a strong executive branch, a moderate role for Islam, and basic protections for human rights. TISA's next task is to hold nationwide elections by June 2004, according to the Bonn Agreement timeline, but these may be delayed due to election preparations. National elections would formally dissolve the Transitional Authority and establish the Government of Afghanistan under the new constitution. In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out remaining terrorists and Taliban elements, the country suffers from enormous poverty, a lack of skilled and educated workers, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines.
Geography Afghanistan
Location:
Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran
Geographic coordinates:
33 00 N, 65 00 E
Map references:
Asia
Area:
total: 647,500 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 647,500 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly smaller than Texas
Land boundaries:
total: 5,529 km
border countries: China 76 km, Iran 936 km, Pakistan 2,430 km, Tajikistan 1,206 km, Turkmenistan 744 km, Uzbekistan 137 km
Coastline:
0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims - as described in UNCLOS 1982 (see Notes and Definitions):
none (landlocked)
Climate:
arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers
Terrain:
mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Amu Darya 258 m
highest point: Nowshak 7,485 m
Natural resources:
natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones
Land use:
arable land: 12.13%
permanent crops: 0.22%
other: 87.65% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land:
23,860 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards:
damaging earthquakes occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding; droughts
Environment - current issues:
limited natural fresh water resources; inadequate supplies of potable water; soil degradation; overgrazing; deforestation (much of the remaining forests are being cut down for fuel and building materials); desertification; air and water pollution
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Marine Dumping
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note:
landlocked; the Hindu Kush mountains that run northeast to southwest divide the northern provinces from the rest of the country; the highest peaks are in the northern Vakhan (Wakhan Corridor)

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