The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan


Fast Facts

  • Total Population in 2015: 32,564,342
    • Total Area: 652,230 sq km (41st largest country in the world)
      • about 4x larger than Bangladesh
    • Population Density: 48 (Ranked 156th in the world)
  • Nationality: Afghan
  • Afghanistan is predominately Sunni Muslims (85-90%) with a small Shi'a population (10-15%)
  • Official Languages: Dari or Afghan Persian (spoken by 50%), and Pashto (spoken by 35%)
  • President: Mohammad Ashraf Ghani since 2014
  • Day of Independence: August 19, 1919
  • GDP per capita: 700 USD
  • People living below the poverty line: 35.8%
  • Life expectancy at birth: 52 years (Males), 50 years (women) 
  • As of 2014, only 6% of Afghans are using the internet

Age Structure

  • 0-14 years: 41.47% 
  • 15-24 years: 22.41% 
  • 25-54 years: 29.69% 
  • 55-64 years: 3.88%
  • 65 years and over: 2.55% 

History and Geography

Afghanistan is a landlocked country bordered by Iran, Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It has a mostly arid climate but a very mountainous terrain as the Hindu Kush mountain range runs through the majority of the country. Due to its strategic location linking Central Asia with Eastern Europe, the country has expereince a tumultuous history plagued with cronic violence and instability.  

Afghanistan's main nationalities are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek, but Afghanistan's 2004 Constitution recognizes 14 ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, and Pasha.Inter-ethnic conflict has not plagued the country as much as many others in the region, such as Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Conlfict and instablity have been more centered in relgious and political domains. 

Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces. The five major cities are the capital Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad

A chronology of key events:

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1838-42 - British forces invade, install King Shah Shujah. He is assassinated in 1842. British and Indian troops are massacred during retreat from Kabul.

1878-80 - Second Anglo-Afghan War. A treaty gives Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

1919 - Emir Amanullah Khan declares independence from British influence.

1926-29 - Amanullah tries to introduce social reforms, which however stir civil unrest. He flees.

1933 - Zahir Shah becomes king and Afghanistan remains a monarchy for next four decades.

1953 - General Mohammed Daud becomes prime minister. Turns to Soviet Union for economic and military assistance. Introduces social reforms, such as abolition of purdah (practice of secluding women from public view).

1963 - Mohammed Daud forced to resign as prime minister.

1964 - Constitutional monarchy introduced - but leads to political polarisation and power struggles.

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1973 - Mohammed Daud seizes power in a coup and declares a republic. Tries to play off USSR against Western powers.

1978 - General Daud is overthrown and killed in a pro-Soviet coup. The People's Democratic Party comes to power but is paralysed by violent infighting and faces opposition by US-backed mujahideen groups.

1979 - Soviet Army invades and props up communist government. More than a million people die in the ensuing war.

1989 - Last Soviet troops leave. US- and Pakistan-backed mujahideen push to overthrow Soviet-installed Afghan ruler Najibullah triggers devastating civil war.

1996 - Taliban seize control of Kabul and impose hard-line version of Islam.

2001 - US intervenes militarily following September 11 attacks on the United States. Taliban are ousted from Kabul and Hamid Karzai becomes head of an interim power-sharing government.

2002 - NATO assumes responsibility for maintaining security in Afghanistan.

2004 - Loya Jirga adopts new constitution which provides for strong presidency. Hamid Karzai is elected president.

2014 - Ashraf Ghani elected president. NATO formally ends its combat mission in Afghanistan, handing over to Afghan forces, who face a growing insurgency.

Current Events

Most reported current events in Afghanistan concern the recent  withdrawal of NATO troops and the non-withdrawal of American forces . On October 16, 2015, President Obama announced that he was leaving 5,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan because the "security situation is deteriorating." This was sparked by the Taliban's capture of Kunduz , an until-recent American held major city in Afghanistan. An example of the fallout was U.S. bombing of the a trauma hospital  in the region. 

On Monday, October 26, 2015, a 7.5 earthquake occurred in northern Afghanistan, centered in the mountainous Hindu Kush region. The current death count is over three-hundred. 

Afghanistan's National Cricket Team won for the second time again Zimbabwe Chairman's XI. As a result, the team is trying to keep their coach, a former Pakistan cricket team captain

In education news, more than 1500 people took an exam in the hopes of being appointed a teaching position in the Sar-i-Pul province. The exam took place on Thursday and the results are expected to be released in four days. Thirteen hundred of the 1500 will be receive positions. Also, Dr. Sakina Taqoobi, known as Afghanistan's Mother of Education , received the World Innovation Summit for Education prize for her work in rebuilding Afghanistan's education landscape over the past twenty years. She has risked her life establishing refugee camps and secret night schools in order to bring education to millions of girls and women. The prize was awarded by  the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development. 

Currently, there are protesters in Kabul demanding the government respond to the beheading of seven people, including women and children. The victims were Hazaras, an ethnic minority who are Shia Muslims. Officials in Afghanistan say the perpetrators are loyal to ISIS. The protesters, who are mostly women, are demanding security and justice for those slain. 

Afghan women stands up to the Taliban to start a local girls boarding school.   

The Light of Afghanistan by Monika Bulaj

Monika Bulaj The hidden light of Afghanistan

Monika Bulaj The hidden light of Afghanistan


Free and compulsory education has existed in Afghanistan since 1935.  Article 43 of the Afghan Constitution guarantees the right to education for all children from grade one through to university bachelor degree level without discrimination in terms of gender, ethnicity, geographic location and/or marital status. Due to political instability the education system has encountered many changes over the countries histories. "With each change in government in Afghanistan, schools seems to close for at least half a year while the formal curriculum was discussed or a new set of textbooks and code of dress of conduct was introduced" (Dicum, 2008). The modern government has taken great strides to make education a top priority, but many bottlenecks occur in implementation.

Currently education follows a 6+3+3 system. There are three types of schools in Afghanistan, government schools, community-based NGO schools and Islamic schools (Dar-ul-Ulums). The Ministry of Education controls all three and provides guidelines for each on curriculum and infrastructure. 

As of 2015, the major inequities in the Afghan education system include gender, geographic location, and language.

IMG 0704

Islam and its Role in Curriculum 

The Afghanistan Ministry of Education (MoE) presents the following vision for the education sector:

"The Ministry of Education’s vision is to develop human capital based on Islamic principles, national and international commitments and respect for human rights by providing equitable access to quality education for all in order to enable them to actively participate in sustainable development, economic growth, stability and security of Afghanistan."

With an overall curriculum goal,

"To provide quality modern textbooks and learning materials according to the new curriculum, based on Islamic principles and national values, in light of modern educational standards and the present and future needs of the society."

Currently the curriculum for government primary, intermediate and upper secondary schools follows a study plan that includes the following subjects.

  • Islamic studies
  • Languages
  • Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Social Studies
  • Life Skills
  • Arts
  • Physical Education

Some form of Islamic Studies is part of every grade in both primary and secondary school in the government schools. It is usually comprised of one or 2 classes focusing on Islamic studies in Primary School. Intermediate and Upper Secondary school is divided into both general studies (90%) and Islamic studies (10%).

Gender and Education 

Afghanistan has the highest level of gender disparity in primary education in the world, with only 71 girls in primary school for every 100 boys.Only 21% of girls complete primary education, with cultural barriers, such as early marriages, and a lack of female teachers being two of the main obstacles. There are also major differences in enrollment between rural and urban areas.  The Afghan Ministry of Education estimates that there are presently 8.35 million students (39% of which are girls) in primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary government schools, including Islamic schooling, out of a school-aged population of 10.33 million. However, 3.3 million children, the majority of which are girls, are still out of school. The share of the population that is 25 years or older and has completed any level of formal education is less than 7% for men and 3% for women. (Brookings )

The gender parity index (GPI) in primary, secondary and tertiary education was 0.74, 0.53 and 0.42. For girls, cultural barriers are dominant among the reasons for not attending school. Specific barriers to girls’ education include shortage of female teachers, especially in higher grades, cultural beliefs about girls’ education, lack of necessary facilities in schools such as toilets, drinking water, and surrounding walls, and early marriages (child marriage) (UNESCO )

South Korea has funded the first Master's program in gender and women's studies in Afghanistan at the University of Kabul. Twenty-eight students are enrolled in the two-year program (18 female, 10 male). 

Girls' School in Afghanistan's Sangbast Village

A new school brings Afghan girls steps closer to a better future-0

A new school brings Afghan girls steps closer to a better future-0

Afghanistan Diaspora and Refugees

Afghans in America

Afghans in America

Since 1981, Afghans ahve been the world's single leargest refugee population each year, accounting or at least a quarter of all refugees. Pakistan and Iran together host some 2.5 million Afghan registered refugees, with equivalent numbers of unregistered refugees also expected to be present in both host countries. In addition, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 settled in the United States, at least 150,000 in the United Arab Emirates, perhaps 125,000 in Germany, and smaller numbers in Canada, Australia and across Europe. While many of those in the UAE are temporary labour migrants, the majority elsewhere are settled permanently and often educated and skilled. It is estimated that there are about 10,000 Afghan refugees in India, mostly settled in Delhi, including many Hindus and Sikhs[1]

The Afghan-American population in the US numbers close to 300,000 (Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington, D.C.), with its greatest concentrations in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, and Northern Virginia[2]

There are two sub-populations of Afghan Diaspora:

  • Those living in affluent countries, i.e.EU (250,000), USA (100,000), Canada (45000),Australia (30,000), UAE and Gulf countries (100,000).
  • Those living in proximal states, i.e. Pakistan (2.5 million), Iran (1 million), Central Asia and Russia (150,000-300,000) and the rest of the World (150,000-200,000)[3]

largest pop of refugees before Syria

Diaspora Communities Around the World


“I came here because I thought that Afghanistan and Germany are friendly nations. Intimate friends, for already 200 years. We share the same blood, as Aryans I originate from Zazai, a village in Pakhtia. There is a blood bond between the Germans and us: we are Aryub. And my father was a car dealer. He had been to Germany several times and told us many good things about the country. I would have a good future over there.”

A main reason why Germany became a favored destination for Afghans on the run was the historical relationship between the two nations, dating back to the 1920’s. Until the Soviet invasion, Germany played a considerable role in Afghanistan’s modernization processes. In Kabul in 1924, the Amani secondary school opened its doors. Education took place in German and teachers from Germany were employed. A number of graduates were able to continue their studies in Germany. German experts were active in the fields of road building, water supply, electricity, construction, telecommunication and radio[4]

Fremont, California, United States of America

Mass Afghani immigration to the Untied States started after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and has continued becasue of inter-tribal wars in Afghanistan, invasion of the Taliban, and the war with the United States. In Fremont, the Afghani American population numbers around 65,000 people. Fremont was chosen because of the "relativey cheap" housing market, the weather, and California's "generaous welfare benefits."  

The majority of Afghan refugees who first came to the United States between 1989-1993 were highly educated; they had held senior government posts and professional jobs in Kabul. When they first came over, although they were education, they could not speak English and were not able to get comparable jobs in America. Instead of taking jobs that they deemed "degrading" or "unsuitable" they kept their families on welfare. The second wave from the late '90s until now are of people from rural area with little or no education. Most are classified as "women at risk." 

Struggle Between Tradition and Modernity

Afghan-Americans are described as being secretive and distrusting of the authorities. Domestic abuse is an issue in the community, but it is usually dealt with within the community. They prefer to deal with any issue internally, and do not tolerate it being brought to the attention of non-Afghans. One of the adjusting moments for Afghan Americans was learning that what they consider oridinary discipline can be a crime in America. One instance of this was beating up and harassing non-Afghans who tried to date Afghan women. 

A point of conflict between the refugee generation and their children is gender roles and the role of the woman. Modesty and honor are equated with "being Afghan" and "being Muslim." They seem to prefer to stick to tradition when it comes to marraige and marry someone who is Afghan American. There is also resentment from first-generation women, who think that the second generation women who are taking on "traditional roles" are doing so at the expense of the gains that first generation women made. These gains were a results of educated husbands refusing to jobs beneath them, so the wives went to work. 


Sources describe the community as "suspicious" and "secretive." Afghanistan refugees distrust the police after their experiences in country. The community has been monitored by the FBI and the Sheriff for signs of radicalization. Mohammad Qayoumi, president of Cal-State Easy Bay, divides the second generation of Afghan American community into three groups, usually defined by language. There is a group that do well in the Afghan and American world; a group that speaks English well but only a little of their parents' language; and the group that only speaks half of their parents' laugage but do not fit in to American society. 

Internationally Displaced People

By mid-2014, 683,000 people were displaced by conflict affecting 30 of thr 34 Afghan privinces. Most Afghan IPDs live in an urban area. 

Diaspora and What They Mean for Afghanistan Today


Refugees returning ‘home’ are seen by the international community as the ultimate proof of peace and return to ‘normalcy’. Somewhat paradoxically, however, they are also seen as agents of change who can contribute to development and peace building[5]

Voluntary Repatriation is becoming more popular among first generation Afghan diaspora.

  • Many voluntary returnees are driven by ambition and choose to return to Afghanistan despite the expected post-2014 turbulence. They return with optimism and energy, and many see the knowledge, skills and attitudes gained in Europe or elsewhere as assets that they can offer to Afghanistan. However, they find that their ‘foreign’ ideas are often viewed with suspicion and many soon become discouraged and disillusioned
  • Some, while they have the permanent right to stay, may re-emigrate, move or stay, leaving Afghanistan with little educated assistance to help reform the country unless more diaspora repatriate and change the status-qua

Involuntary repatriation is becoming a large issue within many European Union countries as refugees keep flooding in.

  • involuntary returnees, who retain no legal status in the host country, tend to be of more modest background and have often spent all their savings or become indebted to finance their migration, and they return further impoverished, frustrated and disappointed rather than enriched by their migration experience
  • Having lived but never really participated in their former host country, they have picked up few new skills or ideas and tend rather to be conservative/traditional as a strategy to negotiate belonging in Afghan society

Diaspora and Their Relationship to Islam, Islamism and Islamic Education

As can be seen from above Afghanistan has a large and diverse diaspora. Behaviour of the diaspora is determined by a range of goals and motivations, which are defined by their earlier position in the country and their present position in the host country (Vertovec, 2005). The diversity of Afghan society is reflected in the Afghan diaspora, which is also not homogeneous and is often divided on ethnic, tribal, and sectarian lines.

Islamism and Islamists

Pakistan has suffered the most from Afghan refugee and diaspora islamization. Due to the porous borders and the fact that Pakistan was the largest receiving country of all three waves of Afghan refugees, the ties that bind the two countries are strong and intangible. This is also due to the fact that the Afghans living in Pakistan are less educated, lower middle class shopkeepers, bazaar craftsmen, small farmers, village artisans and some civil servants

Islamic extremism follows Afghan diaspora wherever they go. Micro-pockets of diaspora have helped Spanish Muslim extremists in the Basque region receive training in Afghanistan. In the United States, mujahideen have created radical Wahhabi mosques with financing from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Islamic Education

Mosques are very important to Afghan diaspora around the globe. They provide a sense of community as many Afghan diaspora do not fully assimilate, with many holding one to their traditional practices tighter than they would in Afghanistan. But, especially in American, Afghan-Americans have received a bad reputation for domestic abuse, and radical islamic education. During the 1980s and 90s the CIA brought some mujahideen to the United States, as they were allies at the time. thousands of Afghan mujahideen and jihadists carried to the US the skills, training, and knowledge contextualized by radicalized Islamic education from the XhomelandY that included a prominent place for Saudi-inspired Wahabism acquired in Pakistani madrassas and rudimentary terrorist training obtained in US-sponsored mujahideen camps. In the US, those transnational Islamist orientations were maintained and fed into a reverse migration of hundreds of young Afghan-American men connected to international mosque-based networks traveling to receive further training and experience in places like Kashmir and Chechnya in addition to practicing their trade in Afghanistan.

But mainly, Afghan-Americans receive basic supplementary Islamic education from their local mosques on weekends or after school


Afghan diaspora identify first and foremost as Afghan, then as Muslim, then as diaspora. 

It is interesting that even though the Afghan diaspora is so large, many choose repatriation over assimilation. Even first generation diaspora like Tabasum Akseer want to return to Afghanistan and frequently visit with his parents. "Although I have lived most of my life in Canada, Afghanistan is my family’s homeland and, along with other Canadians, we are committed to supporting its restoration." This is quite different than countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Even highly educated professionals in Europe, the US and Canada, send both monetary and technical skills back to Afghanistan. 


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