Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in central Asia bordering Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran and China. Throughout history Afghanistan has seen numerous military campaigns most notably by the Mongols, Muslim Arabs, British and the Soviet Union due to its key location on the Silk Road, connecting it to the Middle East and other parts of Asia.
Afghanistan is divided by the Hindu Kush Mountains running across the country making up the central highlands; these mountains also form part of the Himalayas. The country has a largely arid climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters with high levels of snowfall particularly in the central highlands. Some Areas in the East of the country bordering Pakistan are affected by the Indian monsoon which brings moist, maritime, tropical air in the summer.
The current population of Afghanistan is estimated at approximately 32 million people, with many who had fled the troubles now starting to return. At one point the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan alone reached 3.2 million.
The capital city Kabul is the largest in Afghanistan with a population of over three and a half million people. Situated 5,800 feet above sea level on a barren plateau surrounded by rugged, treeless mountains, Kabul guards the entrance to the Khyber Pass, the traditional route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The city lies in the eastern part of the country, 140 miles from the Pakistan border.
Located in the city are multiple five star hotels which include the Marriot and the Serena Hotel. Kabul also has shopping centres such as the Roshan Shopping Center, Park Mall and Majeed Mall as well as numerous museums, a golf club and the zoo that once housed the famous lion Marjan.
The Hamid Karzai international airport is located sixteen miles from the centre of Kabul and serves as the country’s main airport. A new international terminal, built by the government of Japan, opened in 2008. Other major airports in Afghanistan can be found in Kandahar and Mazar-i-sharif.
There are two main languages spoken in Afghanistan, Dari and Pashtu. Pashtu is the native language of the Pashtuns who are the principal ethnic group in Afghanistan and can account for approximately 40% of all language spoken. Dari is, however, the more common of the two with up to 49% speaking it as a first language and 37% having the ability to speak it as a second language.
As well as the two main recognised languages there are multiple other languages spoken by minority groups throughout the country; these include Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi and Pashayi, each spoken by natives of a particular region. It is not uncommon for an Afghan to speak one or more of these languages due the diversity in the country.
Despite the huge variation in language and cultures in Afghanistan the majority of the people lead similar lives; almost all Afghans follow Islamic traditions, eat similar food and celebrate the same holidays.
Art plays a large part in Afghan culture, with the oldest oil painting in the world, dating back to the seventh century, being discovered following the destruction by the Taliban of two Buddha statues in 2001 in the Bamiyan region. In the past, art was created almost entirely by men but recently this has been relaxed and has seen more women enrolling in arts programs in Kabul University.
Afghanistan is also famous for making carpets and has been prominent in this industry for centuries. A traditional Afghan rug will have certain prints inspired by the diversity and culture of a particular area, making the rug unique to that part of Afghanistan. Notable for their high level of craftsmanship and the amount of skill required during manufacture, Afghan rugs are seen as some of the best in the world.
The most popular sport in Afghanistan is Buzkahzi, where opposing teams on horseback attempt to place a goat carcass into the opponents goal. The literal meaning of Buzkahzi in Persian is ‘goat grabbing’. This is most often played on Fridays whilst most places of work are closed.
In more recent years football and cricket have become increasingly popular. Cricket has really taken off since 2002 when refugees fleeing the war returned from Pakistan, where cricket is very popular, and introduced it to the country. With over 320 cricket clubs nationwide, the popularity of the sport looks set to continue to grow.