Afghanistan is a member of World Trade Organization, SAARC, ECO, OIC, and has an observer status in the SCO. It seeks to complete the so-called New Silk Road trade project, which is aimed to connecting South Asia with Central Asia and the Middle East. This way Afghanistan will be able to collect large fees from trade passing through the country, including from the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline.
As part of an attempt to modernize its cities and boost the economy, a number of new high-rise buildings are under construction by various developers. Some of the national development projects include the $35 bn New Kabul City next to the capital, the Aino Mena in Kandahar, and the Ghazi Amanullah Khan City east of Jalalabad. Similar development projects are also found in Herat in the west, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north and in other cities.
Travel and tourism
Tourism in Afghanistan was at its glorious best in the 1970s. Over 90,000 tourists visited Afghanistan from all over the world to see the unique beauty of the country and experience the treat of one of the most hospitable group of people. Today, despite decades of war, Kabul remains a fascinating city that embraces both the old and the new. With the ever-increasing presence of the international community and the ongoing redevelopment projects, Kabul has been given a touch of modern architecture that gives the city hope of a peaceful and prosperous future.
Afghanistan has a history of more than six thousand years, with many historical sights and attractions, among these are the more than two thousand year old famous Buddha Statues, the tomb of Hazrate Ali (the son in law of Prophet Mohammed p.b.u.h and the fourth caliph of Islam) in Mazar-e Sharif, the beautiful city of Balkh (also known as the Mother City of all Cities), the lakes of Band-e Amir, the deep lapis lazuli blue of the waters are a shocking contrast to the plain colours of the surrounding mountains.
Afghanistan has also been of great strategic importance for invading armies, from Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great. All these armies have left astonishing trails behind, trails that have been forgotten due to decades of war but are yet to be discovered. The Government is working to rebuild the war-torn infrastructure of Afghanistan, a major project to develop transport links and a nationwide telecommunication link between Kabul and the other provinces has being established.
Furthermore, to assist the Tourism Industry of Afghanistan, the Government strongly encourages and offers its full support to the private sector to invest into the Tourism Industry. With ever increasing global tourism, the Afghan Tourist Industry has tremendous potential to become profitable. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan is willing to support any attempt that will further develop the tourism industry of Afghanistan.
History of Afghanistan (from ancient to contemporary)
Afghanistan is located in the heart of Eurasia, and is populated by a variety of ethnic groups, including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmens, some smaller ethnic nationalities, and nomads known as “Kuchis”. Since time immemorial this country has been situated on the crossroad of cultures, between China and the Middle East, and between South Asia and Europe. When Alexander the Great entered the ancient country of Ariana – as the region in which modern Afghanistan lies was then called – he found well established cities such as Herat and Kandahar, before founding some of his own, such as that of Ai Khanoum on the Oxus (Amu Darya river).
The provinces now composing Afghanistan were important satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire. After the death of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid Empire – one of the successor states of the sprawling Macedonian empire – was centred on the city of Balkh, and Afghanistan became a political power in its own right. Since then, the city of Balkh, near modern Mazar-e Sharif, is known as “the mother of cities” (Umm al Bilad) since it has remained an important centre of learning and culture through different historical epochs. For example, the first poets of Islam, Rabi’a Balkhi, lived here, and the philosopher poet Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi was born near Balkh, as was Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna), one of the greatest scientists of his time.
Since Afghanistan’s economy is primarily agrarian, the country’s socio-economic activities are still centred around rural life. Although, Afghan agriculture has been improved with modern technology, no one can travel around the country without acquiring a feeling that the land and the people who work it are still in perfect harmony.
During the past fifty years, an ever-increasing number of archaeological expeditions have come to Afghanistan. As a result, the country’s heritage has become ever richer and more varied, and new discoveries are being made each year. Many of these artifacts are displayed at the Kabul Museum. As late as 1957 the world knew nothing of the existence of the Minaret of Jam - standing at the very heart of the remote province of Ghor, it is the second tallest minaret in the world.
In the 2nd century BC, the largely Zoroastrian country of Afghanistan was penetrated by a new religion, or life philosophy: Buddhism. When the ancient Indo-Aryan Hindu gods re-established their prominence in India, Afghanistan, with its famous monastic sites of Hadda (near Jalalabad), Bamiyan and others became centres of Buddhism. The world’s largest statues depicting the Buddha were hewn in the cliff of Bamiyan, from where pilgrims spread Buddhism to China, Japan and the rest of East Asia, centuries later. In the National Museum of Kabul, as well as in foreign museum collections, the magnificent art of this period, which marries Hellenic, Sassanian, Indian and nomadic Turkic styles, shows how accomplished this syncretism was. The mysterious Kushan empire reigned during this period of Afghan history (1st to 6th centuries B.C.) from its seat near Kabul.
Path to Islam:
In the 7th and 8th centuries Afghans converted to Islam, which gave rise to a new series of great dynasties: the Ghaznavids (11th to12th centuries) and the Ghorids (12th to 13th centuries) conquered vast expanses of territories stretching all the way to Delhi. At the courts of these rulers’ writers, scientists and craftsmen from all regions of Asia worked. In Ghazni, the poet Firdawsi accomplished his epic “Shahnameh” (Book of Kings), which, since then, has become the fundamental text of Persian-language culture. In the long-lost capital of the Ghorids – Firuzkoh, the “Turquoise Mountain” – the Minaret of Jam was built. It is still the highest minaret in Central Asia.
After the Mongols destroyed most of the country, the Timurids, descendants of Amir Timur (also known as Tamerlane) ruled the country (15th century) and left behind them impressive monuments such as the Great Mosque of Herat (Masjed-e Jame’ah) and the tomb of Gawhar Shad, one of the most famous Queens of Islam. Herat, then a centre of Islamic culture, became known for its poets, such as Jami, and its fine miniatures (school of Behzad).
One of the late descendants of Amir Timur, Prince Babur, fled the Uzbek invasion of Central Asia and founded his kingdom in his beloved Kabul (where his tomb still lies, in the Babur Gardens) before his descendants went on to create the great Mughal Empire in India, of which Afghanistan long remained a part. However, in this period, as the European seafarers opened the sea-route to the East, the old caravan roads became less frequented, and the geo-strategic importance of Afghanistan declined.
The formation of modern Afghanistan:
In 1747 Ahmad Shah Durrani established the country of Afghanistan in Kandahar, to guarantee the independence of Afghanistan by acclaiming sovereignty from the neighbouring powers. Since then, Afghanistan has managed to remain an independent nation. However, this became particularly difficult in the 19th century, when the European powers of England and Russia both tried to occupy this strategic territory in what became known as “the Great Game”. Afghanistan fought for its sovereignty in three Anglo-Afghan wars (1839-43, 1878-1880 and 1919) while also fending off Russian and Iranian intrigues.
The modern state of Afghanistan was created by King Abdurrahman Khan (1880-1901), who established the administrative structures which still exist today. His state-building efforts were continued by his descendants Amir Habibullah and King Amanullah, who went to considerable lengths to modernize the Afghan society and its political institutions. For example, the latter established the Prime Minister’s office, and created, among other ministries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1922 (led by Mohammed Darwazi Badakhshani), who immediately embarked on a world tour, to see their progress.
King Amanullah himself also travelled widely through Europe and Asia, thus putting Afghanistan on the world map in the same period as when the League of Nations, for the first time in world history, brought together all independent countries of the world. King Amanullah’s efforts to modernize the Afghan society created a backlash, however, leading to his overthrow and the short reign of Habibullah Kalakani, known as King Habibullah (who reigned from February 1929 to November 1929). He, in turn, was overthrown by Nader Shah, father of the last king (and current Father of the Nation) Zaher Shah, who ascended the throne in 1933. A long period of peace followed, in which Afghanistan stayed on its course of neutrality (during World War II). During the Cold War, Afghanistan was member of the group of non-aligned nations, and received support for its development from both the Soviet Union and the United States of America.
Establishment of the republic:
In 1973, Prime Minister Daud deposed of the King, proclaimed the republic of Afghanistan and became President of the new republic. Political parties of both communist and religious convictions became more active in this period, leading to a coup of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) led by Nur Mohammed Taraki – from the Khalqi faction of the PDPA – in 1978. The situation then quickly deteriorated: the Islamist parties inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood revolted against the communist regime, while from within the PDPA a new coup brought Hafizullah Amin – from the Parchami faction – to power, in the same year (1978). The destabilization and incipient civil war culminated in the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979 – which only worsened civil strife. The Soviets put Babrak Karmal in power (1980-1986) and brought approximately 100,000 troops to the country, to combat the growing resistance.
In 1986, after approximately 1.5 million martyrs and casualties and the exodus of 5 million Afghan refugees abroad, the Soviets were forced to retreat. Their gradual withdrawal was completed in 1989, shortly before the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Meanwhile, Mohammed Najibullah had replaced Babrak Karmal as president, and embarked on a politics of national reconciliation to end the civil war. These attempts failed, and in 1992 his regime was overthrown by the victorious mujahedeen.
End of the communist era:
Despite efforts to form a government of national unity comprising the major Islamist parties – who together elected Burhanuddin Rabbani as their first president – the parties quickly turned to violent disagreement, and the inter-factions war soon resumed, leading to greater destruction of the country and its capital Kabul. As a result, in 1996, the Taliban, a product of the active and sustained support of Pakistan and some other regional and international entities, captured Kabul and established a new regime (the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) which imposed heavy restrictions on Afghans’ human rights, in particular those of women.
The institutions of the Afghan state, already seriously weakened by the long civil war, were further side-lined as power was removed from the ministries in Kabul, and placed with the circle of entrusted people surrounding Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, in Kandahar. The Taliban never conquered all of Afghanistan, and the ongoing civil war, compounded by international isolation and a terrible drought, brought the Afghan people to the brink of starvation. Meanwhile, the Taliban, who also enjoyed significant support from Pakistan, harboured increasing numbers of international terrorists from countries all around the globe through the networks of Al Qaeda. Among other crimes against Afghan humanity and culture, the Taliban also destroyed the famous Buddha statues of Bamiyan in March 2001, drawing international opprobrium.
Beginning of a new era:
After Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the international community, led by the United States, intervened to put an end to the rogue regime in Afghanistan. The United Nation’s Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force to overthrow the Taliban. On October 7 the USA, having exhausted diplomatic means, started bombing the Taliban and supporting the resistance of the United Front (also known as the Northern Alliance) who provided the ground forces. Despite the assassination by Al Qaeda on September 9 of Commander Ahmad Shah Massud, the Front’s famous military strategist, the northern forces captured Kabul on 14 November 2001.
During the Bonn conference (December 2001) an agreement was reached to establish an interim administration led by Hamid Karzai and to station an international peace-keeping force – ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force – in Kabul. In June 2002 an Emergency “Loya Jirga” (the traditional tribal Afghan conflict-solving mechanism) was convened in Kabul to nominate a transitional government. It elected Karzai as its President.
In accordance with the road map laid out in Bonn, implemented with the support of UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan), a Constitutional Loya Jirga approved a new constitution for the country in January 2004. It established the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” and restored the guarantee of human rights and adherence to democracy in the country’s founding principles. This was followed by the country’s first nationwide presidential elections in October 2004, wherein President Karzai won with an absolute majority. Parliamentary elections were held in September 2005, which led to the establishment of Afghanistan’s first democratically elected National Assembly with full legislative powers.