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Afghanistan: A Crossroads - 2001-10-09


Afghanistan is one of the world's least developed countries. It has been the hiding place of suspected terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden.

About 27 million people live in the South Asian country. They come from as many as 20 different ethnic groups. The two largest groups are the Pashtun and Tajik, who make up more than 60 percent of the population.

Most Pashtuns live in the southeastern part of the country. Tajiks are mainly in central and northeastern Afghanistan. The two groups speak the two official languages of the country, Pashtu and Dari.

Ninety-nine percent of Afghans are Muslim. Islam came to Afghanistan when Arab armies invaded more than 1,300 hundred years ago. Mongols, Persians and Indians invaded Afghanistan at different times over the next several hundred years.

In the middle 1700s, Afghan tribes united. They ruled until the British invaded in 1839. A series of wars between Britain and Afghans followed. Afghanistan won complete independence in 1919 and created a constitution.

The former Soviet Union began occupying Afghanistan in 1979. Afghans considered the Communist ideas opposed to Islam. They started a jihad, a holy struggle or holy war, against the Soviet Union. The United States and several other countries helped train and finance Afghan fighters, called Mujahedin. The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

The communist government fell in 1992. In that year, the Mujahedin groups seized power. Ethnic Tajik Burhanuddin Rabbani became the new president. A period of lawlessness and disorder followed in Afghanistan until 1996. At that time, a group of mostly Pashtun fighters, known as the Taleban, seized power.

Taleban, a word meaning students. Some Taleban members were trained in Islamic religious schools in Pakistan. The Taleban now controls about 90 percent of Afghanistan. It rules by an extreme version of Sharia, or Islamic law. It banned music, television and the internet. Taleban officials also order strong punishments for crimes, including public executions and the cutting off of body parts.

The Taleban greatly restricts women in Afghanistan. Women are barred from working outside the home. They also must completely cover themselves from the top of their head to their feet. Afghan girls are not permitted education.

Pakistan now is the only government in the world that recognizes the Taleban. President Rabbani continues to hold Afghanistan's seat at the United Nations.

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