The Republic of Afghanistan is a land-locked country located in Central Asia and South Asia with a population of approximately 31 million people. It is estimated that 2.7 million Afghan people still live in Pakistan and Iran after emigrating there. The main three language groups are Pashtu, Dari, Turkmen and Uzbek and the four main ethnic groups consist of Pashtuns (42%), Tajik (27%), Uzbeks (9%) and Hazaras (9%). Over 99% of the Afghan population is Muslim. There are approximately 80% Sunnis and 19% Shi’a Muslims and roughly 1% are non-denominational Muslims.*
The Afghan government consists of three branches: The executive, the legislative and the judicial. On September 29, 2014, Ashraf Ghani became the new president. Abdulllah Abdullah, the other presidential contender is now serving as Chief Executive Officer/CEO. The President put together his cabinet in January 2015 but there is resistance to some of the people selected, mainly because they have dual citizenship. With help from the United States and its allies the Taliban government was toppled in 2001. Over the next decade the Afghan troops and ISAF led many offensives against the Taliban but failed to fully defeat them.
The Afghan government was able to build some democratic structures. With help from foreign donors the economy improved. Healthcare, education, transport and agriculture improved as well. The country however still has one of the highest rates in maternal mortality as well as in infant mortality.
After a surge of up to 30,000 US soldiers in 2011 to the country for a two-year many of the US troops were pulled out at the end of 2014. In May 2011, Osama Bin Laden, the alleged master mind behind the 9/11 attacks in the United States, was killed in Pakistan by US Special Forces. Upon being elected the new president, Ashraf Ghani signed the bilateral agreement per request from President Obama. A residual force of about 9,800 people in the country remain as well as several thousands of contractors, mainly to train the Afghan army.
Human Rights: The United Nations recorded a 23 percent rise in civilian casualties during the first six months of 2013. The majority of those at the hands of insurgents. The Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW Law) was passed by presidential decree in 2009 but opponents have seized upon the opportunity of many international forces withdrawing in the past few years to undermine that law. The new president has indicated support for women’s rights. There were a string of physical assaults in 2013 against high-profile women indicating the danger to Afghan women rights defenders and women in public positions.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documented an increase in the number of internally displaced people in the first six months of 2013 and attributed the cause mostly to armed conflict and inadequate security. Allegations of ill-treatment and torture continue to surface and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) stands accused of rape, theft and extortion. The rights to freedom of expression and association of media and political parties, hailed as one of Afghanistan’s clear human rights successes since 2001 are increasingly being challenged again.
*More information available in Amnesty International’s 2014 Human Rights Report.