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The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is in both South Asia and Central Asia, and bounded by China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also bordered by Gilgit-Baltistan, which is claimed by India but administered by Pakistan.

Nearly all Afghans adhere to Islam, the majority Sunni Muslim, while about 20% of the population are Shi'a Muslim. The most prominent language is Dari, also known as Afghan Farsi, and Pashto is also used. Literacy rates in Afghanistan are lower than 30%, which includes just over 10% of female Afghans, which may have much to do with the disruption of society from prolonged war, as well as a cultural bias that favors male students.

Afghanistan has been Islamic since the 11th century. Prior to that time, the people of the region were mostly Buddhists and Zoroastrians. Islam was first introduced to the area in the 7th century, and it was mostly Islamic by the 11th century, and soon became one of the centers of the Muslim world. Despite attempts to secularize the region by the British and the Soviet's in the 19th and 20th centuries, the people of the region largely retained their adherence to Islam, although there were Western influences.

In the early 1900s, the British helped to put a new ruler in power who abolished slavery, banned the use of the traditional burqa for women, and established coeducational schools, but these actions angered the religious leaders and he was forced to abdicate in 1929, after which these reforms were abandoned.

The Soviet Union attempted to impose its influence over the region, and Soviet-backed communists took power in a coup in 1978, which quickly led to a prolonged civil war, which then led to a Soviet-Afghan War, in which the United States supported the anti-Soviet fighters. Left without foreign aid after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Afghan government collapsed, and was replaced by the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1992.

The Afghan Civil War continued, as various Afghan factions and neighboring countries fought for control. The Taliban took Kabul in 1994, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, imposing a strict form of Sharia, much like that used in Saudi Arabia.

The Afghan Civil War continued, with the Northern Alliance opposing the Taliban-controlled government, which gained the support of Pakistan. In 1996, al-Qaeda began operating within Afghanistan, as well. Following the September 2001 World Trade Tower attacks, which were blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, the United States became engaged in Afghanistan, initially in support of the Northern Alliance, but later increasing its involvement, helping to bring about another regime change.

The new government became known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as it is now known. The country is no longer said to be involved in a civil war, but the Taliban does hold power in some parts of the country, and has formed a shadow government with reaches throughout Afghanistan. The United Stated involvement in military operations officially ended in 2014, but thousands of NATO troops led by the US have remained in Afghanistan, officially in training and advisory roles.

Western influences in Afghanistan have proven to be minimal because Islam pervades all aspects of life. Islamic traditions and codes, along with tribal and ethnic practices hold more sway over the people of Afghanistan than does its government. Afghan culture is largely based on tribal and family groups, which adhere to traditional customs and religious practices, mostly framed in Islam. This is somewhat less so in urban areas, but Islam is dominant throughout the country.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country. Most of its landscape is divided between tall, jagged mountain peaks, some of which are snow covered most of the year, and its dry deserts. A large portion of its population inhabit the fertile valleys between the mountains, growing crops and raising animals. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are very cold, particularly in the northeastern part of the country, near Pakistan and Tajikistan. There are several rivers in the mountain gorges, which drain snowmelt and rainwater into a low area that never reaches the ocean. Mountain passes are used to transport goods and people across Asia, and are part of the ancient Silk Road, which has been used for more than 2,000 years.

Afghanistan's economy is largely based on agriculture, exporting fruits and nuts. It is also known as the largest exporter of opium in the world, which may account for more than 10% of its total GNP. The country is rich in mineral deposits that have not yet been efficiently exploited, and which may eventually become the backbone of Afghanistan's economy.

Since the end of the Afghan Civil War, millions of Afghan expatriates have returned, many of whom are making investments in the country.


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