By Sidhanta Mehra

November, 2015

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With a population of 31.6 million, Afghanistan is 41 in population rankings in the world. It was founded when the Pashtun tribes of the region were unified under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747. Since then, it has gone through a tumultuous time, a brief stint with democracy, followed by a coup in 1973, and also a counter-coup in 1978. Afghanistan also became the home base for the Taliban, that were ousted by US-led invasion in 2001 and since then Afghanistan has experienced a more stable period. A new constitution was adopted in 2004, and a new president, Mr. Ashraf Ghani was elected in 2014 in the third presidential poll since the fall of Taliban.


Afghanistan is 99.7% Muslim with mostly Sunni (84.7-89.7%) and 10-15% Shia. A detailed report on the state of issues related to religion in Afghanistan was published by the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.


Jamhuri-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan, as it is called locally, is divided into 34 administrative divisions/provinces and is identified as an Islamic Republic. Almost 84 political parties are allowed to compete in Afghanistan, as reported by the CIA as of 2012. For a more nuanced understanding of political parties and participation in Afghanistan, read USIP special report in March 2015, Political Parties in Afghanistan.

The current President of Afghanistan is Mr. Ashraf Ghani and the CEO is Mr. Abdullah Abdullah.


The Afghan National Security Forces include the Afghan National Army, Afghan Air Force, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Local Police. Center for Security Governance reported on the National Security Force of Afghanistan beyond 2014 on whether they will be ready. The Afghan National Security Force is also advised and assisted by NATO Forces and how they do that while NATO officially have withdrawn as the primary security force.


As of 2014, the reported GDP of Afghanistan is US$ 20.4 million and is classified as a low-income level country. The Asian Development Bank had positive projections for the economic growth of Afghanistan due to the increased stability. Another significant change might be the relationship between the current government and the Taliban. This is important because the country experienced a dip in growth from 3.7% in 2013 to 1.3% in 2014.

Foreign Relations

Afghanistan is going through a period of significant change. At the moment, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan “is determined to become a member of the family of pluralistic democracies; and a bridge between the Islamic World and the West, by pursuing a multilateral , cooperative and confident

Foreign Policy.” Afghanistan is also part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Most recently in terms of their relationship with the United States they “signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America, a 10-year strategic partnership agreement (SPA) that reflects a shared commitment to combating terrorism and to promoting peace, democratic values and economic opportunity in Afghanistan and the region.” This was signed in 2012.

Recommended Readings, Audio and Videos

INI9 - Afghanistan after the US Drawout- Takshashila advisor Anand Arni and Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande discuss the situation in Afghanistan after the US drawout. Video is available here.

Byrd, William A., and United States Institute of Peace. Lessons from Afghanistan's History for the Current Transition and beyond. Special Report (United States Institute of Peace) ; 314. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2012.

As we continue to update this country profile, follow current news on Afghanistan and South Asia.