Year of Independence
Global Peace Index Rank
160 of 162
Population Without Access to Clean Water
Afghanistan has a long history of violence, invasions, and occupations. Afghanistan gained independence from Britain in 1919. Zahir Shah became king in 1933 and ruled for the next 40 years. A brief experiment with democracy resulted in a coup in 1973, followed by a bloody coup in 1979 led by the Afghan communist party. In support of the communist regime, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Upon withdrawing, the Afghan Civil War broke out. The communist government fell in 1992, but fighting continued until 1996 when the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political group, seized control with Mohammed Omar at the head.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda—a militant Islamic group based in Afghanistan, led by Osama Bin Laden and harbored by the Taliban—prompted a US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. By December, the Taliban regime was overthrown but most Taliban and Al-Qaeda members fled and escaped capture. Afghan leaders of anti-Taliban factions and political groups signed the Bonn Agreement in December 2001 to establish the rebuilding of Afghanistan, including a new constitution, judicial system, elections and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In 2004, Hamid Karzai was democratically elected president and was re-elected in 2009. But in 2008 a Taliban-led shadow government had begun to emerge, threatening Afghanistan’s fragile peace. US and NATO troops in Afghanistan surged to combat this threat, peaking at approximately 140,000 soldiers in 2011. The Taliban, particularly in south and east Afghanistan, continued to launch attacks against the government and tentative peace talks failed. Opium is a key source of revenue for the Taliban and widespread corruption and instability hinder efforts to cut off its financial flow.
The Afghan government continues to fight insurgent forces. About 36% of people live below the poverty line with limited access to clean water, electricity, and medical care. The UN declared 2014 the deadliest year of the conflict on record for non-combatants with 3,188 civilians killed. In September 2014, Ashraf Ghani was elected president. In the fall of 2014, the US and Britain ended their combat operations and in December NATO formally ended its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan. The NATO-led non-combat mission with a mandate of training Afghan security forces, continued into 2015 with 10,800 American troops remaining.
By March 2015, President Obama announced that the U.S. would delay its withdrawal from Afghanistan, following a request from President Ashraf Ghani. In May, Taliban representatives and Afghan officials held informal peace talks in Qatar, though the Taliban insisted they would not stop fighting until all foreign troops left the country. In September 2015, the Taliban briefly captured the city of Kunduz in their most significant advance since being forced from power in 2001. In response to the Taliban’s attempt to capture Sangin in December 2015, the US deployed warplanes to support government forces in repelling insurgents. In recent months, suicide attacks and other forms of terrorism have continued in the country as the conflict rages on
In the midst of violent struggle, there is growth, too. 2015 saw the completion of several major projects including national roads and a new parliament building. As of 2013, more than 8 million students were enrolled in school, including more than 2.5 million girls—up from around 900,000 boys a decade before with girls being almost completely excluded from education. Although the conflict remains, so do opportunities.