Afghanistan country brief

For the latest Australian Government travel advice for Afghanistan, please visit the Smartraveller website.

Overview

Afghanistan is a land-locked and mountainous country at the point where South and Central Asia meet. It shares a border with six countries - Pakistan to the south and east, Iran to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north and China to the extreme northeast. Most of Afghanistan is arid to semi-arid, and experiences very hot summers and cold winters. Afghanistan’s total population is estimated at 31 million, with 42% of the population aged under 15 years (World Bank, 2015). The capital Kabul is Afghanistan’s largest city with around 3.3 million people.

The main ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara. The official languages are Pashtu and Dari, however there are more than thirty distinct languages spoken across Afghanistan, and multilingualism is common.  Most Afghans practice Sunni Islam, with the majority of the remainder practicing Shiism (Afghan Embassy in Australia, 2015).

Political overview

System of Government

Afghanistan is a constitutional democracy. The Head of State and the Government is the President. Under an extra-Constitutional political arrangement the President shares power with a Chief Executive Officer. The National Assembly has two chambers comprising the Wolesi Jirga (lower house) and Meshrano Jirga (upper house). Under the 2004 Afghanistan constitution, elections for the country's President and for the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House in the National Assembly) are each held every five years.

The President of Afghanistan is elected by all of Afghanistan acting as a single electorate. The last election was held in 2014. The Afghan cabinet is made up of the President, Chief Executive Officer, two Vice-Presidents (not directly elected, but part of the presidential candidates ticket) and 25 Ministers. Ministers are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Wolesi Jirga.

The Wolesi Jirga has 250 representatives directly elected by the provinces. The last election was in 2010. The Wolesi Jirga is responsible for drafting legislation and voting on presidential decrees and appointments.

The Meshrano Jirga is the house of review. It is made up of three representatives from each of the 34 provinces; one appointed by District Councils for a three-year term, another appointed by Provincial Councils for a four-year term, and the last appointed by the President for a five-year term. It has quotas for women, ethnic minorities and people with a disability.

Legally mandated quotas and targets have been used to increase women’s participation in Afghanistan’s legislative bodies. The 2004 Constitution introduced a quota system to ensure a minimum level of female representation in the two houses of the national parliament. Around one third of the seats in each house are reserved for women. Subsequent electoral legislation has introduced quotas for women in Provincial Councils.

Afghanistan has 34 provinces that are the primary administrative divisions. Each province is divided into districts, with currently 398 nationwide. Each province has a provincial government under a Governor, appointed by the President (United States Institute Of Peace, 2015).

National Government

Harmid Karzai was elected in October 2004 in the first Presidential poll in the post-Taliban era and was re-elected in August 2009.  The first post-Taliban era elections for the Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Councils were held in September 2005 and, following the selection of the upper house members, the new National Assembly sat for the first time on 19 December 2005. Elections for the second Wolesi Jirga took place in September 2010.

Following closely contested elections in mid-2014, the two final presidential candidates, Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, formed a National Unity Government under a political agreement agreed on 21 September 2014.  Dr Ghani was inaugurated as President of Afghanistan on 29 September, with Dr Abdullah assuming the new role of Chief Executive Officer.

Security

January 2015 saw a major milestone in Afghanistan with the handover of security responsibility from the NATO-led International Stabilization Force (ISAF) to the Government of Afghanistan.  Formed in December 2001 under UN Security Council Resolution 1386, ISAF was tasked with assisting the Government of Afghanistan to establish security and stability across the country following the overthrow of the Taliban.

In 2015, ISAF was replaced with the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, involving 28 NATO countries and 14 operational partners. The Resolute Support mission is a non-combat train, advise and assist mission focused on building the capacity of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and Afghan security ministries.

Australia currently deploys around 270 defence personnel under the Resolute Support mission, with the aim of developing the ANDSF (figures as at January 2016). Australia is committed to supporting the Resolute Support mission and will also contribute US$100 million per year (for three years from 2015-2018) toward sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces, including the ANDSF and Afghan Police.  

Information on Australia’s military contribution to Resolute Support mission and Afghanistan can be found on the Department of Defence website.

As Chair of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee until December 2014, Australia enabled the Security Council to prosecute the Taliban sanctions regime, and by doing so facilitated the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Australia led the UNSC resolution which welcomed the Resolute Support mission in December 2014.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is a political mission established by the UNSC in March 2002 at the request of the Government of Afghanistan. UNAMA and its Special Representative lead and coordinate international civilian efforts in assisting Afghanistan, guided by the principle of reinforcing Afghan sovereignty, leadership and ownership.  UNAMA works with the Government of Afghanistan and supports the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional coordination.

Bilateral Relations

Australia and Afghanistan share a friendly and long-standing relationship.  Afghanistan-Australia relations can be traced back to the 1860s when Afghan cameleers came to Australia. For half a century, the cameleers played a crucial role in the exploration and development of the Australian outback, ferrying supplies across the continent.  The Adelaide to Darwin train, the Ghan, is named in their honour.  The next wave of Afghan migration to Australia followed the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan when thousands fled their homeland.  

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Afghan-born population in Australia in 2011 was 28,597.  There are now Afghan communities in all of Australia's major cities. Australia greatly values the contribution that Afghan communities living in Australia have made and continue to make to our society and culture.

The first diplomatic link between Australia and Afghanistan was established on 30 March 1969, with an Australian Ambassador (resident in Pakistan) accredited to Afghanistan. The first resident Australian Ambassador to Afghanistan was appointed in 2006.

The Australian Government continues its engagement with Afghanistan in the areas of security and development cooperation, and economic reform through bilateral, regional and multilateral dialogues.

High Level Visits

In January 2016, the Prime Minister The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP visited Afghanistan.  The Prime Minister met Afghan President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to discuss Afghanistan’s political and security outlook, and met Australian Embassy and Defence Force personnel working in Kabul.  The Prime Minister announced additional military contributions to the current Resolute Support mission. 

The Foreign Minister, The Hon Julie Bishop MP visited Kabul in January 2015. 

An active program of officials’ level dialogue and engagement is ongoing.

Australia also welcomed the Afghan cricket team to Australia in February 2015 for the Cricket World Cup.  The team received accolades for its sportsmanship and for reaching the finals only fourteen years after it was formed.

Australia’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

In December 2014, Mr Ric Wells was appointed as Australia’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to reinforce the Government’s commitment to a coordinated and effective regional and international diplomacy agenda. 

Mr Wells’ biography can be found at: http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/our-people/executive/Pages/biography-of-ric-wells.aspx.

Development Cooperation

Our program in Afghanistan focuses on three priority areas: economic growth and effective governance; empowering women and girls; and building resilience and supporting at-risk populations.

Australia has provided over A$1.1 billion in development assistance to Afghanistan since 2001.

Information on development assistance to Afghanistan.

Refugees

More than 30 years of conflict in Afghanistan has caused a protracted refugee crisis.  Tthe United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that as many as 10 million Afghans have fled the country over this period.  Since 2002, 5.8 million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan. As at January 2014, there were still more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees, most of them residing in Pakistan and Iran.

In October 2014, UNHCR reported that more than 700,000 Afghans were internally displaced. The main drivers were armed conflict, harassment and intimidation. In November 2014 alone, UNOCHA reported 105,800 new displacements in Afghanistan due to conflict, but estimated the actual number is likely to be much higher.

For more information see the UNHCR websiteFor statistical information, see the UNHCR Statistical Online Population Database

Human Rights

Afghanistan’s constitution enshrines many fundamental human rights, including the right to life, liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention.  Afghanistan has also ratified a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and the International Convention on Torture. 

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is accredited with an ‘AA’ rating from the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The Commission noted in 2015 that decades of conflict, a lack of respect for the rule of law, and a culture of impunity and corruption have had a severe impact on the government’s ability to implement human rights guarantees.

The January 2015 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Afghanistan highlighted priority areas of concern including the protection of civilians in armed conflict, prevention of torture and arbitrary detention, elimination of violence against women, and the human rights aspects of peace and reconciliation processes.

Economic Overview

Trade and investment

Afghanistan's economy is recovering from decades of conflict.  It has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, but remains dependent on foreign aid.  Ongoing international assistance is aimed at supporting longer-term economic development in Afghanistan.   

Agriculture is one of the largest sources of income in Afghanistan.  In 2015, approximately 60 per cent of the population was employed in the agriculture industry, which accounted for 40 per cent of GDP (FAO, Agriculture Fact Sheet, January 2015). 

Australia has limited trade with Afghanistan.  In 2014, Australia’s merchandise exports to Afghanistan were valued at A$7million) and  merchandise imports were valued at A$2million. During the 2011 calendar year, Australia was the 26th largest destination of exports from Afghanistan, and the 32nd largest origin of imports into Afghanistan.

The Australian Afghan Business Council (http://www.australianafghanbc.com.au/) was established in 2013 to promote trade and investment and build business-to-business links.

Further information can be found on the DFAT Economic Fact Sheet on Afghanistan and at the World Bank website.

Cooperation opportunities in Afghanistan

Tenders

See the AusTender website for opportunities in Afghanistan.

Direct Aid Program (DAP)

A small grant scheme that partners with various organisations to support projects that directly contribute to the welfare and the income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups, or enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.

Get involved in the Direct Aid Program

Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP)

The Australian NGO Cooperation Program supports accredited Australian non-government organisations (NGOs) to implement their own international development programs. Under the program, the department partners with Australian professional development NGOs.

Get involved in the Australian NGO Cooperation Program

References

  • Afghan Embassy in Australia. (2015, December). Afghanistan in Brief. Retrieved February 2016, from Embassy of Afghanistan: http://www.afghanembassy.net/afghanistan/afghanistan-in-brief
  • Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). (2008). Human Rights situation in Afghanistan during 2007-2008. Retrieved January 14, 2016, from Refworld: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4948d7e22.html
  • Central Statistics Organization. (2014). National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment 2011-12.
  • Larson, A. (2015). SPECIAL REPORT Political Parties in Afghanistan. United States Institute Of Peace.
  • Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. (2008). Country Profile: Afghanistan. Library of Congress, United States of America.
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). (2015, September 1). ISAF's mission in Afghanistan (2001-2014) (Archived). Retrieved December 2015, from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_69366.htm
  • Office of the Commissioner of United Nations Human Rights. (2015, January). Human Rights Reports HCHR/UNAMA . Retrieved December 2015, from United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/HRReports.aspx
  • United Nations Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA). (2016). UNAMA. Retrieved March 2016, from United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan: https://unama.unmissions.org/about
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2015). 2015 UNHCR country operations profile - Afghanistan. Retrieved December 2015, from UNHCR.org: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e486eb6.html
  • World Bank. (2015, December). Data Countries and Economies Afghanistan. Retrieved December 2015, from The World Bank working for a poverty free world: http://data.worldbank.org/country/afghanistan
  • World Bank. (2015). Data Indicators World Population 0 - 14 % Table. Retrieved December 2015, from The World Bank Working for a world free of poverty: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.0014.TO.ZS



Last Updated: 12 November 2014