Landlocked and mountainous, Afghanistan has suffered from such chronic
instability and conflict during its modern history that its economy and
infrastructure are in ruins, and many of its people are refugees. It is also
afflicted by natural calamities such as earthquakes and drought.
Its strategic position sandwiched between the Middle East, Central Asia and
the Indian subcontinent along the ancient "Silk Route" means that Afghanistan
has long been fought over - despite its rugged and forbidding terrain.
תת יבשת - subcontinent
מסולע - rugged
פני קרקע - terrain
It was at the center of the so-called "Great Game" in the 19th century when
Imperial Russia and the British Empire in India vied for influence.
להתחרות - vied
And it became a key Cold War battleground after thousands of Soviet troops
intervened in 1979 to prop up a pro-communist regime, leading to a major
confrontation that drew in the US and Afghanistan's neighbours.
שדה קרב - battleground
להתערב - intervened
למשוך - drew
But the outside world eventually lost interest after the withdrawal of Soviet
forces, while the country's protracted civil war dragged on.
A third of the Afghan population has fled abroad - despairing of a future at
להתייאש - despairing
The emergence of the Taleban - originally a group of Islamic scholars -
brought at least a measure of stability after nearly two decades of conflict.
But their extreme version of Islam has attracted widespread criticism.
The Taleban - drawn from the Pashtun majority - are opposed by an alliance of
factions drawn mainly from Afghanistan's minority communities and based in the
The Taleban - now controlling about 90% of Afghanistan - are recognised as
the legitimate government by only three countries.
They are also at loggerheads with the international community over the
presence on their soil of Osama bin Laden, accused by the US of masterminding
the bombing of their embassies in Africa in 1998 and the World Trade Center
attack in 2001.
Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of opium poppies - although
the Taleban said they would stop production.
Known by his title as "Commander of the Faithful" (Amir ul-Mu'mineen), the
Taleban supreme leader is a reclusive figure about whom very little is known. He
rarely leaves his stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan - he is
reported to have visited the country's capital, Kabul, just once.
Foreign Minister Mutawakkil: The public face of the
In fact, figures such as the Taleban foreign minister,
Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil, are more prominent publicly.
Mullah Mohamed Omar is believed to be about 40 years old. He is said to have
lost one eye fighting Soviet forces after they invaded in 1979.
Western press reports suggest that Mullah Mohamed Omar is the key figure in
inspiring the hardline Islamic policies of the Taleban - and is personally close
to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi militant accused of bombing US embassies in Africa
Deputy leader: Vacant
Interior minister: Abdul Razzaq Akhund
Foreign minister: Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil
Exiled head of state: Burhanuddin Rabbani
Born in 1940, Burhanuddin Rabbani is still recognised by the UN as the
legitimate head of state.
Burhanuddin Rabbani: Heads exiled
An ethnic Tajik, he is a former professor of Islamic law
at Kabul University, and spent time studying at the prestigious Al-Azhar Islamic
University in Egypt.
In his early political career, he founded the Jamiat-e Islami party to work
against plans by the Afghan government to introduce greater secularisation.
In 1992, he became president of the mujahedin-led government in Afghanistan,
but fled when the Taleban took over Kabul in 1996.
He now leads the government-in-exile and spends much of his time
co-ordinating between the different factions in the anti-Taleban alliance.
Afghanistan's media have been seriously restricted since the Taleban came to
power. Radio Afghanistan was renamed Radio Voice of Shari'ah (Islamic law) and
now reflects the Islamic fundamentalist values of the Taleban.
The Taleban have banned TV as a source of moral corruption and regard music
When Taleban rule restored a degree of stability to most of the country,
newspapers and magazines started functioning again, in both Pashto and in Dari,
a form of Persian.
Anti-Taleban publications are based mainly outside the country, publishing
from Peshawar on the Pakistan border and from Iran. Often they are factional