Introduction

Afghanistan has been
engulfed in conflict for more than 30 years.

 

A succession of civil wars
and insurgencies have wrecked the country’s infrastructure, stunted its
development and caused massive human suffering.

 

Over 10,000 people were
killed by fighting in 2010, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.

The United Nations said 20 percent of Afghanistan’s
398 districts were inaccessible to humanitarian workers in 2009 due to security
concerns.

 

At the end of 2010, about
three million people – over 10% of the population – were either internally
displaced or living in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.

 

A third of the country’s 29 million population lives in extreme poverty. 

Administrative
divisions of Afghanistan

Source: University of
Texas Library

http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/txu-oclc-309296021-afghanistan_admin_2008.jpg 

Only one in four Afghans
can read and write.

 

Frequent natural disasters,
including drought, flooding and waves of extreme winter cold, have added to the
misery caused by a generation of conflict.

 

Illegal drugs have added
to the misery. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw
material for making heroin. Most of the opium is grown in the southern
provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Farah. Several hundred thousand Afghans are
addicted to narcotics.

 

Unofficial taxes imposed on
the drugs trade by armed factions help to pay for the continuation of conflict.
In 2008, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that the Taliban Islamic
fundamentalist movement derived an annual income of up to $450 million from its
control of opium production.

Map
of opium cultivation in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2010, UNODC Afghanistan
Opium Survey 2010.

In late 2010 fighting
between the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban was increasing
in intensity. Few analysts were predicting an early end to the conflict.

 

A guerrilla war against
Soviet occupation started in 1979 and lasted 10 years. Soviet forces withdrew
from Afghanistan in 1989. The government in Kabul backed by Moscow collapsed
three years later. 

 

A four-year civil war
between rival Afghan factions ensued. This ended with the victory of the Taliban
in 1996.

 

The Taliban were ousted
from power by a US-led invasion in 2001 and a new government was created that
included many warlords from other armed factions.

 

The Taliban has regained
military strength since then. Fighting is particularly intense in the south and
east of Afghanistan.

 

In late 2010 the
pro-Western government of President Hamid Karzai was backed by a combined US
and NATO force of more than 200,000 military personnel known as the
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

 

Western governments have said
they intend to withdraw all combat forces from Afghanistan by 2014. But many
diplomats doubt the ability of the Afghan National Army and the police to hold
their own against the Taliban afterwards.

 

Since the ousting of the
Taliban in 2001, the Afghan media has flourished.

 

Television, which was
banned under the Taliban, has re-emerged and become popular, especially in the
main towns.

 

Private radio stations have
sprung up across the entire country.

 

The print media and the internet
have also blossomed.

 

However, newspapers and
the internet have a limited impact outside Kabul because literacy levels remain
very low, especially amongst women.

 

Only one in 10 Afghan
women can read and write.

 

The Taliban banned girls
from attending school. However, since the Taliban were ousted from government,
women have been actively encouraged to acquire a formal education and play a
prominent role in public life.

 

 

Over the past decade, Afghanistan
has established an extensive mobile telecommunications infrastructure from
scratch. According to USAID, this now reaches 85% of the population.

 

Mobile telephony has created
a brand new channel for mass communication in the country. More than half of
all Afghans own a mobile phone. Some can access recorded news and information
messages from their handsets.

 

The number of Afghan refugees
living in neighbouring countries has diminished in recent years thanks to a
UN-supervised return programme.

 

But in late 2010 there
were still, 1.7 million Afghan refugees living in camps in Pakistan and a
further 936,000 in Iran.

 

Acording to UNHCR, there were also 319,000 internally
displaced people (IDPs) within Afghanistan.

 

The war between the
Taliban and the Western-backed government in Kabul is not the only conflict
that has forced people to flee their homes.

 

Localised inter-communal
conflicts are common. The nomadic Kuchi tribe, for example, has been locked for
years in a violent dispute with Hazara villagers in central Afghanistan over
land issues.  

 

This conflict has been
exacerbated by harsh climatic conditions, which have forced Kuchi herdsmen to
seek new grazing areas for their sheep and goats.

 

The three million Kuchi
are particularly exposed to extreme weather conditions.  Many of them have lost their livestock and
been left destitute as a result of recurring drought.

 

The official languages of
Afghanistan are Dari and Pashto and these two languages dominate
the mainstream media.

 

According to the CIA World
Factbook, about 50% of Afghans speak Dari, which is closely related to Iranian
Farsi. It is the main language spoken in the West, the Centre and the Northeast
of Afghanistan. Dari speakers can understand Farsi language TV and radio
broadcasts.

 

The same source says about
35% of Afghans speak Pashto as their mother tongue. Pashto is the main language
spoken in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan.

The ratio of Dari to
Pashto speakers in Afghanistan is a politically sensitive issue. Some estimates
put the percentage of native Pashto speakers much higher.

 

Many Afghans are bilingual
in both languages.

 

The other main languages
are Uzbek and Turkmen.

These are spoken by ethnic
minorities who mainly live in northern districts near the border with
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

 

Nuristani is spoken in a small area east of Kabul and Balochi is spoken in parts of the
extreme south.

 

English is the main international language used in Afghanistan.

 

Humanitarian
organisations planning to launch communications initiatives with intended
beneficiaries should coordinate their actions with other stakeholders through
the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kabul office and the Cluster leads. 

Language map of
Afghanistan          

Source: Wikipedia

At a glance: 

Statistic

Value

Population:

29.0 million (World Bank 2008)

Main languages:

Dari (Afghan Persian) and Pashto

Other languages widely used in broadcasting:

English

GNI per capita:

$370 (World Bank 2009)

Adult literacy rate:

28.1% of the population (43.1% male, 12% female – CIA World Factbook)

Mobile phone penetration:

61% of the population in 2010 (USAID)

Number of mobile phone lines:

18.1 million (2010 GSMA)

Mobile network coverage:

85% of the population in 2010 (USAID)

Internet subscribers:

6.0% of the population in 2010 (BBC World Service)

Ranking in UN Human Development Index 2010:

155 (out of 182)

Ranking in RSF World Press Freedom Index 2010:

147 (out of 178)