The exact population of Afghanistan is unknown, but it is estimated to be more than 33 million people (2009). Afghanistan is a country which is comprised of many ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group is Pashtuns and other large groups are Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. In addition to these, there are other minor ethnic groups like Nuristani, Baluchs and Turkemani. Majority of the population is Muslim (99%), but there are also small groups of Sikhs, Hindus and Jews. The official languages of the country are Pashto and Dari.
Afghanistan is ruled by an elected government led by President Hamid Karzai, who first took hold of power on 22nd December 2001 after a meeting in Bonn in Germany, where representatives of all ethnic groups were gathered. The government had the task to control the government for 6 months until a Loya jirga ( a traditional Large meeting/leaders of all the ethnic groups and tribes come together), was to appoint a broader transitional government. The 2004 Afghan presidential election was relatively peaceful, in which Hamid Karzai won in the first round with 55.4% of the votes. However, the 2009 presidential election was characterized by lack of security, low voter turnout and widespread electoral fraud. The vote, along with elections for 420 provincial council seats, took place in August 2009, but remained unresolved during a lengthy period of vote counting and fraud investigation.
Two months later, under international pressure, a second round run-off vote between Karzai and remaining challenger Abdullah was announced, but a few days later Abdullah announced that he is not participating in the November 7 run-off because his demands for changes in the electoral commission had not been met. The next day, officials of the election commission cancelled the run-off and declared Hamid Karzai as President for another 5-years term.
In the 2005 parliamentary election, among the elected officials were former Mujahedeen, Islamic Fundamentalists, warlords, communists, reformists, and several Taliban associates. In the same period, Afghanistan reached to the 30th nation in terms of female representation in the parliament. The last parliamentary election was held in September 2010, but due to disputes and investigation of fraud, the swon in ceremony took place in late January 2011. After the issuance of computerized ID cards for the first time, which is a $101 million project that the Afghan government plans to start in 2012, it is expected to help prevent major fraud in future election and improve the security situation.
Health and Education
According to the Human Development Index, Afghanistan is the 15th least developed country in the world. The average life expectancy is anywhere between 47 to 64 years. It is the most dangerous place for a child to be born, with the highest infant mortality rates in the world. According to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, about 1 in 50 women die while giving birth and the number of children who died before the age of 5 is about 1 in 10. While these statistics are tragic, the government plans to future cut the infant mortality rate to 400 for every 100,000 live births by the year 2020. The country currently has more than 3,000 midwives with an additional 300 to 400 being trained each year.
A number of new hospitals and clinics have been built the last decade, with the most advanced treatment being available in Kabul. The French Medical Institute for Children and Indria Gandhi childrens hospital in Kabul are the leading children's hospitals in the country. Some of the other main hospitals in Kabul include the 350-bed Jamhuriat hospital and there are also a number of well-equipped military controlled hospitals in different regions of the country. It was reported in 2006 that nearly 60% of the population lives within two hours walking distance of the nearest health facility, up from nine percent in 2002. Latest survey shows that 57 percent of Afghans say they have good or very good access to clinic or hospitals. The nation also has one of the highest incidences of people with disabilities, with an estimated one million handicapped people. About 80,000 citizens have lost limbs, mainly as a result of landmines. Non-government charities assist orphans in association with government structures.
Education in the country includes K-12 and Higher Education, which is supervised by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education. The nation's education system was destroyed due to the decades of war, but it began reviving after the Karzai administration came to power in late 2001. More than 5,000 schools were built or renovated, with more than 100,000 teachers being trained and recruited. It was reported in 2011 that more than seven million male and female students were enrolled schools.
In 2011, about 82,000 students are enrolled in different universities around the country. Kabul University reopened in 2002 to both male and female students. Major universities outside of Kabul include Kandahar University in the south, Herat University in the west, Balkh University in the north, Nangarhar University and Khost University in the eastern zones.
The capital Kabul, which has been admired throughtout the history by many great historical figures such as the great Central Asian conqueror Zahirudeen Babur, has for years been ravaged by war. Today Afghanistan is in a rebuilding process is almost non-existent. The country still has over 10 Million landmines and unexploded explosives which still pose threat to human life.
During the 1990s, Afghanistan was the largest producer of illegal opium in the world. Today it is estimated that Afghanistan produces two third of the world's total consumption. Opium is easy to cultivate, easy to transport and provide good financial returns. Farmers are often paid in advance of the harvest. During these years, government has tried to reduce the cultivation of opium but they were not successful in this case.