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Year 2001, No 2
Hiroshima to New York:
ND Jayaprakash describes the most infamous terrorist crime in history
By ND Jayaprakash
From Wounded Knee to Afghanistan:
a century of US military interventions
By Zoltan Grossman
Fact Sheet on Afghanistan
Return of the Terrorist
Fact Sheet on Ariel Sharon
Falling Per Capita Availability of Foodgrains for Human Consumption in the Reform Period in India
By Utsa Patnaik
Vocabulary in Indian Arts
By KM Shrimali
Playing With Fire
Indian media in the wake of September 11
By Nalini Taneja
A Citizen's Voice
By Mohd. Anwarul Haque
The Indian State and the Madrasa
BJP's misplaced assault
By Yoginder Sikand
Naipaul & Co. and Quotes from the 'Civilised World'
Responding with Terror
By Aijaz Ahmad
A Hindutva Foreign Policy
By Prakash Karat
The Algebra of Infinite Justice
By Arundhati Roy
No Blood for Oil, Mr President!
By Sitaram Yechury
The Clash of Ignorance
By Edward W Said
Fact Sheet on Afghanistan


The Center for Economic and Social Rights

162 Montague Street

Brooklyn, NY 11201


1. Afghanistan: Basic Information & Key Indicators

Where is Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is situated in southern Central Asia, and shares borders with northwest Pakistan, eastern Iran, and southern Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It also shares a short border with western China. It is a landlocked country with a rugged terrain and arid conditions. With an area of approximately 251,700 square miles, it is slightly smaller than Texas. Kabul is its capital.

Who are the Afghans?

Afghanistan is composed of four major ethnic groups – Pashtuns (38%), Tajiks (25%), Hazaras (19%) and Uzbeks (6%). Most Afghans are Muslims (99%).1


Projected 2001 Total Population: Approximately 22.5 million2

Population Distribution3: Rural: 78%   Urban: 22%

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs):

Since 1980, Afghanistan has had the world’s largest recorded refugee population.4 During the Soviet invasion and occupation, 2 million were displaced internally and 6 million refugees fled the country.5

Today, 3,695,000 Afghans remain refugees and nearly 1 million are internally displaced.6

Location of Refugees as of 10 September 20017

Pakistan: 2,000,000
Iran: 1,500,000
Russia: 100,000
Central Asian Republics: 29,000
Europe: 36,000
North America/Australia: 17,000
India: 13,000
TOTAL 3,695,000

Eonomic Indicators

GDP Per Capita8 in 1999: $178

85% of Afghanistan’s population is dependent on agriculture.9

Debt in 1998: US $5.59 billion.10

Main Exports11: Opium, fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, and gems.

Number of Telephone Lines12 per 1,000 people: 1


Adult Literacy Rate (2000): 36%

Female: 21%

Male: 51%


% of Population with Drinking Water Coverage (not necessarily “safe” or “adequate”):

Overall: 13%

Urban: 19%

Rural: 11%

% of Population with Sanitation Coverage (not necessarily “safe” or “adequate”):

Overall: 12%

Urban: 25%

Rural: 8%


The health situation in Afghanistan is amongst the worst in the world.

Life Expectancy at Birth, 2000-05 15:

Female Male
Afghanistan 43.5 yrs 43 yrs
Iran 70.8 68.8
Pakistan 60.9 61.2
Tajikistan 70.8 65.2
Turkmenistan 70.4 63.9
Uzbekistan 72.5 66.8
United States 80.4 74.6

1 in 4 children under 5 (1995-2000) suffer from moderate and severe wasting, a condition where the ratio of weight to height is abnormally low.16

Afghanistan has the world’s 4th worst child mortality rate - 257 of every 1000 children born die before reaching age 5.17

Between 1995 and 1999, 1 in 5 infants were born with low birthweights.18

Each year approximately 16,000 mothers die in childbirth. The maternal mortality rate is the 2nd worst in the world. For every 1,000 live births, 17 mothers die.19

70% of the population is malnourished.20


  1. Jim Lobe & Abid Aslam, “Self-Determination Regional Conflict Profile: Afghanistan”, Foreign Policy in Focus, http://www.fpif.org/selfdetermination/conflicts/afghan.html , 2001.

  2. Population Division and Statistics Division of the United Nations Secretariat, “Indicators on population”, http://www.un.org/Depts/unsd/social/population.htm . Other estimates range as high as 25.5 million.

  3. Population Division of the United Nations Secretariat, http://www.un.org/Depts/unsd/social/hum-set.htm

  4. UNHCR Media Office, Geneva, background, http://www.unhcr.ch/world/mide/afghan.htm.

  5. John F. Burns, “Afghan Capital Grim as War Follows War”, New York Times, 5 February 1996.

  6. UNHCR, “Afghan Refugee Statistics”, 10 September 2001 http://www.unhcr.ch/news/media/afghan/stat0917.pdf

  7. Ibid.

  8. Statistics Division of the United Nations Secretariat and International Labour Office, http://www.un.org/Depts/unsd/social/inc-eco.htm

  9. WFP, “WFP Launches Emergency Appeal For Afghanistan”, News Release, 6 September 200

  10. OECD, “External Debt Statistics: Historical Data 1988-1999”, pg. 31

  11. Source: CIA, “The World Factbook 2001”, http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/af.html

  12. UNESCO, “World Culture Report 2000”, table 19, pg. 364, http://www.unesco.org/culture/ worldreport/html_eng/stat2/table19.pdf

  13. UNESCO, “World Culture Report 2000”, table 26, pg. 391, http://www.unesco.org/culture/ worldreport/html_eng/stat2/table26.pdf

  14. WHO and UNICEF, “Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report”, pg. 47, http://www.unicef.org/programme /wes/pubs/global/gafull.pdf

  15. Population Division and Statistics Division of the United Nations Secretariat, “Indicators on Health”, http://www.un.org/Depts/unsd/social/health.htm

  16. UNICEF, “State of the World’s Children 2001”, pg. 77, http://www.unicef.org/sowc01/pdf/fullsowc.pdf or http://www.unicef.org/sowc01/tables/mortality.htm

  17. UNICEF, “State of the World’s Children 2001, pg. 82, http://www.unicef.org/sowc01/pdf/fullsowc.pdf or http://www.unicef.org/sowc01/tables/table2.htm

  18. Ibid.

  19. Office of The UN Humanitarian Co-Ordinator For Afghanistan, “Afghanistan Appeal 2001”, http://www.pcpafg.org/appeal/appeal2000/Documents/ Provision_of_Basic_Social_Services.shtml and Office of The UN Humanitarian Co-Ordinator For Afghanistan, “Vulnerability and Humanitarian Impact of UN Security Council Sanctions In Afghanistan Summary Report”, Islamabad, 17 August 2000, http://www.pcpafg.org/news/Sanctions/ sanction_news/Vulnerability_and_humanitarian.htm

  20. WFP, “Country Brief: Afghanistan”, http://www.wfp.org/country_brief/indexcountry.asp?country=33

2. Afghanistan: 1989-2001


Recorded history in Afghanistan dates back at least 5,000 years. Various religious traditions such as Zoroastrianism, Graeco-Buddhism and more recently Islam have flourished under a succession of ruling dynasties, including the Ghaznavid, Ghorid, Lodi and Moghul empires. After centuries of fighting foreign invaders, Afghanistan is unified in 1747 under Ahmed Shah Abdali. During the 19th century the contest between British and Russian imperialism helps define the borders of modern Afghanistan. While neither is able to subdue the indigenous population, Russia conquers Afghan territory north of the Oxus River and the British establish the “Durand Line,” an artificial boundary between present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan that still divides the ethnically distinct Pashtun community in two. This colonial division is cited approvingly by Sir Thomas Holdich, head of the Russo-Afghan Border Commission: “we have contributed much to give a national unity to that nebulous community which we call Afghanistan… by drawing a boundary all round it and elevating it to the position of a buffer state between England and Russia.”1

Early 20th Century

Afghanistan’s monarchy is established in 1919 with British support. Mohammed Zahir Shah ascends to throne in 1933 at age 18 and is overthrown in 1973 by his cousin Mohammed Daoud, who declares a republic and installs himself as president. Daoud is killed in a 1978 coup and Babrak Karmal, a founder of the Afghan Communist Party, assumes leadership of the government. As political unrest spreads throughout the country, the United States secretly aids the birth of the Mujahideen movement. The first covert CIA operation to aid the Mujahideen is authorized by the Carter Administration in June 1979. According to Zbigniew Brezinski, then National Security Advisor: “I wrote a note to the President in which I explained to him that in my opinion, this aid would result in military intervention by the Soviets…We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we consciously increased the probability that they would do so.”2

Soviet Occupation 1979 – 1989

In December 1979 the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan to support the government against the Mujahideen, who unite disparate local factions under the banners of Islam and anti-Soviet nationalism. The Mujahideen receive enormous financial, military and intelligence support from the United States, channeled through Pakistan and funded largely by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states. The Soviets withdraw in 1989 after losing 15,000 troops.3 Over one million Afghans are dead, six million are refugees, and half of their villages are destroyed.4

In 1979 President Carter issues a classified directive to initiate covert operations in Afghanistan.5 The CIA establishes close working relations with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI), which runs the daily operations in Afghanistan.

Between 1980-85 the CIA funds the recruitment and training of thousands of volunteers from three dozen Muslim countries to fight in Afghanistan. Among these “Afghan Arabs” is Osama bin Laden, heir to a Saudi construction fortune, as well as top officials from Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and Asia. Many of these fighters and groups later join to form the Al Qaeda network and turn against their former American and Saudi sponsors.6 President Reagan says that “The resistance of the Afghan freedom fighters is an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence.”7

In 1985 the Reagan administration sharply escalates covert action in Afghanistan. Through the 1980s the US channels $2-3 billion in weapons and supplies through the CIA and ISI as part of the largest US covert action program since World War II.8 The Mujahideen enjoy widespread bipartisan support. Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican) praises these “freedom fighters” for their “determination and raw courage.” Senator Bill Bradley (Democrat) urges that they be recognized as “the sole legitimate representatives of the Afghan people.”9


The Taliban ("students" in Pashto) first emerged as a force in 1993 out of the religious schools ("madrassas") in Pakistan. At these madrassas many thousands of Afghan students were indoctrinated into a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. They were also given military training and armed by Pakistan's intelligence agency with support from the CIA and funding from Saudi Arabia. Since sweeping to power in 1996, the Taliban, with an estimated 50,000 troops, retain control of more than 90% of Afghanistan. The Taliban has brought a measure of stability to a country devastated by two decades of war, internal conflict, corruption and chaos. At the same time the regime strictly enforces a narrow interpretation of Shari'a law that forbids women from working, represses minorities, condemns television, film, singing and dancing, and imposes capital punishment for a wide array of crimes. After Saudi Arabia and the UAE broke off diplomatic relations in September 2001, only Pakistan recognizes the Taliban as the lawful government of Afghanistan. The rest of the world, including the UN, recognizes the former Rabbani government.


Pakistan has played a key role in Afghanistan, supporting the Mujahideen resistance to the Soviet occupation and later aiding the Taliban's rise to power. The Pakistani intelligence agency has served as the main link between the Mujahideen and Taliban on the one hand and foreign supporters on the other, moving American weapons and Saudi money into Afghanistan, and also facilitating the opium trade. The tribal areas in Pakistan's autonomous northwest share a common history, border, religion and culture with counterparts in Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis also share the Taliban's interpretation of Islam, having studied in the same madrassas under the same teachers and clerics. An estimated 200,000 students currently attend these religious schools. Pakistan, an extremely poor country with declining living standards, is also involved in a tense standoff with India over Kashmir. Both countries have nuclear weapons. The current crisis places Pakistani President Musharraf in a delicate position, caught between US demands to support military action against Afghanistan and the real threat of civil conflict from important sectors of Pakistani society allied with or sympathetic to the Taliban. In exchange for Musharraf's reluctant cooperation, the US has agreed to forgive Pakistan's debt and lift sanctions imposed for Pakistan's illegal nuclear tests. However, a US attack against Afghanistan from Pakistani territory will further destabilize this volatile situation.

By 1987, the US is sending more than 65,000 tons of arms annually to the Mujahideen, especially Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the most ruthless and puritanical faction.10 CIA and Pentagon operatives help the ISI establish a network of schools in Pakistan and bases in Afghanistan to train the Mujahideen in secure communications, covert financial transactions, guerilla warfare, urban sabotage and heavy weapons.11 Mujahideen use of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles helps turn the tide of war against the Soviets.

In 1989 the Soviet army withdraws, leaving behind a proxy government headed by Dr. Najibullah. The Mujahideen continue the war against the Najibullah regime.

Civil War 1989-96

With the Soviet defeat, US interest in the region diminishes and the large CIA presence in Pakistan is withdrawn. The ISI continues to train and channel Saudi funds to the Mujahideen and Afghan Arabs. After three years of civil war, they defeat the Najibullah government but fall immediately into bitter factional fighting, leaving the country in chaos. In response Pakistan, with US and Saudi support, promotes the Taliban movement as a stable, Pashtun-based alternative in Afghanistan.

In 1992 the Mujahideen capture Kabul and overthrow the government of President Najibullah and his associates. Burhannudin Rabbani, leader of a moderate faction, is named President, Hekmatyar is named Prime Minister, and Ahmad Shah Massood is Defense Minister.

Between 1992 and 1994 the new government divides along factional lines. Hekmatyar imposes a food blockade on northern Kabul, the area controlled by Rabbani. Frequent rocket attacks reduce Kabul to rubble and cause 50,000 civilian deaths and new refugee flows.12

In 1994 the Taliban emerge as a unified fighting force after being trained by the ISI in the same Pakistani religious schools and military camps as the Mujahideen. Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto acknowledges that the Taliban training colleges were “paid for by the United States and Britain.”13

In 1994-96, under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar in Kandahar, disciplined Taliban forces sweep through Afghanistan, defeating Mujahideen factions and securing control of 27 of 30 provinces. The Taliban gain a reputation for military invincibility and strict adherence to an extreme form of Sunni Islam. Several ethnically based Mujahideen factions, led by Massood (Tajik), Abdur Rashid Dostum (Uzbek) and Karim Khalili (Shiite Hazara) continue to fight the Taliban from the north.

Taliban Government 1996-2001

The Taliban bring order to Afghanistan but impose a harsh interpretation of Shari’a law. Iran, Russia and India supply arms and funds to the northern factions under Massood’s leadership, enabling them to control 5-10% of the country. The US links bin Laden and Al Qaeda to terrorist attacks, leading to UN sanctions and international isolation. Taliban mistreatment of women and intolerance of other religions becomes front-page news in the West.

In 1996, despite the Taliban victory, the United Nations continues to recognize the former Rabbani government. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates establish formal diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Initial US response to the Taliban is cautiously optimistic, based on the view that: “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be…pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Shari’a law. We can live with that.”14

In 1997 a World Bank study on routing large gas reserves discovered by Unocal in Turkmenistan states that the Afghanistan route would be much more profitable than existing Russian pipelines. Chris Taggart, Unocal executive vice president, remarks, “If the Taliban leads to stability and international recognition then it’s positive.”15

By 1998 the Taliban’s interpretation of Shari’a law, closely associated with Saudi Wahhabism, brings international condemnation for repression of women’s rights, civil liberties and freedom of religion. Most governments tolerate the Taliban for bringing regional stability.

In 1998 President Clinton holds bin Laden responsible for attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Under “Operation Infinite Reach,” the US attacks Afghanistan with over 200 cruise missiles, killing 34 people but not bin Laden or his associates. American missiles also destroy the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which supplies 50% of that country’s medicines, based on

false information that it is owned by bin Laden.16 Unocal backs out of the gas pipeline deal and the Clinton administration supports a plan for a pipeline westward from Azerbaijan through Turkey to the Mediterranean.

In October 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1267 imposes economic sanctions on Afghanistan for offering sanctuary to bin Laden.17 In August 2000 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan reports that the fund freeze has had a minimal impact on the Taliban but concludes that “sanctions have had a tangible negative effect on the Afghan economy and on the ability of humanitarian agencies to render assistance to people in the country.”18 Additional sanctions are imposed in December 2000 because of the Taliban’s continuing support of terrorism and narcotics cultivation.19

In March 2001 the international community expresses outrage as the Taliban destroy two giant 5th century Buddhist statues in Bamiyan.

In May 2001 US officials visit Afghanistan and praise Taliban efforts to limit opium production. Two months later Secretary of State Colin Powell announces a $43 million emergency aid grant to Afghanistan to cope with the effects of a prolonged drought, and states that the US will “continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to Afghans.”20

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are attacked resulting in over 5,000 civilian deaths. The US names bin Ladin as a prime suspect and threatens to attack Afghanistan for harboring him. President Bush states, “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”21

By October 2001, Afghanistan is almost completely isolated as Saudi Arabia and UAE break diplomatic relations and UN relief agencies pull out of the country. Fearing US attack and already suffering from drought and destitution, large numbers of Afghans flee to the borders. The UN estimates that 7.5 millionAfghans, one-third of the population, require immediate aid. The heads of all major UN human rights and relief agencies jointly warn of an impending humanitarian crisis “of stunning proportions.”22


  1. Quoted in Dr. James Ingalls, US Foreign Policy in Afghanistan, http://www.sonaliandjim.net/politics/. Ingalls is the Treasurer, Afghan Women’s Mission, http://www.afghanwomensmission.org/

  2. Le Nouvel Observateur, 15-21 January 1998

  3. Bill Keller, “Last Soviet Soldiers Leave Afghanistan After 9 Years, 15,000 Dead at Great Cost”, New York Times, 16 February 1989

  4. John F. Burns, “Afghan Capital Grim as War Follows War”, New York Times, 5 February 1996

  5. Steve Coll, “Anatomy of a Victory: CIA’s Covert Afghan War”, Washington Post, 19 July 1992

  6. Jon Sawyer, “Past Policies Got US Here, Provide Cautionary Tale”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 22 September 2001

  7. President Ronald Reagan, Proclamation 5034, 21 March 1983

  8. Coll, July 1992 and Mary Anne Weaver, “The Real Bin Laden”, New Yorker, 24 January 2000

  9. Quoted in Ingalls, supra note 1

  10. Coll, July 1992

  11. Mohammed Yousaf, The Bear Trap: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, (London: L. Cooper, 1992). Mr. Yousaf is the ex-chief of Pakistan’s ISI.

  12. www.afghan-info.com/politics/afghan_mujaheedin/Warlords/

  13. Quoted in Alexander Cockburn, The Nation, 27 January 1997 264(3), pg. 10

  14. US diplomat quoted in Ahmad Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, New Haven, CT: New Haven Press, 2000

  15. John Burns, “State Department Becomes Cooler to the New Rulers of Kabul”, New York Times, 23 October 1996

  16. Vernon Loeb, “Review of Sudan Attack Sought”, Washington Post, 27 September 2000 and Mark Huband and Clive Cookson, “Diplomats query US allegations”, Financial Times, 29 August 1998 and James Risen and David Johnston, “Experts Find No Arms Chemicals at Bombed Sudan Plant”, New York Times, 9 February 1999

  17. Office of the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan, “Vulnerability and Humanitarian Implications of UN Security Council Sanctions”, December 2000, pg. 5, http://www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/afgsanc.pdf. UN Security Council Resolution 1267 imposed an embargo on all flights and a freeze on all funds directly or indirectly owed or controlled by the Taliban.

  18. Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, “Vulnerability and Humanitarian Impact of UN Security Council Sanctions In Afghanistan Summary Report,” 17 August 2000, http://www.pcpafg.org/news/Sanctions/ sanction_news/Vulnerability_and_humanitarian.htm

  19. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1333, December 2000 imposed an additional embargo on all arms, including military equipment, spare parts, and transfer of any technical advice or training related to military activities. The resolution also called on States to freeze funds and financial assets of Osama bin Laden.

  20. Robert Scheer, “CIA’s Tracks Lead in Disastrous Circle”, LA Times, 17 September 2001

  21. George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, 20 September 2001

  22. United Nations Department of Public Information, “Annan issues pleas to help avoid a potential humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan”, 25 September 2001, http://www.un.org/News/dh/20010925.htm#25 and UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR, UNDP, UNOCHA, UNHCHR, joint statement, “In Afghanistan, A Population in Crisis”, http://www.unicef.org/media/newsnotes/01nn07.htm

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