Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a culturally diverse nation in South Asia situated at the crossroads of Western, Central and Southern Asia. Having been settled for millenia, Afghanistan has experienced a tumultuous and fascinating history. Seldom visited, poorly understood, and often in the news for all the wrong reasons, Afghanistan is a country well-worth knowing about. Here are some interesting facts about Afghanistan.
Facts about Afghanistan
1. Afghanistan is a landlocked country.
It shares borders with Pakistan in the south and east (2670 km); Iran in the west (921 km); Turkmenistan (804 km), Uzbekistan (144 km), and Tajikistan (1357 km) in the north; and China (91 km) in the far east.
2. The capital of Afghanistan is Kabul.
It is the largest urban center in the country and also its economic and political hub. Situated in the eastern part of the country, Kabul is located in a narrow valley between the Hindu Kush mountains at an elevation of 1,790 meters (5,873 ft) making it one of the highest capitals in the world.
3. The national flag of Afghanistan has four colors.
It consists of three vertical bands of black, red, and green with the white National Emblem in the center. Afghanistan had more changes to its national flag in the 20th century than any other nation and the current national flag of Afghanistan was adopted on August 19, 2013.
The black color represents Afghanistan’s turbulent past, the red color represents the blood of those who fought for independence (specifically, the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919), and the green either represents hope and agricultural prosperity for the future or Islam.
The flag of Afghanistan is interesting in that it is one of eight national flags whose design incorporates a depiction of the flag itself and it is one of only six national flags that feature a building.
4. Afghanistan has two official languages: Dari & Pashto.
Dari is the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan and serves as the lingua franca of the country. Dari is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Indo-European language family. It is mutually intelligible with Farsi, with differences found primarily in the vocabulary and phonology.
Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language that belongs to the Indo-European language family and is primarily spoken in the east, south, and southwest of Afghanistan. Both Dari & Pashto are written in the Perso-Arabic script.
Besides Dari & Pashto, a number of smaller regional languages, including Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi, and Nuristani are spoken in Afghanistan.
5. Afghanistan is a multiethnic nation.
The present ethnic composition of Afghanistan is a result of large-scale migration and conquests, which have been superimposed on one another. The Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group followed by Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaqs, Turkmen, and the Baloch.
Smaller groups include the Nuristani, Pashai, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Arabs, Gujjar, and Moghol. What’s interesting is that of the major ethnicities, there are generally certain regions where one of the ethnic groups tends to dominate the population.
For example, Tajiks are mostly concentrated in the northeast; Pashtuns are highly concentrated in south-central Afghanistan and parts of the east; Uzbeks live in the north, and nomadic Turkmen live along the Turkmenistan border. In the central mountains are the Hazaras, of Mongolian origin. and Baluchis live in the extreme south.
6. The name Afghanistan translates to “the land of Afghans.”
According to many scholars, the name “Afghān” stems from the name of the Aśvakan, ancient inhabitants of the Hindu Kush region. Aśvakan literally means “horsemen”, or “cavalrymen” (from aśva or aspa, the Sanskrit and Avestan words for “horse”). The last part of the name, -stān is a Persian suffix for “place”.
7. Afghanistan is the 40th largest country in the world.
Afghanistan has a total land area of 652,230 km² and its shape has been compared to a leaf. Afghanistan’s area is almost six times the size of Virginia; slightly smaller than Texas, and roughly twice that of Norway.
8. Afghanistan drives on the right.
Afghanistan follows Right-Hand traffic laws making it the only country in South Asia to do so.
9. The currency of Afghanistan is the Afghani (AFN).
The original Afghani was introduced in 1925, replacing the Afghan rupee.
10. The world’s first oil paintings were drawn in Afghanistan.
This is one of the most surprising facts about Afghanistan. Art historians had previously erroneously believed that oil painting started in Europe in the 15th century. But the world’s first oil paintings, originating around 650 BC, were drawn in the caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan.
These paintings show images of Buddha in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures. It is thought that the murals were painted using drying oils, probably from walnuts and poppy seeds.
Located approximately 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Kabul, Bamiyan boasted a flourishing Buddhist civilization from the 2nd Century up to the Islamic invasion of the 9th Century. This is also where the Buddhas of Bamiyan—two 6th-century monumental statues of Gautama Buddha and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, once stood, until the Taliban destroyed them in 2001.
11. Islam is the predominant religion in Afghanitstan.
Approximately 99.7% of Afghanistan’s population is Muslim, out of which some fourth-fifths are Sunnis of the Ḥanafī branch. The others, particularly the Ḥazara & Qizilbash people, follow either Twelver or Ismāʿīlī Shiʿi Islam.
12. There is only one Jewish person in Afghanistan.
As of 2021, there is only one known Jew, Zablon Simintov, residing in Afghanistan. Born in 1959, Simintov is a Kabul carpet trader and restaurateur who also serves as the caretaker of the city’s only synagogue.
13. The people of Afghanistan are known as “Afghans”.
Before the foundation of the modern national state, the name “Afghan” referred to the Pashtun people.
14. Afghanistan’s highest point is 7,492 m (24,580 ft) above sea level.
Noshakh, the second-highest peak in the Hindu Kush Range (after Tirich Mir) at 7,492 m (24,580 ft) is the highest point in Afghanistan. It lies in the Wakhan corridor, Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. It is the highest point in Afghanistan and is the westernmost 7,000-meter massif in the world.
15. The lowest point in Afghanistan can be found in the Jowzjan Province.
It is located along the Amu Riverbank, at 258 m (846 ft) above sea level.
16. The Afghan Hound is probably the most well-known animal known in the west that is native to Afghanistan.
Other notable fauna endemic to Afghanistan include the Afghan flying squirrel, the Afghan snowfinch, Afghanodon, Afghan leopard gecko, Wheeleria parviflorellus moth, amongst others.
17. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for 5 years.
From 1996 until their overthrow in December 2001, the Taliban—a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization, held power over virtually all of Afghanistan. In that time, the Taliban, and enforced a strict interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law.
18. From 1996 to late 2001, Afghanistan didn’t have a national anthem.
Another one of the many fun facts about Afghanistan. This is because the Taliban had outlawed music.
19. Afghanistan has a rich history of poetry and has for centuries been a cradle of poetic expression.
Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in the country. In the northwestern city of Herat, a large number of people meet up one evening a week in a designated place, and there is poetry recitation.
20. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium.
As much as 16% or more of the nation’s economy is derived from the cultivation and sale of opium.
21. The Minaret of Jam is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Afghanistan.
The 65-meter (213 ft) high minaret is located in a remote region of the Ghor Province in western Afghanistan. It was built in the late-12th century entirely of baked bricks and is famous for its intricate brickwork, stucco, and glazed tile decoration.
22. Afghanistan’s national sport is buzkashi.
Played on Afghanistan’s northern steppe for centuries, Buzkashi literally translates as “goat-pulling” and is regarded as the world’s wildest game. It involves riders on horseback trying to grab a headless goat carcass, steer clear of the other riders and place the carcass in a chalked circle. Buzkashi used to be the sport of rich rival warlords but is now also financed by Afghan mobile phone companies and private airlines.
Due to the extremely physical nature of Buzkashi, riders wear heavy clothes and head protection to guard themselves against the whips and boots of other riders. As the riders have to often lean low on one side to pick up the carcass from the ground, their boots have high heels and they need to have excellent horsemanship skills.
23. Afghanistan was once Polytheistic.
Before the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan from the 7th to the 11th centuries, the Afghan people were multi-religious with Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism being the dominant religions.
24. Hamid Karzai WAS the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan.
He became president only in 2004.
25. The Durrani Empire is considered the foundation of the modern state of Afghanistan.
The Durrani Empire (or the Afghan Empire) dates back to 1747 with Ahmad Shah Durrani being credited as “Father of the Nation.”
26. Afghanistan was never part of the British Empire.
Afghanistan was never directly ruled by the British but following the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1879, it became a British protectorate and Britain controlled Afghanistan’s foreign policy for 40 years.
27. Afghanistan became a sovereign and fully independent state on 19 August 1919.
The Third Anglo-Afghan War was ended by the Treaty of Rawalpindi, which gave Afghanistan full control over its foreign relations.
28. Afghanistan remained neutral in both World War I & World War II.
Afghanistan was considered a neutral power in both world wars.
29. Afghanistan was a constitutional monarchy between 1926 and 1973.
In this period, a total of five kings reigned over Afghanistan with Amanullah Khan being the first king and Mohammed Zahir Shah the last.
30. Afghanistan has been the location where many empires and kingdoms have risen to power.
The Greco-Bactrians, Sakas, Kushans, Kidarites, Hephthalites, Alkhons, Nezaks, Zunbils, Turk Shahis, Hindu Shahis, Lawiks, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khwarazmians, Khaljis, Kartids, Lodis, Surs, Mughals, and finally, the Hotak and Durrani dynasties all enjoyed power in Afghanistan at some point in history.
31. Afghans celebrate their new year on 21 March.
Thousands of Afghans flock to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to welcome in Nawroz, a pre-Islamic festival, on the first day of spring.
32. Kabuli pulao is the national dish of Afghanistan.
This incredibly tasty dish consists of steamed rice mixed with raisins, carrots, and beef or lamb.
33. Tea is the most popular drink in Afghanistan.
One of the less surprising facts about Afghanistan I suppose, as tea is the most popular drink in many Asian countries.
34. Cricket is the most popular sport in Afghanistan.
This can be attributed to the recent successes and meteoric rise of the Afghan national cricket team.
35. Attan is the national dance of Afghanistan.
Attan is a folk dance that originated in the Pashtun-dominated regions of Afghanistan and is said to be one of the oldest forms of Afghan Pagan dance. It is considered an integral part of Afghan identity and there are many different regional and tribal variations of Attan.
Attan is usually performed on festive occasions such as weddings and engagements. It is traditionally performed by a troupe of 50 to 100 dancers who wave red scarves in the air while musicians beat drums.
36. Bollywood films are extremely popular in Afghanistan.
It is among the biggest markets in the world for the Hindi film industry.
37. The legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 16.
One of the weird Afghanistan facts for sure. In Afghan society, the most preferred marriage is to one’s parallel cousin, and the groom is generally expected to pay a bride price.
38. In Afghanistan, most shops and businesses remain closed on Friday.
This is because Friday is the Islamic holy day.
39. Afghanistan is world- famous for its pomegranates.
It has more varieties of pomegranate trees than anywhere else in the world.
40. the Helmand is the longest river in Afghanistan.
The Helmand is 1,150 km (710 MI) long which makes it the longest river in Afghanistan.
41. In 1973, Daoud Khan became the first President of Afghanistan.
Daoud Khan became president after he seized power from the king in a bloodless coup, backed by a large number of army officers who were loyal to him.
42. Almost three-fourths of Afghanistan’s terrain is mountainous.
This is thanks to the Hindu Kush mountains running northeast to southwest across the country.
43. Afghanistan has never competed in the Winter Olympics.
Despite being a country that sees significant amounts of snowfall, Afghanistan has rather surprisingly never participated in the Winter Olympics.
44. The national animal of Afghanistan is the elusive snow leopard.
It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List – only between 50 and 200 specimens remain in Afghanistan today.
45. Capital punishment is legal in Afghanistan.
The last official sentence was carried out in 2014.
46. Tulips are the national flower of Afghanistan.
Although the Netherlands are famous for their tulips, they were first cultivated in Persia reaching as far as Afghanistan.