Country, south-central Asia. Area: 249,347 sq mi (645,807 sq km). Population (2009 est.): 28,150,000. Capital: Kabul. About two-fifths of the people belong to the Pashtun ethnic group; other ethnic groups include Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara. Languages: Pashto, Persian (both official). Religions: Islam (official; predominantly Sunni); also Zoroastrianism. Currency: afghani. Afghanistan has three distinctive regions: the northern plains are the major agricultural area; the southwestern plateau consists primarily of desert and semiarid landscape; and the central highlands, including the Hindu Kush, separate these regions. Afghanistan has a developing economy based largely on agriculture; its significant mineral resources remain largely untapped because of the Afghan War of the 1980s and subsequent fighting. Traditional handicrafts remain important; woolen carpets are a major export. Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with two legislative bodies; the president is head of both state and government. The area was part of the Persian Achaemenian Empire in the 6th century BCE and was conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE. Hindu influence entered with the Hephthalites and Sasanians. Islam became entrenched during the rule of the Saffarids, c. 870 CE. Afghanistan was divided between the Mughal Empire of India and the Safavid empire of Persia until the 18th century, when other Persians under Nadir Shah took control. Britain fought several wars in the area in the 19th century. From the 1930s the country had a stable monarchy, which was overthrown in the 1970s. Marxist reforms sparked rebellion, and Soviet troops invaded. Afghan guerrillas prevailed, and the Soviets withdrew in 1989. In 1992 rebel factions overthrew the government and established an Islamic republic. In 1996 the Taliban militia took power in Kabul and enforced a harsh Islamic order. The militia's unwillingness to extradite extremist leader Osama bin Laden and members of his al-Qaeda militant organization following the September 11 attacks in 2001 led to military conflict with the U.S. and allied nations, the overthrow of the Taliban, and the establishment of an interim government.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.Country, southern Asia. Area: 340,499 sq mi (881,889 sq km). Population (2009 est.): 174,579,000. Capital: Islamabad. The population is a complex mix of indigenous peoples who have been affected by successive waves of migrations of Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Pashtuns, Mughals, and Arabs. Languages: Urdu (national), English, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi. Religions: Islam (official; predominantly Sunni); also Christianity, Hinduism. Currency: Pakistani rupee. Pakistan may be divided into four regions: the northern mountains, the Balochistan Plateau, the Indus Plain, and the desert areas. The Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan ranges form the great mountain areas of the northernmost part of the country; some of the highest peaks are K2 and Nanga Parbat. The country has a developing mixed economy based largely on agriculture, light industries, and services. Remittances from Pakistanis working abroad are a major source of foreign exchange. Pakistan is a federal republic with two legislative houses; its head of state is the president, and its head of government is the prime minister. The area has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BCE. From the 3rd century BCE to the 2nd century CE, it was part of the Mauryan and Kushan kingdoms. The first Muslim conquests were in the 8th century CE. The British East India Co. subdued the reigning Mughal dynasty in 1757. During the period of British colonial rule, what is now (Muslim) Pakistan was part of (Hindu) India. The new state of Pakistan came into existence in 1947 by act of the British Parliament. The Kashmir region remained a disputed territory between Pakistan and India, with tensions resulting in military clashes and full-scale war in 1965. Civil war between East and West Pakistan in 1971 resulted in independence for Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) in 1972. Many Afghan refugees migrated to Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s and remained there during the Taliban and post-Taliban periods. Pakistan elected Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to head a modern Islamic state, in 1988. She and her party were ousted in 1990, but she returned to power in 199397. Conditions became volatile during that period. Border flare-ups with India continued, and Pakistan conducted tests of nuclear weapons. Political conditions worsened, and the army carried out a coup in 1999.