Driving Directions Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN is a landlocked republic in southern Asia. The greater part of the country is mountainous with a central mass of huge mountain ranges, the highest of which is the Hindu Kush. Many of the peaks rise to enormous heights, the greatest being Nowshak (7,845 meters or 24,557 feet) on the border with Pakistan. Glaciers and permanent snowfields cover the highest peaks. Routes through the mountains depend upon lower-lying passes such as the famous Khyber Pass in the east. Lower-lying areas are found only in the northwest, west, and south of Afghanistan, but much of this is arid or desert land as in the Registan Desert in the south.

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The high mountains of Afghanistan experience an Arctic climate with precipitation falling as snow for much of the year. At lower levels, a continental type of climate prevails with extremely hot, dry summers and cold winters but temperatures can vary greatly, even during one day. Rainfall occurs mainly in the spring. Natural vegetation varies from evergreen forests and woodlands with oak, hazelnut, almond, and pistachio trees to dry grasslands and desert plants. Severe deforestation has taken place resulting in damage to the environment which has been worsened by overgrazing. The trees have been cut down mainly for use as fuel as most of the Afghan people live at subsistence level. Wildlife, both animals and birds, is extremely diverse but many species are hunted and are consequently rare. Cultivation is possible only in river valleys or where other sources of water are available and, overall, very little land is available for agriculture, most being used for grazing.

Agriculture, however, is the main economic activity, with some 60 percent of the people living by farming. Natural gas is produced in northern Afghanistan, and over 90 percent of this is piped across the border to the former USSR. Large oil reserves have been discovered in the north of the country, but these have not been exploited, due mainly to ongoing civil conflict. Other mineral resources are scattered and so far underdeveloped. The main exports are Karakul lambskins, raw cotton, and foodstuffs such as dried fruit.

Since 1994, the Taliban, an extreme, fundamentalist, Islamic group, have battled for control of parts of Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul. Due to the difficult nature of much of Afghanistan’s terrain, its people have generally led a hard and precarious existence. War with Russia (1979-1989) and ongoing civil strife have further devastated the country and its people, leading to a mass exodus of refugees and severe hardship for those who remain. Since the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the country has still been troubled by, mainly ethnic, conflict. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world, life expectancy is low, and malnourishment and disease are widespread.

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