Driving Directions Afghanistan
AFGHANISTAN is a landlocked republic in southern Asia. The more significant part of the country is mountainous with a central mass of enormous mountain ranges, the highest of which is the Hindu Kush. Many of the peaks rise to massive heights, the greatest being Nowshak (7,845 meters or 24,557 feet) on Pakistan’s border. 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.
The high mountains of Afghanistan experience an Arctic climate with precipitation falling as snow for much of the year. A continental climate prevails with sweltering, dry summers and cold winters at lower levels, 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, worsened by overgrazing. The trees have been cut down mainly for fuel as most Afghan people live at the 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 water sources are available, and, overall, minimal land is available for agriculture, most being used for grazing.
However, Agriculture 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, has battled for control of Afghanistan’s parts, including the capital, Kabul. Due to the difficult nature 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 ethnic conflict. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of infant mortality globally, life expectancy is low, and malnourishment and disease are widespread.
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From northeast to southwest, the Hindu Kush Mountains divide Afghanistan into three major regions: 1) the central highlands, which form part of the Himalaya Mountains and comprise roughly two-thirds of the country’s area; 2) the southwestern plateau, which accounts for one-fourth of the land; and 3) the smaller northern plains area, which contains the country’s most fertile soil. The Wakhan corridor, lying between Tajikistan and Pakistan, is a narrow panhandle in the northeast Hindu Kush.
Afghanistan is landlocked. The nearest seacoast is roughly 483 kilometers (300 miles) south of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea’s shores.
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