Afghanistan by David Isby Read Free Book Online

Book: Afghanistan by David Isby Read Free Book Online
Authors: David Isby
pre-existing food shortage, as Pakistan and Kazakhstan, the region’s primary food exporter, had already cut off food sales to Afghanistan to keep their own domestic prices down. The percentage of Afghans telling pollsters they were unable to afford food increased from 54 to 63 percent in 2007–09. 13 This, along with soaring energy costs. created even more hardship and sowed the seeds for more unrest. 14 Afghanistan’s politics are shaped by its geography.
    Afghanistan’s cities—some of great antiquity—provide regional markets. They are linked by trade routes that also stretch back for centuries. Kabul, the capital, with its surrounding area, has been the historic centersince the eighteenth century. Afghanistan can be geographically divided into regions around the major cities. The Northwest includes the ancient Silk Route city of Herat and the Hari River. The North, around the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, includes the northern plains. The Northeast stretches from the Shomali plain north of Kabul to distant and mountainous Badakhshan. The central Hazara Jat is effectively surrounded by mountains. In the South, Kandahar is the major city. In the east, Jalalabad and Khost are the major regional centers on trade routes with Pakistan. 15
    Since 2001, no effective Afghan national economy has emerged to tie these seven diverse and disparate regions together. As a landlocked country, the importance of the port of Karachi as Afghanistan’s most important link to the world has meant that the relationship with Pakistan is critical to the economy and future of Afghanistan.
    The failure to have an effective Afghan national economy post-2001 and the continued economic reliance on Pakistan reflects that the port of Karachi is vital as Afghanistan’s link to the outside world and that Afghanistan lacks infrastructure and established relationships with other countries that would provide an alternative path to markets. Afghanistan has no railroads (though Iran has an ongoing project to build a spur of its national system to Herat). The limited road system has, as a result, taken on a great deal of importance. What foreigners call “the ring road” links Afghanistan’s major cities and runs to the international borders. It runs south from the old Soviet border at Termez in Uzbekistan, through the Salang Pass tunnel under the Hindu Kush, down to Kabul. From there it follows the path of the traditional trade routes, running south through Ghazni to Kandahar, then west to Herat and north to the border with Turkmenistan. The ring is closed by a secondary stretch linking the western and eastern north-south routes, through Mazar-e-Sharif. There are also paved routes linking Afghanistan’s cities with foreign trading partners. The road from Kabul through Jalalabad reaches the Pakistani border at Tor Kham and from there runs through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Grand Trunk Road that leads over the River Indus to the Punjabi cities Rawalpindi and Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. Kandahar is linked by a paved road that crosses the Pakistan border at Spin Boldak, whereit runs through the Bolan Pass to Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Another road connects Herat with Iran. The rest of the country relies on secondary roads.
    Afghanistan’s population has grown to about 30–33 million, from 15–20 million in the 1970s. The high rate of growth has made the demographic “youth bulge” that affects many Middle Eastern countries even more pronounced in Afghanistan, with about 4.5 million young men aged 15–29 and about 6.7 million boys under 15; 45 percent of all males are under 15, two to three times the percentage in developed countries. In the absence of a recent census—the most recent attempt was in 1979, and security concerns have halted post-2001 plans—all population figures, especially those associated with ethnolinguistic groups, remain

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