Afghanistan is a culturally mixed nation, a crossroads between the East and the West, and has been an ancient focal point of trade and migration. It has an important geostrategical location, connecting South, Central and Southwest Asia. During its long history, the land has seen various invaders and conquerors, while on the other hand, local entities invaded the surrounding vast regions to form their own empires. Ahmad Shah Durrani created the Durrani Empire in 1747, with its capital at Kandahar. Subsequently, the capital was shifted to Kabul and most of its territories ceded to former neighboring countries. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in "The Great Game" played between the British Indian Empire and Russian Empire. On August 19, 1919, following the third Anglo-Afghan war, the country regained full independence from the United Kingdom over its foreign affairs.
Since the late 1970s Afghanistan has suffered continuous and brutal civil war, which included foreign interventions in the form of the 1979 Soviet invasion and the recent 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government. In late 2001 the United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This force is composed of NATO troops that are involved in assisting the government of President Hamid Karzai in establishing the writ of law as well as rebuilding key infrastructures in the nation. In 2005, the United States and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement committing both nations to a long-term relationship. In the meantime, multi-billion US duller have also been provided by the international community for the reconstruction of the country.
Afghanistan can be considered a country of minorities as there is no group serving as a majority. Rather, Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group followed by Tajiks as the second largest group, then Hazaras, Uzbeks tied for third, followed by the Aimak, Turkmen, Baluch, Nuristani and other small groups. Pashto and Persian the two official languages of the country. Persian is spoken by at least half of the population and serves as a lingua franca for most. Pashto is spoken widely in the south, east and south west. Uzbek and Turkmen are spoken in the north. Smaller groups throughout the country also speak more than 70 other languages and numerous dialects.
The term Afghan, though (historically) synonymous with Pashtun, is promoted as a national identity. It is, however, hard to combine the varying groups. Often the Pashtun are referred to as Afghans while other groups hold to their ethnic name (e.g., Tajiks are known as Tajiks, Turkmens are known as Turkmens, etc.). The citizens of Afghanistan are in many ways somewhat distinct from the notion of ethnic Afghans as a result of this understanding. In order to solve the problem, in recent years, the term Afghanistani (meaning of or from Afghanistan and analogous to Uzbekistani, Pakistani, or Tajikistani) has been suggested for the citizens of Afghanistan in contrast to (ethnic) Afghans who would be the Pashtuns. The idea is supported by some politicians in Afghanistan, such as Latif Pedram.
99% of Afghanistan's population adheres to Islam. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni, following the Hanafi school of jurisprudence; 19% is predominantly Shi'a. Despite attempts during the years of communist rule to secularize Afghan society, Islamic practices pervade all aspects of life. In fact, Islam served as the principal basis for expressing opposition to communist rule and the Soviet invasion. Likewise, Islamic religious tradition and codes, together with traditional practices, provide the principal means of controlling personal conduct and settling legal disputes. Excluding urban populations in the principal cities, most Afghans are divided into tribal and other kinship-based groups, which follow traditional customs and religious practices.
Hindu Kush mountain range segregates Afghanistan east to west. In the east, they rise to height of 24,000 ft (7315m). Afghanistan is a mountainous country barring the south-west. Tall snow-carpeted mountains and deep valleys occupy most part of the country. Near the sourthern border with Afghanistan are large areas of sandy desert. Four major river systems of the country are Amu Darya, Helmand, Hari Rud and Kabul.
Climate of Afghanistan is immensely varied. The country experiences extremes of climate. Afghanistan on the whole is dry, falling under desert classification. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are cold and snowy. Roughly snow season falls in mountains in October-April. However, it varies with elevation. Various regions of the country have significant regional variations. North-east region has subarctic climate with dry, cold winters, while the areas adjacent to Pakistan border are influenced by Indian monsoons. In south-west, strong winds blow during summer.