As with much of the region, the rise and fall of political power has been inextricably tied to the rise and fall of religions. It was in Afghanistan that the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism began in the 6th century BCE. Later, Buddhism spread west from India to the Bamiyan Valley, where it remained strong until the 10th century AD. The eastward sweep of Islam reached Afghanistan in the 7th century AD, and today the vast majority of Afghans are Muslim. In recent history, there have been small Sikh, Jewish, and Ismaili communities in Afghanistan.
Buzkashi is a game that dates itself into Afghan antiquity. The name Buzkashi, literally translated means "goat killing" suggest it was derived from hunting mountain goats by champions on horseback. Today the rider (or team) who is able to pitch a dead calf across a goal line first wins. The game may last as long as a week and is as free-wheeling as the Afghan spirit.
Another sport that is enjoyed by millions of Afghan children is kite-running, which involves competing teams that build and “fight” kites for large audiences.
Afghans also play a wide variety of sports familiar to Americans, such as soccer and basketball.
The modern educational system was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century by the Afghan government and combined traditional Islamic learning with a modern curriculum. In 1935, education was declared universal, compulsory and free. With its expansion, the secular system came to be regarded as the principle medium for creating a national ideology and emphasized productive skills. By the 1960s, technical education assumed critical importance as a result of Afghanistan’s development drive.
The Afghan educational system is currently experiencing a period of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Twenty years of conflict caused the exodus of many teachers and qualified instructors and caused literacy rates to plummet. Violence throughout the country during the Soviet invasion, the Civil War, and the Taliban period, made the existence of primary and secondary schools near impossible. Schools still existed during these times, but they had little access to resources or qualified professionals. Today, starting at age seven, children attend six years of primary school, three years of middle school and three years of secondary school. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education provides a specialized curriculum and textbooks that have been developed with the assistance of Afghanistan’s international partners.
Traditional religious schools, found in towns and villages, teach children basic moral values and ritual knowledge through the study of the Koran, the Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), and popular edited religious texts. Herat, Kunduz, Ghazni, Kandahar and Kabul have become important centers for religious scholars.
While higher education also suffered during the 1980s and 90s, the Afghan government is striving to recruit foreign professors, computerize the universities, and train young Afghans to be qualified professionals in today’s competitive market. Currently, there are thirteen universities in Afghanistan educating 40, 000 students (19% women, 81% men), a tenfold increase from the 4,000 enrolled in 2002. American University of Afghanistan, supported by USAID, is opening its doors to Afghanistan and the world.
In recent years, education development has been a focus for international aid. Many organizations, especially UNESCO, ACEM, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank are sponsoring and organizing education initiatives. The Government of Afghanistan similarly view education is the key to the long-term success of the Afghan state.
A historically Pashto term, Loya Jirga, translates to “grand council.” It is a unique forum in which tribal elders of each ethnic group convene to discuss and resolve Afghanistan’s affairs. The loya jirga is centuries old tradition and a quintessential part of the Afghan government. A decision-making assembly, the jirga refrains from time limitations and continues until decision are reached through consensus. The jirga addresses a variety of issues, such as foreign policy, military action, or the introduction of new ideas and reforms.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan held several jirgas to determine the best course of action for the country’s social, political and economic development. Approximately 1,500 delegates from all over Afghanistan took part in the loya jirga in Kabul. Each district elected 20 people, who then held a secret vote to select one person to represent the whole district. The 362 districts in Afghanistan had at least one seat, with more seats allotted for every 22,000 people. Ultimately, women held 160 of the remaining seats.
In 2003, another historical loya jirga convened to discuss the proposed Afghan constitution, which was ratified on January 4th, 2004. The most pressing issues were those of centralized power, social reform, and the feasibility of a free-market economy in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Parliament draws upon this deep-rooted tradition in its structure and performance of legislative functions.
In September of 2006, President Karzai proposed holding jirgas along the Afghanistan-Paksitan border during a trilateral meeting with U.S. President George Bush and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Tribal elders on each side will side will meet with the participation of both President Karzai and President Musharraf with the hopes of resolving the problems of regional extremism and terrorism through consultation and consensus.
Since 2002, the government has made considerable progress in increasing access to health care services. Afghanistan’s health care sector has faced many challenges in the past four years, but the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) continues to move Afghanistan forward. Some achievements have included:
• Reform and restructuring of health system which has a public-private mix orientation
• Development of health policy and strategies for the period 2005 to 2009
• Expanded Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) from 9% of the population in 2003 to 77% in 2005
• Developed capacity at the Central MOPH for coordinating and managing donor funds.
In Kabul, state of the art hospitals have opened and clinics have been built and staffed all over the country. However, there is much left to be done. Maternal, infant and under-5 mortality rates are some of the highest in the world. Reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating malaria and other diseases and reaching Afghanistan’s Millennium Development Goals are central to Afghanistan’s public health mission.
• Eid al-fitr: After a month of Fasting (Ramadan), Afghans visit or entertain their friends and give gifts.
• Eid al-adha: The tenth day of the twelth month of the Higra calendar commemorates the Prophet Abraham’s devotion to God.
• Ashura: The tenth day of the month Muharram is a day of mourning commemorating the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain at the battle of Kerbala.
• Mawleed al-Nabi: The 12th day of Rabi al-Awal celebrates the Prophet’s birthday.
• Nawrooz: March 21st marks the first day of spring.
• Jeshen: August 19th is Afghanistan’s Independence Day.
Source: Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington DC