Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability - particularly in the south and the east - remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government.
The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama BIN LADIN.
Around 92 per cent of the world's heroin comes from poppies grown in Afghanistan, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Afghan Persian or Dari, which is spoken by 50 percent of the population, and Pashto, spoken by 35 percent, are the official languages. Eleven percent of the population speak Turkic languages, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen.
Sunni Muslims make up about 80 percent of the population, Shi'a Muslims about 19 percent.
GEOGRAPHY - Ringed by Iran, Pakistan and the central Asian states of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, landlocked Afghanistan forms part of an ancient east-west trade route and covers an area of 647,500 sq km (250,000 sq miles).
Agriculture has been the backbone of the Afghan economy. Over thirty years of war, cultivated land has declined due to population dislocation, land mines, drought and damage to centuries-old irrigation systems. Key agricultural products are wheat, fruits, nuts, barley, rice, potatoes and wool and lambskins
The capital of Afghanistan is Kabul, which throughout history, was admired by many great figures, such as the great Central Asian conqueror, Zahirudeen Babur. Unfortunately, due to many years of war, this great city has been shattered and nearly destroyed.
Afghanistan is a heterogeneous nation, in which there are four major ethnic groups: Pashtoons, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. Numerous other minor ethnic groups (Nuristanis, Baluchis, Turkmens, etc.) also call Afghanistan their home. While the majority of Afghans (99%) belong to the Islamic faith, there are also small pockets of Sikhs, Hindus and even some Jews.