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30,419,928 (July 2012 est.)


$1,000 (2011 est.)


Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%



Publications (6)

Afghan society and politics are simultaneously united by Islam – one of the few agents of social cohesion in a land split along ethnic and tribal lines – and threatened by militant Islamism. Though Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Greeks all left an imprint on Afghanistan’s early history, Islam has dominated its religious landscape since the 9th century. When the Soviets invaded in 1979 to support the country’s new communist government, Islam united the multiethnic opposition to the atheist regime. Once the insurgency succeeded in 1989, the country plunged into civil war. The radical Taliban regime gained power in 1996 but was deposed by a US-led invasion in 2001. However, its supporters remain a significant power in large parts of the country. The current Constitution of Afghanistan guarantees freedom of religion but mandates that Islam is the state religion and no law may contradict Islam. Islam remains a major political force, with numerous Islamic political parties as well as an ongoing Taliban insurgency.

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  • September 30, 2013
    This case study addresses the US push for government protection of religious freedom in Afghanistan and the challenges the concept has faced in Afghan society. In addition to providing an overview of the country’s recent history and religious demographics, the core text of the case study looks at three questions: What do the Afghan Constitution and international covenants say about religious liberty? Is there a disconnect between traditional Afghan sentiments and international law when it...
  • December 21, 2010
    When the US negotiated peace with American Indians just a few years after the American Revolution, they used religiously-inspired, culturally relevant symbols to bury the hatchet. However, the secularist approach to contemporary Western foreign and security policies has largely overlooked, or contemptuously disregarded, the highly religious context of war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, it is time to consider a religious approach to peacemaking in Afghanistan based on Islamic...
  • May 1, 2009
    This volume, edited by historian Robert D. Crews and reporter Amin Tarzi, offers a detailed explanation of Afghanistan's tortured history. The compiled essays thread together the history of the country beginning with the Taliban's rise to power after the Soviet withdrawal in the 1990s. The essays then recount how admiration for the Taliban vanished as it proceeded to oppress Afghans and refused to surrender Osama bin Laden after 9/11; it subsequently addresses when the US invasion helped...
  • March 1, 2008

    Foreign Affairs, March/April 2008

    Thomas F. Farr

    The United States is a religious nation, but neither scholars of U.S. foreign policy nor its practitioners have taken religion very seriously. From the inception of international relations as a discrete discipline, its approach has been defined by the seventeenth-century Westphalian subordination of religion to the state. Consequently, as the international relations scholar Daniel Philpott has observed, most in the field have simply "assumed...

  • August 20, 2006
    In this opinion piece, the authors argue that global politics is increasingly marked by what they call “prophetic politics,” a phenomenon in which people claiming transcendent authority fill public spaces and win key political contests. These movements are diverse and employ a variety of tools; whether the field of battle is democratic elections or the struggle for world public opinion, the result has been more competition among religious groups. Historical examples—including the 1979 Iranian...
  • January 1, 2000
    Journalist Ahmed Rashid presents a behind-the-scenes account of the rise of the Afghan Taliban. Rashid employs a wide geopolitical and historical lens, coupled with rare personal interviews with the Talibans enigmatic leadership, in order to explain both the internal politics of the movement as well as the larger structural forces which allowed the fundamentalist organization to seize control of a traditionally moderate nation. Rashid sees little indigenous support for the Talibans ideology...