3. COUNTRY BACKGROUND
Official name: the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Location: Central Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east
of Iran, and south of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ta-
jikistan. The narrow Wakhan Corridor extends from the
northeastern part of Afghanistan to meet with China.
Climate: Afghanistan’s climate generally is of the arid or
semi-arid steppe type, featuring cold
winters and dry, hot summers.
Ethnic Make-up: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uz-
bek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%
Religions: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%
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More than 30 languages are spoken in Afghanistan. Pash-
tu and Dari (Afghan Persian) are the official languages of
Afghanistan. Both belong to the Indo-European group of
languages. According to estimates, approximately 35%
of the Afghan population speaks Pashtu, and about 50%
speaks Dari. Turkic languages (Uzbek and Turkmen) are
spoken by about 11% of the population. There are also
numerous other languages spoken in the country (Baluchi,
Pashai, Nuristani, etc.), and bilingualism is very common.
The background of the Afghan flag is three equal vertical
sections of black, red, and green. In the center of the flag
in yellow is the national coat of arms, which portrays a
mosque with a banner and a sheaf of wheat on either
side. In the upper-middle part of the insignia are the
lines “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his
prophet” and “Allah is Great,” together with a rising sun.
The word “Afghanistan” and the year 1298 (the Muslim
calendar equivalent of the year of independence, 1919)
are located in the lower part of the insignia.
The most typical characteristic of Afghan society are
the Chai Khanas, or tea houses, which abound every-
where in the country. Often beautifully decorated, the
Chai Khanas are the central gathering place for every
town and village in Afghanistan. In them, one can enjoy
a nourishing Afghan meal, such as palaw, chalaw, ka-
bab, a pot of green or black tea.
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Islam is practised by the majority of Afghanis and gov-
erns much of their personal, political, economic and
legal lives. Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day
- at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening. Friday
is the Muslim holy day. Most shops and offices will be
closed. Government offices and businesses may also
close on Thursday, making the weekend Thursday and
During the holy month of Ramadan all Muslims must
fast from dawn to dusk and are only permitted to work
six hours per day. Fasting includes no eating, drinking,
cigarette smoking, or gum chewing. Foreigners are not
required to fast; however, they should not eat, drink,
smoke, or chew gum in public.
The teeming capital of Afghanistan, Kabul is home to
some of the best heritage sites in the world. Also being
one of the oldest cities of the world it has many worth
seeing natural splendors coupled together with the pres-
ence of ancient monumental landmarks. One of the most
prominent attractions in Kabul is the Baghi Balah, located
at the top of the city providing the visitors a beautiful
bird’s eye view of the whole city and its surroundings.
Other tourist attractions include Darulaman Palace, Kabul
Museum, Shamali and the King Nadir Shah’s Tomb. It
is interesting to note that the old Kabul is full of nar-
row pebbled streets, dilapidated buildings and bustling
crowd. Few people would ever think that Kabul has
shopping malls which have international products and
accessories. The illustrious historical forts widely display
the architecture of the past era.
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One of the world’s first oil paintings can be found in the
caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghan-
istan around 650BC. Bamiyan boasted a flourishing
Buddhist civilisation from the 2nd Century up to the
Islamic invasion of the 9th Century. This is where the
world’s two largest standing Buddhas once were, until
they were destroyed in 2001.
Afghans celebrate their new year, Nawroz, on 21
March, the first day of spring. Thousands travel to the
northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to welcome in Nawroz,
a pre-Islamic festival. Local strong men raise a great
Janda, an Islamic banner, to herald the beginning of
spring and the start of the new year. If they are able
to lift it in one smooth motion, this is seen as a good
omen for the months to come.
Afghanistan would like its national game, buzkashi, or
goat-grabbing, to be an Olympic sport. Regarded as the
world’s wildest game, it involves riders on horseback
competing to grab a goat carcass, and gallop clear of
the others to drop it in a chalked circle. It has been
played on Afghanistan’s northern steppe for centuries.
The game used to be the sport of rich rival warlords
but is now also financed by Afghan mobile phone com-
panies and private airlines. But it is still not a sport for
the faint-hearted, and women should not apply.
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7. The Ethnic Make-up and Tribes
Afghanistan is a vast country with a rich mix of ethnicities
The Pashtu are Sunni Muslims and constitute around 42%
of the population and are concentrated in Nangrahar and
Pakhtya provinces and also live in neighbouring
Tajiks comprise roughly 27% of the population. They are
Iranian in origin and speak a form of Persian found in
Eastern Iran. Most are Sunni Muslim and reside in Kabul
and Herat provinces, and in the mountains north of Hindu
Kush, and the Iranian border.
Hazaris make up about 9% of the population. They are de-
scendants of the Mongols, and speak a dialect of Persian
that contains many Turkish words. They are also Shia Mus-
lims, which has led to much of their persecution under
Taliban rule. Most live in the Hazarajat region.
Uzbeks live in the northern parts of the country and also
comprise only 9% of the population. They are Sunni Mus-
lims and speak a dialect of Turkish. The Turkomen are a
small minority with making only 3% of the population.
Baluchis are pastoral nomads who speak Baluchi, an Irani-
an language. They comprise 2% of the population.
Poetry is a cherished part of Afghan culture. Afghans
have told their stories in verse for more than 1,000
years. Thursday night is “poetry night” in the west-
ern city of Herat- men, women and children gather to
share ancient and modern verse, listen to traditional
Herati music, and enjoy sweet tea and pastries long
into the night.
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8. The refugees (both legal and illegal) fled Afghanistan in four main waves:
• Soviet war in Afghanistan (1978-89)
• Civil War (1992–96)
• Taliban Rule (1996–2001)
• War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
Returning to Afghanistan
Over 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, increasing the coun-
try’s population by approximately 25%. However, overall trends since 2006 show a dimin-
ishing level of voluntary repatriation and growing internal displacement. Relatively low
voluntary return rates may reflect mounting concerns among exiles about the security
situation in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan that return refugees encounter upon their arrival is far from the eco-
nomically and politically stable country that they might have hoped for. According to a
November 2012 report by the Feinstein International Center, one in three Afghan chil-
dren are malnourished, with rates of malnourishment far higher in conflict-affected
regions, such as those in the country’s south. Access to healthcare remains very limited,
with 15% of the population without access to even the most basic healthcare services.
Because of the economic vulnerability and insecurity that Afghans face in their home re-
gions, increasing numbers are on the move to other Afghan cities. Over 15% of returned
refugees had to move again in 2011, often from rural to urban areas to seek security,
food, and work.
Many return refugees have been unable to go back to their places of origin for reasons
of continued insecurity or the lack of a viable livelihood. Poverty and disasters associated
with natural hazard events have also contributed to the recent displacement of Afghans,
but violence has been the major factor in involuntary population movements.
Not all Afghans are returning home. The 2011 industrialized country asylum data notes a
30% increase in applications from Afghans from 2010 to 2011, primarily towards Germa-
ny and Turkey, reflecting the unwillingness of Afghan refugees to return and the eager-
ness of those still residing there to leave.
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9. In 2013, more than 2.8 million Afghan refugees were living in Iran with only 0.8 million of
them being registered as legal migrants and rest living as illegal refugees in Iran. Similarly 1.5
million officially registered Afghan refugees were reported to be
living in Pakistan in addition to approximately one million
more illegal refugees.
In December 2014 there was a terrorist attack
on a school in Peshewar by the Pakistani
Talaban and over 100 school children were
killed. A few Afghans were involved.
Following the attack, Afghan refugees
in Pakistan began to encounter seri-
ous harassment and often were told
to return to Afghanistan. There was
a mass exodus of tens of thousands
of refugees which was ongoing as of
Afghans in Finland
Nearly three million Afghans are living
in exile, not only in the neighbouring
countries, but also spread all over the
world. Millions of Afghans have left their
homes in fear of war, famine and chaos.
One of the countries they have been resettled
in is Finland, which supports the international
refugee programme by receiving approximately 200
Afghan refugees from Iran every year.
Small numbers of Afghans have migrated to Finland since the early
twentieth century, but since 2001-2010 in particular there has been an increase in the num-
ber of Afghans arriving to Finland. In 2010, Finnish immigration service estimated the total
number of Afghans in Finland as 3500. In 2014, this number grew to up to approximately
4000 people. The figure includes both persons with a permanent status and those whose
asylum applications are under consideration.
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10. • The people of Afghanistan are called Afghans and not Afghanis, which is the currency. A
common mistake that happens among people.
• Afghanistan’s main source of income comes from agriculture. They produce large
amounts of crops that are enough to provide for the people and export as well. They
plant vegetables, fruits, rice and nuts.
• Afghanistan is also rich in natural resources, with the main ones being natural gas and
• Afghanistan celebrates its independence on August 19th from Britain. Afghanistan was
not actually part of the British Colony. However, they went into war three times until Af-
ghanistan declared its independence in 1919.
• The modern state of Afghanistan was founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747.
• Initially, the capital city of Afghanistan was Kandahar. It was later shifted to Kabul.
• In Afghanistan, the meal is incomplete without ‘naan,’ which is a flat, unleavened bread.
• The highest mountain range of Afghanistan is Hindu Kush, the highest point in the coun-
try is formed by Nowshak, which is situated at 7,485 m above sea level. ‘Kush’comes from
the verb ‘kushtan’ which means ‘to kill.’ Hindu Kush means ‘Hindu Killer.’ Mountaineering
tourism has become very popular in recent years, Hindu killing is a thing of the past.
• Opium is the fastest and largest growing crop in Afghanistan.
• The Minaret of Jam, in the Hari River valley, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
• For a long period of time, the foreign affairs of Afghanistan were under the control of
the United Kingdom. It was only on August 19, 1919, after the third Anglo-Afghan war,
that the country regained sovereignty over its foreign affairs.
• The term ‘Afghanistan’ means the ‘Land of Afghans’. Afghans is an alternative name for
Pashtuns, which is the largest ethnic group.
• The endorheic Sistan Basin in Afghanistan is regarded as one of the driest regions in the
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11. Mazar Sharif
Every year thousands of pilgrims come to Marzar Sharif to pay homage to the Shrine of
Ali, the Fourth Caliph of Islam. Festivities are held on Now Ruz, the Afghan New Year, ob-
served on March 21st – the beginning of spring. Mazare is also a major market place for
karakul and traditional Afghan carpets.
Referred to by the ancients as the “Mother of Cities,” today it is a small town near Mazare
that is overshadowed by memories of past glory. Here, Zoroaster first preached, and Al-
exander made Balkh headquarters for two years. The city was also the capital of the Bac-
trian Empire. Later the Timurid dynasty built a college and an impressive shrine at Balkh.
Nearby stand the remains of one of the oldest mosques of the Islamic world, the Masjide
Few cities have as diverse a past as Her-
at. Within Heart’s city walls Alexander
built a mighty fortress; today a citadel,
although altered many times, still
stands on the same spot. In the
centuries that followed, Herat was
the pivot around which cultural
influence from Iran, Central Asia,
and Afghanistan converged.
Ghenghis Khan and Tamerlane
each wreaked havoc upon the
city, but Herat persevered to live
a period of unequaled splendor
during the reign of the Timurid
Today, Herat’s minarets, mosques,
shrines, and monuments testify to the
glory of that period, when art, literature,
and refinement attained high degrees of
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The birthplace of modern Afghanistan, Kandahar is a thriving commercial and industrial
center. Excepting its modern share Nau (New City), Kandahar still remains substantially
unchanged from the city that Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of the state of Afghani-
stan, built two hundred years ago. It is famous for its fruits and intricate embroidery work.
Although today it appears to be only a small town, Ghazni was once the capital of the
powerful Ghaznavid Empire, which stretched from Persia to India. Two star-shaped mina-
rets, a palace, a mausoleum, and a museum only suggest the glory of Ghazni’s past.
The people of this remote region, once called Kafirs, or unbelievers, were converted to
Islam only 70 years ago. Now called Nouristanis – “People of Light” – they are still unique
in all of Afghanistan. In legend, the people of Nouristan claim the Greek god Dionysus as
Seven hours by car and one hour by plane from Kabul, this
beautiful valley is undoubtedly one of Afghanistan’s fore-
most attractions. There are also extensive ruins of ancient
towns and fortresses – one being the Red City – which flour-
ished until the onslaught of Ghenghis Khan in the thirteenth
Bande Amir Without fail, visitors to Afghanistan have mar-
veled at the country’s natural beauty. The formidable Hin-
du Kush, the vast expanse of the Turkestan plains, and the
seclusion of the Southern desert have impressed travelers
from Alexander the Great to Marco Polo. In fact, it is the
raw, unspoiled natural beauty that forms the visitor’s first
and most enduring impression of the country. But of all the
natural wonders of Afghanistan, the lakes of Bande Amir are
perhaps the most outstanding. Situated in the mountainous
Hazarajat at an altitude of almost 3000m., and 75 km from
Bamiyan, these majestic blue lakes are of legendary beauty.
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Afghan food is a tasteful fusion of the regions that neighbor Afghanistan. Major ethnic
groups are Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks. Modern Afghan cuisine is the blending of the
cooking methods of the three. Indian influence is obvious in the use of spices like saffron,
coriander, cardamom and black pepper. The Afghans prefer cuisine which is neither too
spicy nor hot.
Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the
nation’s chief crops, such as wheat, maize,
barley and rice. Accompanying these sta-
ples are native fruits and vegetables (includ-
ing nuts) as well as dairy products such as
milk, yogurt and whey.
Qabli Pulao: It is the most popular dish of
Afghanistan. It is steamed rice with chops
of raisins and carrot. It is often served with
Kababs: Lamb kabab is a favorite of the Af-
ghans. Afghan kabab is mostly served with
naan, and rarely rice.
Mantu: Mantu are steamed dumplings fat-
tened with minced beef with onion, usually
topped with a tomato-based, yogurt- or
Bread: Usually, Afghans consume three
types of bread. These breads are locally
called Naan, Obi Naan and Lavash. Naan is
made of wheat and is thin, long and oval
shaped. Obi Naan is shaped like a disk and
is thicker than naan. Lavash is very thin
bread and used as plating for meats and
Qorma: It is a stew or casserole, usual-
ly served with chalau rice. Most are on-
ion-based; onions are fried, then meat
added, including a variety of fruits, spices,
and vegetables, depending on the recipe.
The onion is caramelized and creates a rich-
ly colored stew.
Rice Dishes: One of the most popular rice
dishes is chalow, fluffy white rice. The Af-
ghans love to eat chalow with Qormas.
Weddings and family gatherings usually
feature several rice dishes.
Dairy Products: Because of cattle and sheep
herding, dairy products are traditionally an
important part of the diet.
Shomleh is a cold drink made by mixing
water with yogurt and then adding fresh or
dried mint. It is the most widely consumed
drink in Afghanistan, especially during lunch
time in the summer season.
Afghan people are fond of non-vegetarian
dishes. Usually they don’t use cutlery. Food
is gulped with the right hand, using naan
as scoop. The Afghans treat their guests
with great respect and try to serve their
guests with excellent food.
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14. HISTORY IN BRIEF
Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, and located along the Silk
Road, has a long history of turbulence. Based on archaeological evidence, urban civiliza-
tion began in the region between 3000 and 2000 BC.
The first historical
documents date from the
early part of the Iranian
which controlled the area
from 550 BC until 331 BC.
Between 331 and 327
BC, Alexander the Great
defeated the Achaemenian
emperor Darius III and
squashed local resistance.
Alexander and his
successors, the Seleucids,
brought Greek cultural
influences to the region.
Shortly thereafter, the Mauryan Empire of India gained control of southern Afghanistan,
bringing with it Buddhism. In the mid-third century BC, nomadic Kushans established an
empire that became a cultural and commercial center (60s–375 AD). From the end of the
Kushan Empire in the third century AD until the seventh century, the region was fragment-
ed and under the general protection of the Iranian Sassanian Empire.
In 642 AD, Arabs invaded the entire region and introduced Islam. Arab rule gave way to
the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered by the Turkic Ghaznavids in 998.
Following Mahmud’s short-lived dynasty, various princes attempted to rule sections of the
country until the Mongol invasion of 1219, led by Genghis Khan. Following Genghis Khan’s
death in 1227, a succession of petty chiefs and princes struggled for supremacy until late
in the 14th century, when one of his descendants, Tamerlane, incorporated Afghanistan
into his own vast Asian empire.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani unified the Pashtun tribes and created the Durrani Em-
pire, which is considered the beginning of modern Afghanistan. In the late 19th century,
Afghanistan became a buffer state between the British Indian Empire and the Russian
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15. Empire. On August 19, 1919, following the third
Anglo-Afghan war, the country regained full inde-
pendence from the United Kingdom.
A brief foray into democracy ended in a 1973 coup
and a 1978 Communist counter-coup. The Soviet
Union invaded in 1979 to support the frail Afghan
Communist regime, sparking a long and destructive
war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless
pressure from internationally supported anti-Com-
munist mujahedin rebels. After a subsequent se-
ries of civil wars, in 1996 Kabul fell to the Taliban,
a hard-line Pakistani-sponsored movement that
emerged in 1994 to end the country’s civil war and
anarchy. Following the September 11, 2001, terror-
ist attacks, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern
Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for shel-
tering Osama Bin Laden. The UN-sponsored Bonn
Conference in 2001 established a process for politi-
cal reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution.
In December 2004, Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president of Af-
ghanistan. The National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. After winning
a second term in 2009, Karzai’s presidency came to an end in 2014. The Afghanistan pres-
idential election of 2014 was controversial, and despite UN supervision there were many
allegations of fraud. After a second round of voting Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was elected
Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and con-
tinuing provincial instability — particularly in the south and the east — remain serious
challenges for the government of Afghanistan.
HISTORY IN BRIEF
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16. PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
Moveable date in winter or
It is the observance of the
birthday of the Islamic
15 February: Liberation Day
This day marks the anniver-
sary of the Soviet withdraw-
al from Afghanistan in 1989.
Nowruz, the Bew Year’s Day
Nowruz marks the first day
of spring or Equinox and the
beginning of the year in the
Mujahideen Victory Day
It commemorates the day
when Mujahideen rebel
forces overthrew Moham-
mad Najibullah’s Democratic
Republic of Afghanistan in
1992. It is celebrated mostly
by former mujahideen and
by the Muslim people of Af-
ghanistan. Some minority of
Afghans are against celebrat-
ing the day because it marks
the start of the civil war.
Afghan Independence Day is
celebrated to commemorate
the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of
1919. The treaty granted
from Britain, although Af-
ghanistan was never a part
of the British Empire.
Moveable date in summer:
Eid ul-Fitr (3 days)
The holiday celebrates the
conclusion of the 29 or 30
days of dawn-to-sunset fast-
ing during the entire month
8 or 9 September:
Ahmad Shah Massoud was
an Afghan military leader
of the resistance against
the Soviet Invasion and the
Taliban, assassinated on
September 9, 2001. The hol-
iday is celebrated as Haftai
Shahid, or “Martyr Week”. It
is also observed as Massoud
Day as a commemoration of
Moveable day in autumn or
winter: Day of Arafah
Commemoration of prophet
Muhammad’s final sermon
and completion of the mes-
sage of Islam. Marks the
second day of the Pilgrimage
or Hajj for the millions of
Muslims who make the trip
to Mecca each year. A day
on which Muslims fast to
repent for their sins.
Moveable date in autumn:
Eid al-Adha (4 days)
This holiday is the second of
two religious holidays cel-
ebrated by Muslims world-
wide each year.
It honors the willingness of
Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacri-
fice his promised son, Ishma-
el (Ismail), as an act of sub-
mission to God’s command,
before God then intervened,
through His angel Gabriel (Ji-
bra’il) and informs him that
his sacrifice has already been
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17. PEOPLE IN AFGHANISTAN
Concepts of Honour and Shame
Honour in Afghan culture defines the repu-
tation of an individual, as well as those they
are associated with. The male who is the
head of the family is responsible for pro-
tecting the honour of the family.
The issue of honour drives much of the
behaviour surrounding the protection of
women, dress code, social interaction, edu-
cation and economic activity. If someone’s
honour has been compromised, they are
shamed and will look for a way to exact re-
venge for themselves, their family or group.
The role of honour and tribalism has fuelled
much of the disharmony in the country’s
recent history - with one group carrying out
violent acts against another, the victims are
forced to respond causing a circle of vio-
Meeting and Greeting
When meeting someone the handshake is
the most common form on greeting. You
will also see people place their hands over
their hearts and nod slightly.
One should always enquire about things
like a person’s health, business, family, etc.
Women and men will never shake hands or
speak directly to one another alone.
Eye contact should also be avoided be-
tween men and women. Between men eye
contact is acceptable as long as it is not pro-
longed - it is best to only occasionally look
someone in the eyes, otherwise it is consid-
Hospitality is an essential aspect of Afghan culture. No matter who you are, if you
visit a home you will be given the best the family has. This relates back to the idea
of gaining honour. If you are invited for tea, you will be offered snacks and your
tea glass will be constantly filled. When you have had enough, cover the glass
with your hand and say “bus” (meaning ‘enough’).
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18. Family is of utmost importance in the Afghan culture. Extended families typically remain
together for life. Communication and socialization are limited almost exclusively to the
Nepotism – brothers taking care of brothers – is a normal, expected way of life in Afghan-
istan. The word for this is Wastah (WAH-stah). Taking care of the family and friends is
important in all aspects of life: in government, in educational institutions, in business, in
marriage, in personal relationships, wastah is universally applied.
Family bonds and family honor are sacred for the Afghans. Family honor determines the
family’s status in society. Family matters are extremely private. Bringing shame upon an
Afghan family will almost certainly result in some form of retaliation or revenge. When
a female family member is shamed, the retaliation may literally be a matter of life and
death for both her and the offender. Afghan wives are seldom pictured in photos.
Among Afghans, respect comes with age for both men and women. In homes where the
eldest is a female, she will enjoy great respect, but a teenage son might still be regarded
as a decision maker. While Afghanistan’s society is patriarchal, women are highly revered
and devoted to family life. In addition to age being respected, in Afghan society, women
achieve respect and status by becoming mothers.
Afghans are typically friendly and hospitable, but they can also be stern and hard by West-
ern standards. This is in large part due to their war experiences. Their living codes that
stress honor and one’s responsibility to fulfill expected roles are strict and inflexible.
Personal disputes are not solved easily because of the need to protect one’s personal and
Among Afghans, piety, or devoutness to religious standards and other obligations (such as
to parents) and stoicism, or being restrained in outward demonstrations of emotions, are
admired traits. For Afghans showing joy or grief openly is rare.
Marriages are typically arranged by the family in Afghanistan. Marriage is typically the first
contact the bride and groom have with anyone of the opposite sex who is not related to
them. Due to the close bonds among extended family, marriage between second and even
first cousins is quite common as is polygamy, which is allowed by Islam.
FAMILY IN AFGHANISTAN
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19. Gender equity is an extremely controversial
issue in Afghanistan, particularly under the
Taliban’s rule. Afghans generally agree on
the underlying principles of gender equity.
It is the application of these principles that
varies from group to group; and there is a
wide range of standards set for accepted fe-
male behavior, as well as differences in male
attitudes toward correct treatment of wom-
en. Contradictions arise between traditional
tribal or ethnic practices, many of which are
alien to the spirit of Islam. Further, the dic-
tates of Islam are subject to diverse interpre-
tation among reformists, traditionalists and
ultraconservatives. Debates between these
groups can be highly volatile.
Historically, the conduct of women (and
men) has been strictly governed by rigid
tribal behavior codes, as much as by Islam-
ic law. The concept of Purdah [PUR-dah]
(meaning veil or curtain) establishes and
represents the physical boundaries between
men and women. Purdah can range from
separate rooms for living and entertaining
in the home, to the wearing of the burka or
chadri [chad-REE], a garment covering the
body from head to toe which women wear in
A family’s social position depends on the
public behavior of its female members. Step-
ping outside prescribed roles and behavioral
norms in public results in moral condemna-
tion and social ostracism. It is the dictates of
society that place a burden on both men and
women to conform. Under such circumstanc-
es, gender roles generally follow defined
paths. Male roles reside in family economic
welfare, politics, and relationships with out-
siders; within the family they are expected
to be disciplinarians and providers for aged
parents. Female roles stress motherhood,
child socialization and family nurturing. Even
among professional career women, family
responsibilities remain a top priority.
For all Afghan women, maintaining a good
reputation is a lifelong demand. Once a
woman’s reputation is tarnished, she is no
longer respected, and society’s respect
cannot be regained. Promiscuity, rape, di-
vorce and the like will all tarnish a woman’s
reputation. This is not true among men, who
can redeem themselves through revenge or
some honorable settlement. Afghan society
regards unmarried women over the age of
25 and divorced women with disapprov-
al. There is no dishonor in being widowed.
However, for financial reasons, a brother or
father of the deceased husband will often
take the widow as another wife or otherwise
provide for her.
Restrictions on women under the Taliban and
fundamentalist mujahedeen groups were se-
vere and included loss of jobs and education-
al opportunities. Since the fall of the Taliban,
women are returning to work and schools
are slowly opening for young girls. It has
been estimated that almost half of the gov-
ernment workers are now women, including
25% of the parliament.
19 Country profile AFGHANISTANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com
20. IMPORTANT TIPS
• Always remove your shoes at the door if
visiting a home.
• Wait to be shown where to sit.
• If you can, sit cross-legged. Otherwise
sit as comfortably as you can. Do not sit
with legs outstretched and your feet facing
• If eating at someone’s home, you will be
seated on the floor, usually on cushions.
• Food is served on plastic or vinyl table-
cloths spread on the floor.
• Food is generally served communally and
everyone will share from the same dish.
• Food is eaten with the hands. It will be
a case of watch and learn. Food is usually
scooped up into a ball at the tip of the fin-
gers, then eaten.
• Do not eat with the left hand.
• Always pass and receive things using your
right hand as well.
• Leave food on your plate otherwise it will
be filled up again.
Good topics of conversation include: gen-
eral inquiries about overall family welfare,
friendship, culture, food, education, agri-
culture and traits such as bravery, honor,
courage and loyalty.
Poor topics of conversation generally in-
clude anything related to Islam, religion
and spirituality. Regional politics, the Tal-
iban, women’s rights, equality and things
you may not agree with about the region
are taboo as well.
Detailed family matters are completely pri-
vate and only discussed with other family
Any criticism is highly offensive. While Af-
ghans may engage you in discussions relat-
ing to religion and politics, these subjects
can be provocative. It would be best to
avoid such topics in conversation.
Gift Giving Etiquette
• First rule of gift giving is to never give
• The first time you go to someone’s house
for tea, it is appropriate to bring a small
gift. When bringing a gift, be subtle in how
it is given. Do not immediately give the
present but rather discreetly place it near
the door or where you sit down.
• When it comes to wrapping gifts, there
is no special protocol. Green is good for
• If you are invited to lunch or dinner, bring
fruit, sweets or pastries. Make sure the box
is wrapped nicely.
20 Country profile AFGHANISTANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com
21. IMPORTANT TIPS
• Communication between genders only
takes places within families. In professional
situations, such as at businesses or univer-
sities, males and females may be co-work-
ers, but are nevertheless cautious to main-
tain each other’s honour.
• Women should avoid looking men in the
eyes, and keep their eyes lowered when
walking down the street to maintain the
• Women should always dress to avoid
unwanted attention. They should always
wear loose fitting pants under the skirts
and be sure the shape of their legs is hid-
den. It is also strongly advisable to wear a
headscarf in public.
• Foreign men should note that it is inap-
propriate to initiate social conversation
with a woman, and one should not ask a
male about his wife or female relatives.
• Men and women should never be alone
in the same room. If this happens, the
door should always be left open.
To beckon someone, one motions down-
ward with the palm of the hand facing the
ground. Pointing a finger at objects or at a
person is considered extremely rude. The
thumbs-up gesture is traditionally offensive
for Muslims, being equivalent to showing
the middle finger in the Western world.
Some more media savvy Afghans may un-
derstand the Western meaning of an up-
turned thumb and intend for the gesture to
mean just that. Other Afghans may use the
gesture in its traditional sense.
Just like with thumbs up, many Afghans
have come to accept this symbol to mean
OK, but it is safer to avoid the gesture en-
Expect Afghans to violate your normal con-
versational comfort zone where distance
is concerned as they typically stand closer
to other people than most Westerners do
Personal space should be considered when
talking to Afghan women. Getting too close
may be interpreted as dishonoring them.
Dogs are kept at a distance and are not
house-pets in Afghanistan. They are rath-
er used as guard dogs for their
flocks. Like other Muslims,
most Afghans consider dogs
unclean and will be very
reluctant to touch one.
An Afghan who has
touched a dog
will want to
wash his or
21 Country profile AFGHANISTANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com
22. DO’S AND DON’ТS
• Do shake hands
with the right hand,
firmly but gently in
greeting and depar-
• Do return the ges-
ture of placing the
right hand over the
heart after shaking
• Do try all food
offered to acknowl-
edge the hospitality
of the host.
• Do offer a cigarette
to everyone in the
• Do recognize the
nature of Afghan hospitality.
• Do expect to spend much of a visit so-
cializing and drinking tea before discussing
• Do use applicable professional or aca-
demic titles, such as “engineer,” “doctor,”
• Do expect Afghans to have a different
sense of time and punctuality.
• Do give a gift in return for one received.
• Do sit with your legs under you or tucked
• Do remove your shoes when visiting a
• Do wait to be seated by the host when
dining at someone’s home.
• Do wait to speak when spoken to, if el-
ders are present.
• Don’t use the left hand
for physical contact with
others, to eat, or to
• Don’t sit with the soles
of your feet facing some-
• Don’t walk away from
someone who is speak-
ing to you.
• Don’t show a woman
attention by addressing,
touching, or staring at
• Don’t ask men direct
questions about their
• Don’t tell an Afghan he
is wrong if he gives incorrect information.
• Don’t express emotion in public.
• Don’t expect Afghans to be able to read,
especially outside urban centers.
• Don’t wag or point your finger.
• Don’t wear sunglasses indoors.
• Don’t offer an Afghan food or drink or
publicly consume either during Ramadan.
• Don’t ask an Afghan not to smoke.
• Don’t use the OK sign or thumbs-up.
• Don’t confront a Muslim on his religious
• Don’t maintain prolonged eye contact
with an Afghan male.
• Don’t shame an Afghan in public.
• Don’t bring a dog into an Afghan’s home.
• Don’t force a Muslim’s head to touch the
22 Country profile AFGHANISTANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com
23. CORPORATE CULTURE
• If the meeting involves a group of people,
it will be led by the leader who will set the
agenda, the content, and the pace of the
• Meetings are usually held to communi-
cate information and decisions that have
already been rather than a forum for dis-
cussion and brain storming.
• Meeting schedules are not very struc-
tured. Start times, points of discussion, etc
are all fluid and flexible. Be prepared for a
lot of tangents in the discussions.
• Do not be surprised or offended if, during
meetings, people walk in and out of a
room or phone calls are taken.
• Honour and shame should always be con-
sidered. Always express yourself in a way
that is not direct or pins blame on some-
one. Never make accusations or speak
down to anyone.
• Afghani communication style is rather in-
direct. It is therefore sometimes necessary
to read between the lines rather than exp-
ect it to be explicitly stated. For example,
if someone is asked if they can complete a
job on time, you will rarely get “no” as the
answer. It is therefore also important to
phrase questions intelligently.
Business is very
much personal in
Afghanistan. If you
have not already
invested some qual-
ity time in getting to
know your counter-
parts, then you must
use initial meetings
to establish trust.
23 Country profile AFGHANISTANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com
24. Business Cards
• Business cards are not widely used in Afghanistan. They therefore carry a sense of im-
portance and prestige.
• If you are given a business card, take it respectfully and study it so that they see that
you are spending time considering their credentials. Comment on it and any qualifications
the giver may have.
• There is no real protocol used for exchanging cards except to use your right hand.
• It may be a good idea to have your card translated into Dari or Pashtu.
• Men should wear conservative suits and shoes.
• If working in the country in a non-commercial capacity then wearing the traditional Af-
ghan dress (long shirt and trousers) is best.
• Women must always dress modestly and conservatively. The general rule is to expose as
little body from the neck downwards as possible.
• If working in business, women should wear knee-length, loose fitting business skirts
with loose fitting professional trousers underneath. Wearing headscarf is advisable.
• Negotiating can be a tricky, frustrating but often an enjoyable affair if approached cor-
• Always make sure you negotiate with the most senior person possible as they are the
decision makers. If you negotiate with someone more junior, they may be there to simply
test the waters.
• As a rule Afghans, generally negotiate with a win-lose mentality. The goal is always to
get the best for yourself at all costs. This means that there is always a stronger/weaker
party. This can however be used to your advantage if you play your cards right.
• Always start extremely high when starting negotiations and very slowly work your way
down, always explaining why you are dropping in price but at the same time explaining
the damage it is doing to you.
• Always appeal to their sense of fairness and justice and the fact you are looking to build
a strong relationship.
• If monetary matters do not work, then try pushing the idea that a deal with you will
bring prestige, honour and respect.
24 Country profile AFGHANISTANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com