Afghanistan, an Asiatic country, bounded by India on the east, Persia on the west, Baluchistan on the south, and the River Oxus and the Russian possessions in Central Asia on the north. It has an area of about 240,000 square miles, and a population estimated at over five millions. One of the most gigantic mountain ranges of the world - the Hindu Rush, an offshoot of the Himalayas - overspreads the greater part of Afghanistan. The temperature thus varies from extreme cold in the highlands to the most intense heat in plains, such as those of Jelalabad, Candahar, and Seistan. The monsoon which deluges India has scarcely any effect beyond the Suleiman range, the eastern limit of the Afghan plateau. Mineral wealth is believed to be abundant in the northern and eastern parts, iron, lead, copper, antimony, and other metallic ores, sulphur, and several of the earthy alkaline and metallic salts being met with in greater or less abundance. Gold in small quantities is brought from Candahar, the Laghman Hills, and Kunar, Badakshan is famous for its rubies and lapis-lazuli. The ordinary domestic animals, such as the horse, camel, cow, buffalo (occasionally), sheep, goat, etc., constitute the main wealth of most of the Afghans; while several of the wild animals, such as the wolf and fox, are hunted and trapped for the sake of their furs. The principal towns are Cabul, Herat, Candahar, Ghazni, Jelalabad, Maimana, Saripul, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Balkh.
Cultivation is of two kinds, abi and lallam, the latter being dependent solely on rain, and the former on irrigation above or below ground (karez). Fruits, including the apple, pear, almond, peach, quince, plum, pomegranate, grape, fig, melon, etc., are produced. In most parts of the country there are two harvests, one, consisting of wheat, barley, with some peas and beans, being sown at the end of the autumn and reaped in summer; while the other, which includes rice, arzun, millet, jowari, Indian corn, and the like, is sown at the end of spring and reaped in autumn. Cotton is found in the hotter districts; the castor-oil, madder, tobacco, and assafoetida plants are common, great quantities of the last being exported to India, where it is a favourite ingredient in cookery. Agriculture is the principal employment. Owing to the normal state of unrest throughout the country, manufactures are unimportant, the more noticeable being the production of silks and felt (especially at Candahar), the manufacture of postins, or sheepskin coats, and dyeing. There is a good trade with Persia, through Herat; and an increasing trade with India, through Candahar and the Sind Pishin Railway in the one direction, and via the Khaibar and Gomul Passes in the other. The latter route is preferred by the Powandahs, or itinerant merchants, who move about with their flocks, and act as carriers of goods between Afghanistan and India. They import carpets, furs, woollen, silks, drugs, dyes, and dried fruits, and descend into the plains of the Punjab, leaving their families in charge of the camels, flocks, and herds, while the Powandahs themselves travel far over India to dispose of their goods. They are subject to endless exactions, attacks, and robbery from the border tribes, more particularly the Waziris; and the vitality of this ancient traffic, in spite of such discouragements, is very remarkable. The imports into India also include horses, madder (manjit), fruits, ghi, and raw silk. In return the Afghans receive cotton goods, indigo, sugar, and tea. Such trade as exists is carried on under great difficulties, there being no made roads, and, generally speaking, nothing being done to facilitate communication. The rivers are not bridged; and it is only when a route becomes absolutely impassable that it is repaired, and then only by travellers for their own convenience.
Afghanistan forms an ethnological area of a highly complex character, the chief elements being - 1. The politically dominant Afghans proper, a member of the Iranic branch of the Aryan family, centred chiefly in the Cabul, Arghandab, and Helmand basins, and in the Suleiman highlands. numbering about 3,000,000. 2. The Tajiks, also Iranians of the Persian branch, forming agricultural and also trading communities in the more fertile districts; about 1,000,000. 3. The Hindhis - i.e. Hindus, chiefly traders, and numerous, especially in the eastern districts; about 500,000. 4. The Hazaras and Aimaks, of Mongolo-Tatar stock. now speaking Persian, in the northern highlands between Bamian and Herat; 600,000 to 700,000. 5. The Kataghans, or Uzbegs, forming the bulk of the population in Afghan Turkestan; 200,000. 6. The Badakshi of Galcha (Eastern Iranic) stock, in Badakshan, 100,000; the Kohistani and Siah Posh Kafirs, also Galcha stock, in Kohistan and Kafiristan; 120,000.
The Afghans proper speak Pushto, a rude Aryan language, intermediate between the Iranic and Indic branches; but in diplomatic, and even private correspondence, they employ the more refined Persian. They are Mohammedans of the Sunni sect, and this is a chief ground of their hereditary hatred of those Persians who belong to the Shiah sect. Although loosely united under one Amir, they do not constitute a homogeneous nationality, but are split up into a multiplicity of more or less hostile tribal groups, of which the more powerful are the Durani, to which belongs the reigning dynasty; pop. 800,000; the Ghilzais, 600,000; the Yusafzaes, 630,000; and the Waziri, 250,000. They are physically of a somewhat coarse, vigorous type, with regular features, swarthy complexion, and an occasional Jewish cast of expression, which lends some colour to their claim to the title of "Bani-Israel," or "Sons of Israel." The name Afghan has been connected with the Acvaka of the Mahabharata. Another national name is Pakhtun, whence the form Pathan, by which they are commonly designated in India.
The government is a military, aristocratic, and despotic republic. Religion is the counterpoise to his authority, which gives the clergy, or "mullahs," great influence. The dominions of the Amir are politically divided into the four provinces of Cabul, Turkistan, Herat, and Candahar, to which may be added the districts of Badakshan and Wakhan, the governors of which dispense justice after a feudal fashion. In Shere Ali's time the revenue of the country was estimated at £712,968 a year, the government demand varying from a third to a tenth. The army is said to have been founded by Shere Ali.
The whole of Afghanistan was conquered by Timur, Cabul remaining in the hands of his descendants, and Candahar being added to it by Sultan Babar in 1522. Nadar Shah, the Persian, held the Afghan provinces till his assassination in 1747, after which they were formed into a single empire under Ahmed Shah. The latter part of the century was marked by a series of internal wars, till the news that the Emperor Napoleon and the Czar had agreed upon an expedition to India through Persia resulted in the despatch of Mr. Elphinstone to Cabul. A treaty was concluded with Shah Shujah, the ruler of Afghanistan, at Peshawur, in 1809. His rule, however, proved unpopular, and he was dethroned in favour of Mahmud Shah. In 1837 Mahomed Shah, ruler of Persia, encouraged, as it is said, by Russia, laid siege to Herat, the defenders being assisted by Lieutenant Pottinger. The British determined to restore Shah Shujah to the throne of Cabul, and in 1839 took possession of Candahar, and Shah Shujah was crowned. Ghazni soon fell, and the Anglo-Indian army entered Cabul. Frequent insurrections, however, soon arose, culminating in the serious revolt of the winter of 1841-2. In January the British division was practically annihilated, but this was avenged in General Pollock's expedition the same year, and the British army returned in triumph to India. In 1863 Dost Mahomed became master of Herat, but he only lived thirteen days afterwards, and was succeeded by his son, Shere Ali Khan. His reign was most troublous, and internal wars with the chief princes were incessant. In 1878, when the relations between Russia and Great Britain were strained, Shere Ali made overtures to Russia, and received a Russian mission at his capital. War was declared by England against the Amir, and Cabul captured. Shere Ali fled and died in Afghan Turkistan, his son, Yakub Khan, being acknowledged as Amir, while a British envoy was installed in the citadel of Cabul. In September an insurrection resulted in the massacre of Sir L. Cavagnari and his followers, and a fresh invasion of the country took place. The next important event was the march of Ayub Khan, younger brother of the ex-Amir Yakub Khan, on Candahar, and his defeat of the English in July, 1880. Sir F. Roberts totally defeated Ayub Khan in August, and the country became quiet. In 1880 the British forces were withdrawn to Quetta. Abder Rahman has since successfully maintained his position, and has quelled the revolt of Ishak Khan, governor of Afghan Turkistan.