Afghanistan – officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – is a country situated in south-central Asia, of which Kabul is the capital and largest city. Afghanistan has no maritime borders – instead, the country is bordered by Pakistan (south and east), Iran (west), Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (north), and China (northeast). Afghanistan covers 252,000 square miles, with much of its territory dominated by the Hindu Kush mountain range. There are fertile plains in the north of the country and arid deserts in the south-west. It has a population of 31 million people, most of whom are ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.
Afghanistan first became a socialist state in 1978 following a coup, and later became a Soviet Union protectorate. The Soviet–Afghan War began in the 1980s, and by 1996, most of Afghanistan was under the control of the Islamic fundamentalist group the Taliban, who were forcibly removed by a NATO-led coalition after five years in power, after which a democratically-elected government was formed.
Afghanistan is a unitary presidential Islamic republic and is a member of the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Group of 77, the Economic Cooperation Organization, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It has a poor economic structure, ranking 167th out of 186 countries in a 2016 report conducted by the International Monetary Fund.
The legislative branch
On September 18, 2005, a parliamentary election was held for the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People). It was the first parliamentary election in Afghanistan since 1969 and featured approximately 2,707 candidates (including 328 women) competed for just 249 seats. The election process involved numerous seat electoral constituencies – each province represents a constituency with varying numbers of seats. The Afghan people can only place a single, non-transferable vote in such elections.
The Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) is made up of 102 members, with one third of the members appointed by the president – another third are elected by provincial councils. Provincial council elections were held simultaneously with those for the House of People. The remaining third of the seats in the House of Elders are elected by district councils.
The executive branch
The President of Afghanistan serves as the head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the Afghan Armed Forces, and is elected along with two vice-presidents. The president is responsible for appointing cabinet ministers and provincial governors, who are approved by the National Assembly.
The 2004 presidential election was won by Hamid Karzai. Before that point, he had been the Chairman of the Interim Administration from December 2001 until June 2002, and then served as the Interim President between June 2002 and October 2004. He officially became the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan after winning the 2004 election.
The United States has been very influential in the democratization of Afghanistan, with relations improving with the country since late 2001. Under the Karzai administration, Afghanistan’s foreign relations with other NATO members and regional countries have improved substantially.
Ever since Karzai took over in 2004, the economy of Afghanistan’s economy has been growing rapidly for the first time in years, however public discontent about corruption and civilian casualties in the ongoing fight against the Taliban also grew. The Afghan Parliament rejected 17 of Karzai's 24 cabinet nominees in January 2009, approving only seven. Relations with the United States ebbed and flowed during Barak Obama’s time in office, before declining significantly in late 2013 after Karzai elected not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US. Ashraf Ghani became President of Afghanistan with Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan in September 2014 – the Bilateral Security Agreement was signed one day later.
The judicial branch
The Supreme Court is constitutionally the highest judicial authority in Afghanistan. The President of Afghanistan appoints judges to the court, who are later confirmed by the National Assembly. A number of lower courts exist, including magistrate courts, Courts of First Instance, and Intermediate Court of Appeals – the latter court reviews decisions made by lower courts, after which appeals are sent to the Supreme Court. Courts of First Instance exist in every city in Afghanistan, each of which has several branches responsible for trying all major cases. These branches include Criminal, Civil, Religious, Administrative, Labor, and Family divisions. Magistrate Courts are the lowest level in the judiciary system, and are responsible for trying minor civil and criminal cases.