|Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan|
Area 652,225 sq.km. Dry and mountainous, but with fertile valleys. This strategic land has been fought over by rival foreign empires for nearly three thousand years.
No census or careful ethnic survey has ever been made. Figures are all estimates. Afghan refugees in 2000 numbered 1.4 million in Iran, 2.2 to 3m in Pakistan and smaller numbers across the world after peaking in the 1990s at 6.5m.
Capital Kabul 2,700,000. The civil war extensively damaged the capital. Other cities: Kandahar 420,000; Mazar-e-Sharif 270,000. Urbanites 22%.
Indo-Iranian 86.8%. Largest: Pashtun (Pathan) 9.7mill.; Tajik 4m; Hazara/Aimaq (of Turkic origin) 1.8m; Other Persian-speaking 770,000; Baluch 260,000; Nuristani peoples(11) 250,000.
Turkic-speaking 10.7%. 10 peoples. Uzbek 1.8m; Turkmen 520,000.
Other 2.5%. Brahui 240,000; Pashai 160,000.
Literacy 10-31% (much lower for women). Official languages Pashto (used by 50% of population), Dari (Afghan Persian, 35%). All languages 50. Languages with Scriptures 2NT 3por.
Shattered by 22 years of war. The countryside was bombed and mined; half the housing, most of the complex irrigation systems and a high proportion of the livestock were destroyed. The most lucrative agricultural crop is now opium (Afghanistan is the world's largest producer) which has paid for weapons for the warring factions. Recovery has been slowed by the radical extremes of the Taliban government and widespread environmental and structural damage inflicted on this tragic land. HDI n.a. Public debt 95% of GNP. Income/person $250 (0.8% of USA).
The monarchy was overthrown in 1973. Republican government ended in a Marxist coup in 1978. Then followed an invasion by the USSR. Ten years of war ensued culminating in the humiliating withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1988-89. Civil war between ethnic and religious factions has continued ever since with enormous damage and casualties. The extreme Islamist (mainly) Pashtun Taliban gained control of over 90% of the country by 2001. UN sanctions in 2001 further isolated the country.
The Taliban take-over of the country has imposed the strictest interpretation of Islam in the world today. The results have been devastating for the economy and for the lot of women in society. All Afghans must comply with the strict codes imposed on dress, beards, education and observance of shari’a law. What little religious freedom existed has been terminated.
Non-Muslim figures may be now much lower than these stated. No Christian churches are permitted. The number of Afghan Christians is estimated to be 1,000 to 3,000. Some Christian expatriate workers have been permitted to serve in relief and social uplift programmes.
1 The largely Pashtun Taliban swept to power with Pakistani military support, U.S. arms and Saudi money. Traditional and rural in outlook and using Islam to legitimate their authority, they have imposed a measure of stability after 22 years of war. A narrow interpretation of shari’a law has outlawed playing games, use of cassette tapes, videos and TV (and much more) and has tyrannized the Shi’a Muslims, women and anyone deviating from the Taliban’s interpretation of the law. In 2001 the death penalty was imposed for anyone converting from Islam or attempting to convert anyone from Islam. Pray that the unprecedented openness to the gospel created by these sufferings may ultimately lead to a great harvest.
2 Two decades of unremitting war have brought most of the population to ruin and destitution. An estimated 1 million lost their lives, 2 million were maimed and 4 million children orphaned. The result is ecological disaster, a shattered infrastructure, over 12 million uncleared anti-personnel mines and the capital in ruins. Pray for peace, reconstruction, an awakening to moderation and tolerance and a realization that Marxism and Islam cannot provide the solutions to heal their land.
3 Afghanistan has become an open, festering wound that is poisoning the world. Though most Taliban are nationalists, violent pan-Islamists have also joined the movement with the aim of exporting Islamist revolution to surrounding lands. The opium harvest is now the world’s largest with production the equivalent of $35 billion a year. Pray for a just, fair and honourable government to be raised up for this tragic land.
a) Pashtun. Approximately half the Afghan population, and politically dominant, the Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border comprise what has been called the largest Muslim tribal society in the world approximately 27 million people in over 30 major sub-tribes. There are few Christians among them, though urban, educated Pashtuns in exile have shown responsiveness. Pray that multitudes might be released from the strongholds of Islam, fear, prejudice and pride in pashtunwali (their tribal code of honour).
g) The Nuristani tribes in the mountains north and east of Kabul. They speak a number of mutually unintelligible languages. The major peoples are the Waigeli 40,000; Kati 100,000; Ashkun 10,000. They were forcibly converted to Islam a century ago. Some parts of Nuristan were much influenced in the 1990s by Wahhabism, a strict Islamic sect, very hostile to anything Christian.
5 Though there is no visible church in Afghanistan, the number of Afghan believers is increasing in urban and some remote rural areas. Because of fear and suspicion, many believers find it difficult to meet in groups. Some find help and encouragement through Christian radio programmes in the main languages of Afghanistan. The Taliban religious police are active in seeking out ‘converts’ who are considered apostates. Pray for their protection, consistency of faith and clarity of witness whenever opportunity arises. Pray also that the small fellowships (many are family groups) of Afghan Christians that have come into being in South Asia, Europe and North America may become bold witnesses for Christ.
6 Women in the cities have been severely repressed by the Taliban regime. They have been banished from public life, forbidden employment, restricted to the home, denied education (girls) and health services and suffer at the hands of men, with no recourse to any justice. One in four women are widows, and many are destitute. Depression and suicide are commonplace. Pray for basic human rights to be restored to women.
7 Christian aid ministries. Since 1966 a number of Christian relief and development agencies have ministered to the blind, maimed, sick, deprived, illiterate and needy in the name and Spirit of the Lord Jesus. Pray for courage in the face of severe restrictions or constant harassment and that their lives might commend the gospel. Pray that professionals may respond to the many needs of these Christian NGOs.
8 The need for the Scriptures. The whole Bible is available in Iranian Persian, but differences between this and Afghan Persian makes it difficult for many to read. A translation of the Bible was made in the 19th century but this is unavailable and its language archaic. The NT in Dari (Afghan Persian) and in a Pakistani dialect of Pashto have been well received. Translations into major dialects of Afghan Pashto are still needed. The OT is slowly progressing in Dari and Pashto; pray for their speedy completion. Translations do not exist in any indigenous minority language. Pray that these might come to fruition. Pray also for the entry and distribution of God’s word in this closed land, which the Taliban is seeking to prevent.
b) Christian radio. This is the most strategic way to proclaim the good news at the present time and there has been a significant response. FEBA, with IBRA as partners, broadcast in Persian (4.5 hrs/wk), Dari (5), Pashto (3.25), Uzbek (1.75) and also Baluch and Turkmen. Pray for the provision of and support for more Dari- and Pashto-speaking Christians to prepare programmes and answer mail. Pray also for programming to commence in other Afghan languages.
d) Literature. Discipleship and other training materials are being developed in the major languages of Afghanistan, in addition to many other types of evangelistic materials. Though forbidden for distribution or possession inside Afghanistan, this has been very effective in reaching Afghans in exile. Pray for those involved in producing, distributing and studying these materials.
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