/div>Country, south-central Asia. Area: 249,347 sq mi (645,807 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 28,150,000. Capital: Kabul
. About two-fifths of the people belong to the Pashtun ethnic group; other ethnic groups include Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara. Languages: Pashto, Persian (both official). Religions: Islam (official; predominantly Sunni); also Zoroastrianism. Currency: afghani. Afghanistan has three distinctive regions: the northern plains are the major agricultural area; the southwestern plateau consists primarily of desert and semiarid landscape; and the central highlands, including the Hindu Kush
, separate these regions. Afghanistan has a developing economy based largely on agriculture; its significant mineral resources remain largely untapped because of the Afghan War
of the 1980s and subsequent fighting. Traditional handicrafts remain important; woolen carpets are a major export. Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with two legislative bodies; the president is head of both state and government. The area was part of the Persian Achaemenian Empire in the 6th century BCE and was conquered by Alexander the Great
in the 4th century BCE. Hindu influence entered with the Hephthalites and Sasanians
. Islam became entrenched during the rule of the Saffarids, c.
870 CE. Afghanistan was divided between the Mughal
Empire of India and the Safavid
empire of Persia until the 18th century, when other Persians under Nadir Shah
took control. Britain fought several wars in the area in the 19th century. From the 1930s the country had a stable monarchy, which was overthrown in the 1970s. Marxist reforms sparked rebellion, and Soviet troops invaded. Afghan guerrillas prevailed, and the Soviets withdrew in 1989. In 1992 rebel factions overthrew the government and established an Islamic republic. In 1996 the Taliban
militia took power in Kabul and enforced a harsh Islamic order. The militia's unwillingness to extradite extremist leader Osama bin Laden
and members of his al-Qaeda militant organization following the September 11 attacks
in 2001 led to military conflict with the U.S. and allied nations, the overthrow of the Taliban, and the establishment of an interim government.