Afghanistan Country Report

Updated: Feb 4

Youth Leadership Fellow (2021-2022) Dylan Morgan wrote this report in collaboration with Afghan Liaison Hikmatullah Jamili. To learn more about the Youth Leadership Program, click here.

Sen. Ernst Meets with former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani
Sen. Ernst Meets with former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghanistan in Iowa

Recently, because of the Taliban takeover, there have been many more people fleeing the country. Iowa is expected to take in a number of refugees now and potentially hundreds more later. In Des Moines and Sioux City, Lutheran Services are helping take in at least seven hundred refugees. However, there is no timeline for the vetting process, which could take weeks or months. Governor Kim Reynolds and Senator Joni Ernst have stated publicly that they are on board with the influx of refugees. Working with the State Department and local authorities to find them homes, both are in support and working to incorporate Afghan’s into Iowa. Reynolds' office said since 2017, they have resettled 94 Iraqi and Afghan special immigrant visa recipients, and Reynolds says they are in the process of accepting more.

According to the Catherine McCauley Center in Cedar Rapids, Eastern Iowa has not resettled many Afghan refugees in the past, but they are helping prepare to welcome Afghan parolees, Special Immigrant Visa Holders, and refugees. They are working to connect with more national partners to educate themselves on Afghan culture and experiences of Afghan immigrants as they welcome Afghan people into Eastern and all of Iowa soon.

Basic Facts

Afghanistan is a southern central Asian country bordered by Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Iran, and China. It is mountainous, dividing the country and landlocked. Climate change has caused more droughts and earthquakes, but the war’s over the past decades have harmed the majority of its wetlands and most of its forests. Subsistence farmers are forced to leave their land for warfare, accelerating desertification and unequal access to water and other infrastructure. Socioeconomic inequities plague the people of Afghanistan, as social services have crumbled during the war, while crime increased and access to services decreased.

Large portions of the people live in rural areas, some even nomadic, but with increased urbanization, especially in recent years due to outside refugees and population growth. The country is almost entirely Islamic. Ethnically, Pashtuns are in the majority. Tajiks make up the next large portion of the populations ethnic groups, then Hazaras and Uzbeks. Afghans speak Pashto, an eastern Iranian language, or Dari, an eastern dialect of Persian. Dari is also called Farsi. The two are the the official languages of Afghanistan. Tajiks make up the next large portion of the population’s ethnic groups, then Hazaras and Uzbeks.

Economically, the country is largely undeveloped because of its geography and the fact that it’s landlocked, as well as decades of conflict and political upheaval. The service and agricultural sectors make up the majority of the economic output. Their economy is bouncing back as the Afghan diaspora slowly but surely returns to the country, bringing more labor force numbers and any amount of wealth from their time outside Afghanistan. They are starting more small businesses and increasing industrialization. Note that this was how it was between 2001-2021, but that is not the case anymore, with the Taliban takeover. They have their own currency called the Afghani, and about seventy-five Afghanis equals one dollar.

Politically, between 2004-2021, Afghanistan was an Islamic republic, updating its Constitution in 2004 with three branches of government. A president was elected through two rounds of voting, needing an absolute majority in both. The president was both the chief of state and the head of government. The cabinet consisted of twenty-five ministers who were appointed by the legislative branch. There was a bicameral legislature with the upper House of Elders taking an advisory role with veto power. The lower House of People created laws and approved the President's actions. The House of Elders was appointed, the House of People was elected. The judicial branch was made up of the Supreme Court and supporting bodies such as the high council of the Supreme Court, the general administration directorate of the judicial power and other administration bodies. At present, a new Taliban, authoritarian government is taking shape.

Relevant Cultural Customs

Women prepare the food while men socialize, and they eat separately. Food is served communally using shared plates in the middle of the table. It’s important to wash your hands before eating because it's normal to eat with your hands, scooping the food into a ball with the tips of three fingers. Naan can be used to scoop the food as well. Only do this with your right hand, as the left hand cannot touch the food. Usually, it’s respectful for guests to clean their plates to show the Afghan host’s that the food was satisfactory. Alcohol and pork are prohibited under Islam. Do not offer food before sundown during Ramadan, as they are fasting. Ramadan is in the Spring, in 2022 it is from April 2 to May 1. Also, avoid eating and drinking in front of fasting Muslims.

Important holidays include:

  • Afghan New Year, known as Nawroz in Afghanistan, is on March 21st, which is the arrival of Spring and the first day of the Afghan calendar.

  • The first day of Ramadan is on April 13th, in honor of Islam’s founder Mohammad’s first revelation.

  • Afghan Mujahideen Victory Day is on April 28th, commemorating the Mujahideen victory against the Soviets and the communist regime.

  • Eid-ul-Fitr is from May 12th-14th, which marks the end of Ramadan.

  • Eid-ul-Adha was from July 19th-21st 2021, dates of celebrations vary. The holiday is to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to follow Allah's command to sacrifice his son.

  • The 10th day of Muharram is called Ashura, on August 19th, celebrating various events by Allah that saved Prophets Adam, Ibrahim, Noah, Ya, and others.

  • Martyr’s Day and Martyr’s Week is the week of and on September 8th, which honors those that died against the Soviet invasion and the Taliban.

  • Ahmad Shah Massoud Day, on September 8th, was the military leader against the Soviets and Taliban who died by a suicide attack.

  • The Prophet's Birthday is on October 18th, which celebrates the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.

Conversations to Avoid and Why

Because Afghanistan is almost entirely Muslim, it is important not to be ignorant or hateful towards the religion. Engaging in Islamophobia to any degree must be avoided, but questions and discussions about the religion are usually welcome. Do not make assumptions or say things based on stereotypes or things you hear from biased media sources around terrorism or potentially false claims about Muslims. This is significant because post-9/11, there has been a massive wave of anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the US, as well as Europe and the rest of the world. While jihadism, a Western term for militarized Islamic movements that seek political power, has grown in recent decades, misconstrued and racist sentiment is not the proper reaction or solution to the situation.

Local Resources

There are no Afghan restaurants in the state of Iowa, unfortunately. The food closest to Afghan food in Iowa City is the general Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants. Options include Oasis Falafel in downtown Iowa City, Tabooleh in Coralville, and the Iowa City Bakery, which has a Mediterranean Grill, owned by an Iraqi family.

There are multiple mosques around Iowa, including one in Iowa City, at 1812 W Benton St, Iowa City, IA 52246, as well as a student-led one in the Iowa Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Iowa. There is also one in Cedar Rapids called the Mother Mosque that is actually the first mosque in the United States. They usually have food, especially during Ramadan, to give to people who are involved. There are many Islam-related resources in Cedar Rapids, including the Mother Mosque’s Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, the Iowa Islamic Heritage and Cultural Center, the Muslim American Society, and an Islamic Services branch.

The Iowa Department of Human Services funds the Bureau of Refugee Services which can be of great assistance to any Afghan refugees that are in need of help.

Current Political Situation of Afghanistan

After the Taliban takeover of the state, there has been a caretaker government in place, a cabinet that includes a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and thirty other ministers. They announced that democracy will not have a home in the country ever, and the political system is only sharia law. There are two ideas of potential paths the Taliban could take in governing: first, that the Taliban could use their highly autocratic rule as a blueprint for governance, or second, that they could pursue a more hybrid system that incorporates some limited electoral mechanisms into a theocratic system, similar to Iran. They have not done much government building, but they have other options, such as maintaining authoritarian Sharia law and violence. Progress in government has been slow, with millions starving and economic collapse.

They control the country now, more than they ever have in the 1990s, armed checkpoints are common and the risk of violence is high. The Taliban are oppressive towards women; women are not allowed a secondary education and are especially advised to stay inside to avoid being harmed by “untrained” Taliban soldiers.

This comes after years of the Taliban spreading their influence across Afghanistan and taking control of more territory. In some areas, resistance was strong from the government, but ultimately unsuccessful as the army gradually deteriorated. In other areas, it was comparatively easier through payments or mediation by local leaders reluctant to shed more civilian blood.

In August, the President, Ashraf Ghani, fled to the UAE. He has not officially given up his seat as President, but it does not seem to be his anymore. The majority of other officials and power brokers have also fled. Vice President Amrullah Sellah announced that he is forming an armed resistance along with the son of the deceased commander of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a coalition of regional warlords fighting together against the Taliban. They have reached out to the US and international support. However, the Northern Alliance has deteriorated and the new version’s goals are not as clear yet, it remains to be seen how effective they will be . While any opposition left is small, they have sent negotiators to meet with the Taliban to prevent an armed confrontation.

Works Consulted

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