Afghanistan Government and Politics

State and politics

Afghanistan Country Flag

Reference: Afghanistan Flag Meaning


According to Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution, the country is an Islamic republic and no laws must conflict with the values of Islam. According to, the most important forum of the Afghan people, the supreme parliament, is the Loya Jirga (‘the Great Council’). It consists of representatives from all over the country and various interest groups. Among other things, Loya jirga has the power to decide on issues related to the country’s fundamental security and independence, to change the constitution and to put the president before the national court.

The president, who is elected in general elections for a maximum of two terms of office every five years, is the head of state and commander-in-chief and leads the government’s work. With the approval of Parliament’s lower house, the president appoints ministers, prosecutors, the head of the central bank and members of the Supreme Court. Subject to Parliament’s approval, the President is also empowered to start wars and call for state of emergency.

Following the 2014 presidential election, a new post as Chief Executive Officer, in effect Prime Minister, was introduced to resolve the dispute over the outcome of the election that arose between the two strongest candidates. However, it was not possible to establish a clear division of labor between these two items and the loyalty that would be held to constitutionally affirm the arrangement has not taken place.

Parliament consists of two chambers, the lower house wolesi jirga (‘the people’s chamber’) and the upper house meshrano jirga (‘the chamber of the elderly’). Wolesi jirga is elected through general elections for a five-year term and has 249 directly elected members. The choices are individual based. Political parties are allowed but are not allowed to submit candidate lists in elections, nor do they form party groups in Parliament. A total of 68 places are reserved for women. Two-thirds of the members of the meshrano jirga are appointed by the 34 provincial councils and one-third by the president, half of whom are women. Its members are gradually replaced. The district-level elections stipulated in the constitution have not yet been held. For the time being, the provincial councils also add the sites in the meshrano jirga that are intended for the district councils.

Taliban and ethnic divide

During the Taliban, the Qur’an and hadith replaced a formal constitution and democracy was abolished as the Islamic emirate was proclaimed and Mohammad Omar (“Mullah Omar”; 1960-2013) was appointed amir al-muminin, “the ruler of the faithful”. Against the Pashtunian Taliban, in the next civil war, Tajik, Hazar and Uzbek were mainly in the northern part of the country. Some of the leaders of these groups were then recruited by the United States as an aide to Operation Enduring Freedom, which expelled the Taliban regime in 2001 (see also the Afghan War and the War on Terror) and gained a relatively large influence in Kabul in the subsequent transitional government. In Hamid Karzais(President 2002-14) the following governments widened the base, but the balance between the various population groups, of which the Pashtuns are the largest and traditionally state-carrying, remains a serious challenge to the opportunities for sustainable stability in Afghanistan.

Many of the Afghan people groups have a large proportion of their ethnic relatives in the neighboring countries. For example, the majority of the Pashtuns in Pakistan, who, for security reasons, are related, among other things, to the conflict with India, are keen to secure an influence in Kabul. The Pakistani security service supported the emergence of the Taliban movement and has continued to play an unclear role in the prolonged armed conflict in Afghanistan. Iran also has historical ties to parts of Afghanistan and an active continued presence in the country. During the 2010s, after a period of distancing after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the Russian Federation also became more active in the development of Afghanistan.


The country’s third presidential election was held in April 2014. In the first round, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah (born 1960) received the strongest support with 45 percent of the vote. When a ruling demands more than 50 percent of the vote, he was put in a second round of elections in June 2014 against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. After this round, Ghani was proclaimed victorious, but the electoral commission’s decision aroused skepticism from both domestic and foreign observers. Faced with the threat that regional and ethnic cracks – Ghani is the Pashtun while Abdullah is identified as Tajik – would degenerate into civil war, an international intervention was forced.

The UN recalculated the votes and, following mediation by then US Secretary of State John Kerry, both parties entered into an agreement that meant Ghani obtained the presidential post while Abdullah was appointed to the newly created post of Chief Executive Officer, comparable to the Prime Minister. Subsequently, a Unity Government (NUG) could take office, which was, however, partially backed by persistent contradictions. To circumvent these, Ghani set up commissions in charge of various areas which in practice came to form a kind of unofficial government.

The parliamentary elections to be held in 2015 were only carried out three years later. Despite widespread violence by the Taliban, voter turnout was estimated at 45 percent, of which 1/3 were women. As in previous elections, the result was delayed by complaints of electoral fraud coming from different directions, which is why the new parliament could only be installed in April 2019.

The 2019 presidential election was held in September 2019 with a very low turnout. The main reasons why so many voters were absent were difficulties in registering in Taliban-controlled areas as well as widespread violence during the election campaign in combination with threats to those who intended to vote. In addition, there was widespread fatigue among the common man on frequent recurring choices, which entailed great risks without giving clear results.

The voting bill was a lengthy and complicated process, accompanied by accusations of electoral fraud from both Ghani and Abdullah, who also opposed each other this time. A new, biometric-based system for voter registration had limited the possibility of cheating in this part of the process, but at the same time caused other complications. At the end of December, the Election Commission announced a preliminary result, which meant that Ghani won by just over half the votes. Abdullah, who was awarded just under 40 percent of the vote, questioned those figures, leading to further delays. The result was confirmed in February 2020 and only in March 2020 could Ashraf Ghani be sworn in for a second term. On the same day, Abdullah Abdullah, who still refused to accept the result, held his own installation ceremony in Kabul.

Enthusiasm for the first presidential election in 2004 had definitely faded, the country was polarized and the electoral process showed great shortcomings and opportunities for electoral fraud. The final figure for voter participation was estimated to be as low as around 10 percent of the adult population.

The elections are conducted in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Constitution and, as security has deteriorated, has become increasingly costly. They are mainly financed through international aid. Afghanistan, too, has become an extremely aid-dependent country; 70-75 percent of the state budget is financed internationally. Combined with the corruption that continues to permeate society, this helps to erode the legitimacy of the government. In the survey conducted by the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, Afghanistan 2018 ranked 172 out of 180 countries.


The official judicial system is structured according to Western principles, with primary courts, appellate courts and a supreme court. It is based on secular principles and should be independent. At the same time, Islamic jurisprudence is of great importance. However, the whole system is undermined by a lack of competent personnel and corruption. Legal processes can last for years and, regardless of the facts of the case, are decided in favor of the party that has the most resources and the greatest influence. The impunity for influential individuals is widespread and the Supreme Court often acts in accordance with requests from political power.

Consequently, the impact of the system is limited. Particularly in rural areas, disputes are often settled by city councils in accordance with what is perceived as tradition and culture. In areas where the Taliban have great influence, Orthodox Sharia law is applied (see Sharia). In their judicial practice, harsh penalties are imposed for minor wrongdoing, but it is fast and predictable. The decay of the official justice system in combination with the Taliban’s prioritization of functioning courts is an important factor behind their advancement since the mid-00s.

The conditions in prisons and, above all, the detention are often substandard, with abuse and torture as common interrogation methods. This is particularly grave, as admissions, rather than police investigations, often form the basis of convictions. However, the use of torture is said to decrease since a new criminal law was adopted in 2018.

The death penalty is enforced for some serious crimes. Disappearances and extrajudicial executions also occur, with both the government side and the Taliban or other resistance groups as guilty parties, as well as so-called honor killings of women in particular. The number of such murders is difficult to calculate because the number of blacks is large. Extra-judicial prisons can also be organized by, for example, individual warlords.

Human Rights

Although the Constitution states that full equality should prevail between women and men, the Afghan women are in practice still heavily marginalized. Society is based on segregation between the sexes, who are assigned different roles and where women’s place is in the homes. Although there are now many women in prominent positions in the larger cities, it has proved difficult to break this traditional gender role pattern under the unstable conditions that have characterized Afghanistan since the 1970s. Particularly during the Taliban regime in 1996-2001, the efforts made to modernize the country were pushed back by the rigorous application of orthodox interpretations of Sharia law (compare Taliban).

The women’s legal security is also being upset by the prevailing extreme culture of honor, which is not limited to Taliban-controlled areas. Abuse of women in the home is common and the vulnerable women can rarely turn to the police because the abuse is considered a family affair. Escaping from home is rarely an option as this is considered a moral offense committed by the vulnerable woman. Getting redressed after a rape can also be very difficult; instead, it is often the victim who is blamed. To remedy these and other abuses, a few police stations manned exclusively by women have been opened, as well as a small number of sheltered housing. However, the need is far from being met.

Children’s rights are also poorly protected. Despite major internationally funded efforts to expand the school system, in 2019, according to the UN children’s rights organization UNICEF, there were about 3.7 million children who did not attend school, the majority of them girls. War instability and extreme poverty, especially in rural areas, are the causes of the maladministration. Even for children attending school, the exchange may be limited by poor quality of teaching or, in the Koran schools, one-sided focus on Islamic values.

Freedom of speech and media was introduced after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and quickly consolidated through a range of independent media, but progress has been undermined as instability increases. Afghanistan was one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to work in in 2019, ranking 118 out of 180 countries in Reporter without Frontiers index of freedom of the press. In 2014, Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner was shot dead on an open street in an act that was not cleared up.

Islam is state religion in Afghanistan and it is forbidden to convert to other religions. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of AF and its meanings of Afghanistan. There are only a few non-Muslims, about 0.3 percent of the population, who, according to the constitution, are allowed to practice their religion within certain frameworks but are often discriminated against in society. The minority Shiite hazards, about 10 percent of the population, have also been discriminated against.

Heads of State

1747-72 Ahmad Shah Durrani
1772-93 Timur Shah
1793-1800 Zaman Shah
1800-03 Shah Mahmud
1803-09 Shah Shoja
1809-18 Shah Mahmud
1843-63 Dost Mohammad Khan
1863-79 Shir Ali Khan
1879-80 Yaqub Khan
1880-1901 Abdor Rahman Khan
1901-19 Habibollah Khan
1919-23 Amanollah Khan
From 1923 Amanollah was titled shah (king).
1923-29 Amanollah Shah
1929-33 Mohammad Nader Shah
1933-73 Mohammad Zahir Shah
1973-78 Mohammad Daud Khan
1978-79 Only Mohammad Taraki
1979 Hafizullah Amin
1979-86 Babrak Karmal
1986-87 Mohammad Chamkani
1987-92 Mohammad Najibollah
1992 interim government under Sibghatollah
1992-96 Burhanuddin Rabbani
1996-2002 disputed state management
2002-2014 Hamid Karzai
2014- Ashraf Ghani

Afghanistan Head of Government

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