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Official Name Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Land Area 652,000 sq km
Population 31 million (2006 estimate)
Capital City Kabul
Religion The majority of Afghans are Muslims of the Sunni sect (84%). There are also minority religious groups of Shi’ite Muslims (15%), Hindus, Sikhs and Jews (1%).
Ethnic divisions Pashtuns are the dominant ethnic community, accounting for between 40-50% of the population. Tajiks constitute a further 20%. Another 10% are Turkic, Uzbeks and Turkmen. There are some 20 other ethnic groups, including Hazaras, Baluchis and Nuristanis.
Language There are over 30 languages of which the principal two are Pashtu (35%) and Dari (a dialect of Farsi) (50%). Others include Turkic - primarily Uzbek and Turkmen (11%); Balochi and Pashai (4%). Bilingualism is common.
Currency Afghanistan Afghani (Af)
Exchange Rate US$1 = Af47.7 (2004 average)
Political system Constitutional government
National government The Afghan Transitional Authority was replaced by the Afghan National Assembly following the parliamentary and provincial council elections on 18 September 2005. The first government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was inaugurated in December 2005.
Last election Presidential elections were held on 20 August 2009.
Next election due Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 18 September 2010.
Head of State President Hamid Karzai.
New Zealand's first Ambassador to Afghanistan resident in Kabul, Neville Reilly, presented his letters of credence at a ceremony on 4 July 2010.
New Zealand’s main commitment in Afghanistan is our leadership of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan province. There are around 120 NZDF troops deployed to the PRT. The PRT operates under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The PRT supports the provincial and local government by providing advice and assistance to the Provincial Governor, the Afghan National Police and district sub-governors. The PRT is also tasked with assisting the maintenance of security in Bamyan Province. It does this by conducting frequent presence patrols throughout the province. The PRT is a key mechanism that enables and facilitates a wide range of nation building activities by a range of stakeholders.
Around 70 Special Air Service (SAS) troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan. The deployment began in September 2009 for up to 18 months, in three rotations.
The New Zealand National Support Element (NSE) is based at Bagram Air Force Base (BAF) about an hour and a half (60km) drive north of Kabul. Their task is to provide logistical support to the NZ PRT at Kiwi Base in Bamyan and other NZDF personnel in Afghanistan.
New Zealand also has:
Three New Zealand Police representatives are deployed in Bamyan to train the Afghan National Police under EUPOL (two in the Regional Training Centre and one mentoring senior staff at Provincial Headquarters). They are funded by New Zealand official development assistance (ODA).
New Zealand development assistance contributions are focused on Bamyan province. The programme is incrementally set to grow from the current NZ$9.5million contribution per annum to $12 - 14 million over 2010-2015. The programme is largely delivered through international organisations and NGOs. It is focused on agriculture, sustainable rural livelihoods, education and training, health, human rights, governance and support for training of Afghan National Police.
The NZ PRT is also involved in ODA activities. It identifies, prepares and provides project management for NZAID projects within the region. These are contracted to Afghan companies who hire local workers to assist with the completion of these projects. Since 2003, the PRT has constructed and repaired bridges, built district police stations in each of Bamyan province’s seven districts, and undertaken flood protection. This assistance amounts to around NZ$1 million per annum.
The PRT also assists with distributing emergency humanitarian assistance when needed, particularly during the harsh winter months.
New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan followed the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Al Qaeda’s planning and training for these attacks were conducted in Afghanistan. The Bali and London bombings had similar Afghanistan connections. New Zealanders were among the casualties in all these attacks. The objective of New Zealand’s engagement in Afghanistan was to support the international effort, mandated by the United Nations Security Council, to counter the terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan.
After the Taliban-led government fell in late 2001, the military mission in Afghanistan was transformed into a combination of security, development and peace-building operations. The mission now operates under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). ISAF is tasked by the United Nations to assist the Government of Afghanistan to restore security and counter the ongoing insurgency.
New Zealand’s initial deployment was of our Special Air Service (SAS) in December 2001, under the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. The SAS redeployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.
New Zealand agreed to take over the Bamyan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) from the United States in 2003 to free up US resources to replicate the PRT in another region and to contribute to the internationalisation of the PRT efforts. New Zealand military deployments in support of the international assistance effort in Afghanistan have also included naval and air patrols in the Gulf and contiguous waters.
The non-military international assistance effort in Afghanistan is coordinated by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Before 2005, New Zealand made a number of one-off grants through NZAID to Afghan agencies, NGOs and multilateral funds under UNAMA. In 2005, New Zealand established a three-year programme of development assistance, targeting sustainable rural livelihoods, education, health, governance, women and human rights, with a focus on Bamyan Province. The programme was renewed in 2008 and aligned with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS).
New Zealand Police (NZ Police) initially deployed to Bamyan in 2005 as part of the German-led Police Project. Since late 2007, NZ Police has operated within the European Police (EUPOL) Afghanistan Mission, which took over the German-led programme. NZ Police leads the EUPOL effort in Bamyan Province.
New Zealand reviewed its commitments to Afghanistan in August 2009. The current mandate for New Zealand troops in Afghanistan expires in September 2011.
Cabinet has approved the mandate for New Zealand’s deployments to Afghanistan annually since 2001. In February 2009, Cabinet approved a roll-over of New Zealand’s commitments in Afghanistan until September 2010, and asked for a review of New Zealand’s commitment to Afghanistan beyond that date.
A group of government agencies involved in Afghanistan or with a direct interest in New Zealand’s commitments in Afghanistan undertook the review. Cabinet approved the review and its recommendations in August 2009.
The review concluded that the threat to international peace and security - the reason for New Zealand’s original commitment to Afghanistan - had not been neutralised. It recommended New Zealand continue to participate in the international mission in Afghanistan in the medium term, but shift its effort from military engagement to a greater emphasis on development assistance. This reflects thinking in the broader international community and the increasing capability of the Afghan National Security Forces to take responsibility for security and counter-insurgency efforts.
The review recommended New Zealand appoint its first Ambassador resident in Kabul to manage at the political level the reorientation of New Zealand’s engagement in Afghanistan. The accreditation will eventually revert to Tehran.
To help counter the continued threat to international peace and security, Cabinet agreed to a further SAS deployment for 18 months and agreed to keep options for other smaller, focused military contributions in Afghanistan under review.
The inter-agency group on Afghanistan is currently addressing the gradual transition of NZDF forces from the PRT in Bamyan. As part of the changing focus of the PRT, a civilian has been appointed to lead the PRT and will take up this position in the near future.
New Zealand's first Ambassador to Afghanistan, Neville Reilly, presented his credentials to President Hamid Karzai on 4 July 2010.
New Zealand Embassy
15th St. Roundabout, Wazir Akbar Khan
Tel: +93 700 102 000 ext 2376
Kabul is a sole-person post, located within the British Embassy at this address. The Ambassador's frequent absences from post mean capacity to respond quickly to requests from, or incidents involving New Zealanders is strictly limited.
New Zealanders would be advised to register with the NZ Embassy in Tehran [external link] and to notify the Embassy in Tehran on +98 21 2612 2175 if special assistance is required or travel documents are lost.
The Safe Travel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to Afghanistan [external link].