The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a landlocked country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and China to the northeast. Occupying 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 square miles), it is a mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest. Kabul is the capital and largest city. The population is around 32 million, composed mostly of ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks.
Humans lived in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago. Settled life emerged in the region 9,000 years ago, evolving gradually into the Indus civilization (Shortugai site), the Oxus civilization (Dashlyji site), and the Helmand civilization (Mundigak site) of the 3rd millennium BCE. Indo-Aryans migrated through Bactria-Margiana area to Gandhara, followed by the rise of the Iron Age Yaz I culture (ca. 1500–1100 BCE), which has been closely associated with the culture depicted in the Avesta, the ancient religious texts of Zoroastrianism. The region, then known as “Ariana”, fell to Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BCE, who conquered the areas to their east as far as the Indus River. Alexander the Great invaded the region in the 4th century BCE, who married Roxana in Bactria before his Kabul Valley campaign, where he faced resistance from Aspasioi and Assakan tribes. The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom became the eastern end of the Hellenistic world. Following the conquest by Mauryan Indians, Buddhism and Hinduism flourished in the region for centuries. The Kushan emperor Kanishka, who ruled from his twin capitals of Kapiśi and Puruṣapura, played an important role in the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China and Central Asia. Various other Buddhist dynasties originated from this region as well, including the Kidarites, Hephthalites, Alkhons, Nezaks, Zunbils and Turk Shahis.
Muslims brought Islam to Sassanian-held Herat and Zaranj in the mid-7th century, while fuller Islamization was achieved between the 9th and 12th centuries under the Saffarid, Samanid, Ghaznavid, and Ghurid dynasties. Parts of the region were later ruled by the Khwarazmian, Khalji, Timurid, Lodi, Sur, Mughal, and Safavid empires. The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Hotak dynasty, whose founder Mirwais Hotak declared southern Afghanistan independent in 1709. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani established the Durrani Empire with its capital at Kandahar. In 1776, the Durrani capital was moved to Kabul while Peshawar became the winter capital; the latter was lost to Sikhs in 1823. In the late 19th century, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the “Great Game” between British India and the Russian Empire.
In the First Anglo-Afghan War, the British East India Company seized control of Afghanistan briefly, but following the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919 the country was free of foreign influence, eventually becoming a monarchy under Amanullah Khan, until almost 50 years later when Zahir Shah was overthrown and a republic was established. In 1978, after a second coup, Afghanistan first became a socialist state, evoking the Soviet–Afghan War in the 1980s against mujahideen rebels. By 1996, most of the country was captured by the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, who ruled as a totalitarian regime for over five years; they were removed from power after the US invasion in 2001 but still control a significant portion of the country. The ongoing war between the government and the Taliban has contributed to the perpetuation of Afghanistan’s problematic human rights record including complications of women’s rights, with numerous abuses committed by both sides, such as the killing of civilians.
Afghanistan is a unitary presidential Islamic republic. The country has high levels of terrorism, poverty, child malnutrition, and corruption. It is a member of the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Group of 77, the Economic Cooperation Organization, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Afghanistan’s economy is the world’s 96th largest, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $72.9 billion by purchasing power parity; the country fares much worse in terms of per-capita GDP (PPP), ranking 169th out of 186 countries as of 2018.
The national flag of Afghanistan (Dari Persian: پرچم افغانستان, Pashto: افغانستان توغ) consists of a vertical tricolor with the classical National Emblem in the center. The current flag was adopted on August 19, 2013, but many similar designs had been in use throughout most of the 20th century.
Afghanistan has had 25 flags since the first flag when the Hotak dynasty was established in 1709. During the 20th century alone, Afghanistan went through 18 national flags, more than any other country during that time period, and most of them had the colors black, red, and green on them. Along with Haiti, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Venezuela, it is one of eight national flags whose design incorporates a depiction of the flag itself. It is also, along with Bolivia, Cambodia, Portugal, San Marino, and Spain, one of only six national flags that feature a building.
The black color represents its troubled 19th century history as a protected state, the red color represents the blood of those who fought for independence (specifically, the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919), and the green represents hope and prosperity for the future. Some have alternatively interpreted the black to represent history, the red to represent progress, and the green to represent either agricultural prosperity or Islam.
The tricolor was supposedly inspired by the Afghan King, Amanullah Khan, when visiting Europe with his wife in 1928. The original horizontal tricolor design was based on that of the flag of Germany.
The center of the flag contains the Emblem of Afghanistan. Almost every national flag since 1928 has had the emblem in the center. Almost every emblem has had a mosque in it, which first appeared in 1901, and wheat, first appearing in 1928.
The National Emblem of Afghanistan has appeared in some form on the flag of Afghanistan since the beginning of the 20th century.
The latest incarnation of the emblem has the inscription of the shahada in Arabic at the top. Below it is the image of a mosque with a mihrab and minbar, or pulpit, within. Attached to the mosque are two flags, taken to stand for flags of Afghanistan. Beneath the mosque is an inscription that states the name of the nation. Around the mosque are sheaves of wheat, and underneath that, the Solar Hijri year 1298 (1919 in the Gregorian calendar), the year Afghanistan gained independence from the British influence.
The first postal arrangements in Afghanistan are credited to Sher Ali Khan, who established a postal service in the 1860s as part of a program to modernize the country. In 1870, a central post office was established at Bala Hissar — an ancient fortress located in the south of the old city of Kabul. A post office was also opened in the center of each province of the country serving primary postal services.
The first stamps were issued in 1871. They were round in shape, imperforate, and printed in black, with a crude lion’s head, surrounded by Arabic script specifying one of three denominations. The lion, sher, represented the head of state, Sher Ali Khan, as he had been named for the bravery of a lion. Many catalogues and early collectors incorrectly referred to these as “tiger” heads. Cancellation was accomplished by cutting or tearing off a piece of the stamp. Cancellation by postmark was not introduced until 1891. Initially somewhat large, subsequent issues kept the same basic design but were smaller each year, with the last appearing in 1878. Starting in 1876, the stamps were printed in different colors, each color corresponding to one of the main post offices on the Peshawar-Kabul-Khulm route. Each design in a sheet was individually engraved, so the stamps vary considerably in appearance. Many of the Sher Ali issues are readily available, while some sell for hundreds of US dollars.
The defeat of Sher Ali by the British brought Abdur Rahman Khan to the throne in 1880, and the following year brought new stamps, still round, but with inscriptions in the middle instead of the lion’s head. The era of round designs ended in 1891 with rectangular issues for the “Kingdom of Afghanistan”. The three designs consisted entirely of Arabic script, and were printed in a slate blue color.
In 1892, a post office near the presidential compound in Kabul was established. The stamp issue that year featured the national seal consisting of a mosque gate and crossed cannons; it was printed in black on colored paper; at least 10 colors of paper were used, and there are many shades as well, even though all the colors had the same value. In 1894 simplified versions of this design were printed on green paper. The 1898 issues of the national seal on a variety of colored paper were not regularly issued.
In 1907 the first rouletted stamps were issued, along with imperforate varieties, depicting a whole mosque, with various surrounding ornamentation. In the 1909 issue the mosque was displayed inside an eight-pointed star pattern.
In 1908, the Afghan postal network developed more and ten years later the General Directorship of Post and Telegraph & Telephone was included in the organization of the Interior Ministry. A post office was established in each of the big cities by 1918 as well.
The first issue after independence came out on 24 August 1920, a design featuring the royal star of King Amanullah. The three denominations were also the first to use Latin script for the numerals as well as Arabic. Beginning in 1924, each year at least one stamp was issued in February to commemorate independence, a pattern that held steady, with few omissions, until the 1960s.
International post services between Afghanistan and the British India government were established via the Torkham border in 1925.
In 1927, the first Roman letters had appeared on an Afghan stamp, the inscription reading “AFGHAN POSTAGE”. This changed to the French “POSTES AFGHANES” in 1928, and remained in that form (with some deviations, as in the 1939 issue) until 1989.
Afghanistan joined the Universal Postal Union in 1928; previously international mail required stamps of British India. The General Directorship of Post and Telegraph & Telephone became an independent administration in 1928 as well. The following year, post was conveyed towards Torkham and Kundahar by vehicles for the first time.
In 1934, the name of the postal administration was changed from General Directorship of Telephone and Telegraph into the Department of Telephone, Telegraph. It was later elevated to the Ministry of Communication.
The Afghan stamps of the 1930s and 1940s are rather plain affairs, mostly typographed, with large blank spaces in the design. The definitive series of 1951 was finely engraved by Waterlow and Sons, several featuring portraits of Mohammed Zahir Shah.
A large number of Afghan stamps appeared in the 1960s. Since the Afghan Postal Authority issued some stamps well below the minimal amount of postage, this was considered to be a scheme for making money from stamp collectors. The issues from 1960 on are not especially notable. Starting in the mid-1980s, many of the issues were clearly produced to sell to Western stamp collectors; for instance, the ship series of 1986 is not especially relevant in a landlocked country.
The disruption of governance in the late 80s and early 90s due to civil war and the rise of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, led to stopping of stamp issues from 1989 to 2001, although the postal service continued to exist it functioned only haphazardly using existing stamp supplies. There are only a few postal items known from the 1996 to 2001 period. However, postal services to and from Kabul worked remarkably well all throughout the war years. Postal services to and from Herat resumed in 1997.
During this interim period, many unofficial stamps were printed and distributed, which were disavowed by the Afghanistan postal service in 2000 under the Taliban, and subsequently in 2003 by the Karzai government. The Afghan government has reported to the UPU several times about illegal stamps being issued and sold in 2003 and 2007.
Stamp production resumed when the Taliban regime was overthrown and the Afghan Postal Authority reconstituted. The first issue of a postage stamp after the hiatus was the May 2002 stamp showing Ahmad Shah Massoud, a military general and national hero who defended Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and later led a resistance movement against the Taliban.
A terrorist attack on Afghan Post headquarters on 13 April 2019 caused international mail to be suspended.
Afghan Post is the national postal organization of Afghanistan. It has offices in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, and is getting close to having offices in all 364 districts. Afghan Post is responsible for providing courier services in Afghanistan. It is important to note that most homes in Afghanistan, particularly in older neighborhoods and in the rural areas, still do not have street addresses. Names and other descriptions may be used in place of street addresses.
Afghan Post has been reorganizing the postal service in the 2000s with assistance from Pakistan Post. The Afghanistan Postal commission was formed to prepare a written policy for the development of the postal sector, which will form the basis of a new postal services law governing licensing of postal services providers. The project was expected to finish by 2008.
Website: http://afghanpost.gov.af (Afghan and English)
2021 Stamp Programme