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Ethnic groups also include the Hazara, the Uzbeks, among others. Pashtu, Dari (Afghan Persian), various Turkic languages, and 30 minor languages, are all spoken in Afghanistan. For the most part, Afghans are farmers, artisans, or merchants, although a significant minority follows a nomadic lifestyle.The population of Afghanistan has a life expectancy at birth of 46.5 years (47.5 for males and 46 for females) and an infant mortality rate of 143.7 deaths/1,000 live births. Afghanistan's infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, with 147 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It has an annual population growth rate of 3.5 percent.
Prior to the war important political positions were distributed almost equally among ethnic groups. This kept ethnic tensions and violence to a minimum, though the Pashtoons in Kabul were always the politically dominant group. In the mid-1990s attempts were made to reestablish shared rule. However, many of the ethnic groups sought a greater share of power than they had before the war, and violence was a common result of the disputes.
Almost the entire population is Muslim. Official data suggests that
84 percent of the Afghan population in Afghanistan professes to be Sunni Muslims,
15 percent acknowledge Shi'ia Muslim affiliation, and a remaining 1 percent
claim other religious affiliations. Sikhs and Hindus make up most of this remaining
1 percent. As such, the religion of Islam has played a central role in unifying
the population. Although the Taliban rule exacerbate sectarian differences in
the country, Sunni Islam functioned as the predominant religious sect, since
the emergence of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan the mid-1990s shifted the religious
climate in a significant manner.
The last official census in Afghanistan was in 1979, when the population registered
at 15,551,358. A 2001 population estimate was 26,813,057, though the effect
of the war, with its casualties and refugees, makes estimating difficult.
The growth rate is 4.8 percent in urban areas, reflecting migration to urban centers. In the beginning of the civil war, the population of Kabul swelled to 2 million people because of the extensive fighting in the countryside. Now that situation has reversed because much of Kabul has been destroyed by rocket attack and other combat.
Two separate systems of education exist in Afghanistan. The older system is a religious one, taught by the mullahs, who conduct schools in the village mosques. They teach the religious precepts of the Qur'an, reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The other system was introduced in Afghanistan's 1964 constitution and provided for free and compulsory education, although this was rarely achieved. Prior to the civil war the respected Kabul University (founded in 1932) was a major seat of learning with free tuition. Nine other colleges were established within it from 1938 through 1967, each with assistance from such countries as France, Germany, the United States, Egypt, and the USSR. Before 1961 only men could receive a higher education, that year all faculties were made coeducational. University of Nangarhar (1962) in Jalalabad was established to teach medicine and other disciplines. Special emphasis was placed on primary education. Secondary schools existed in Kabul and the larger towns. Five years of primary school and five years of secondary school were expected, although many Afghans could not attend because they lived in areas where there were no schools.
The education system adopted by Taliban is largely a derivative of the socialist
order: no fees, no charge for lodging, boarding, books, etc...Even in the medical
colleges, where expenses are quite high, the education is entirely free.The
facilities, however, were highly inadequate because of the paucity of resources.
In 1996 the country reported 52 percent of primary school-aged children were
enrolled in school; 22 percent of the relevantly aged children attended secondary
school. In terms of literacy, it was estimated to be 58 percent for all Afghans
aged 15 and older in 2001, 71 percent for males and 25 percent for females.
However, some experts believe these figures are too high, since up to 80 percent
of the schools had been destroyed by this time. The current civil war has caused
the closing or dismantling of most lower, middle, and higher education facilities
and the results is that generations grew up without any formal schooling.