Afghanistan Maps

This cool little quiz about the Middle East spurred me to learn more about the geography of Afghanistan. I answered 8 out of 10 correctly (I missed 9 and 10 for those who might be keeping track). (link via The Usual Suspects).

These are the most useful links I’ve found in that regard. One thing I’ve realized is that I do not have an appropriate language for discussing the area — I need a term that encompasses the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Eastern Africa. If you know what that term is, please e-mail me. For now, I’m using “the Muslim world” but that is charged with anti-Islamic overtones and I’m not satisfied with it. I’d prefer a more purely geographic reference. Surfing through these maps emphasized for me how “Western” my sense of geography is — I view the world through the maps I’ve known (a topic I commented on back on June 7, and those maps define the world via the history of Western expansion, colonialism and trade.

Afghanistan and the Middle East

I’ve seen too many maps like this one from the Washington Post that fail to provide a sense of the whole region. It provides almost no context for understanding how Afghanistan and the Middle East are connected geographically, let alone politically or culturally. Unfortunately, most of the maps I’ve seen in newspapers are little better.

This map of the Middle East from National Geographic combines political boundaries with satelite images. It’s gorgeous and gives a better sense of the Middle East than others, but again fails to demonstrate the connection between Afghanistan and other countries Americans are more familiar with.

CNN’s regional map. Oddly enough, this CNN map provides the best sense of the whole region I’ve been calling the Muslim world. Notice the physical proximity of Afghanistan to the Middle East, and the strategically important locations of Pakistan and Iran.

Economy & People

Afghanistan at a glance, from the LA Times, shows the location of known poppy fields in Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan. Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium poppy producer, and it is by far the biggest source of revenue for the country. The recent decline in poppy production was due not to US/UN political pressure, but to a severe drought.

Land use and economic activity from emphasizes the limited nature of Afghanistan’s agricultural base. The irrigated portions of the country are few and far between, leaving large areas vulnerable to drought.

Ethnic groups inset map from The Times. This map shows how ethnically diverse Afghanistan is. Compare this map with CNN’s Afghanistan Civil War map, and it isn’t hard to guess that the civil war is at least in part ethnically-based.

Ethnolinguistic groups in the region demonstrates how arbitrary Afghanistan’s borders are. Those borders were drawn to meet the needs of British-Russian conflict in the area, rather than the cultural or economic needs of the people who live there.

Internal Displacement in Afghanistan from ReliefWeb. Internal stability in Afghanistan is low due to the Civil War — significant numbers of people have had to move from their homes. This has the potential for increasing cultural and economic conflict among groups and further fanning the Civil War.


Shaded relief map of Afghanistan from the University of Texas library. This map gives a pretty good sense of how mountainous Afghanistan is.

Forbidding Territory from the Washington Post provides more written details about the terrain, but the Texas library is a better visual aid. Lots of hiding places in those mountains.

Landmine maps of Afghanistan. Any US troops entering the country would be confronted with mines remaining after the civil war and the war against the Soviet Union. These maps and the report outlines the extent of old land mines in Afghanistan

US-coalition partners in Muslim countries from the LA times is a good visual representation of the kind of support the US has garnered from the region.

Comparison to the US from Afghanistan looks small on most maps. This map compares the size of Afghanistan to the American South — to my overly Westernized brain, this comparison was very helpful. Invading Afghanistan would be a huge endeavor.

Posted on October 5th, 2001 by Katxena