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Population of Afghanistan 1800-2020

From 1800 until the late twentieth century, there was a steady increase in Afghanistan's population. Throughout the nineteenth century, Afghanistan became a battleground for the British Empire, who tried to control the area in order to prevent Russian expansion towards the British Raj. Despite resisting the British invasion in the first Anglo-Afghan War, (where the British Army was almost completely wiped out), the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1880 saw Britain seize control of the region. In contrast to the neighboring colonies on the Indian subcontinent, Britain did not colonize Afghanistan for economic purposes, therefore they did not invest in agriculture or infrastructure, nor introduce medicine in the same way they did in the Raj, and focused only on Afghanistan's international affairs.

Independence and progress

The Third Anglo-Afghan War, where Afghan forces invaded British India in 1919, resulted in Afghanistan's independence finally being declared after two months of conflict. The next decade saw some major reforms that attempted to modernize Afghan society, (notable progress was made for women's rights and education) however this alienated many conservative and religious tribes, and a civil war broke out in 1928. After the war (and brief usurpation) the new King of Afghanistan, Nadir Khan, consolidated power, and also moved to modernize the country, but more gradually than his predecessors in order to avoid further alienation and conflict. Khan's approach remained in place until the 1970s, when a bloodless coup established a republic. The republic never achieved political stability, and the Sauri Revolution of 1978 resulted in the formation of the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

Continuous war

Despite some progressive reforms, such as banning forced marriages and opening a space for women in politics, the determination to promote state atheism combined with the country's economic dependence on the Soviet Union led to serious opposition from Afghan people, particularly in rural areas. On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union (backed by the Afghan government) invaded the country, and the ensuing decade-long guerilla war resulted in as many as two million fatalities and three million wounded, as well as two million internally displaced persons and five million refugees abroad. Soviet withdrawal was seen as a western victory, as they had supported the Taliban in their fight against the Soviets, however a decade later the Taliban refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda suspects to the US, following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. This led to US and British forces launching Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, and an intensive bombing campaign followed, destroying many major cities in the country. The Taliban government was toppled in December 2001, and in 2002 a western-led rebuilding of the country began. Over the past two decades, many displaced Afghans have returned home, leading to some economic growth, however guerilla fighting continues and there is a strong military presence in the country (including many Taliban controlled areas). In 2020, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most politically unstable countries in the world, however the rapid population growth experienced in recent decades is expected to continue well into the future, as improvements in medical care and humanitarian aid become more widespread across the country.

Population of Afghanistan from 1800 to 2020

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Release date

August 2019



Survey time period

1800 to 2020

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