192-Part Guide To The World: Afghanistan

Official name: The Islamic State of Afghanistan (though the self-proclaimed Taliban government prefer The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan).

Official name: The Islamic State of Afghanistan (though the self-proclaimed Taliban government prefer The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan).

Population: About 20 million.

Size compared with the UK: Two and a half times larger.

Environment: Arid, rugged mountains, cold in winter, hot in summer, prone to earthquakes and desertification.

Best monument: The ruinous Timurid architecture around Herat was favorably compared by Robert Byron (in his book The Road to Oxiana) to the mosques and minarets of Samarkand. Meanwhile, at Bamian, the world's tallest free standing Buddha still survives as a relic of the Silk Road. Much defaced - as a superstitious idol - since the arrival of Islam in the 6th century, the Buddha is at risk today of being entirely demolished.

Most famous citizen: The Islamic philosopher, mathematician and doctor of medicine Avicenna (979-1037). Although sometimes referred to as an Arab, he is claimed by the Afghans as their very own.

National dish: Aushak - flat dumplings stuffed with chopped scallions, steamed and topped with ground beef, yoghurt and mint.

Best moment in history: The declaration of independence from the UK was 19 August, 1919.

Worst moment in history: The 1979 Soviet invasion, which has, so far, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and 20 years of civil war.

Essential accessory: For men: a beard and a flat Pashtun cap. For women: a full-length, all- enveloping burqa.

How to behave: Act like a man.

How not to behave: Ask for gin with your tonic.

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