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Kandahār or Qandahār (Pashto/Persian: کندهار or قندهار) is the second largest city in Afghanistanmarker, with a population of 468,200. It is the capital of Kandahar province, located in the south of the country at about 1,005 m (3,297 feet) above sea level. The Arghandab Rivermarker runs right next to the city.

Kandahar is a major trading center for sheep, wool, cotton, silk, felt, food grains, fresh and dried fruit, and tobacco. The region produces fine fruits, especially pomegranates and grapes, and the city has plants for canning, drying, and packing fruit. Kandahar has an international airport and extensive road links with Farah and Heratmarker to the west, Ghaznimarker and Kabulmarker to the northeast, Tarin Kowtmarker to the north, and Quettamarker in Pakistanmarker to the south.

Many empires have long fought over the city, due to its strategic location along the trade routes of Southern and Central Asia. In 1748, Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the Durrani Empire, made Kandahar the capital of Afghanistan.


It is believed that Kandahar may have derived from the Pashto pronunciation of Alexandria, which is "Iskanderiya". A temple to the deified Alexander as well as an inscription in Greek and Aramaic by the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who lived a few decades later, have been discovered in Kandahar.

An alternative etymology derives the name of the city fromGandhara, the name of an ancient Hindu kingdom from the Vedic period and its capital city located between the Hindukushmarker and Sulaiman Mountainsmarker (basically identical to the modern extend of the Pashtun-inhabited territories in Pakistan and Afghanistan), although Kandahar in modern times and the ancient Gandhara are not geographically identical.

It's interesting to know that the word "kand" or "qand" in the local languages (Persian and Pashto) means "sweet" and "har" may be short for "shahar" which means city or town. And the ancient word- Gandh derived from Gandhar also means a sweet nice smell. This probably has to do with the city being known for producing fine grapes, pomegranates, apricots, melons and other sweet fruits.

Another etymology derives the name of the city as combination of two PIE words, even used in Indo-Pakistan now by nomadic bagga and sansi tribes, kand = wall and har = mountain or stone leading to understand a city made of stones or fortress with stone wall.



Excavations of prehistoric sites by Louis Dupree, the University of Pennsylvaniamarker, the Smithsonian Institutionmarker, and others suggest that the region around Kandahar is one of the oldest human settlements known so far. Dupree writes:

Hellenistic era

Kandahar was founded in 330 BC by Alexander the Great, near the site of the ancient city of Mundigak (established around 3000 BC). Previously, the city was the provincial capital of Arachosia and was ruled by the Achaemenid Empire. The main inhabitants of Arachosia were the Pactyans, an ancient Iranian tribe, who were probably one of the ancestors of today's Pashtuns. Kandahar was named Alexandria, a popular name given to many cities that Alexander found during his conquests.

The city has been a frequent target for conquest because of its strategic location in Southern Asia, controlling the main trade route linking the Indian subcontinent with the Middle East, Central Asia and the Persian Gulfmarker. It later became part of the Indian Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta Maurya, after the departure of Alexander. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka erected a pillar there with a bilingual inscription in Greek and Aramaic. The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom occupied Kandahar after the Mauryans, but then lost the city to the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

Islamic conquest

In the 7th century AD, Arab armies invaded the region with the new religion of Islam but were unable to succeed in fully converting the population. In 870 AD, Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, a local ruler of the Saffarid dynasty in Seistan, conquered Kandahar and the rest of the nearby regions in the name of Islam. Dupree writes:

Kandahar was taken by Sultan Mahmud of Ghaznimarker in the 11th century, and in the 13th century it was invaded by Genghis Khan and his Mongol armies. It became part of the Timurid Empire from the 14th century to the 15th century, which was founded by Tamerlane. Pir Muhammad, a grandson of Tamerlane, held the seat of government in Kandahar from about 1383 until his death in 1407. Following Pir Mohammad's death, the city was ruled by other Timurids. In the late 15th century Kandahar was entrusted to the Arghuns, who eventually achieved independence from the Timurids.

Tamerlane's descendant, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, annexed Kandahar in the 16th century. Babur's son, Humayun, lost it to the Shah of Persia. Humayun's son, Akbar, regained control of Kandahar but by the early 1700s subsequent Mughal emperors lost the territory once again to the Persians.

Modern history

Mirwais Khan Hotak, a local Afghan (Pashtun) from the Ghilzai clan, revolted and killed Gurgin Khan, the Georgianmarker governor who ruled in the name of the Persian Shah. Mirwais Khan defeated a subsequent expedition by Gurgin's nephew Kay Khusraw and succefully resisted attempts by the Persian government to convert the local people from Sunni to the Shia version of Islam. Mirwais Khan remained in power until his death in 1715 and was succeeded by his son, Mir Mahmud Hotaki.

In 1722, Mir Mahmud led an army of Afghans to Isfahanmarker, the capital of the Safavid Persiamarker and proclaimed himself King of Persia. The Hotaki dynasty was eventually removed from power by a new ruler, Nader Shah Afshar, who invaded Kandahar in 1738 and destroyed the city by artillery fire. Removing the surviving inhabitant, Nader Shah built a new town to the west of the ancient city, naming it after himself, "Naderabad". Today, this part of the city is called Topekhana and where the city's Persian residents can be found. Nader Shah was assassinated nine years later assumingly by his own family members.

Ahmad Shah Durrani, an ethnic Pashtun and chief of the Abdali clan, born near the city of Multanmarker in Pakistanmarker, gained control of Kandahar in 1747 and made it the capital of his new Afghan Empire. Previously, Ahmad Shah served as a military commander and personal bodyguard of Nader Shah of Persia. His empire included present-day Afghanistan, the southern provinces of the then Soviet Russia, Pakistanmarker, and Kohistan provinces of Iran. In October 1772, Ahmad Shah retired to his home in Maruf, Kandahar, where he died peacefully. The (now) "Old City" was laid out by Ahmad Shah and is dominated by his mausoleum. Between 1773-76, his eldest son Timur Shah Durrani transferred the capital of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul, where the Durrani legacy continued.

Governor of Kandahar, Sher Ali's, courtyard in 1881.

On 28th Muharram 1242 Hijri (September 2, 1826) Syed Ahmad Shaheed's forces reached Kandahar en route to Peshawar. Their purpose was to wage jihad against the Sikh kingdom of Ranjit Singh and aid their fellow Pashtuns and co-religionist in Pakistanmarker. Within a few days more than 400 Kandharians presented themselves for the jihad, out of whom 270 were selected. Sayed Deen Muhammad Kandharai was appointed their leader.
A view of the Chilzina mountain and adjacent area in 1881.
Britishmarker and Indian forces from British India occupied the city in 1839, during the first Anglo-Afghan war. They were forced to withdraw approximately three years later, in 1842. The British and Indian forces returned in 1878 during the second Anglo-Afghan war. They emerged from the city in July 1880 to confront Ayub Khan, but were heavily defeated at the Battle of Maiwand. They were again forced to withdraw a few years later, despite winning a battle near the city (see Battle of Kandahar). Kandahar remained peaceful for the next 100 years.

In the 1960s, Kandahar International Airportmarker was built, with the help of the United States Agency for International Development, 10 miles (16 kilometers) south-east of the city. It was used by the Red Armymarker during their ten-year occupation of the country. As of 2001, the airport is used by the US and NATOmarker forces as a military base.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989), Kandahar was under Soviet command and witnessed heavy fighting. Soviet troops surrounded the city, and subjected it to a heavy artillery and air bombardment in which many civilians lost their lives. After the Soviet withdrawal and the fall of Najibullah's government in 1992, Kandahar fell into the hands of a local mujahideen commander, Gul Agha Sherzai.
Street of Kandahar.

In August 1994 the Taliban captured Kandahar and soon after the city was turned into their capital. In October 2001, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States Navy began hitting targets inside the city by precision-guided cruise missiles that were fired from the Persian Gulfmarker. These targets were the airport and buildings that were occupied by the Taliban, including Arab families who arrived several years ago and were residing in the area. About a month later the Taliban began surrendering to private militia in and around the city, which was formed by Gul Agha Sherzai and Hamid Karzai. Kandahar once again fell into the hands of Sherzai, who had control over the area before the rise of the Taliban, and was credited with permitting the same corruption that first fueled the growth of the Taliban. Sherzai was transferred in 2003 and replaced by Yousef Pashtun until Asadullah Khalid took the post in 2005. The current Governor of the province is Tooryalai Wesa.

The Afghan Armed Forces, supported by US-NATO forces, is gradually expanding its authority and presence throughout most of the country. In Kandahar the Army is represented by the 205th Corps. Kandahar is in full control of the new Afghan government, which is led by USmarker-backed President Hamid Karzai. The Canadian Forces maintain their military command headquarters at Kandahar, heading the Regional Command South of the NATOmarker led International Security Assistance Force in Kandahar Province. However, the Taliban have many spies inside the city reporting on events.


Kandahar has an arid, continental climate characterized by little precipitation and high variation between summer and winter temperatures. Summers start in mid-May, last until late-September, and are extremely dry. They peak in June with average temperatures of around 32oC (90oF). They are followed by a dry autumn from early-October to late-November with average temperatures sliding from 18oC (64oF) to 9C (48oF).

Winter starts in December and sees most of the precipitation in the form of rain. Temperatures average around 5-8oC (42 - 46oF), although lows can drop well below freezing. They end in early-March and are followed by a pleasant spring till late-April with temperatures in the 15oC (60oF) range.


The population of Kandahar numbers 468,200. Pashtuns form the overwhelming majority of the city, comprising ca. 70%. Tajiks are the second largest group, comprising ca. 20% of the population. Hazaras, Baluchs, and Uzbeks form sizable minorities.


Kandahar International Airport has been used by the NATO forces to deliver troops and humanitarian supplies since late 2001. Repairs and upgrades also occurred during that period; the airport re-opened for civilian use in late 2006.

Commuters of the city use the public bus system (Milli Bus), and yellow taxicabs are common. Private vehicle use is increasing, partially due to road and highway improvements. Large dealerships are importing cars from Dubaimarker, UAEmarker.

Kandahar is connected to Kabulmarker by the Kabul-Kandahar Highway and to Heratmarker by the Kandahar-Herat Highway. There is a bus station located at the start of the Kabul-Kandahar Highway, where a number of private buses are available to take people to most major cities of the country. Kandahar is also connected by road to Quettamarker in neighboring Pakistanmarker. Due to the ongoing war the route to Kabul has become increasingly dangerous as insurgent attacks on convoys and destruction of bridges make it an unreliable link between the two cities.


The city has public schools in every district for both males and females. However, many conservative parents do not allow females in their family to get high school or higher education. There are at least 2 universities, one is Ahmad Shah Lycée and the other is Kandahar Universitymarker.


Telecommunication services in the city are provided by InstaTelecom, Afghan Wireless, Roshan, Etisalat and Areeba mobile companies. In November 2006, the Afghan Ministry of Communications signed a US 64.5 million dollar agreement with a company (ZTE Corporation) for the establishment of a countrywide fiber optical cable network. This will improve telephone, internet, television and radio broadcast services not just in Kandahar but throughout the country.

Besides foreign channels, Afghanistan's local television channels include:

Recent developments

The model plan of a 20,000 home development project called Kandahar Valley.

Due to almost 30 years of destruction and no development, Kandahar (along with the rest of the country) is going through a nationwide reconstruction period. As of 2002, large amounts of money have been pouring in for construction purposes. New modern-style buildings are slowly replacing the older ones. Kandahar's major highways were repaired and completed including the highway to Kabul. However, work on smaller roads in some parts around the city is still in progress.

Kandahar's residents have access to clean drinking water and 24 hour electricity. Although not every part of the city may receive it, plans and works are underway to extend these services to every home.

Up to 20,000 single-family homes and associated infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer systems, and community buildings, including schools, are under construction on empty land in Kandahar.

About 6 miles (10 km) east of Kandahar, a huge industrial park is under construction with modern facilities. The park will have professional management for the daily maintenance of public roads, internal streets, common areas, parking areas, 24 hours perimeter security, access control for vehicles and persons.

A railroad track from the Pakistani town of Chamanmarker to Kandahar is planned for the near future. The feasibility study was completed in or about early 2006, allowing for the next step to lay-down the rail track. The work on the rail track will take approximately 2 years to complete.

Places of interest

The tomb of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who in 1747 became Afghanistan's first king, is located in Kandahar, and contains Abdali's brass helmet, and a piece of pink velvet from his robe. In front of it is the Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed, containing one of the most valued relics in the Islamic world, which was given to Ahmad Shah by Murad Beg, the Emir of Bokharamarker. The Sacred Cloak is kept locked away, taken out only at times of great crisis. Mullah Omar took it out in November 1996 and displayed it to a crowd of ulema of religious scholars to have himself declared Amir al-Mu'mineen (Commander of the Faithful), the last time had been when the city was struck by a cholera epidemic in the 1930s.

Azizi Bank

The village of Sher Surkh is located southeast of the city, in the suburbs of the old city of Nadirabad. Kandahar Museum is located at the western end of the third block of buildings lining the main road east of Eidgah Durwaza (gate). It has many paintings by the now famous Ghiyassuddin, painted while he was a young teacher in Kandahar. He is acknowledged among Afghanistan’s leading artists.

Just to the north of the city, off its northeast corner at the end of buria (matting) bazaar, there is a shrine dedicated to a saint who lived in Kandahar more than 300 years ago. The grave of Hazratji Baba, long to signify his greatness, but otherwise covered solely by rock chips, is undecorated save for tall pennants at its head. A monument to Islamic martyrs stands in the center of Kandahar’s main square, called Da Shahidanu Chawk, which was built in the 1940s.

The Chilzina is a rock-cut chamber above the plain at the end of the rugged chain of mountains forming the western defence of Kandahar’s Old City. Forty steps, about, lead to the chamber which is guarded by two chained lions, defaced, and inscribed with an account of Moghul conquest. The rugged cliffs from which the Chilzina was hewn form the natural western bastion of the Old City of Kandahar which was destroyed in 1738 by Nadir Shah Afshar of Persia.

A short distance from Chilzina, going west on the main highway, a bright blue dome appears on the right. This is the mausoleum of Mir Wais Khan, the Ghilzai chieftain who declared Kandahar’s independence from the Persians in 1709. The shrine of Baba Wali, its terraces shaded by pomegranate groves beside the Arghandab Rivermarker, is also very popular for picnics and afternoon outings.

  • Districts
    • Arghandab Valley
    • Kandahar Valley (under construction)
    • Shāri Noe (New City), alternately Shahre Naw or Shar-i-Nau
    • Dand
    • Karzmarker
    • Mirwais Mina, alternately Mena
    • Daman
    • Sarpuza
    • Zoar Shār (Old City)

  • General
    • Baba Saab (picnic area & weekend spot)
    • Bāghi Pull (picnic area & weekend spot)
    • Chilzina View (Moghul Emperor Babur's inscription site)
    • Kandahar Stadium
    • Kandahar Museum

  • Shopping
    • Herat Bazaar
    • Kabul Bazaar
    • Shah Bazaar
    • Shkar Pur Bazaar

See also

Notable people from Kandahar

Further reading

  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu. Draft annotated English translation.[2438]
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation. [2439]
  • Thapar, Romila (1963): Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas. Oxford University Press. 3rd impression, New Delhi, 1980.
  • Frye, Richard N. (1963). The Heritage of Persia. World Publishing company, Cleveland, Ohio. Mentor Book edition, 1966.
  • Toynbee, Arnold J. (1961). Between Oxus and Jumna. London. Oxford University Press.
  • Vogelsang, W. (1985). "Early historical Arachosia in South-east Afghanistan; Meeting-place between East and West." Iranica antiqua, 20 (1985), pp. 55–99.
  • Wood, Michael (1997). In the footsteps of Alexander the Great: A Journey from Greece to Asia. BBC, London. First published 1997. Paperback Edition 2001.


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