Kandahar City

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This article has been extracted from



Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Kandahar City

Capital of the Kandahar province of Afghan- istan, situated in 31 degree 27 N. and 65 degree 43' E., 354 miles from Herat by the shortest route, 313 from Kabul via Maidan, and about 62 miles from the British border at New Chaman; 3,462 feet above the sea. The city is situated between the Tarnak and Arghandab rivers on a level plain, intersected by numerous canals, and highly cultivated and well populated to the south and west, but barren to the north, north- west, and north-east. It forms an irregular oblong, longest from north to south, with a circuit of over 3 miles. It is surrounded by a ditch 24 feet wide and 10 feet deep, and by a wall 27 feet in height. There are six gates, two each on the east and west, and one on the north and on the south. The four principal streets are about 40 yards wide, and are named after the gates to which they lead from the Charsu, their point of intersection. Smaller and narrower streets branch from the main arteries towards the city walls. Kandahar is divided into four quarters, the various tribes which constitute the inhabitants occupying, to a great extent, separate portions. The different classes of merchants and shopkeepers also occupy separate streets, or portions of streets, in the various quarters. The houses are generally built of sun-dried bricks, and are flat-roofed, some with upper storeys. Those of the rich are enclosed by high walls, and many contain three or four courts, with gardens and fountains. The citadel is situated at the north of the city. South of it is an open space called the Topkhana ; west is another open space in which is situated the tomb of Ahmad Shah Durrani. This structure overtops all the surrounding buildings, and its lofty dome attracts the attention of the traveller approaching the city from a dis- tance. There are more than 180 Sunni mosques in the city, of which the Khirka Mubarak, a place of sanctuary (bast), is the most celebrated. Notwithstanding the large number of Shiah inhabitants, there is no Shiah mosque. A commodious caravanserai exists outside the eastern gate for the storage of wool and other goods going to India,

The total population of Kandahar city is estimated at 31,000, among whom Parsiwans predominate. There are about 1,600 shops, and a ganj where a large cattle, sheep, and grain market is held daily. The usual water-supply is derived, by numerous canals, from the Arghandab, but an ample supply is also available from wells. The climate of Kandahar is not salubrious, probably owing to the want of sanitation and to the large graveyards on one side and the marshes on the other. The rainfall is small, and occurs during the winter and early spring. In the summer months the heat is intense. The temperature varies greatly between sunrise and mid-day, sometimes by as much as 40 or 50°.

Kandahar is famous for its fruits, which are as plentiful as they are good ; apricots, peaches, pomegranates, grapes, figs, and melons are all excellent of their kind and, fresh or dry, are largely exported. A con- siderable amount of tobacco is also grown for export to India, Kandahar is one of the principal trade centres in Afghanistan. There are no manufactures or industries of any importance peculiar to the city ; but the long lines of bazars display goods from Great Britain, India, Russia, Persia, and Turkistan, embracing a trade area as large probably as that of any city in Asia. The customs and towns dues together amount to a sum equal to the land revenue of the entire province. The Hindus are the most numerous and the wealthiest merchants in Kandahar, carrying on a profitable trade with Bombay and Sind. They import British manufactures, e.g. silks, calicoes, muslins, chintzes, broadcloth, and hardware ; and Indian produce, such as indigo, spices, and sugar. They export asafoetida, madder, wool, dried fruits, tobacco, silk, rosaries, &c. In 1903-4 the exports to India from Kandahar were valued at nearly 35 lakhs, and the imports at 33 lakhs.

From early times Kandahar must have been a town of much impor- tance in Asia, as being the central point at which the roads from Herat, Seistan, Ghor, Kabul, and India unite. The position did not escape the notice of Alexander the Great, and Kandahar (Alexandria Ara- choton) is probably one of the cities that he founded or rebuilt. After being a portion of the Seleucid, Parthian, Sassanid, and Arab empires, Kandahar, on the break-up of the Khalifat, fell successively to the Persian Saflforids and Samanids, to the house of Ghazni, the Seljuks, the Ghorids, and the Shahs of Khwarizm, and in 1222 it was captured by the Mongols under Chingiz Khan. From his descendants it passed for a time to the Kart dynasty of Herat, an offshoot of the Ghorids, and in 1389 it was taken by Tlmur Lang. Between 1468 and 151 2 it was under local chiefs, but in the latter year it was recovered for the Timurids by Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire. After his death Kandahar was a constant subject of contention between the Mughals and the Persian Safavids; and after being several times captured and recaptured by one or the other, it finally passed out of Mughal possession in 1648, the subsequent efforts of Shah Jahan's sons, Aurangzeb and Dara. Shikoh, to recover it proving fruitless. In 1 708 the Ghilzais of Kandahar threw off the Persian yoke, and a few years later defeated the Safavids in Persia itself. Persian rule was restored for a short time by Nadir Shin, who destroyed the city in 1738 and built a new one. The old city is now known as Shahr-i-Kohna, and its ruins lie at the base of a bare rocky hill 3 miles to the west of the present town. Nadir Shah's foundation was in turn destroyed by his Afghan successor, Ahmad Shah, who founded the existing city in 1747. In 1834 Shah Shuja, the dispossessed (Sadozai) king of Afghanistan, attempted to re-establish himself in Kandahar, but he was driven off by his Barakzai rival, Dost Muhammad, who, after his victory, took the title of Amir.

This was the last unaided attempt of the Sadozais to retake Kan- dahar. The next time Shah Shuja appeared on the field it was with the support of the British Government. The Army of the Indus occupied Kandahar in April, 1839, and Shah Shuja was crowned there in May. While the restored king with the main British army marched on Kabul, a force was left under General Nott to hold Kan- dahar. In 1842, after the revolt at Kabul and the massacre of Burnes and Macnaghten, an attack was made on the city by large bodies of Afghans under Safdar Jang Sadozai, but it was beaten off with heavy loss, and a fresh attempt soon after was equally unsuccessful. In August, 1842, Nott marched to Kabul, and Safdar Jang then took possession of Kandahar, only to be driven out four months afterwards by Kohan Dil Khan, who had come from Persia. On the death of the latter in 1855 his son, Muhammad Sadik, held the city for a short time until Dost Muhammad took possession in November of the same year. Dost Muhammad appointed his son, Ghulam Haidar Khan, governor, and on his death in 1858 Sher All Khan succeeded him, On the latter becoming Amir, he appointed his full brother, Muhammad Am in Khan, to be governor. This chief rebelled and was killed in battle in 1865. Kandahar again fell into Sher All's hands; passed from his grasp to that of his half-brother and rival, Azlm Khan, in 1867 ; and again fell into the power of Sher All, through his son, Yakub Khan, in 1868.

During the last Afghan War Kandahar was occupied by British troops in January, 1879 ; and in May, 1880, Sardar Sher AH Khan was installed as Wall of the Kandahar province, which was to be indepen- dent of Kabul. In July, Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan, a younger brother of Yakab Khan, advancing from Herat, inflicted a crushing defeat on a brigade of British troops at Maiwand and invested Kandahar. A relieving force under .General Roberts left Kabul on August 8, arrived at Kandahar on the 31st, and on September 1 totally defeated Ayub, whose camp, artillery, and baggage were cap- tured, the Sardar escaping with a handful of followers. The victory immediately quieted the country, and the last of the British forces evacuated Southern Afghanistan in April, 1881. Sher AH Khan had found himself too weak to maintain the position conferred on him, and had retired, at his own request, to India, where he ended his days as a British pensioner. Within three months of the British withdrawal, Ayub Khan, who had been maintaining himself with spirit at Herat, again took the field, and, after defeating Abdur Rahman's troops, occupied Kandahar. He was, however, utterly defeated by the Amir in September, 1881, and fled towards Herat ; but that city had, mean- while, been occupied by one of the Amir's lieutenants, and Ayub Khan had to seek refuge in Persia. He came to India in 1888, and has since resided there.

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