1902 Encyclopedia > Kandahar, Afghanistan


KANDAHAR, the largest city in AFGHANISTAN, is situated 37º 37' N. lat. and 65º 43' E. long., at a height of 3400 feet above the sea. It is 370 miles distant from Herat on the north-west, by Girishk and Farrah, -- Girishk being 75 miles, and Farrah 225 miles from Kandahar. From Cabul [Kabul], on the north-east, it is distant 315 miles, by Khelat-i-Ghilzai and Ghazni, -- Khelat-i-Ghilzai -- being 85 miles, and Ghazni 225 miles from Kandahar. To the Pishin valley the distance is about 110 miles, and from Pishin to India the three principal routes measure approximately as follows: -- by the Zhób valley to Dera Ismail Khan, 300 miles; by the Bóri valley to Dera Ghazi Khan, 275 miles; by Quetta and the Bóri to Dadur, 125 miles; and by Chappar and Nari (the proposed railway route) to Sibi, 120 miles. Sibi is connected by rail with the rest of India. Immediately round the city is a plain, highly cultivated and well populated to the south and west; but on the north-west this plain is barren, and is bounded by a double line of rough and precipitous hills, rising to about 1000 feet above its general level, and breaking its dull monotony with irregular lines of scarped precipices, crowned with fantastic pinnacles and peaks. To the north-west these hills form the watershed between the valleys of the Argandab and the Tarnak, until they are lost in the mountain masses of the Hazarajat, -- a wild region inhabited by tribes of Tartar origin, which effectually shuts off Kandahar from communication with the north. On the south-west they lose themselves in the sandy desert of Registan, which wraps itself round the plain of Kandahar, and forms another impassable barrier.

But there is a break in these hills, -- a gate, as it were, to the great high road between Herat and India; and it is this gate which the fortress of Kandahar so effectually guards, and to which it owes its strategic importance. Other routes there are, open to trade, between Herat and northern India, either following the banks of the Hari Rud, or, more circuitously, through the valley of the Helmand to Cabul [Kabul]; or the line of hills between the Argandab and the Tarnak may be crossed close to Khelat--i-Ghilzai; but of the two former it may be said that they are not ways open to the passage of Afghan armies owing to the hereditary bitterness of hostility existing between the Eimák and Hazára tribes and the Afghans generally, while the latter is not beyond striking distance from Kandahar. The one great high road from Herat and the Persian frontier to India is that which passes by Farrah and crosses the Helmand at Girishk. Between Kandahar and India new and feasible means of communication are being discovered with every geographical search into the intermediate country. To the north-west, and parallel to the long ridges of the Tarnak watershed, stretches the great road to Cabul [Kabul], the same which was traversed by Nott in 1842, and by Stewart and, more recently, by Roberts in 1880. Between this and the direct route to Pishin is a road, well known, though never yet traversed by a British force, which leads through Maruf to the Kundar river and the Guleri Pass into the plains of Hindustan at Dera Ismail Khan. This is the most direct route to northern India, but it involves the passage of some rough country, where lies the great watershed between the basins of the Helmand and the Indus. But the best known road from Kandahar to India is that which stretches across the series of open stony plains interspersed here and there with rocky hills of irregular formation leading to the foot of the pass across the Kojak range, on the far side of which from Kandahar lies the valley of Pishin. The passage of the Kojak involves a rise and fall of some 2300 feet, but an excellent road now crosses the pass. The proposed line of railway to Kandahar follows an easier but comparatively waterless route, turning the Kojak at Gwaja (about 25 miles south--west of the Kojak Pass), and involving no serious gradients. Between the Pishin valley and India are several routes, all more or less open to a force equipped for mountain war-fare, of which the best known are the Bolán and the Chappar (or Nari) passes from the plateau of Afghanistan to the plains of Sind at Jacobabad ; and the Zhób and the Bóri valley routes leading through the Sulimani range to Dera Ismail and Dera Ghazi Khan respectively. The Bori valley was the line followed by Sir M. Biddulph in 1879, and it diverges but slightly from that known as the Thal-Chotiali route. Thus Kandahar becomes a sort of focus of all the direct routes converging from the wide-stretching western frontier of India towards Herat and Persia, and the fortress of Kandahar gives protection on the one hand to trade between Hindustan and Herat, and on the other it lends to Cabul [Kabul] security from Herat invasion.

Kandahar is approximately a square-built city, sur-rounded by a wall of about 3 3/4 miles circuit, and from 25 to 30 feet high, with an average breadth of 15 feet. Out-side the wall is a ditch 10 feet deep. The city and its defences are entirely mud-built, with no pretensions to architectural beauty. There are four main streets crossing each other nearly at right angles, the central "chouk" being covered with a dome. These streets are wide and bordered with trees, and are flanked by shops with open fronts and verandahs much after the universal fashion of the East, There are no buildings of any great pretension in Kandahar, a few of the more wealthy Hindus occupying the best houses. The tomb of Ahmed Shah is the only attempt at monumental architecture. This, with its rather handsome cupola, and the twelve minor tombs of Ahmed Shah’s children grouped around, contains a few good speci-mens of fretwork and of inlaid inscriptions. The four streets of the city divide it into convenient quarters for the accommodation of its mixed population of Duranis, Ghilzais, Parsiwans, and Kakuris, numbering in all some 30,000 souls. Of these the greater proportion are the Parsiwans (chietly Kizilbashes).

It is reckoned that there are 1600 shops and 182 mosques in the city. The mullas of these mosques are generally men of considerable power. The walls of the city are pierced by the four principal gates of "Cabul" [Kabul], "Shikar-pur," "Herat," and the "Idgah," opposite the four main streets, with two minor gates, called the Top Khana and the Bardurani respectively, in the western half of the city. The Idgah gate passes through the citadel, which is a square built enclosure with sides of about 260 yards in length. The flank defences of the main wall are insuffi-cient ; indeed there is no pretence at scientific structure about any part of the defences : but the site of the city is well chosen for defence, and the water supply (drawn by canals from the Argandab or derived from wells) is good.

About 4 miles west of the present city, stretched along the slopes of a rocky ridge and extending into the plains at its foot, are the ruins of the old city of Kandahar as it existed until it was sacked and plundered by Nadir Shah in 1738. From the top of the ridge a small citadel overlooks the half-buried ruins. On the north--east face of the hill forty steps, cut out of solid limestone, lead upward to a small, dome-roofed recess, which contains some interesting Persian inscriptions cut in relief on the rock, recording particulars of the history of Kandahar, and defining the vast extent of the kingdom, of the emperor Baber. Popular belief ascribes the founda-tion of the old city to Alexander the Great.

Although Kandahar has long ceased to be the seat of government, it is nevertheless by far the most important trade centre in Afghanistan, and the revenues of the Kandalar province assist largely in supporting the chief power at Cabul [Kabul]. There are no manufactures or industries of any importance peculiar to Kandahar, but the long lines of bazaars display goods from England, Russia, Hindustan, Persia, and Turkestan, embracing a trade area as large probably as that of any city in Asia. The customs and town dues together amount to a sum equal to the land revenue of the Kan-dahar province, which is of considerable extent, stretching to Pul-i--Sangin, 10 miles south of Khelat-i-Ghilzai on the Cabul [Kabul] side, to the Helmand on the west, and to the Hazara country on the north. Although Farrah has been governed from Kandahar since 1863, its revenues are not reckoned as a part of those of the province. The land revenue proper is assessed in grain, the salaries of Govern-ment officials, pay of soldiers, &c., being disbursed by "barats" or orders for grain at rates fixed by Government, usually about 20 per cent. above the city market prices. The land revenue for the year 1877-78 amounted to 640,000 rupees English. English goods imported from Kurrachee pay upwards of 18 per cent. on their value at Kandahar. By the time they are exposed for sale at Herat they pay upwards of 28 per cent. ad valorem. Nevertheless the greater part of the English goods sold at Herat are imported by Kurrachee and Kandahar -- a fact which testifies to the great insecurity of trade between Meshhed and Herat. Some of the items included as town dues are curious. For instance, the tariff on animals exposed for sale includes a charge of 5 per cent. ad valorem on slave girls, besides a charge of 1 rupee per head. The kidney fat of all sheep and the skins of all goats slaughtered in the public yard are perquisites of Government, the former being used for the manufacture of soap, which, with snuff, is a Government monopoly. The imports consist chiefly of English goods, indigo, cloth, boots, leather, sugar, salt, iron, and copper, from Hindustan, and of shawls, carpets, "barak" (native woollen cloth), postins (coats made of skins), shoes, silks, opium, and carpets from Meshhed, Herat, and Turkestan. The exports are wool, cotton, madder, cummin seed, asafoetida, fruit, silk, and horses. The system of coinage is also curious: 105 English rupees are melted down, and the alloy extracted, leaving 100 rupees worth of silver; 295 more English rupees are then melted, and the molten metal mixed with the 100 rupees silver; and out of this 808 Kandahari rupees are coined. As the Kandahari rupee is worth about 8 annas (half an English rupee) the Government thus realizes a profit of 1 per cent. Government accounts are kept in "Kham" rupees, the "Kham" being worth about five-sixths of a Kandahari rupee ; in other words, it about equals the franc, or the Persian "keran." Immediately to the south and west of Kandahar is a stretch of well-irrigated and highly cultivated country, but it is the valley of the Argandab that possesses the chief local wealth of agriculture, and which, from the luxuriant abundance of its orchards and vineyards, offers the most striking scenes of landscape beauty. The wide extent of the pomegranate fields forms a striking feature in the valley, -- the pomegranates of Kandahar, with its "sirdar" melons and grapes, being unequalled in quality by any in the East. The vines are grown on artificial banks, probably for want of the necessary wood to trellis them, -- the grapes being largely exported in a semi-dried state. Fruit, indeed, besides being largely exported, forms the chief staple of the food supply of the inhabitants throughout Afghanistan. The art of irrigation is so well understood that the water supply is at times exhausted, no river water being allowed to run to waste. The plains about Kandahar are chiefly watered by canals drawn from the Argandab near Baba-wali, and conducted through the same gap in the hills which admits the Herat road. The amount of irrigation and the number of water channels form a considerable impediment to the movement of troops, notonly immediately about Kandahar, but in all districts where the main rivers and streams are bordered by green bands of cultivation. Irrigation by "karez" is, also largely resorted to. The karez is a system of underground channelling which usually taps a sub-surface water supply at the foot of some of the many rugged and apparently waterless hills which cover the face of the country. The broad nullahs which seam their sides frequently possess a supply of water some distance below the surface which can be tapped by boring. The water is not brought to the surface, but is carried over long distances by an underground channel or drain, which is constructed by sinking shafts at intervals along the required course, and connecting the shafts by tunnelling. The general agricultural products of the country are wheat, barley, pulse, fruit, madder, asafoetida, lucerne, clover, and tobacco.

Of the mineral resources of the Kandahar district not much is known, but an abandoned gold mine exists about 2 miles north of the town. Some general idea of the resources of the Kandahar district may be gathered from the fact that it supplied the British troops with everything except luxuries during the entire period of occupation in 1879-81 ; and that, in spite of the great strain thrown on those resources by the presence of the two armies of Ayub Khan and of General Roberts, and after the total failure of the autumn crops and only a partial harvest the previous spring, the army was fed without great difficulty until the final evacua-tion, at one-third of the prices paid in Quetta for supplies drawn from India.

Kandahar has a stormy history. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni took it in the 11th century from the Afghans who then held it. In the beginning of the 13th century it was taken by Jenghiz Khan, and in the 14th by Timur. In 1507 it was captured by the emperor Baber, but shortly afterwards it fell again into Afghan hands, to be retaken by Baber in 1521. Baber’s son, Humayun, agreed to cede Kandahar to Persia, but failed to keep his word, and the Persians besieged the place unsuccessfully. Thus it remained in the posses-sion of the Moghuls till 1625, when it was taken by Shah Abbas. Aurungzebe tried to take it in 1649 with 5000 men, but failed. Another attempt in 1652 was equally unsuccessful. It remained in Persian possession till 1709, when it was taken by the Afghans, but was retaken after a two years’ siege by Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1749, and immediately on hearing the news of his death Ahmed Shah (Abdalli) seized Nadir Shah’s treasure at Kandahar, and proclaimed himself king, with the consent, not only of the Afghans, but, strange to say, of the Hazáras and Baluchis as well. He at once changed the site of the city to its present position, and thus founded the Afghan kingdom, with modern Kandahar as its capital. Ahmed Shah died in 1773, and was succeeded by his son Taimur, who died in 1793, and left the throne to his son Zamán Shah. This prince was deposed by his half brother Mahmud, who was in his turn deposed by Shah Suja, the full brother of Zamán Shah. After a short reign Shah Suja was compelled to abdicate from his inability to repress the rising power of Fatteh Khan, a Barakzai chief, and he took refuge first with Runjit Singh, who then ruled the Punjab, and finally secured the protection of British power. Afghanistan was now practically dismembered. Mahmud was reinstated by Fatteh Khan, whom he appointed his vizier, and whose nephews, Dost Mahommed Khan and Kohn dil Khan, he placed respectively in the governments of Cabul [Kabul] and Kandahar. Fatteh Khan was barbarously murdered by Kamrán (Mahmud’s son) near Ghazni in 1818 ; and in retaliation Mahmud himself was driven from power, and the Barakzai clan secured the sovereignty of Afghanistan. While Dost Mahommed held Cabul [Kabul], Kandahar became temporarily a sort of independent chiefship under two or three of his brothers. In 1839 the cause of Shah Suja was actively supported by the British. Kandahar was occupied, and Shah Suja reinstated on the throne of his ancestors. Dost Mahommed was defeated near Cabul [Kabul], and after surrender to the British force, was deported into Hindustan. The British army of occupation in southern Afghanistan continued to occupy Kandahar from 1839 till the autumn of 1842, when General Nott marched on Cabul [Kabul] to meet Pollock’s advance from Jalalabad. The cantonments near the city, built by Nott’s division, were repaired and again occupied by the British army in 1879, when Shere Ali was driven from power by the invasion of Afghanistan, nor were they finally evacuated till the spring of 1881. (T. H. H.*)

The above article was written by Col. Sir Thomas Hungerford Holdich, R.E. (retired), K.C.I.E., C.B.; Abyssinia, 1867; Afghan War, 1878-80; also served on political duty on Afghan Boundary Commission, 1884-86; Supt. Frontier Surveys, India, 1892-98; as H.M. Commissioner for Perso-Beluch Boundary in 1896; author of The Indian Borderland, various papers on military surverying, etc.

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