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190 KANDAHAR •• History


Currently we do not recommend independ- ent travel to the south; however numerous NGOs and contractors continue work in the region implementing onerous security miti- gating measures. They remain only targets of opportunity and their greatest risk is of being in the ‘wrong place at the wrong time’. All road travel outside Kandahar city and the Kandahar–Spin Boldak Route is also not recommended. Those who are planning to travel to the south for work reasons and whose organisa- tion does not have a permanent footprint in the area are strongly advised to partner with another organisation to host you, or ar- range a guide and vehicle for the duration of your visit.


Generally Southern Afghanistan is the roasting oven of the country with its expan- sive deserts and dry cities reaching to and beyond 50°C every summer. The northern reaches of the south including Oruzgan and Ghazni are the exception where the climate is much cooler with heavy snows from De- cember to March. The best time to visit is April to June or September to November, when the large skies are sunny and clear and there is colour in the few trees but the temperatures are neither of the extremes felt in winter or summer.


Due to security concerns the only feasible way of accessing the south is by air to Kan- dahar or by road from Quetta, Pakistan.



x030 / pop 1 million (estimated)

The mention of Afghanistan’s second-largest city conjures up a collage of terrorist train- ing camps, rugged terrain, warlords, nar- cotics, fierce tribes and the War on Terror. Its strategic and political importance is un- derstood by the Pashtun proverb: ‘Control Kandahar and you’ll control Afghanistan’. This was a lesson that Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and even the Russians failed to learn. Unfortunately since the fall of

the Taliban in 2001, the security situation in the city and surrounding areas has dete- riorated significantly to the point where there was an average of one suicide bomb- ing a week in 2006. Although the current players, Afghan and international, under- stand the significance of controlling Kanda- har this Holy Grail continues to elude them. Despite the violence surrounding them

the Kandaharis continue their daily lives, al- beit lived with restrictions and a level of fear. Women continue to be the most affected – few women are seen in public on the streets of Kandahar and if ever you do see one the majority will be wearing the nylon burqa. Life for the women of Kandahar is invariably lived behind the high walls of their family compounds with few girls being given per- mission to attend school still, despite reports in the media extolling the liberation of girls since the arrival of democracy. Older Kandaharis will tell you about the times before the Russian invasion, when they hosted hippies taking the overland trail in the guesthouses that lined the streets around Chowk-e Shaheedan. Although it may be some time before Kandahar is ready for independent travellers again, it is clear that the NGO, international organisation and contractor communities are desperately needed to improve the lives of Kandaharis. Although millions of aid dollars have been spent in the area, insecurity and corruption have prevented it reaching many people. In years to come there is no doubt that

travellers will enjoy views over Kandahar from the Forty Steps, Pashtun hospitality at picnics in the Arghandab Valley and visits to the Mosque of the Sacred Cloak.


Alexander the Great founded Kandahar city in the 4th century BC, around the an- cient city of Mundigak, which was settled in about 3000 BC. The city changed hands numerous times following its founding, being fought over by the Arabs, Persians, Indians and Mongols. In 1743 Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pashtun and the founder of Afghanistan, took con- trol of Kandahar and made it the capital until the 1780s. The city was occupied by the British in the 19th century during the Anglo-Afghan Wars, and once again by the Soviets throughout the 1980s.

Following the Russian withdrawal war- lords jostled for control of the city in the en- suing bloody Civil War. The Taliban seized Kandahar in 1994 without a single shot fired, self-proclaimed saviours from the ram- pant banditry and rape that was gripping the country. Although Kabul remained the capital, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, ruled the country from Kandahar. Shortly after the start of the War on Ter- ror, the regime officially fell in a final clash with US Special Forces at the Kandahar Airfield in December 2001. Over 10,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops remain at the airfield and across the south, having suffered significant losses while fighting the insurgency. The warlords and the drug trade also erode their efforts. Whichever way you look at it, Kan- dahar’s chequered past is likely to continue well into the future.


Kandahar city sits on a desert plain sur- rounded by rocky outcrops. The city’s laid out in two parts: the once walled Old City, a labyrinth of lanes between mud houses and bazaars; and the New City (Shah-e-Nau), which is along three parallel, Pakistani-style boulevards leading to the west of the Old City. Several chowks (crossroads or town squares) make navigating about relatively easy. To the north of Kandahar is the massive Eid Gah mosque, adjacent to Kandahar Uni- versity and the Arghandab Valley (15km), known for its delicious grapes and pome- granates. The road to Kabul heads out of the city to the northeast, while Kandahar Airport


Orientation 191

(35km) and the Pakistan border (136km) are to the southeast. South of the city trails off to the sandy deserts of Registan.



Ambulance (x070 308739) ANSO South (x070 405697) Fire Brigade (x070 302008; Eid Gah Darwarza) Police (x070 304018; Chowk-e Shaheedan)

Internet Access

New internet cafés are opening all the time. Most charge 50Afg hour.

Kandahar Internet Café (Chowk-e Kiptan Madad)

Samad Internet Café (Chowk-e Shaheedan) Wardad Internet Café (Kariz Bazaar)

Medical Services

Al Hadi Farad Private Hospital (x070

301705; Shaheedan Chowk) Has a 24-hour emergency department and two well-stocked pharmacies at the entrance. Mirwais Hospital (x070308739; Shafakhana Sarak, Shah-e Nau; h8am-5pm) No 24-hour emergency department but it does have a well-stocked pharmacy and is supported by international NGOs.


Afghanistan International Bank (Herat Sarak) Has an ATM that dispenses US dollars. Azizi Bank (Chowk-e Shaheedan)

Da Afghanistan Bank (Chowk-e Shaheedan)

Kabul Bank (Chowk-e Shaheedan) Moneychangers (Chowk-e Shaheedan & Chowk-e Charso) The best rates for afghanis, US dollars and Pakistani rupees.


‘I am the only woman in Kandahar with a pistol. I also keep a Kalashnikov at home,’ Captain Mala- lai Kakar, the only policewoman in the city, tells me over a cup of chai. While barking orders in Pashto into her mobile phone, Malalai stands tall in her khaki uniform and utility belt with holster, cuffs and baton, just like her male counterparts – however she does don the burqa when she is on the beat outside the HQ. The mother of six fled to Pakistan as a refugee during the Taliban regime after she learned of her imminent arrest for the ‘crime’ of being a former policewoman. Now back in Kandahar she is not only a role model for women in a patriarchal, tribal society but also an invaluable asset to the Afghan National Police (ANP). She is involved in all women’s issues coming to the attention of police and is on the front line during ANP raids of insurgent hideouts. As a woman in a high profile position in the ANP, not only does she accept the risks her brother officers also shoulder, but is she is acutely aware of the fate that has befallen numerous other high profile women in their very public assassinations. But she will not be deterred, telling me ‘I am a strong woman and want to serve my country…I’m careful, but not afraid.’

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