Second city of Afghanistan in terms of size but first in terms of trade, Kandahar is located in the south of the country. It is the capital of Kandahar province. In 1989 its population stood at 203,000. It is also known as Qandahar.
Kandahar is famed for the bazaars which line the wide, cobbled main streets. Sheep, wool, cotton and fruit are traded here. Silk, woolen cloth and felt are manufactured in the city. In its irrigated hinterland, fruits and sheep farming are the main occupations.
Alexander the Great established a fort at Kandahar, then known as Arachosia in the 4th century BC. Throughout history the city was prized for its location. It sits on the trade routes between Persia, India, China and Turkic Central Asia.
Persia and India wrestled for control of the city until it was conquered by Arabs in the 7th century. The Ghaznavids, a Turkic tribe, gained Kandahar in the 10th century. In the 12th century, Genghis Khan sacked the city and installed the Karts, who ruled Kandahar on behalf of the Mongols. The Mongol Khan Timur seized control in 1383. Babur, the Mughal leader conquered it in the 16th century.
In 1747, Afghanistan was born. The founder, Ahmed Shah Durani, established his capital in Kandahar. He proceeded to rebuild the city. Along a rectangular perimeter, strong defences were built. Between gates in each opposing wall, the main thoroughfares were laid down. Thus the city was divided into quarters. A single quarter was reserved for the Tajik minority while the Pashtun majority were subdivided into various clans (among them Atchkzay, Alizay, Popalzey,Barakzay,Noorzay). A canal was built from the Argandaab river to provide water for the city inhabitants.
In 1773 the capital was moved to Kabul. Kandahar was again occupied, this time by the British, between 1839-1842 (The "First Afghan War") and again in the period 1879-81. The Soviet Union occupied the city during the 1980s.
In the 1990s the Taleban emerged from Kandahar. Their spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, brandished a piece of cloth from a Kandahar mosque, believed to be the cloak of the prophet, upon the capture of Kabul. The headquarters of the Taleban was to remain in Kandahar until they controlled the entire land of Afghanistan.