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Kandahar Province

Loy kandahar
Map of Afghanistan with Kandahar highlighted
Map of Afghanistan with Kandahar highlighted
Coordinates (Capital): 31°00′N 65°30′E / 31.0°N 65.5°E / 31.0; 65.5
Country Afghanistan
 • TypeProvince
 • BodyUlema Council[1]
 • GovernorMullah Shirin Akhund[2]
 • Deputy GovernorMaulvi Hayatullah Mubarak[3]
 • Total54,844 km2 (21,175 sq mi)
 • Total1,431,876
 • Density26/km2 (68/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+4:30 (Afghanistan Time)
Postal code
Area codeAF-KAN
Main languagesPashto

Kandahār (Pashto: کندهار; Kandahār, Dari: قندهار; Qandahār) is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, located in the southern part of the country, sharing a border with Pakistan, to the south. It is surrounded by Helmand in the west, Uruzgan in the north and Zabul Province in the east. Its capital is the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city, which is located on the Arghandab River. The greater region surrounding the province is called Loy Kandahar. The Emir of Afghanistan sends orders to Kabul from Kandahar making it the de facto capital of Afghanistan, although the main government body operates in Kabul. All meetings with the Emir take place in Kandahar, meetings excluding the Emir are in Kabul.

The province contains about 18 districts, over 1,000 villages, and approximately 1,431,876 people (the 6th most populous province), which is mostly tribal and a rural society.[5] The main inhabitants of Kandahar province are the ethnic Pashtuns. They are followed by the Baloch people, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens and Hazaras.[6]


There is speculation revolving around the origin of the name "Kandahar". It is believed to have started as one of many cities named after the Hellenistic conqueror Alexander the Great throughout his vast (mainly ex-Achaemenid) empire, its present form deriving from the Pashto rendering of Arabic Iskandariya = Ancient Alexandria (in Arachosia).[7]

A temple to the deified Alexander as well as an inscription in Greek and Aramaic by the emperor Ashoka, who lived a few decades later, have been discovered in the old citadel.[8]


Excavations of prehistoric sites by archaeologists such as Louis Dupree and others suggest that the region around Kandahar is one of the oldest human settlements known so far.

...Early peasant farming villages came into existence in Afghanistan ca. 5000 B.C., or 7000 years ago. Deh Morasi Ghundai, the first prehistoric site to be excavated in Afghanistan, lies 27 km (17 mi.) southwest of Kandahar (Dupree, 1951). Another Bronze Age village mound site with multiroomed mud-brick buildings dating from the same period sits nearby at Said Qala (J. Shaffer, 1970). Second millennium B.C. Bronze Age pottery, copper and bronze horse trappings and stone seals were found in the lowermost levels in the nearby cave called Shamshir Ghar (Dupree, 1950). In the Seistan, southwest of these Kandahar sites, two teams of American archaeologists discovered sites relating to the 2nd millennium B.C. (G. Dales, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1969, 1971; W, Trousdale, Smithsonian Institution, 1971 – 76). Stylistically the finds from Deh Morasi and Said Qala tie in with those of pre-Indus Valley sites and with those of comparable age on the Iranian Plateau and in Central Asia, indicating cultural contacts during this very early age...[9]

— N. Dupree

The area was called Arachosia and was a frequent target for conquest because of its strategic location in Asia, which connects Southern, Central and Southwest Asia. It was part of the Medes territory before falling to the Achaemenids. In 330 BC it was invaded by Alexander the Great and became part of the Seleucid Empire following his death.[citation needed] The city then became a center of trade.[10]

Later Kandahar came under the influence of the Indian emperor Ashoka, who erected a pillar there with a bilingual inscription in Greek and Aramaic. The territory was ruled by the Zunbils before Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate arrived in the 7th century.

A miniature from Padshahnama depicting the surrender of the Shia Safavid at what is now Old Kandahar in 1638 to the Mughal army of Shah Jahan commanded by Kilij Khan

The Arabs advanced through Sistan and conquered Sindh early in the eighth century. Elsewhere however their incursions were no more than temporary, and it was not until the rise of the Saffarid dynasty in the ninth century that the frontiers of Islam effectively reached Ghazni and Kabul. Even then a Hindu dynasty the Hindushahis, held Gandhara and eastern borders.

From the tenth century onwards, as Persian language and culture continued to spread into Afghanistan, the focus of power shifted to Ghazni, where a Turkic dynasty (from the Samanid city of Bokhara) proceeded to create an empire of their own. The greatest of the Ghaznavids was Mahmud, who ruled between 998 and 1030. He expelled the Hindus from Ghandhara.[11]

Mahmud of Ghazni made the area part of the Ghaznavids in the 10th century, who were replaced by the Ghurids. After the destructions caused by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, the Timurids established rule and began rebuilding cities. From about 1383 until his death in 1407, Kandahar was governed by Pir Muhammad, a grandson of Timur.

In the early 16th century, Kandahar briefly fell to Babur. From then on the province was controlled by the Shia Safavids, as their easternmost territories. They regularly had wars with the Sunni Mughals, who ruled Kandahar as a short-lived subah (imperial province) from the 1638 conquest until its loss in 1648 to one of the Safavids' rivals.

Starting in 1709, Mir Wais Hotak rebelled against the Safavids and established the Hotaki dynasty, which became a powerful empire. In 1729, Nader Shah declared war on the Ghilzai rulers. By 1738, the last Hotaki ruler Shah Hussain was defeated in what is now Old Kandahar.

Painting by Abdul Ghafoor Breshna depicting the 1747 coronation of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who is regarded as the founding father of Afghanistan (Father of the Nation).

Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founding father of Afghanistan, gained control of the province in 1747 and made the city of Kandahar the capital of his new Afghan Empire. In the 1770s, the capital of the empire was transferred to Kabul. Ahmad Shah Durrani's mausoleum is located in the center of the city.

British-led Indian forces occupied the province during the First Anglo-Afghan War from 1832 to 1842. They also occupied the city during the Second Anglo-Afghan War from 1878 to 1880. It remained peaceful for about 100 years until the late 1970s.

20th century

In the mid-20th century until 1979, Kandahar city was a major stop on a popular road to India used by hippies.[10]

In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This led to a war that lasted for years, between the Soviets and a rebellion by local guerrila groups, known as the Mujahideen.[12] The groups were usually made up of fellow members of local tribes, and were led by a chief who inherited the title.[13]

In 1985, a major guerilla commander, Esmatullah Muslim, joined the forces of the pro-Soviet Afghan government in Kandahar.[12] A leading official of Afghanistan's Communist Party, Hayat Khan, was killed by guerrilas in the province August 1985.[14] The Soviets carpet-bombed the province's southern districts in 1986.[15] Kandahar city became "mostly ruins".[16] Guerilla plans for taking the unoccupied city were thwarted when the Soviet and Afghan government forces returned there in 1988.[17] The Soviets eventually withdrew from the country.[18]

In the early 1990s, the province's governor was Gul Agha Shirzai. The province under his reign was described as anarchic.[19]

The Taliban began in Kandahar in 1994, when Mullah Omar (previously an ally of Mujahideen warlord Rais Abdul Wahid[18]) started an Islamist movement against misrule by the Mujadhideen.[20][21] He would become Taliban's Supreme Leader.[22] The Taliban would take over almost all of Afghanistan.[18] Under a version of Sharia law,[15] they oppressed women heavily,[23] although there were some minor moves towards equality in 2000.[24] In 1997, due to international pressure, they began a campaign to rid the province of opium and heroin production,[23] but the campaign failed.[25]

21st century


Operational Detachment Alpha 574 of the U.S. Army Special Forces alongside Hamid Karzai in the province in October 2001

In October 2001, as a response to the September 11 attacks, the United States and NATO (aided by the Northern Alliance[26]) invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. This began the War on Terror. Initially, it was an air war, and included the bombing of multiple targets near Kandahar city's airport. On the 20th, the war's first ground operation began with a U.S. commando raid near the airport, which the Taliban claimed was unsuccessful.[27][28]

In December, Kandahar city fell to the invading forces, marking the end of Taliban government at that point.[28][29] Mullah Omar's presidential palace was bombed by U.S. forces, later being rebuilt and used as a complex for U.S. Special Forces.[22] Omar went into hiding,[21] and pledged to keep fighting against the invasion.[18] In a deal with the U.S., the surrendering Taliban agreed to give up their in the province.[30] Two of the commanders who fought in Kandahar prior to the surrender were Gul Agha Shirzai, who became the province's governor again, and Hamid Karzai, who became the president of Afghanistan.[19][31]

Kandahar city became a base of U.S. army forces (at Kandahar Airfield),[32] new construction efforts,[33] and was the site of an assassination attempt on Hamid Karzai.[19][32]

In the following years, a new Taliban insurgency fought against the U.S. and NATO, mostly in Kandahar and Helmand Province.[34][35] At the same time, the U.S. was searching for Osama bin Laden. Arrested terrorists or suspected terrorists were sent from the Kandahar detention center to the Guantanamo Bay naval base.[36] Afghans detained by Canadian troops were handed over to Afghan's intelligence police, the National Directorate of Security, who (without Canadian knowledge) tortured the detainees during interrogation in jail.[37]

U.S. soldiers patrolling the Panjwayi District near Kandahar city in 2004

Despite a new focus on gender equality, a dysfunctional legal system allowed for the continuing sale of child brides in the province. This was especially common in its northeastern area, which was discovered to be a Taliban stronghold.[33][38] By 2004, U.S. and Afghan forces had started a guerrila war against them.[38]

There was a surge in Taliban attacks in May 2006,[39] which caused an influx of villagers across the province to leave their homes for bigger cities.[40] Also that month, a top Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, was arrested.[41] In June, a car bomb almost killed the provincial governor.[39] Meanwhile, the U.S. started transferring authority over the province to NATO, which the Taliban used as an opportunity to move in west of Kandahar city, likely to threaten it.[42] The U.S. and NATO started Operation Medusa in September, which reportedly killed, captured, and expelled hundreds of insurgents.[42][43][44] However, plenty of civilian property was destroyed.[42] A reconstruction effort began, named Operation Baaz Tsuka.[43]

In 2009, the U.S. started planning for a new anti-Taliban operation in the province, building a presence around Kandahar city. Their Stryker Brigade was sent to the district of Spinboldak, on the Pakistan border, to shut down Taliban infiltration routes.[29]


In 2010, Kandahar was considered the most dangerous province in the country.[45] It had a lack of government workers, which caused an influx of insurgents.[46] Four of its 17 districts were under Taliban control. Health services and education were "virtually absent" outside of certain towns. In March, a major provincial official, Abdul Majeed Babai, was shot and killed.[29] In the spring, the U.S. experienced fighting before their operation could start.[29] They attempted to attain the military backing of two influential leaders in the region, the warlord Haji Ghani and tribal leader Haji Lala, but only Ghani was receptive.[47] Later, there were two notable incidents of U.S. soldiers massacring Afghan civilians in Maiwand District and Panjwai District.[48][49]

The U.S. and NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended in 2014.[28] By 2015, The Guardian wrote Kandahar city was considered "largely secure by Afghan standards". It had gained an extensive police force and blast walls, and commercial and domestic flights had restarted there. However, that year, the U.S. pulled funding from various development programs in the region, and there were fears it could lead to a strengthened Taliban; the Afghan national security forces were "strained" in the absence of international troops.[50]

In 2018, Afghanistan's election commission delayed elections in Kandahar after two senior provincial officials (its police commander and intelligence agency commander) were killed in a Taliban-claimed shooting. The vote eventually took place, peacefully.[51][52]

The Taliban offensive (shown in gray and green) in the province on August 12, 2021


In 2021, as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, a Taliban offensive started taking over Afghanistan.[20][53] On May 1, the U.S. withdrew from Kandahar, and the Taliban started taking nearby districts to Kandahar city.[54] The fighting displaced 150,000 people living nearby.[20] They took the city on August 12.[55] Following this, women and girls in the province were banned from multiple institutions.[20][56] In 2023, the office of the Taliban's spokesman was moved from Kabul to Kandahar.[20]

Politics and governance

Yousaf Wafa is the current governor of the province.[57] His predecessor was Rohullah Khanzada. In early 2003, Hamid Karzai transferred Sherzai from Kandahar to Jalalabad as Governor of Nangarhar Province. Sherzai was replaced by Yousef Pashtun in Kandahar.

In 2005, when Karzai won the first Afghan Presidential Elections, he appointed Yousef Pashtun as the Minister of Urban Development. After Pashtun, Asadullah Khalid governed the province until the appointment of Rahmatullah Raufi in August 2008.[58] Raufi was replaced by Toryalai Wesa in December 2008.


According to the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA), the total population of the province was estimated at 1,431,876.[5] Pashtuns make up the majority in province. There are also communities of Baloch people, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras and others.[6] The main language spoken throughout the province is Pashto.[4] Dari and Balochi is also understood by some, especially in the city of Kandahar where learning of Dari as a second language is promoted in public schools.[59]

A gathering of tribal leaders in Kandahar.


The main tribes in the province are as follows:[60]

District information

Districts of Kandahar.

In 1914 Kandahar was divided into the following districts:[61]

  1. Kariajat (includes the suburbs of Kandahar and the Arghandab Valley)
  2. Mahalajat (Old Kandahar and surroundings)
  3. Daman
  4. Tirin
  5. Derawat
  6. Dahla
  7. Deh-i Buchi
  8. Khakrez
  9. Kushk-i Nakhud
  10. Maiwand
  11. Nish
  12. Ghorak
  13. Kalat-i Ghilzai
  14. Arghastan
  15. Tarnak
  16. Mizan
  17. Maruf
  18. Kadanai (named after the Kadanai river that flows through it)
  19. Shorawak

Today the province is divided into the following administrative divisions:

Districts of Kandahar Province
District Capital Population[5] Area
in km2
Number of villages and ethnic groups
Arghandab 70,016 606 116 79 villages. Pashtun
Arghistan 38,928 3,728 10 Pashtun[62]
Daman 39,193 4,179 9 Pashtun.[63]
Ghorak 10,895 1,742 6 Pashtun[64]
Kandahar Kandahar 632,601 114 5,539 Predominantly Pashtun, few Baloch, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek.[59]
Khakrez 25,774 1,738 15 Pashtun[65]
Maruf 37,333 3,335 11 Pashtun[66]
Maiwand 66,297 2,963 22 160 villages. 95% Pashtun and 5% other.[67]
Miyanishin 17,006 803 21 Pashtun[68]
Nesh 15,146 1,110 14 Pashtun.[69] Used to belong to Uruzgan Province.
Panjwayi 98,448 5,841 17 Pashtun[59]
Reg 10,097 13,470 1 Baloch and Pashtun
Shah Wali Kot 49,025 3,345 15 Pashtun
Shorabak 13,020 4,153 3 Pashtun and Baloch
Spin Boldak 113,727 2,963 38 Pashtun
Takhta-pul 14,349 2,926 5 Pashtun
Zhari 96,987 745,1 130 Pashtun
Dand 50,752 617 82 Pashtun
Kandahar 1,399,594 54,845 26 98.7% Pashtuns, 0.9% Balochi, 0.1% Tajiks, 0.1% Hazaras, 0.1% Uzbeks, 0.2% others.[note 1]
  1. ^ Note: "Predominantely" or "dominated" is interpreted as 99%, "majority" as 70%, "mixed" as 1/(number of ethnicities), "minority" as 30% and "few" or "some" as 1%.

Transport and economy

A Kam Air passenger plane at Kandahar International Airport in 2012

The Ahmad Shah Baba International Airport is located east of the city of Kandahar. It is for civilian and military use. It serves the population of southern Afghanistan by providing domestic flights to other cities and international flights to Dubai, Pakistan, Iran and other regional countries. The airport was built by the United States in the 1960s under the United States Agency for International Development program. It was later used by Soviet and Afghan forces during the 1980s and again during the 2001–2021 NATO-led war. The airport was upgraded and expanded during the last decade by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

There is currently no rail service but reports indicate that at least one will be built between the city of Kandahar and the border town of Spin Boldak in the south, which will then connect with Pakistan Railways.[70][71][72][73][74][75][76] Ground transport of goods is done by trucks and cars. A number of important roads run through the province and this helps the area's economy. The town of Spin Boldak serves as a major transporting, shipping, and receiving site. It is being developed so that trade with neighboring Pakistan increases.

Kandahar province has bus services to major towns and village headquarters. Its capital, Kandahar, used to have a city bus service that took commuters on daily routes to different destinations throughout the city. There are taxicabs that provide transportation service inside the city as well as throughout the province. Other traditional methods of ground transportation are also used. Private vehicles are on the rise in the country, with large showrooms selling new or second-hand vehicles imported from the United Arab Emirates. More people are buying new cars as the roads and highways are being improved.

Kandahar has been known for having well-irrigated gardens and orchards, and was famous for its grapes, melons, and pomegranates. The main source of trade is to Pakistan, Iran and other regional countries. Kandahar is an agricultural area and several of the districts are irrigated by the Helmand and Arghandab Valley Authority.[77] The Dahla Dam is located in the province, north of the city of Kandahar. There are approximately 700 greenhouses in the entire province but farmers want the government to build more.[78]


The Kandahar Regional Military Hospital in 2007.

There are a number of hospitals in the province, most of them in the city of Kandahar. They include Aino Mina Hospital, Al Farhad Hospital, Ayoubi Hospital, Mirwais Hospital, Mohmand Hospital,[79] Sial Curative Hospital and Sidal Hospital.


A Kandahar University student sweeping the sidewalk in June 2012.

Kandahar University is one of the largest educational institutions in the province. It has over 5,000 students, about 300 of which are female students.[80] In partnership with the Asia Foundation, Kandahar University conducted a pilot project that provided female high school graduates with a four-month refresher course to prepare for the college entrance examination. The university is one of two universities in Kandahar that serve all of southern Afghanistan. The conditions in the university are poor but improving slowly. Kandahar University is far behind many of the other universities in the country because of insecurity and shortage of funding,

There are approximately 377 public and private schools in Kandahar province. The total number of students is 362,000. Of this, 79,000 are female students. Due to insecurity and other issues, many female students drop out before obtaining a diploma.[81] Almost 150 educational institutes were closed in the past, according to the education ministry. Some of the well known public schools in Kandahar are Ahmad Shah Baba High School, Mahmud Tarzi High School, Mirwais Hotak High School, Nazo Ana High School, Shah Mahmud Hotak High School, and Zarghuna Ana High School. Private schools include Afghan Turk High Schools.

Notable people from Kandahar Province

Royalty and statesmen
Other politics, generals and administration
  • Abdul Bari Jahani – Poet, writer, author of the Afghan National Anthem
  • Abdul Hai Habibi- Poet, Writer, Historian, Founder and Developer of Academic Pashto era.
  • Faizullah Kakar - Afghan epidemiologist. Previous Chief of Staff to President Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan Ambassador to Qatar, the Adviser to president for Health and Education, and the Deputy Minister of Public Health for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

See also


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Further reading

  • Vogelsang, W. (1985). Early historical Arachosia in South-east Afghanistan; Meeting-place between East and West.
  • Dupree, Louis. (1973) Afghanistan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Rashid, Ahmed. (2000) Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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Kandahar Province
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