KANDAHAR vi. 20th Century, 1901-73



vi. 20th Century, 1901-73

Like other pre-industrial urban areas of Afghanistan, Kandahar expanded substantially during the second half of the 20th century by attracting rural labor and by developing new residential quarters (šahr-e naw) and public buildings. This expansion was in response to the expanding Afghan civil and military state bureaucracy and the modest economic development triggered by expanding local and external capital. A census taken in 1891 by British colonial officers estimated the population of Kandahar city at 31,514 (16,064 males and 15,450 females; Adamec, ed., p. 244), about one-third of its size a century earlier. The government of Afghanistan estimated the population of Kandahar at 60,000 in 1939. In the early 1970s Kandahar had a population of 160,000 (N. H. Dupree, 1977, p. 279).

The importance of Kandahar in the political life of Afghanistan started to decline when the seat of the Dorrāni government was moved to Kabul in the late 18th century. This diminished political effect continued to the last decade of the 20th century. Up to the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-42), Kandahar retained its role as a major transit point in the trade route between South and Central Asia and Iran. After the First Anglo-Afghan War and throughout the second half of the 19th century, economic conditions in Kandahar declined. The production of agricultural and manufactured commodities was reduced to a level adequate for local consumption. Despite the general economic and political decline and isolation of Afghanistan during the 19th century caused by the British colonial control over its governmental apparatus (through subsidies) and foreign relations, Kandahar managed to retain a modicum, albeit on a highly reduced level, of its historic trade relations with the outside world, especially South Asia (Punjab, Kashmir, Multan, especially the tribal market centers of Šekarpur, Dera Esmāʿil Ḵān, and Dera Ḡāzi Ḵān). As in the past the Hindu merchants of Kandahar were instrumental during early 20th century in maintaining these trade networks (Gregorian).

Throughout these economic and political fluctuations Kandahar retained its status as the cultural and symbolic home of the dominant Dorrāni and Western Ghalzi Pashtun tribal confederations in Afghanistan. The tombs of the Dorrāni (Aḥmad Khan Abdāli) and Ghalzi (Mir Wais Hōtak) rulers are located in Kandahar—the former within the city, the latter in nearby Kokaran. The shrines of the Ḵerqa-ye šarifa (see above, ii), popularly believed to hold a mantle of the Prophet and said to have been transferred to Kandahar by Aḥmad Khan Abdāli, and of Bābā Wali, a popular local Abdāli saint, a few miles northwest of the city, accentuate the Islamic and Abdāli political and spiritual inheritance of Kandahar. The modern city of Kandahar is surrounded by numerous cemeteries, in which historical and religious figures of various ranks and prestige are buried. In times of political crises during the 20th century, the Moḥammadzai amirs and kings of Afghanistan attempted, with varying degrees of success, to exploit their real or alleged tribal connections with this political and cultural legacy. When Amir Amān-Allāh (Amānallāh), facing the rebellious forces led by Ḥabib-Allāh Kalakāni (Bačča-ye Saqqā) abdicated in January 1929, he escaped to Kandahar. In attempting to rally the Dorrāni tribesmen in Kandahar, he displayed in public the Ḵerqa-ye šarifa. Perhaps disenchanted with his radical Westernizing programs in Kabul, the Dorrāni tribal leaders did not give him their full support. Amān-Allāh left Afghanistan for British India in late April 1929 on his way to permanent exile in Italy. However, Amān-Allāh’s supporters continued to encourage the Dorrānis and eastern Paxtun tribes to rise against his successor, the Yaḥyā Ḵēl Moḥammad Nāder (r. 1929-33) and his brothers, who initiated policies and tactics intended to neutralize these efforts (Hanifi)

At the death of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān in 1901, Afghanistan had become territorially defined through agreements between British India, Russia, and Iran; and a largely self-generating process for the political and economic integration of the country started. This spontaneous process was encouraged by the Afghan central government, but the latter lacked the material, coercive, and political means with which to construct and impose it. Gradually throughout the 20th century, the economies of Kandahar, Herat, Afghan Turkistan, and other regions of Afghanistan began to interact with the government in Kabul and to some extent with each other (author’s analysis of published literature on history and politics of Afghanistan).

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the economy of Kandahar gradually began to expand, and the city and the region approached their former status as a major region in Afghanistan for the production of wool and fruits (pomegranates, apricots, figs, and varieties of grapes). Throughout the first three quarters of the 20th century, increasing amounts of these commodities were produced for local consumption and export to South Asia. After the fall of Amān-Allāh Khan and the ascendance of Moḥammad Nāder to the throne of Afghanistan, Kandahar became a major focus of the central government for economic and cultural development. This policy was partially designed to safeguard against the prospects of the Dorrāni tribes rising in support of the exiled Amir Amān-Allāh Khan (author’s ethnographic knowledge and analysis of literature).

The initial phase of this policy consisted of the appointment of trusted Paxtun associates of the Yaḥyā Ḵēl political network (e.g., Gol-Moḥammad Khan Momand) and prominent members of the Yaḥyā Ḵēl extended family (e.g., Moḥammad Dāʾud, nephew of Moḥammad Nāder Khan) as civil and military governors of Kandahar. High-ranking officers in the Kandahar provincial bureaucracy were mostly Yaḥyā Ḵēl Moḥammadzais. This pattern of political patronage continued through the 1950s. In this context a number of cultural and economic developmental projects were implemented in Kandahar (Sāl-nāma-ye Kābol, 1932, p. 74; 1933, p. 117; 1934, p. 58; 1935, p. 32.

In early the 1930s, a privately organized Pashto literary society in Kandahar was incorporated by the government as a state-sponsored society (Da Paxto Adabi Tolana [later, Paxto Tolana]). The Pashto publication of the private society, Ṭoluʿ-e Afḡān, was renamed Paxto and its editorial and publication offices were moved to Kabul in 1932. Throughout the following decades, this literary society, especially through the activities of its prominent members (e.g., ʿAbd-al-Ḥayy Ḥabibi, a charter member of the Kandahar Pashto society; ‘Abd-al-Raʿuf Binawā, Qiām-al-Din Ḵādem, Gol-Pāča Olfat, Amin-Allāh Zamaryalai) vigorously promoted the place of the Pashto language in the state apparatus and civil society of Afghanistan. Ḥabibi claimed to have discovered previously unknown Pashto writings, including one of the oldest (Peta ḵazāna “Hidden treasure,” 1730s), in the vicinity of Kandahar. The validity of Ḥabibi’s claim has been questioned by local and European specialists in the history and morphology of the Pashto language (Morgenstierne).

Several government-controlled, gender-segregated elementary schools were established in Kandahar during the early 1930s. By the early 1950s, there were two high schools in Kandahar; one for boys, named Da Aḥmad Shah Bābā Laysa, and one for girls, Da Nazo Ana Laysa, named after the mother of Mir Wais Hōtak. During the 1960s, the government established a technical vocational school and a teachers’ training institute in Kandahar. In 1960 King Moḥammad Ẓāher officially toured Afghanistan for the first time. Kandahar was his first stop during this inaugural tour. In 1959, the Afghan government adopted the policy of relaxing the veiling of women in public in Kabul, which was not well received in Kandahar. Government troops and tanks had to be deployed to quell the violent demonstrations on the streets of Kandahar opposing this policy (Dupree, pp. 536-38).

In early 1931, a private corporation called Šerkat-e Ashāmi-e Melli-e Afḡān, which later became Bank Melli-e Afḡan, and about forty trading companies were established in Afghanistan, among them Šerkat-e Paštun-e Qandahār (Pashtun Corporation of Kandahar) with estimated capital of 1.6 million Afghanis in 1935. This corporation was engaged in the export of fruits grown in the Kandahar region. Initially it had four objectives: (1) installation of industrial machinery for the preservation (canning) of fresh fruits; (2) installation of machinery for the construction of metal cans and boxes for the preservation of fruits; (3) installation of machinery for processing of dried fruits; (4) an assembly plant for the canning and packaging of fruits consistent with international standards (Sāl-nāma-ye Kābol, 1936-37, pp. 528-30).

The Kandahar region has traditionally been one of two major wool-producing centers in Afghanistan. During 1932 an industrial wool-processing factory (fābrikā-ye pašmina-bāfi or fābrikā-ye nassāji-e pašm), with a capacity of producing annually 150,000 meters of woven wool, was installed in Kandahar. An unused part of a textile factory in Kabul was incorporated in the construction of this wool mill. The factory produced 75,000 meters of woolen fabrics during its first year of operation.

The establishment of the fruit and wool processing plants in Kandahar was accompanied by the installation of a water-powered electricity generator near the Bābā Wali shrine. Other power generators were installed during the next three decades, largely as part of the extensive irrigation and land development (for settling nomads) project centered on the construction of dams over the Helmand and Arḡandāb rivers by the American Morrison-Knudsen construction company (officially known as Morrison-Knudsen Afghanistan [MKA]), following World War II. The initial phase of this irrigation project was developed under Japanese supervision during 1937-41 (L. Dupree, pp. 489 ff., 499 ff.).

In 1945 MKA signed a contract with the government of Afghanistan for the construction of the Helmand and Arḡandāb dams and the expansion of the Boḡrā irrigation canal system in Helmand Province. This vast development project was coordinated and administered by the Helmand Valley Authority (HVA), a cabinet-level department symbolically modeled after the American Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). By the time the construction of these two dams and the irrigation canals was completed, the project had cost the government of Afghanistan more than seventy-five million dollars, forty million of which were loans from the Export-Import Bank and the American Point IV program. Since the project was not properly planned and because no adequate feasibility studies were undertaken by MKA and HVA as cost saving measures, this first and largest industrially produced modernization project in Afghanistan was essentially a failure. Most of the lands that were to be newly irrigated had high saline levels, making them unsuitable for agriculture. Few of those farmers to whom large stretches of the new irrigable lands were sold were able to make their mortgage payments because of poor harvests. In addition, the forced mixing of various historically unfamiliar or hostile ethnic groups in the newly settled lands caused many nomads to abandon the lands assigned to them and resum their nomadic way of life (L. Dupree, pp. 482-85, 499-507).

When the Helmand and Arḡandāb valley development project was completed in the mid-1950s, a number of secondary transformations appeared in its wake. MKA was headquartered in Manzel Bāḡ, an extensive government-owned walled complex of gardens and recreation area about two miles east of Kandahar. During the operations of MKA, Manzel Bāḡ had become a “Little America” in Afghanistan, housing large numbers of American workers and technicians and their families together with their Afghan support staff. For about ten years the city of Kandahar absorbed the cultural effect of this American colony (for a descriptive personal account of this process see (Beardsley, 1959; Jones). The development of a planned, Western-style modern tract of private homes for the Afghan civil and military workers of HVA in Laškargāh, southwest of the Helmand dam, near Nād-e ʿAli, a prospective settlement area for nomads, is another major inheritance of this development project. The development of an all-weather road system between Kandahar and Kabul and between Kandahar and Spin Boldak during the operations of MKA continues to affect the economic, cultural, and political life of southwest Afghanistan. During the presence of MKA in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans learned about Western heavy construction and transportation machinery, the bureaucratic model and procedures, and cultural values and practices. When the Afghan monarchy was overthrown by the coup d’etat of July 1973, Moḥammad Dāʾud (see DĀWŪD KHAN), the first post-1929 military and civil governor of Kandahar and cousin of the former king, declared himself “president” of Afghanistan. For the people of Kandahar, the Dorrāni rule in Afghanistan did not end with the overthrow of Moḥammad Ẓāher Shah.



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(M. Jamil Hanifi)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 20, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 5, pp. 487-490