1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kandahar

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25802821911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15 — KandaharThomas Hungerford Holdich

KANDAHAR, the largest city in Afghanistan, situated in 31° 37′ N. lat. and 65° 43′ E. long., 3400 ft. above the sea. It is 370 m. distant from Herat on the N.W., by Girishk and Farah—Girishk being 75 m., and Farah 225 m. from Kandahar. From Kabul, on the N.E., it is distant 315 m., by Kalat-i-Ghilzai and Ghazni—Kalat-i-Ghilzai being 85 m., and Ghazni 225 m. from Kandahar. To the Peshin valley the distance is about 110 m., and from Peshin to India the three principal routes measure approximately as follows: by the Zhob valley to Dera Ismail Khan, 300 m.; by the Bori valley to Dera Ghazi Khan, 275 m.; by Quetta and the Bolan to Dadar, 125 m.; and by Chappar and Nari to Sibi, 120 m. The Indian railway system extends to New Chaman, within some 80 m. of Kandahar. Immediately round the city is a plain, highly cultivated and well populated to the south and west; but on the north-west barren, and bounded by a double line of hills, rising to about 1000 ft. 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 Arghandab and the Tarnak, until they are lost in the mountain masses of the Hazarajat—a wild region inhabited by tribes of Tatar 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 Helmund to Kabul; or the line of hills between the Arghandab and the Tarnak may be crossed close to Kalat-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 hostility existing between the Aeimak and Hazara 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 Farah and crosses the Helmund at Girishk. Between Kandahar and India the road is comparatively open, and would be available for railway communication but for the jealous exclusiveness of the Afghans.

To the north-west, and parallel to the long ridges of the Tarnak watershed, stretches the great road to Kabul, traversed by Nott in 1842, and by Stewart and subsequently by Roberts in 1880. Between this and the direct route to Peshin is a road 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, across the great watershed between the basins of the Helmund and the Indus. But the best known road from Kandahar to India is that which stretches across the series of open stony plains interspersed with rocky hills of irregular formation leading to the foot of the Kwaja Amran (Khojak) range, on the far side of which from Kandahar lies the valley of Peshin. The passage of the Kwaja Amran involves a rise and fall of some 2300 ft., but the range has been tunnelled and a railway now connects the frontier post of New Chaman with Quetta. Two lines of railway now connect Quetta with Sind, the one known as the Harnai loop, the other as the Bolan or Mashkaf line. They meet at Sibi (see Baluchistan). Several roads to India have been developed through Baluchistan, but they are all dominated from Kandahar. 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 Kabul security from invasion by way of Herat.

Kandahar is approximately a square-built city, surrounded by a wall of about 33/4 m. circuit, and from 25 to 30 ft. high, with an average breadth of 15 ft. Outside the wall is a ditch 10 ft. deep. The city and its defences are entirely mud-built. 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 verandas. There are no buildings of any great pretension in Kandahar, a few of the more wealthy Hindus occupying the best houses. The tomb of Ahmad Shah is the only attempt at monumental architecture. This, with its rather handsome cupola, and the twelve minor tombs of Ahmad Shah’s children grouped around, contains a few good specimens 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 Kakars, numbering in all some 30,000 souls. Of these the greater proportion are the Parsiwans (chiefly Kizilbashes).

It is reckoned that there are 1600 shops and 182 mosques in the city. The mullahs of these mosques are generally men of considerable power. The walls of the city are pierced by the four principal gates of “Kabul,” “Shikarpur,” “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 yds. in length. The flank defences of the main wall are insufficient; 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 Arghandab or derived from wells) is good.

About 4 m. 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 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 foundation 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 Kandahar province assist largely in supporting the chief power at 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 Kandahar province, which is of considerable extent, stretching to Pul-i-Sangin, 10 m. south of Kalat-i-Ghilzai on the Kabul side, to the Helmund on the west, and to the Hazara country on the north. Although Farah 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 government officials, pay of soldiers, &c., being disbursed by “barats” or orders for grain at rates fixed by government, usually about 20% above the city market prices. The greater part of the English goods sold at Herat are imported by Karachi and Kandahar—a fact which testifies to the great insecurity of trade between Meshed 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% 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 Meshed, 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%. 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 “kran.”

Immediately to the south and west of Kandahar is a stretch of well-irrigated and highly cultivated country, but the valley of the Arghandab is the most fertile in the district, and, from the luxuriant abundance of its orchards and vineyards, offers the most striking scenes of landscape beauty. The pomegranate fields form 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 Arghandab 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 movements of troops, not only 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 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 m. 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 evacuation, at one-third of the prices paid in Quetta for supplies drawn from India.

History.—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 possession of the Moguls till 1625, when it was taken by Shah Abbas. Aurangzeb 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 Ahmad Shah (Abdali) 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 Hazaras 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. Ahmad Shah died in 1773, and was succeeded by his son Timur, who died in 1793, and left the throne to his son Zaman Shah. This prince was deposed by his half-brother Mahmud, who was in his turn deposed by Shah Shuja, the full brother of Zaman Shah. After a short reign Shah Shuja was compelled to abdicate from his inability to repress the rising power of Fateh Khan, a Barakzai chief, and he took refuge first with Ranjit Singh, who then ruled the Punjab, and finally secured the protection of British power. Afghanistan was now practically dismembered. Mahmud was reinstated by Fateh Khan, whom he appointed his vizier, and whose nephews, Dost Mahommed Khan and Kohn dil Khan, he placed respectively in the governments of Kabul and Kandahar. Fateh Khan was barbarously murdered by Kamran (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 Kabul, Kandahar became temporarily a sort of independent chiefship under two or three of his brothers. In 1839 the cause of Shah Shuja was actively supported by the British. Kandahar was occupied, and Shah Shuja reinstated on the throne of his ancestors. Dost Mahommed was defeated near 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 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. Trade statistics of late years show a gradual increase of exports to India from Kandahar and the countries adjacent thereto, but a curious falling-off in imports. The short-sighted policy of the amir Abdur Rahman in discouraging imports doubtless affected the balance, nor did his affectation of ignoring the railway between New Chaman and Kila Abdulla (on the Peshin side of the Khojak) conduce to the improvement of trade.  (T. H. H.*)