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Kandahār (or Qandahār) is a city in southern Afghanistan, the capital of Kandahar province. The province has 567,000 people (based on 1979 data), while the city has about 200,000 (based on a 1989 estimate). It is the second-largest city in Afghanistan, a major trading centre, especially for agricultural produce. It has an international airport and extensive road links. Together with Peshawar, Kandahar is the main city of the Pushtu people. It is linked by road to Quetta in Pakistan.
There is speculation about the origin of the name of Kandahar. Some believe its name is derived from Gandhara, a nearby kingdom to the northeast. Gandhara is mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata. Other theories include the possibility that Kandahar is a localized transliteration of Alexandria.
The city of Kandahar was founded in the 4th century BC by Alexander the Great, near the site of the ancient city of Mundigak (established around 3000 BC). The city has been a frequent target for conquest because of its strategic location in central Asia. It was part of the Iranian Achaemenid empire and came under the influence of the Indian emperor Ashoka and the Kushan emperor Kanishka. It was also known as Alexandropolis, after its founder, Alexander.
Kandahar was dominated early by various Iranian tribes, but the Pashtuns would remain the most prominent group during most of its history.
Under the Abbasids and later Turkic invaders, Kandahar was conquered by Muslims who converted the local Pashtuns and the city came under the influence of the Khurasan region, while retaining its local Pashtun language and culture. It was conquered by Arabs (7th century), Turkic Ghaznavids (10th century), Genghiz Khan (12th century), and Timur (1383).
Babur, founder of the Mughal empire, annexed Kandahar in 16th century. His son, Humayun, lost Kandahar to the Shah of Persia. Humayun's son, Akbar regained control of Kandahar and Kabul, but subsequent Mughal emperors lost the territory.
Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of Afghanistan, gained control of the city in 1747 and made it the capital (1748) of his new Afghan (Pashtun) kingdom. The (now) old city was laid out by Ahmad Shah and is dominated by his mausoleum. In the 1780s, however, the capital was transferred to Kabul.
Qandahar has sometimes a centre of jihad and mujahedin activity, but local Pashtun tribes tended to live by their pre-Islamic code of honour known as Pashtunwali . On 28th Muharram 1242 Hijri (2nd September 1826 C.E.) Syed Ahmad Shaheed's forces reached Qandahar enroute to Peshawar. Their purpose was to wage a jihad against the oppressive Sikh regime of Ranjit Singh and aid their fellow Pashtuns of Peshawar, and within a few days more than 400 Qandaharis presented themselves for jihad, out of whom 270 were selected. Syed Deen Muhammad Qandahari was appointed their leader.
It was toward the end of 1994 that the Taliban emerged from the city and set out to conquer the south, east, and centre of the country. Since the removal of the Taliban in 2001-02, smaller bands have spread throughout the nearby provinces, and Kandahar came under the control of Gul Agha Shirzai , a Pashtun warlord who had controlled the province and city before the rise of the Taliban, and who was credited with permitting the same egregious pederasty and corruption that first fueled the growth of the Taliban. The city remains under Shirzai's control. The Taliban remains popular amongst some of the local Pashtun inhabitants. Central Afghan control remains little more than symbolic at present.
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