Kandahar: A city's changing fortunes
CBC News Online | January 27, 2004
There was a time when Kandahar in southern Afghanistan was a cool place to visit cool as in, like, the Sixties, hippies and hash pipes. They came for the freedom, for the colourful bazaars. The many mosques in the city included the Mosque of the Sacred Cloak, believed to contain the cloak worn by the Prophet Mohammed.
That was 30-40 years ago when many young westerners stopped by en route to India. Now Kandahar is identified either as the �Taliban stronghold� or �heartland of the proud Pashtun.�
Founded by Alexander the Great almost 2,500 years ago, Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of 250,000. It is the central trading city in the landlocked country. It has an international airport and road connections to Kabul, Herat, Quetta and some republics of the former Soviet Union. Kandahar manufactures woolen cloth, felt and silk and the surrounding irrigated countryside yields wonderful grapes, as well as food grains and tobacco (and for many years opium).
By the end of October 2001, the Taliban controlled about 80 per cent of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance the rest, mostly in the north. As November drew to an end with the capital Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kunduz in anti-Taliban hands the situation was reversed. Kandahar became the final target of the U.S.-led coalition of troops that invaded to oust the Taliban.
Kandahar had been the home and headquarters of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban�s supreme leader.
Kandahar has been fought over by Persians, Turks, Arabs and Mongols. Britain occupied the city between 1839 and 1842, again between 1879 and 1881. The tourists and flower children deserted Kandahar at the end of the 1970s after a pro-Communist coup in 1978 when the Soviets established a command centre in the city.
The battle for Kandahar raged throughout the 1980s, between the Soviets and the mujahedeen. When the Taliban prevailed in 1994, they were welcomed enthusiastically in Kandahar. The only change people strenuously objected to at first was the banning of soccer, which proved to be so unpopular, the Taliban reluctantly agreed to rescind the ban.
Not so for the other restrictions, including prohibitions on music, books, the education of women, and women working. Men could not shave their beards. Women had to wear the veil, the head-to-ankle burqa, and if they did not they were whipped.
In May, 2001 four months before the attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan a soccer team from Pakistan visited Kandahar to play the local team at the city�s sports stadium. When the Pakistani team took to the field, officials of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue descended on the field and the Pakistani players were arrested for wearing their shorts too short. The Taliban had decreed that soccer shorts must reach the knees. As punishment, Taliban authorities shaved the heads of the offending athletes.
A movie on the city called Kandahar premiered in 2002 at the Toronto Film Festival. It told the story of an Afghan Canadian journalist named Nafas who returns to Kandahar to rescue her sister. Iran�s Mohsen Makhmalbaf directed the movie, secretly entering Afghanistan to film some scenes, an audacious move in a country where movies were banned.
One scene is a grisly depiction of Red Cross helicopters dropping artificial legs from the sky for victims of landmine accidents. �It could be from a Fellini film,� said BBC News Online�s Kate Goldberg, �yet it is quite likely to be real.�