Incredible potential for trade and tourism in Kandahar

Kandahar, a southern province that connects with capital Kabul through Maidan Wardak, Ghazni and Zabul provinces, has incredible potential for trade and tourism but lack of security along the highway and presence of armed insurgents plays the spoilsport

The bastion of cultural diversity and the erstwhile capital city of Afghanistan, Kandahar has become a ghost city because of the precarious security environment. Despite the indefatigable efforts made by the government and its international partners, the armed opposition groups continue to exert influence in this restive southern province. Among the biggest casualties have been tourism and trade.

The highway that connects Kandahar with Kabul and other provinces is fraught with danger. Dawa Khan Menapal, Director of Information and Culture in Kandahar province, says maintaining security along the highway is important as everyone cannot afford to travel by air. “It is easy to travel to Kandahar by air but air fare is too high so maintaining tight security along the highway is the only way out,” he says.    

Currently, besides domestic air service, which includes Ariana Airways, Kam Air and Afghan-jet, international flights like Fly-Dubai also goes to Kandahar and provides air transportation services. One way air fare from Kabul to Kandahar is 5,000 Afs, which is high by conservative standards.

Trade and tourism has suffered enormously because of insecurity along the highway. Experts believe if foolproof security is maintained, the influx of tourists will increase and potential investors will also be encouraged to jump the bandwagon. “Lack of security is a biggest concern for both tourists and investors and they will not risk their lives for pleasures of sightseeing or money,” says Ahmed Naeem, a resident of Kandahar.

Bordering Uruzgan in north, Baluchistan in south, Zabul in west and Helmand in east, Kandahar is home to expansive deserts, towering mountains and verdant gardens, which are complemented by shimmering rivers and beautiful landscape 

A historical province, Kandahar was the first capital of Afghanistan and home to many erstwhile rulers. The arrival of great Alexander not only kept the western historians busy with Kandahar but Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, also referred to Kandahar as Arakozia in his books. Travelers from all across the world used to come to this province to see the beauty of Afghanistan. The famous Moroccan traveler, Ibn Batuta, who visited this beautiful and bustling city way back in 1330s, was enamored by its beauty.

Bordering Uruzgan in north, Baluchistan in south, Zabul in west and Helmand in east, Kandahar is home to expansive deserts, towering mountains and verdant gardens, which are complemented by shimmering rivers and beautiful landscape. The city had the distinction of being the commercial hub of Afghanistan as many businessmen from other provinces would do trade here.

There is a hill on the outskirts of Kandahar city called Mandigak Hill which is 31 meters high. The buildings destroyed over the centuries in various incidents have transformed into a hill with a long history of 2,000 years. The oldest building of Mandigak hill has a history of more than 9,000 years, which is the earliest example of human-made building. From the ground floor to fifteenth floor, Mandigak Hill displays different aspects of life thousand years ago.

There is another historical monument with Ashoka inscriptions, which have been engraved on a large rock near the entrance of old city. The rock is 55 centimeter in length and 45 to 50 centimeter in width. The inscriptions were engraved at a time when Buddhism was being propagated in Kandahar by Ashoka, who considered himself the messenger of Buddhism religion based on the teachings of Lord Buddha.

The palace of Ahmad Shah Baba, one of the major tourist attractions in Kandahar, also has an important place in the history of this province. The majestic palace with imposing look was constructed during the period of Ahmad Shah Baba, but it was reconstructed during Amir Habibullah Khan’s rule by the then governor Sardar Mohammad Osman Khan. In the past, besides Kandahar governor’s office, the palace was home to many other government institutions.

The other prime attraction in Kandahar is Ahmad Shahi Fort, which surrounds the Kandahar city in a rectangular shape and has six large entrances. The fort has high towers at the distance of hundred meters each and there is another big tower outside the fort for surveillance purpose. This fort was also reconstructed during the rule of Amir Habibullah Khan when Sardar Mohammad Osman Khan was appointed the governor of Kandahar province.

There is another historical site known as Chehal Zena, which is located on top of a hill in northern Kandahar. The staircases leading to hill are built amazingly. Made by Askari Mirza, son of Babur, construction work on Chehal Zena started in 930 solar year and ended in 953. The corridor of Chehal Zena was designed by famous artist of that time Masoum Kandahari. Earlier the two stone-made sculptures of loin would greet the visitors on the stairs but they have been removed now. To attract tourists, the government of Afghanistan is coming up with a park in the vicinity of Chehal Zena and providing sightseeing facilities to visitors.

Ghulam Nabi Farahi, Deputy Information and Culture Minister, says security problem along the highway and poor transportation are key challenges for the government 

Mr. Menapal says the park is being built in three phases over 500 acres of land by the provincial municipality office. Under the first phase, the work has been completed over 25 acres of land incurring a cost of 42 million Afs. “The areas in the vicinity of Chehal Zena are in ruins as a result of decade-long war but this park is expected to change the whole picture of this area,” he says.

Among the must-see places in Kandahar include Chehal Zena, Kharqa-i-Mubarak, Moye-i-Mubarak, Shah Maqsud Agha, Baba Wali, Hazrat Je Baba, Jamal Baba, Sheen Ghazi Ashabi, Dawar Neka, Pir Mullah Mohammad Jan Akhund, Saber Shah Malang, Mirwais Neka, Ahmad Shah Baba, Zarghona Anna, Malalai, Shir-i-Surkh, Mullah Shir Akhund, Spin Kochi Baba, Sufi Sahib, Akhund Sahib, Ibrahim Khalifa Baba, Maiwand Martyrs Square, Mian Noor Mohammad Sahib Mirza, Khojak Baba, Mullah Kata Akhund, Mullah Akaa, Mullah Abdul Khaliq Akhund, Shaikh Qalandar, Mullah Hassan Sakzai, Kako Baba, Bakat Baba, Pir Zalo Baba, Mullah Saleh Mohammad Akhund, Dangar Baba, Kabuli Shah, Pir Zangi Baba, Kako Baba, Koot Baba, Zanjeer Pah, Khwaja Malik, Jan Lala, Shaikh Qalandar, Yak Khan Shaheedan and many other shrines.               

Mr. Manepal says the shaky security situation has affected the number of tourists coming to Kandahar. “If the tourism facilities are provided and the historical sites are preserved, the revenue would increase exponentially,” he says. “If there is a clearly defined policy for the tourism sector, the local and international tourists would be able to visit the historical sites. That will not only generate revenue for the Ministry but those sites can be preserved or reconstructed from the money received from tourists.”

Turyalai Weesa, the governor of Kandahar, says the new government should focus on Kandahar province. “It is an important province and needs special attention,” he says. Ghulam Nabi Farahi, Deputy Information and Culture Minister, says security problem along the highway and poor transportation are key challenges for the government. “Polices and guidelines for tourism industry, proper healthcare facilities and physical security can help in attracting tourists and private sector has an important role to play,” he says.   

Mr. Farahi says the Arghandab River in Kandahar province has the potential of becoming a tourist hotspot but investors are wary of splurging money. “If sightseeing services are provided, security is improved and modern hotels and tourism facilities are put in place, tourism industry will benefit immensely and it will be a win-win situation for all,” says Mr. Farahi.