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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 11:33 GMT
Kandahar's troubled past
Kandahar market place
Kandahar was under Taleban control
By BBC Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

Kandahar, the former stronghold of the Taleban, has an image in the outside world of strict piety and distrust of foreigners. But that is not the image it has always had.

Houses bombed in Kandahar
The city has suffered widespread damage in the US strikes
Until the 1970s it was full of foreigners, many of them young Western hippies on their way to India.

The attraction wasn't just hashish and opium, though there was plenty of that.

There were colourful bazaars, and tombs and mosques, including the Mosque of the Sacred Cloak, - the cloak, it is believed, of the Prophet Mohammed himself.

But Kandahar has a troubled past.

Pashtun heartland

There were colourful bazaars, and tombs and mosques

Kandahar has been fought over down the centuries by successive waves of Persians, Turks, Arabs and Mongols.

In the 18th Century it became the capital of Ahmed Shah, the Pashtun king who founded Afghanistan.

His domed mausoleum still dominates the old city.

Kandahar lies on the rich plains of southern Afghanistan, and it is very much part of the Pashtun heartland.

It has always been a more traditional place than the capital Kabul, with relatively little evidence of Western clothing or other influences.

After the pro-Communist coup of 1978 most of the tourists disappeared.

Abandoned city

The city was fought over bitterly in the long war between the Soviet army and the Islamic Mujahedin.

Kandahar, 1999
Kandahar once attracted many tourists
After the Soviets withdrew there was a period of disorder and chaos, with several groups of Mujahedin vying for control.

When the Taleban moved in 1994 they were widely welcomed as bringing order and stability, though some of their initial decisions - like the banning of football - were so unpopular they had to be rescinded.

Other changes stayed in force, however.

The wearing of the veil became obligatory for women in public, and the only music allowed was devotional chanting.

Otherwise life carried on much as before, until the recent air strikes.

Now, it is reported, there is widespread damage and much of the population has left the city.

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