The Hindu Kush divides the country into northern and southern regions,
which can be further subdivided on the basis of topography, national
and ethno linguistic settlement patterns, or historical tradition.
Northern Afghanistan, for example, may be subdivided into the Badakhshan-Vakhan
region in the east and the Balkh-Meymaneh region in the west. The
east, which is mainly a conglomeration of mountains and high plateaus,
is inhabited chiefly by Tajiks,
while the west, which is mostly plains of comparatively low altitude,
contains a mixture of peoples in which Uzbeks and Turkmen's of Turkic origin predominate.
Southern Afghanistan can be subdivided into four sub regions--those
of Kabul, Qandahar, Herat, and Hazarajat. The Kabul region combines
the area drained by the Kabul River and the high plateau of eastern
Afghanistan, bounded in the south by the Gowmal (Gumal) River. This
region is inhabited by Pashtuns,
Tajiks, and Nuristanis.
This region is the main corridor connecting the other regions and
The Qandahar region consists of the sparsely populated southern
part of Afghanistan. The people inhabiting this region belong principally
to the Durrani branch of the Pashtuns. In addition, there is
a small number of Baluch and Brahui peoples. The city of Qandahar
is located in a fertile oasis near the Arghandab River.
The region of Herat, or western Afghanistan, is inhabited
by a mixture of Tajiks, Pashtuns, and Chahar Aimaks. The life of
the region revolves around the city of Herat.
The mountainous region of Hazarajat occupies the central part
of the country and is inhabited principally by the Hazaras. Although
Hazarajat is located in the heart of the country, its high mountains
and poor communication facilities make it the most isolated part
Most urban settlements have grown along the road that runs from Kabul
southwestward to Qandahar, then northwest to Herat, northeast to
Mazar-e Sharif, and southeast back to Kabul. The rural population
of farmers and nomads is distributed unevenly over the rest of the
country, mainly concentrated along the rivers. The most heavily
populated part of the country is between the cities of Kabul and
Charikar. Other concentrations of people can be found east of the
city of Kabul near Jalalabad, in the Herat oasis and the valley
of the Hari River in the northwest, and in the valley of the Kunduz
River in the northeast. The high mountains of the central part of
the country and the deserts in the south and southwest are sparsely
populated or uninhabited.
The major cities of Afghanistan are Kabul, Qandahar, Herat, Baghlan,
Jalalabad, Konduz, Charikar, and Mazar-e Sharif. Kabul is the administrative
capital of the country, located south of the Hindu Kush at the crossroads
of the trade routes between the Indian subcontinent and Central
Asia and between the Middle and Far East. It is built on both sides
of the Kabul River and is the main centre of economic and cultural
activity. Qandahar, second to Kabul in population, is located
on the Asian Highway in the south-central part of the country, between
Kabul and Herat. Qandahar became the first capital of modern Afghanistan
in 1747 under Ahmad Shah Durrani.
Sedentary farmers usually live in small villages, most of them
scattered near irrigated land in the valleys of major rivers. These
villages, as a rule, are built in the form of small forts. Each
fort-village contains several mud houses inhabited by closely connected
families who form a defensive community.
The semi sedentary farmers, who breed livestock and raise a few
crops, live in the high alpine valleys. Since cultivable land there
is scarce, they live in scattered isolated hamlets. Each household
owns a few head of livestock, which are moved in summer to the highland
pastures. The people usually divide themselves into two groups in
summer: one group remains in the hamlet to tend the crops, while
the other accompanies the livestock to the highlands.
The nomads are mainly Pashtuns herdsmen; there are also several
thousand Baluch and Kyrgyz nomads. They move in groups from summer
to winter pasturages, living in tents and, while on the move, packing
their belongings on the backs of camels, donkeys, and cattle. Between
one-sixth and one-fifth of the total population may be classified
as nomadic. Since 1977, however, some nomads have been settled
in the plains north of the Hindu Kush or in the area of the Helmand
Valley (irrigation) Project.
Afghanpedia Table of Content