JALALABAD












Afghanistan Tree Project


Situated near the base of the Khyber Pass, Jalalabad is the gateway from Afghanistan to the Indian Subcontinent. It sits between two mountain ranges, the Hindu Kush to the north and the Safed Kuh (White Mountains or Spinghar in Pashtu) to the south, on the old Grand Trunk Road leading from Kabul to Peshawar and beyond. The capital of Ningarhar province is an oasis ringed by mountains. Places, large gardens and tree-lined avenues speak of its long history as a favoured winter capital. Today hundreds of small villas indicate its popularity as a resort town. Among many festivities taking place in this city, the most famous and outstanding are the Mushaira or Poet's festival dedicated to Jalalabad's orange blossoms and Waisak, a religious festival. Seraj-ul-Emart, the resident of Amir habibullah and king Amanullah was destroyed in 1929; the gardens however, retain vestiges of the past and offer a peaceful afternoon's stroll. The Mausoleum of both rulers is enclosed by a garden facing Seraj-ul-Emart Jalalabad is famous for its fruit (particularly oranges), but has grown prosperous on the trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both licit and smuggled. Oranges, rice, and sugarcane grow in the fertile surrounding area, and the city has cane-processing and sugar-refining as well as papermaking industries. Its proximity to the border means that Jalalabad is the centre of operations for many aid organisations.

This mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan was one of the great centres of Buddhist culture from the 2nd to 7th centuries AD. Countless pilgrims came from every corner of the earth to worship at its many holy temples maintained by thousands of monks and priests living in large monastery complexes. Even during his lifetime, Buddah visited Hadda.The Kushans produced the first human representations of Buddha, and their Gandharan art was a fusion of the western traditions they had inherited from Greek predecessors and the eastern themes of the Subcontinent. The Jalalabad valley was one of the most important centres of Buddhist pilgrimage in the world, centred around the city of Hadda just south of modern Jalalabad. The city boasted a thousand stupas, and contained many relics of Buddha, including his staff, robe and one of his teeth.

Hadda barely survived the pillages that eventually brought down the Kushan empire, but the region held out under a Hindu dynasty against the Arabs invaders in the mid 7th century. The advent of the Ghaznavids in the 10th century finally spelled the end of Gandharan culture. Sultan Mahmud who conquered territory as far east as Delhi from his base at Ghazni, brought Islam to the Jalalabad valley with a policy of mass conversion.

Jalalabad was founded in 1507 by the Moghul emperor Akbar, meaning to dominate the route through the Khyber Pass. A warm winter climate made it a popular retreat for many subsequent Afghan rulers, although little of the old city has survived in to the modern era. Jalalabad played little part in Afghan history until the first Anglo-Afghan War, and the retreat from Kabul by the British army in the winter of 1840-41. The retreat of the Kabul garrison ranks as one of the worst disasters in the hisotory of the British Army. Led by an ineffectual general, almost the entire force of 4,500 troops and 12,000 camp followers were massacred by Afghan tribesmen or died of exposure in the passes and defiles on their way to Jalalabad. Only a single officer, Dr Brydon survived the retreat to reach the garrison at Jalalabad, although the British 'Army of Retribution' later rescued some 2,000 sepoys and camp followers the following year.

Jalalabad continued its tradition as a garrison during the communist take-over, and the Soviets maintained a large force there due to its proximity to the Pakistan border and mujahideen supply lines. In March 1989, a month after the end of the Soviet withdrawal, Jalalabad was the focus of the first attempt by the mujahideen to capture a major Afghan city. The plan was drawn up by the Pakistani security forces in an attempt to form a power base for a credible alternative government to Najibullah's regime in Kabul. The assault and subsequent siege were a disaster for the resistance parties. Up to 10,000 (mainly civilians) were killed in rocket attacks on the city and bombing counter-attacks by the Afghan air force.

The fall of Jalalabad had to wait until the final demise of Najibullah, and the city was taken over by a loose coalition of mujahideen. The 'Nangahar Shura', led by Haji Abdul Qadir brought a return to the prosperous cross-border trade, and used Jalalabad as a neutral location for meetings between warring mujahideen factions during the subsequent civil war. Their remit did not extend much beyond the Jalalabad area however, and the road to Kabul was plagued with bandity and checkpoints run by a myriad of independent local commanders.

Jalalabad was captured relatively bloodlessly by the Taliban in August 1996, the city's Pashtun population more in turn with the Taliban's social policies, opening the door for their lightning assault and capture of Kabul. During this time Hadda and nearby Tora Bora were used as bases for the 'Afghan-Arabs' who fought with the Taliban, many with links to jihadist organisations such as al-Qaeda. The city changed hands again in November 2001 with the collapse of the Taliban during the US-led war. The Taliban simply drove out of Jalalabad, allowing Abdul Qadir and other mujahidden leaders to return from exile in Pakistan and take power once again. Following the Loya Jirga in June 2002, Abdul Qadir was named as Vice-President to Hamid Karzai, but was assasinated in Kabul less than a month later.

Source: Kabul Karavan: An Online Travel Guide to Afghanistan
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