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Mazari Sharif


Mazari Sharif

"Mazar" redirects here. For other uses, see Mazar (disambiguation).
مزارِ شریف
Location in Afghanistan

Coordinates: 36°42′N 67°07′E / 36.700°N 67.117°E / 36.700; 67.117Coordinates: 36°42′N 67°07′E / 36.700°N 67.117°E / 36.700; 67.117

Country  Afghanistan
Province Balkh Province
District Mazar-e Sharif District
Elevation 357 m (1,171 ft)
Population (2006)
 • Total 375,000
Time zone Afghanistan Standard Time (UTC+4:30)

Mazar-i-Sharif or Mazar-e Sharif (Persian/Pashto: مزارِ شریف, ˌmæˈzɒːr ˌi ʃæˈriːf) is the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of about 375,000 as of 2006. It is the capital of Balkh province and is linked by highways with Kunduz in the east, Kabul in the southeast, Herat in the west and Uzbekistan in the north. Mazar-e Sharif, along with Herat, Jalalabad in the east and Kandahar in the south, makes Afghanistan an important strategic location in Asia. The city also serves as one of the many tourist attractions because of its famous shrines as well as the Muslim and Hellenistic archeological sites. In 2006, the discovery of new Hellenistic remains was announced.[1]

The region around Mazar-e-Sharif has been historically part of Greater Khorasan and was controlled by the Tahirids followed by the Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Ilkhanates, Timurids, and Khanate of Bukhara until the mid-18th century when it became part of the Durrani Empire after a friendship treaty was signed between emirs Murad Beg and Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Mazari Sharif Airport in the city has been heavily used during the 1980s Soviet war and the latest 2001-present war.

The name "Mazar-e Sharif" means "Noble Shrine", a reference to the large, blue-tiled sanctuary and mosque in the center of the city known as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali or the Blue Mosque. Some Muslims believe that the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, is at this mosque in Mazari Sharif, after Ali's remains were transferred to Mazar-i-Sharif as per request of Ja'far as-Sadiq. However, most Muslims believe that the grave of Ali is at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.[2]


The region around Mazar-i-Sharif has been historically part of Greater Khorasan and was controlled by the Tahirids followed by the Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Ilkhanates, Timurids, and Khanate of Bukhara. According to tradition, the city of Mazari Sharif owes its existence to a dream. At the beginning of the 12th century, a local mullah had a dream in which the 7th century Ali bin Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of Islam's prophet Muhammad, appeared to reveal that he had been secretly buried near the city of Balkh.

The famous Jalal al-Din Rumi was born in this area but like many historical figures his exact location of birth cannot be confirmed. His father Baha' Walad was descended from the first caliph Abu Bakr and was influenced by the ideas of Ahmad Ghazali, brother of the famous philosopher. Baha' Walad's sermons were published and still exist as Divine Sciences (Ma'arif). Rumi completed six books of mystical poetry and tales called Masnavi before he died in 1273.

After conducting researches in the 12th century, the Seljuk sultan Ahmed Sanjar ordered a city and shrine to be built on the location, where it stood until its destruction by Genghis Khan and his Mongol army in the 13th century. Although later rebuilt, Mazar stood in the shadow of its neighbor Balkh. During the nineteenth century, due to the absence of drainage systems and the weak economy of the region, the excess water of this area flooded many acres of the land in the vicinity of residential areas causing a malaria epidemic in the region. Thus the ruler of North Central Afghanistan decided to shift the capital of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.[3]

The Mazar-i-Sharif means the grave of Sharif. This name represents the Blue Mosque which is widely known to be the grave of Hazrat Ali (prophet Mohammad's son-in-law).[4]

The city along with the region south of the Amu Darya became part of the Durrani Empire in around 1750 after a treaty of friendship was reached between Mohammad Murad Beg and Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founding father of Afghanistan. In the late 1870s, Emir Sher Ali Khan ruled the area from his Tashkurgan Palace in Mazar-i Sharif. This northern part of Afghanistan was un-visited by the British-led Indian forces during the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century.

Mazar-i-Sharif remained peaceful for the next one hundred years until 1979, when then neighboring Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. During the 1980s Soviet war, Mazar-i-Sharif was a strategic base for the Soviet Army as they used its airport to launch air strikes on Afghan mujahideen. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, control of Mazar-i-Sharif was often contested between the Hazara milita Hezbe Wahdat, led by warlord Hajji Mohammed Mohaqiq, the Tajik militia Jamiat-e Islami, led by Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, and the Uzbek militia Jumbesh-e Melli led by warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. As a garrison for the Soviet-backed Afghan army, the city was under the command of Dostum, who mutinied against Najibullah's government in 1992.

Under Dostum's 5 year rule from the early 1990s to early 1997, the city was relatively peaceful. The rest of the nation disintegrated and was slowly taken over by the Taliban forces, Dostum strengthened political ties with the newly independent Uzbekistan as well as Turkey. He printed his own currency and established his own airline. This peace was shattered in May 1997, when he was betrayed by one of his generals, warlord Abdul Malik Pahlawan, forcing him to flee from Mazar-i-Sharif as the Taliban were getting ready to take the city.

1997 massacre of Taliban prisoners

It is reported that between May and July 1997 Abdul Malik Pahlawan executed thousands of Taliban members, that he personally did many of the killings by slaughtering the prisoners as a revenge for the 1995 death of Abdul Ali Mazari. "He is widely believed to have been responsible for the brutal massacre of up to 3,000 Taleban prisoners after inviting them into Mazar-i-Sharif."[5] Several of the Taliban escaped the slaughtering and reported what had happened. In retaliation for this incident, other shocked and furious Taliban came to the city on August 8, 1998, and led a six-day killing frenzy of Hazaras. Soon after, the city was surrendered and taken over by the Taliban. It was this capture of Mazar-i-Sharif, the last major city in Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban, that prompted Pakistan's recognition of the Taliban regime. Soon afterward, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia extended official recognition to the regime, while Turkmenistan resumed relations – although the Taliban were not officially recognized by Turkmenbashi as the rulers of Afghanistan.

U.S.-led military action

Following 9/11, Mazar-i-Sharif was the first Afghan city to fall to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance (United Front). The Taliban's defeat in Mazar quickly turned into a rout from the rest of the north and west of Afghanistan. After the Battle of Mazar-i-Sharif in November 2001, the city was officially captured by forces of the Northern Alliance. They were joined by the United States Special Operations Forces and supported by U.S. Air Force aircraft. As many as 3,000 Taliban fighters who surrendered were reportedly massacred by the Northern Alliance after the battle, and reports also place U.S. ground troops at the scene of the massacre.[6] The Irish documentary Afghan Massacre - the Convoy of Death investigated these allegations. Filmmaker Doran claims that mass graves of thousands of victims were found by United Nations investigators.[7] The Bush administration reportedly blocked investigations into the incident.[8]

Small-scale clashes between militias belonging to different commanders persisted throughout 2002, and were the focus of intensive UN peace-brokering and small arms disarmament programme. After some pressure, an office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission opened an office in Mazar in April 2003. There were also reports about northern Pashtun civilians being ethnic cleansed by the other groups, mainly by ethnic Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks.[9]

NATO presence and the Karzai administration

The city slowly came under the control of the Karzai administration after 2002, which is led by President Hamid Karzai. The 209th Corps (Shaheen) of the Afghan National Army is based at Mazar-i-Sharif, which provides military assistance to northern Afghanistan. The Afghan Border Police headquarters for the Northern Zone is also located in the city. Despite all the security put in place, there are reports of Taliban activities and assassinations of tribal elders. Officials in Mazar-i-Sharif reported that between 20 to 30 Afghan tribal elders have been assassinated in Balkh Province in the last several years. There is no conclusive evidence as to who is behind it but majority of the victims are said to have been associated with the Hezb-i Islami political party.[10]

There are also NATO-led peacekeeping forces in and around the city providing assistance to the Afghan government. ISAF Regional Command North, led by Germany, is stationed at Camp Marmal which lies next to Mazar-i-Sharif Airport. Since 2006, Provincial Reconstruction Team Mazar-i-Sharif had unit commanders from Sweden, on loan to ISAF. The unit is stationed at Camp Northern Lights, located 10 km west of Camp Marmal. Camp Nidaros, located within Camp Marmal, has soldiers from Latvia and Norway, and is led by an ISAF-officer from Norway.

On April 1, 2011, as many as ten foreign employees working for United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) were killed by angry demonstrators in the city (see 2011 Mazar-i-Sharif attack). The demonstration was organized in retaliation to pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp's March 21 Qur'an-burning in Florida, United States.[11] Among the dead were five Nepalese, a Norwegian, Romanian and Swedish nationals, two of them were said to be decapitated.[12][13][14] Terry Jones, the American pastor who was going to burn Islam's Holy Book, denied his responsibility for incitement.[15] President Barack Obama strongly condemned both the Quran burning, calling it an act of "extreme intolerance and bigotry", and the "outrageous" attacks by protesters, referring to them as "an affront to human decency and dignity." "No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act."[16] U.S. legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also condemned both the burning and the violence in reaction to it.[17]

By July 2011 violence became at a record high in the insurgency.[18] In late July 2011, NATO troops also handed control of Mazar-i-Sharif to local forces amid rising security fears just days after it was hit by a deadly bombing. Mazar-i-Sharif is the sixth of seven areas to transition to Afghan control, but critics say the timing is political and there is skepticism over Afghan abilities to combat the Taliban insurgency.


Mazar-i-Sharif has a cold steppe climate (Köppen climate classification BSk) with hot summers and cold winters. Precipitation is low, and mostly falls between December and April. The climate in Mazar-i-Sharif is very hot during the summer with daily temperatures of over 40 °C (104 °F) from June to August. The winters are cold with temperatures falling below freezing.

Climate data for Mazar-i-Sharif
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 24.0
Average high °C (°F) 8.0
Daily mean °C (°F) 2.6
Average low °C (°F) −2.1
Record low °C (°F) −22.3
Precipitation mm (inches) 28.9
Avg. rainy days 4 7 10 9 4 0 0 0 0 2 4 6 46
Avg. snowy days 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 10
 % humidity 79 77 72 64 44 27 25 24 28 41 62 75 51.5
Mean monthly sunshine hours 122.2 118.4 158.1 193.8 299.9 352.9 364.4 332.7 298.2 223.2 173.6 125.5 2,762.9
Source: NOAA (1959-1983) [19]


Further information: Demography of Afghanistan

The population of Mazari Sharif is around 375,000, which is a multiethnic and multilingual society. There is no official government report on the exact ethnic make-over but a map appeared in the November 2003 issue of the National Geographic magazine showing Tajiks 60%, Hazaras 10%, Pashtuns 10%, Turkmen 10%, and Uzbeks 10%.[20] Occasional ethnic violence have been reported in the region in the last decades, mainly between Pashtuns and the other groups.[9][21][22][23] Some latest news reports mentioned assassinations taking place in the area but with no evidence as to who is behind it.[10]

The dominant language in Mazari Sharif is Dari followed by Pashto and Uzbeki. Pashto and Dari (Persian dialect) are both the official languages of Afghanistan. Majority of the population of Mazar-i Sharif practice Sunni Islam, the Shias who are mainly Hazara ethnic group.

Economy and transport

Mazar-e Sharif serves as the major trading center in northern Afghanistan, which is the first city to connect itself by rail with a neighboring country. The rail service from Mazar-e Sharif to Uzbekistan that began in December 2011 is expected to rapidly boost the economy of the city. Cargo on freight trains arrives to the last station near Mazar-i-Sharif Airport,[24] where the goods are reloaded onto trucks or airplanes and sent to their last destinations across Afghanistan. As the industry grows, it will provide employment for many local residents as well as large revenues for the city officials.

The local economy is dominated by trade, agriculture and karakul production; small-scale oil and gas exploitation have also boosted the city's prospects.

Notable places

The modern city of Mazar-i Sharif is centered around the Shrine of Hazrat Ali. Much restored, it is one of Afghanistan's most glorious monuments. Outside Mazar-i Sharif lies the ancient city of Balkh. The city is a centre for the traditional buzkashi sport, and the Blue Mosque is the focus of northern Afghanistan's Nawruz celebration. Although most Muslims believe that the real grave of Ali is found within Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq, others still come to Mazar-e Sharif to pay respect.

  • Parks and monuments
    • Maulana Jalaludin Cultural Park
    • Tashkurgan Palace
    • Governors Palace
    • Mazar-i-Sharif Gate
  • Stadiums
    • Mazar-i-Sharif Cricket Stadium
    • Buzkashi Stadium
  • Universities
    • Balkh University
    • Aria University
    • Sadat University
    • Mawlana University
    • Taj University
  • Hospitals
    • Saleha Bayat Hospital
    • Afghan National Army Regional Hospital at Camp Shaheen
  • Hotels
    • Serena Hotel Mazar-i-Sharif
    • Aros-e-Shahr
    • Mazar Hotel
    • Farhat Hotel
    • Kefayat hotel
    • Barat Hotel
    • Shinwari hotel
    • Marco Polo hotel

Sister cities

See also

Afghanistan portal


Further reading

  • Dupree, Nancy Hatch (1977): An Historical Guide to Afghanistan. 1st Edition: 1970. 2nd Edition. Revised and Enlarged. Afghan Tourist Organization.

External links

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