‘Zoy Pa Kabul Loy Kra’

Even though Kabul and its people are going through a dark period under the Taliban regime, they will soon emerge victorious, and return to living a cheerful life once again.

By Arwin Rahi | March 2023

It is hard to pin a date on Kabul’s founding. Kabul is a small province in central-eastern Afghanistan, in the Mughal Emperor Zaheer-ud-Din Babur’s period, it stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains to the Indus River, and from Kashmir to Khurasan.

South of the Hindu Kush, for centuries the ancient city of Bagram, built on the banks of the Panjsher River, was the preeminent political, economic, cultural, and military center of the region. The rise to prominence of Kabul, around a millennium ago, was parallel to the decline of Bagram. Built on the banks of the Kabul River, Kabul lay from southwest to northeast, in the direction of the river.

Given Kabul’s location at a crossroads, the city was destined to achieve greatness. The overland commerce, as well as conquest, routes between India and China, and India and Persia ran through Kabul, which quickly became a major commercial center. The first time ever that India and China made contact with each other was through the overland route that ran over the Hindu Kush, and by extension through Kabul.

Kabul, a diverse commercial hub with pleasant climates

Babur—in his memoir, the Baburnama—says: ‘As the entrepôt between Hindustan and Khurasan, this province [Kabul] is an excellent mercantile center. Merchants who go to Cathay and Anatolia do no greater business. Every year seven, eight, or ten thousand horses come to Kabul.’

Babur further adds that, ‘From Hindustan, caravans of ten, fifteen, twenty thousand pack animals bring slaves, textiles, rock, sugar, refined sugar, and spices. Many Kabul merchants would not be satisfied with a 300 to 400 percent profit. Goods from Khurasan, Iraq, Anatolia, and China can be found in Kabul, which is the principal depot for Hindustan.’

Amongst the different ethnic groups that lived in Kabul, Babur names the following: Turks, Aymaques, Arabs, Pashais, Parachis, Tajiks, Barakis (Burkis), Afghans (also known as Pashtuns, Pakhtuns or Pathans), Hazaras, and Negudaris.

Moreover, on the languages and dialects spoken in Kabul, Babur observes that, ‘Eleven or twelve dialects are spoken in Kabul Province: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Mongolian, Hindi, Afghani [Pashto or Pakhto], Pashai, Parachi, Gabari, Baraki, and Lamghani [Laghmani]. It is not known if there are so many different peoples and languages in any other province.’

Kabul was home to a thriving Christian Armenian community. The Armenians of Kabul had their own church inside Old Kabul, and their own cemetery. Similarly, the Jews of Kabul had their own quarter and synagogue. Hindus, Sikhs, Armenians, and Jews were involved in commerce between Kabul and the surrounding regions.

Kabul’s magnificent climate also brought ‘so many different peoples’ together. Babur remarks, ‘The climate is excellent. In fact, no place in the world is known to have such a pleasing climate as Kabul… near are regions with both warm and cold climates. Within a day’s ride from Kabul it is possible to reach a place where snow never falls. But within two hours one can go where the snows never melt–except in the rare summer so severe that all snow disappears. Both tropical and cold-weather fruits are abundant in Kabul’s dependencies, and they are nearby.’

Kabul, Afghanistan’s cultural oasis

In the process of bringing so many different peoples together, Kabul has managed to develop its own unique vibrant culture and identity, which, although is different from the rest of Afghanistan at times, has had its influence over other cultures throughout Afghanistan.

Across Afghanistan the amount of love and affection for Kabul is boundless. It is not uncommon to see schools, hotels, restaurants, buses, shops, and other businesses named after Kabul. There is a Pashto saying, ‘Penza rupay por kra, zoy pa Kabul loy kra,’ meaning ‘Borrow five rupees, and raise your son in Kabul,’ in reference to Kabul’s better education, etiquette, and culture.

Kabul was home to Afghanistan’s first modern boys’ and girls’ schools, first teachers’ training college, first university, first radio and television stations, first train, first museum, and first airport, among other things. In the 1940s, for the first time in Afghanistan’s history, Radio Kabul allowed female singers to sing, and broadcast their songs.

Twice over the past century—once in the 1920s and again in the 1950s—Kabul pioneered giving Afghan girls and women the right to education and work, and the right to not cover their faces, if they so wished. Although rural conservatives were uncomfortable with the above reforms, other Afghan cities such as Qandahar and Herat imitated Kabul.

During the Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah eras, the Afghan Royal Family did not impose any social reforms from Kabul on the rest of the country. Instead, they allowed people outside Kabul to gradually see, understand, and adopt such reforms as girls’ education and removing of the veil, which Kabul had embraced.

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