Settlement patterns

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 their peoples.

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 of Afghanistan.

Urban settlement.

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.

Rural settlement.

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.


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