Kabul (/ˈkɑːbʊl/; Persian: [ˈkɒːbul]) is the capital of Afghanistan and its largest city, located in the eastern section of the country. It is also a municipality, forming part of the greater Kabul Province. According to estimates in 2015, the population of Kabul is 4.635 million,[1] which includes all the major ethnic groups.[2] Rapid urbanization had made Kabul the world's 75th largest city.[3]

Kabul is located high up in a narrow valley between the Hindu Kush mountains, with an elevation of 1,790 metres (5,873 ft) making it one of the highest capitals in the world. The city is said to be over 3,500 years old, mentioned since at least the time of the Achaemenid Empire. It is at a strategic location along the trade routes of South and Central Asia, and a key location of the ancient Silk Road. It has been part of the Achaemenids followed by the Seleucids, Mauryans, Kushans, Kabul Shahis, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khwarazmians, Qarlughids, Khaljis, Timurids, Mughals, and Hotaks, until finally becoming part of the Durrani Empire (also known as the "Afghan Empire") in 1747.[4] Kabul became the capital of Afghanistan in 1776, during the reign of Timur Shah Durrani, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani.

In the early 19th century, the British occupied the city but after establishing foreign relations they were compelled to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan. The city was occupied by the Soviets in 1979 but they too abandoned it after the 1988 Geneva Accords were signed. A civil war in the 1990s between various rebel groups destroyed much of the city, resulting in many casualties.[5]

Kabul is known for its historic gardens, quaint bazaars, and vast amount of palaces.[6][7][8] It was also formerly a mecca for young western hippies.[9][10] Since the removal of the Taliban from power in late 2001, the city gradually began rebuilding itself with assistance from the international community. Despite the many terrorist attacks by anti-state elements, the city is greatly developing and was the fifth fastest-growing city in the world as of 2012.[11] The city is divided into 22 districts.


Kabul (/ˈkɑːbəl, ˈkɑːbl/; Pashto: کابلKâbəl, IPA: [kɑˈbəl]; Persian: کابلKābol, IPA: [kɒːˈbol]),[12] also spelled Cabool, Caubul, Kabol, or Cabul.



The exact origin of Kabul, who built it and when, is largely unknown.[13] The Hindu Rigveda, composed between 1700–1100 BCE and one of the four canonical sacred texts (śruti) of Hinduism, and the Avesta, the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, refer to the Kabul River and to a settlement called Kubha.[13][14] The Rigveda refers to Kabul as an "ideal city" and a vision of paradise set in the mountains and is full of poems in praise of the city.[15][16]

The Kabul valley was part of the Median Empire (c. 678-549 BC).[17] In 549 BC, the Median Empire was annexed by Cyrus The Great and Kabul became part the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550–330 BC).[18] During that period, Kabul became a center of learning for Zoroastrianism, followed by Buddhism and Hinduism.[19] An inscription on Darius the Great's tombstone lists Kabul as one of the 29 countries of Achaemenid Empire.[14]

When Alexander annexed the Achaemenid Empire, the Kabul region came under his control.[20] After his death, his empire was seized by his general Seleucus, becoming part of the Seleucid Empire. In 305 BCE, he extended his empire all the way to the Indus river, which caused a friction with the neighboring Mauryan Empire. It is widely believed that the two empires reached an alliance treaty.[21]

Alexander took these away from the Aryans and established settlements of his own, but Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), upon terms of intermarriage and of receiving in exchange 500 elephants.[4]

— Strabo, 64 BC–24 AD

During the Mauryan period, trade flourished because of uniform weights and measures. Irrigation facilities for public use were developed leading to an increased harvest of crops. People were also employed as artisans, jewelers, carpenters.[22]

The Greco-Bactrians took control of Kabul from the Mauryans in the early 2nd century BC, then lost the city to their subordinates in the Indo-Greek Kingdom around the mid-2nd century BC. Buddhism was greatly patronized by the rulers and majority of people of the city were adherents of the religion.[23] Indo-Scythians expelled the Indo-Greeks by the mid 1st century BC, but lost the city to the Kushan Empire about 100 years later.[24][25]

Some historians ascribe Kabul the Sanskrit name of Kamboja (Kamboj).[26][27] It is mentioned as Kophes or Kophene in some classical writings. Hsuan Tsang refers to the name as Kaofu[28] in the 7th century AD, which is the appellation of one of the five tribes of the Yuezhi who had migrated from across the Hindu Kush into the Kabul valley around the beginning of the Christian era.[29] It was conquered by Kushan Emperor Kujula Kadphises in about 45 AD and remained Kushan territory until at least the 3rd century AD.[30][31] The Kushans were Indo-European-speaking Tocharians from the Tarim Basin.[32]

Around 230 AD, the Kushans were defeated by the Sassanid Empire and replaced by Sassanid vassals known as the Indo-Sassanids. During the Sassanian period, the city was referred to as "Kapul" in Pahlavi scripts.[14] Kapol in Persian language means Royal (ka) Bridge (pol) and its due to the main bridge on the Kabul River that was connecting the east and west Kabul together. In 420 AD the Indo-Sassanids were driven out of Afghanistan by the Xionite tribe known as the Kidarites, who were then replaced in the 460s by the Hephthalites. It became part of the surviving Turk Shahi Kingdom of Kapisa, also known as Kabul-Shahan.[33] According to Táríkhu-l Hind by Al-Biruni, Kabul was governed by princes of Turkic lineage whose rule lasted for about 60 generations.

Kábul was formerly governed by princes of Turk lineage. It is said that they were originally from Tibet. The first of them was named Barhtigín ... and the kingdom continued with his children for sixty generations.... The last of them was a Katormán, and his minister was Kalar, a Bráhman. This minister was favored by fortune, and he found in the earth treasures which augmented his power. Fortune at the same time turned her back upon his master. The Katormán's thoughts and actions were evil, so that many complaints reached the minister, who loaded him with chains, and imprisoned him for his correction. In the end the minister yielded to the temptation of becoming sole master, and he had wealth sufficient to remove all obstacles. So he established himself on the throne. After him reigned the Bráhman(s) Samand, then Kamlúa, then Bhím, then Jaipál, then Anandpál, then Narda-janpál, who was killed in A.H. 412. His son, Bhímpál, succeeded him, after the lapse of five years, and under him the sovereignty of Hind became extinct, and no descendant remained to light a fire on the hearth. These princes, notwithstanding the extent of their dominions, were endowed with excellent qualities, faithful to their engagements, and gracious towards their inferiors....[33]

— Abu Rayhan Biruni, 978–1048 AD

The Kabul rulers built a long defensive wall around the city to protect it from enemy raids. This historical wall has survived until today. It was briefly held by Tibetan Empire between 801 and 815.

Islamization and Mongol invasion

Map showing names of the regions during the 7th century.

The Islamic conquest reached modern-day Afghanistan in 642 AD, at a time when Kabul was independent.[34] A number of failed expeditions were made to Islamize the region. In one of them, Abdur Rahman bin Samana arrived to Kabul from Zaranj in the late 600s and managed to convert 12,000 local inhabitants to Islam before abandoning the city. Muslims were a minority until Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar of Zaranj conquered Kabul in 870 and established the first Islamic dynasty in the region. It was reported that the rulers of Kabul were Muslims with non-Muslims living close by.

Kábul has a castle celebrated for its strength, accessible only by one road. In it there are Musulmáns, and it has a town, in which are infidels from Hind.[35]

— Istahkrí, 921 AD

Over the following centuries, the city was successively controlled by the Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khwarazmshahs, Qarlughids, and Khaljis. In the 13th century, the invading Mongols caused major destruction in the region. Report of a massacre in the close by Bamiyan is recorded around this period, where the entire population of the valley was annihilated by the Mongol troops as a revenge for the death of Genghis Khan's grandson. As a result, many natives of Afghanistan fled south toward the Indian subcontinent where some established dynasties in Delhi. The Chagatai Khanate and Kartids were vassals of Ilkhanate till dissolution of latter in 1335.

Following the era of the Khalji dynasty in 1333, the famous Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta was visiting Kabul and wrote:

We travelled on to Kabul, formerly a vast town, the site of which is now occupied by a village inhabited by a tribe of Persians called Afghans. They hold mountains and defiles and possess considerable strength, and are mostly highwaymen. Their principal mountain is called Kuh Sulayman.[36]

— Ibn Battuta, 1304–1369 AD

Timurid and Mughal era

Humayun with his father Babur, emperors of the Mughal Empire
Old painting showing the Great Wall of Kabul

In the 14th century, Kabul became a major trading center under the kingdom of Timur (Tamerlane). In 1504, the city fell to Babur from the north and made into his headquarters, which became one of the principal cities of his later Mughal Empire. In 1525, Babur described Kabulistan in his memoirs by writing that:

In the country of Kābul there are many and various tribes. In the city and the greater part of the villages, the population consists of Tājiks (called "Sarts" by Babur). Many other of the villages and districts are occupied by Pashāis, Parāchis, Tājiks, Berekis, and Afghans. In the hill-country to the west, reside the Hazāras and Nukderis. Among the Hazāra and Nukderi tribes, there are some who speak the Moghul language. In the hill-country to the north-east lies Kaferistān, such as Kattor and Gebrek. To the south is Afghanistān... There are eleven or twelve different languages spoken in Kābul: Arabic, Persian, Tūrki, Moghuli, Hindi, Afghani, Pashāi, Parāchi, Geberi, Bereki, and Lamghāni....[37]

— Baburnama, 1525

Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlat, a poet from Hindustan who visited at the time wrote: "Dine and drink in Kabul: it is mountain, desert, city, river and all else." It was from here that Babur began his 1526 conquest of Hindustan, which was ruled by the Afghan Lodi dynasty and began east of the Indus River in what is present-day Pakistan. Babur loved Kabul due to the fact that he lived in it for 20 years and the people were loyal to him, including its weather that he was used to. His wish to be buried in Kabul was finally granted. The inscription on his tomb contains the famous Persian couplet, which states: اگرفردوس روی زمین است همین است و همین است و همین است (If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!)[38]

Durrani Empire

Shujah Shah Durrani, the last Durrani King, sitting at his court inside the Bala Hissar.
Chihil Sutun Palace (also known as "Hindaki"), the Emir's residence, built in the 19th century

Nine years after Nader Shah and his forces invaded and occupied the city as part of the more easternmost parts of his Empire, he was assassinated by his own officers, causing the rapid disintegration of it. Ahmad Shah Durrani, commander of 4,000 Abdali Afghans, asserted Pashtun rule in 1747 and further expanded his new Afghan Empire. His ascension to power marked the beginning of Afghanistan. His son Timur Shah Durrani, after inheriting power, transferred the capital of Afghanistan from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776,[39] and used Peshawar in what is today Pakistan as the winter capital. Timur Shah died in 1793 and was succeeded by his son Zaman Shah Durrani. Kabul's first visitor from Europe was Englishman George Forster, who described 18th-century Kabul as "the best and cleanest city in South Asia".[16]

In 1826, the kingdom was claimed by Dost Mohammad Khan but in 1839 Shujah Shah Durrani was re-installed with the help of British India during the First Anglo-Afghan War. In 1841 a local uprising resulted in the killing of the British resident and loss of mission in Kabul and the 1842 retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad. In 1842 the British returned to Kabul, plundering Bala Hissar in revenge before fleeing back to British India (now Pakistan). Akbar Khan took to the throne from 1842 to 1845 and was followed by Dost Mohammad Khan.

The British-led Indian forces invaded in 1879 when Kabul was under Sher Ali Khan's rule, as the Afghan king initially refused to accept British diplomatic mission and later the British residents were again massacred. The British partially destroyed Bala Hissar fortress before retreating to British India.

20th century

Having become an established bazaar city, leather and textile industries developed by 1916.[40] The majority of the population was concentrated on the south side of the river.

Kabul gradually modernized throughout the regime of King Habibullah Khan, with the introduction of electricity, telephone, and a postal service.[41] The first modern high school, Habibia, was established in 1903. In 1919, after the Third Anglo-Afghan War, King Amanullah Khan announced Afghanistan's independence from foreign affairs at Eidgah Mosque in Kabul. Amanullah was reform-minded and he had a plan to build a new capital city on land about 6 km away from Kabul. This area was named Darulaman and it consisted of the famous Darul Aman Palace, where he later resided. Many educational institutions were founded in Kabul during the 1920s. In 1929 King Ammanullah left Kabul due to a local uprising orchestrated by Habibullah Kalakani, but he himself was imprisoned and executed after nine months in power by King Nader Khan. Three years later, in 1933, the new king was assassinated during an award ceremony inside a school in Kabul. The throne was left to his 19-year-old son, Zahir Shah, who became the last King of Afghanistan. Unlike Amanullah Khan, Nader Khan and Zahir Shah had no plans to create a new capital city, and thus Kabul remained the country's seat of government.

The famous Darul Aman Palace, built under King Amanullah Khan as part of an incompleted new capital city
Serena Hotel, opened 1945

During the inter-war period France and Germany worked to help develop the country and maintained high schools and lycees in the capital, providing education for the children of the city's elite families.[42] Kabul University opened in 1932 and by the 1960s western educated Afghans made up the majority of teachers.[43] By the 1960s the majority of instructors at the university had degrees from Western universities.[43]

When Zahir Shah took power in 1933 Kabul had the only 10 kilometers (6 miles) of rail in the country and the country had few internal telegraphs, phone lines or roads. Zahir turned to the Japanese, Germans and Italians for help developing a modern transportation and communication network.[44] A radio tower built by the Germans in 1937 in Kabul allowing instant communication with outlying villages.[45] A national bank and state cartels were organized to allow for economic modernization.[46] Textile mills, power plants, carpet and furniture factories were also built in Kabul, providing much needed manufacturing and infrastructure.[46]

During the 1940s and 1950s, urbanization accelerated and the built-up area was increased to 68 km² by 1962, an almost fourteen-fold increase compared to 1925.[47] Under the premiership of Mohammad Daoud Khan in the 1950s, foreign investment and development increased. In 1955, the Soviet Union forwarded $100 million in credit to Afghanistan, which financed public transportation, airports, a cement factory, mechanized bakery, a five-lane highway from Kabul to the Soviet border and dams, including the Salang Pass to the north of Kabul.[48] During the 1960s, Soviet-style microrayon housing estates were built, containing sixty blocks. The government also built many ministry buildings in the brutalist architecture style.[49]

Men and women entering a public transport bus in the 1950s.

In the 1960s the first Marks & Spencer store in Central Asia was built in the city. Kabul Zoo was inaugurated in 1967, which was maintained with the help of visiting German zoologists. Many foreigners began flocking to Kabul and the nation's tourism industry was starting to pick up speed. Kabul experimented with liberalization, notably the loosening of restrictions on speech and assembly which led to student politics in the capital.[50] Socialist, Maoist and liberal factions demonstrated daily in Kabul while more traditional Islamic leaders spoke out against the failure to aid the Afghan countryside.[50] From the 1960s until the late 1970s, Kabul was a major stop on the famous Hippie trail.[51]

Flats in "Old Mikrorayon", one of the city's Soviet-style microdistricts built between the 1960s and 1980s

In the early 1970s Radio Kabul began to broadcast in other languages besides Pashto which helped to unify those minorities that often felt marginalized.[citation needed] However this was put to a stop after Daoud Khan, the King's cousin and former Prime Minister, launched a coup in July 1973[52] which deposed the King and took over power. This was supported by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), a pro-Soviet political party. Daoud named himself President and planned to institute reforms.[53] The BBC has described the period before the April 1978 Revolution as an era when different ethnic groups of Afghanistan lived together harmoniously, intermarried and mixed socially.[16]

Soviet occupation

Street scene in Kabul in 1978, some time after the Saur Revolution
Center of Kabul in 1979; the Pul-e Khishti bridge crosses the Kabul River to the old city in the south bank

On April 28, 1978, President Daoud and most of his family were assassinated in Kabul, in what is called the Saur Revolution. Pro-Soviet PDPA under Nur Muhammad Taraki seized power and slowly began to institute reforms.[54] Private businesses were nationalized in the Soviet manner.[55] Education was modified into the Soviet model, with lessons focusing on teaching Russian, Marxism-Leninism and learning of other countries belonging to the Soviet bloc.[55] Foreign-backed rebel groups and army deserters took up arms in the name of Islam.[55]

In February 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was murdered after Afghan security forces burst in on his kidnappers. In neighboring Pakistan, President Zulfiqar Bhutto was executed in April 1979. In September 1979 Afghan President Taraki was assassinated by his rival Hafizullah Amin, who in turn was assassinated in December 1979 by a team of Soviet Spetsnaz inside the Tajbeg Palace in Kabul.[56] On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Kabul was heavily occupied by Soviet Armed Forces. Following this invasion, Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq chaired a meeting in Islamabad and was told by several cabinet members to refrain from interfering in Afghanistan, owing to the vastly superior military power of the Soviet Union.[57] However, Zia-ul-Haq, fearing that the Soviets may be advancing into Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, made no secret about his intentions of aiding the mujahideen rebel groups. During this meeting, Director-General of the ISI Akhtar Abdur Rahman advocated for the idea of covert operation in Afghanistan by arming the Islamic extremists.[57] General Rahman was heard loudly saying: "Kabul must burn! Kabul must burn!",[58] and mastered the idea of proxy war in Afghanistan.[57] President Zia-ul-Haq authorised this operation under General Rahman, and it was later merged with Operation Cyclone, a programme funded by the United States. Major protests against the Soviet presence broke out in Kabul in 1980 in what is called the 3 Hut uprising.

Tajbeg Palace in 1982, when it was the Red Army headquarters during the Soviet-Afghan War

The Soviets turned the city of Kabul into their command center during the Soviet-Afghan War. Kabul was considered moderately safe during that period as it was essentially a guerrilla war with fighting mostly taking place in the countryside. During this time, women made up 40% of the workforce.[59] However political crime such as assassinations of PDPA party members or guerrilla attacks on military and government targets were quite common. The Soviet Embassy, for example, was attacked four times with arms fire in the first five years of the war. In 1983, a report from Izvestia said that most public places such as hospitals and state banks had "people with guns in their hands", which was not the case before 1979. A Western correspondent revisiting Kabul in December 1983 after a year, said that the city was "converted into a fortress bristling with weapons".[60] Contrastingly, American diplomat Charles Dunbar said that the Soviet troops' presence was "surprisingly modest". He said in a July 1983 article that whilst Soviet troops are a common sight, they "do not give the impression of invaders who are enforcing their occupation at the point of a bayonet". Soviet men and women were very common in the city's shopping roads, with the large availability of Western products.[61] An December 1983 article from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, where the author stayed two weeks in the city, said that the Soviet soldiers had a friendly atmosphere in which they would greet friends and have a chat with the population.[62] Most Soviet civilians (numbering between 8,000 and 10,000) lived in the north eastern Soviet-style Mikrorayon (microraion) housing complex that was surrounded by barbed-wire and armed tanks. They sometimes received abuse from anti-Soviet civilians on the streets.[63] The mujahideen rebels managed to strike at the city a few times - on October 9, 1987, a car bomb planted by a mujahideen group killed 27 people, and on April 27, 1988 in celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Saur Revolution, a truck bomb killed six people.[64]

The city's population increased from around 500,000 in 1978 to 1.5 million in 1988.[65] The large influx were mostly internal refugees who fled other parts of the country for safety in Kabul.

Civil war and Taliban era

Kabul's Jadayi Maiwand in 1993 during the civil war.

After the fall of Najibullah's[66] government in April 1992, leaders of the different mujahideen factions created a new government under the Peshawar Accords, but Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's party refused to sign the accords and started shelling the city for power, which soon escelated into a full-scale conflict. This marked the start of a dark period of the city: at least 30,000 civilians were killed.[67] About 80 percent of the city was devastated and destroyed by 1996.[68][69] The old city and western areas were among the worst-hit. A New York Times analyst said in 1996 that the city was more devastated than Sarajevo, which was similarly damaged during the Bosnian War at the time.[70]

The city suffered heavily under a bombardment campaign between rival militias which intensified during the summer of 1992. Its geographic location in a narrow valley made it an easy target from rockets fired by militias who based themselves in the surrounding mountains. Initially the factions in the city aligned to fight off Hekmatyar's forces, but diplomacy inside the capital quickly broke down.[71] For the following two years in particular, much of Kabul would be laid to waste, the majority of infrastructure destroyed, a massive exodus of the population leaving to the countryside or abroad, and electricity and water completely out. In late 1994, bombardment of the capital came to a temporary halt.[72][73][74] These forces took steps to restore law and order. Courts started to work again, convicting individuals inside government troops who had committed crimes.[75]

On September 26, 1996 when the Taliban prepared a major offensive, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the government's military leader, ordered a full retreat from Kabul and fled north.[76] The next day the Taliban seized Kabul and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They imposed a strict form of Sharia (Islamic law), restricting women from work and education.[77] They also conducted amputations against common thieves. Their hit-squads from the infamous "Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice" watched the streets conducting public beatings of people.[77] During the hardline Taliban regime, Kabul was a deserted city with many residents having long left, most infrastructure destroyed and little to no education or public services

21st century

An American soldier standing with children at Freedom Circle (2011)

In November 2001, the Northern Alliance captured Kabul after the Taliban had abandoned it following the American invasion. A month later a new government under President Hamid Karzai began to assemble. In the meantime, a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was deployed in Afghanistan. The war-torn city began to see some positive development as many expatriate Afghans returned to the country. The city's population grew from about 500,000 in 2001 to over 3 million in recent years. Many foreign embassies re-opened, and the city has been recovering ever since.

As of 2014, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have been in charge of security in and around the city. Kabul is periodically the scene of deadly bombings carried out mostly by the Taliban but also by the Haqqani network, ISIL, and other anti-state groups.[78][79][80][81] Government employees, soldiers and ordinary civilians have all been targets of attacks.[82][83][84][85][86] The Afghan government called the actions of the terrorists war crimes. The deadliest attack yet was a truck bombing in May 2017.

The city has experienced rapid urbanization with an increasing population. Many informal settlements have been build.[87] Since the late 2000s, numerous modern housing complexes have been built, many of which are gated and secured, to serve a growing Afghan middle class.[88] Some of these include the Aria City (in District 10) and Golden City (District 8).[89][90] Some complexes have been built out-of-town, such as the Omid-e-Sabz township (District 13), Qasaba/Khwaja Rawash township (District 15), and Sayed Jamaludin township (District 12).[91][92][93]

A major ambitious $80 billion project called "Kabul New City" aims to develop a large modern township of homes and businesses on 1,700 acres of land to the north of Kabul (Districts 18 and 19) and Bagram in Parwan Province.[94][95] The project was first conceptualized in 2007 and approved in 2009. After years in planning and assistance from the Japanese government, construction started in 2015.[96]


Night scene in Kabul in 2016, with three mountains visible
Qargha dam and lake

Kabul is situated in the eastern part of the country, 1,791 meters (5,876 feet) above sea level in a narrow valley, wedged between the Hindu Kush mountains along the Kabul River. Immediately to the south of the old city are the ancient city walls and the Sher Darwaza mountain, with the Shuhadayi Salihin cemetery behind it. A bit further east is the ancient Bala Hissar fortress with the Kol-e Hasmat Khan lake behind it.

Its location has been described as a "bowl surrounded by mountains".[97] Some of the mountains (which are called koh) include: Khair Khana-e Shamali, Khwaja Rawash, Shakhi Baran Tey, Chihil Sutun, Qurugh, Khwaja Razaq and Sher Darwaza. There are also two mountains in between urban areas in western Kabul: Asamayi (also known as the Television hill) and Ali Abad. Hills within the city (which are called tapa) include Bibi Mahro and Maranjan.

The city covers an area size of 1,023 square kilometres (395 sq mi), making it by far the largest in the country.


Kabul has a cold semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSk) with precipitation concentrated in the winter (almost exclusively falling as snow) and spring months. Temperatures are relatively cool compared to much of Southwest Asia, mainly due to the high elevation of the city. Summer has very low humidity, providing relief from the heat. Autumn features warm afternoons and sharply cooler evenings. Winters are cold, with a January daily average of −2.3 °C (27.9 °F). Spring is the wettest time of the year, though temperatures are generally amiable. Sunny conditions dominate year-round. The annual mean temperature is 12.1 °C (53.8 °F), much lower than the other large cities of Afghanistan.

Climate data for Kabul (1956–1983)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 18.8
Average high °C (°F) 4.5
Daily mean °C (°F) −2.3
Average low °C (°F) −7.1
Record low °C (°F) −25.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 34.3
Average rainy days 2 3 10 11 8 1 2 1 1 2 4 3 48
Average snowy days 7 6 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 20
Average relative humidity (%) 68 70 65 61 48 36 37 38 39 42 52 63 52
Mean monthly sunshine hours 177.2 178.6 204.5 232.5 310.3 353.4 356.8 339.7 303.9 282.6 253.2 182.4 3,175.1
Source: NOAA[98]


The Kabul River flows through the heart of the city, dividing the central bazaars. There are several bridges (pul) crossing the river, the major ones being Pul-e Shah-Do Shamshira, Pul-e Bagh-e Omomi, Pul-e Khishti, and Pul-e Mahmoud. Due to climate change, since the 21st century, the river runs dry most of the year, only filling up in the wetter winter and spring seasons.[99]

A large lake and wetland is located just to the southeast from the old city called Kol-e Hashmat Khan.[100] The marsh provides a critical resting place to thousands of birds who fly between the Indian subcontinent and Siberia. In 2017 the government declared the lake a protected area.[101] Some rare species of birds have been spotted at the lake, such as the Eastern imperial eagle and the Dalmatian pelican.[102] Kabul's other large lake is Qargha, located some 9 km northwest from the center. It is a major attraction for locals as well as foreigners.[103]


Young Afghan men and women at a rock music festival inside the Gardens of Babur.
Young 'Kabulites' in downtown Kabul in 1980

Kabul's population was estimated in 2015 at about 4.6 million,[1] which possibly includes the people of the province as well. Another 2015 estimate has put it at 3,678,034.[104] The city's population has long fluctuated due to the wars. The lack of an up-to-date census means that there are many various estimates of the population.

Kabul's population is estimated to have been about 10,000 in 1700, 65,000 by 1878, and 120,000 by 1940.[105] More recently, the population was around 500,000 in 1979, whilst another source claims 337,715 as of 1976.[106] This figure rose to about 1.5 million by 1988, before dramatically dropping in the 1990s. Kabul became one of the fastest growing cities in the world, with its population growing fourfold from 2001 to 2014. This was partly due to the return of refugees after the fall of the Taliban regime, and partly due to a large number of Afghans moving from other provinces mainly due to war between Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces in their native areas as well as looking for labor. This resulting rapid urbanization mean that many residents today live in informal settlements.[107] Shanty mud-brick homes on the mountainsides and steep hills have been built by them and these are usually poverty-stricken, not connected to the water and electricity grid. Although the settlements are illegal, they have been tolerated by authorities. In 2017 Kabul Municipality started a project to paint the homes in these settlements in bright colors in an effort to "cheer up" residents.[108][109]

Kabul is the most ethnically diverse city in the country, with the population including Afghans from all over the country.[110] In 2003, the National Geographic Channel reported that Kabul's population was composed of the following ethnic groups: 45% Tajik, 25% Hazara, 25% Pashtun, 2% Uzbek, 1% Baloch, 1% Turkmen, and 1% Afghan Hindu.[2] The Dari (Persian) and Pashto languages are widely used in the region, although Dari serves as the lingua franca. Multilingualism is common throughout the area, particularly among the Pashtun people.

The term "Kabuli" (کابلی) is referred to the heterogeneous urbanites of the city. They are ethnic-neutral, typically speak Dari (Persian), are generally secularly and highly educated, and favor Western fashion. Many Kabulites (especially elites and the upper class) left the country during the civil war and are now outnumbered by rural people who moved in from the countryside, mostly refugees but also labor-seekers.[111][112][113]

About 74% of the city's population follow Sunni Islam while 25% are Shiites (mainly the Hazaras). The remaining 1% are followers of Sikhism and Hinduism, as well as one known Christian resident (First Lady Rula Ghani) and one Jewish resident (Zablon Simintov). There are other Christians too but they are from international organizations rather than permanent residents. Kabul also has small Indian and Turkish communities, and in the 1980s had a sizable Russian community.


Location of Kabul Municipality within Kabul Province
c. 1980 map showing public places in the city of Kabul
The Bibi Mahro family park, northern Kabul

The city of Kabul forms one of the 15 districts of Kabul Province. As the provincial capital, it forms a municipality (shārwāli) which is further divided into 22 administrative districts called city districts or "Police Districts" (nāhia). The number of city districts increased from 11 to 18 in 2005, and then to 22 by 2010 after the incorporations of Districts 14 and 19-22 which were annexed by Kabul Municipality from surrounding rural districts. The city limits have thus substantionally increased. Due to demarcation disputes with the provincial administration, some of these new districts are more administered by the provincial districts than the municipality.

District 1 contains most of the old city. Downtown Kabul mostly consist of Districts 2, 4 and 10. In addition, Districts 3 and 6 house many commercial and governmental points of interests.[114] The city's north and west are the most urbanized, as opposed to the south and east.

The table below show the 22 city districts and their settlements, with information about its land size and usage, accurate as of 2011.[115]

Name Location Settlements Area Urban area Agricultural area Vacant area Location map
District 1
ناحیه ۱
Central Char Chata
Kharabat (street)
Jadayi Maiwand (street)
Mandawi (street)
Rika Khana
Shur Bazar
4.67 km² 65.3% ~0% 18.9% Kabul City District 1.png
District 2
ناحیه ۲
Central Andarabi
Deh Afghanan
Karte Ariana
Karte Parwan (part)
Murad Khane
Shash Darak (part)
6.76 km² 72.6% 0% 7.3% Kabul City District 2.png
District 3
ناحیه ۳
West Deh Bori
Deh Mazang
Deh Naw
Jamal Mina
Karte Char
Karte Mamorin (part)
Karte Sakhi
Silo (street, part)
9.22 km² 82% 0.6% 8.8% Kabul City District 3.png
District 4
ناحیه ۴
Northwest Karte Parwan (part)
Kolola Pushta
Shahr-e Naw
11.63 km² 83.1% 1% 6% Kabul City District 4.png
District 5
ناحیه ۵
West Afshar
Fazel Baig
Karte Mamorin (part)
Khushal Khan Mena
Kote Sangi/Mirwais Maidan
Silo (street, part)
Qala-e Wazir
29.2 km² 49.6% 14% 30.9% Kabul City District 5.png
District 6
ناحیه ۶
Southwest Darulaman
Karte Seh
Qala-e Shada
49.1 km² 32.5% 13.5% 50.8% Kabul City District 6.png
District 7
ناحیه ۷
South Aqa Ali Shams
Chihil Sutun
Deh Dana
Gozar Gah
Wassel Abad
32.5 km² 46.8% 17% 31.6% Kabul City District 7.png
District 8
ناحیه ۸
Southeast Beni Hisar
Karte Naw
Rahman Mina
Shah Shahid
48.4 km² 33.7% 33.9% 25.1% Kabul City District 8.png
District 9
ناحیه ۹
Northeast Karte Wali
Mikrorayon (2nd, 3rd, 4th)
Shash Darak (part)
Yaka Tut
24.5 km² 48.4% 29.7% 13.7% Kabul City District 9.png
District 10
ناحیه ۱۰
North Bibi Mahro
Char Qala
Qala-e Fathullah
Qala-e Musa
Wazir Akbar Khan
13.0 km² 75.3% 10.8% 5.6% Kabul City District 10.png
District 11
ناحیه ۱۱
Northwest Hazara-e Baghal
Khair Khana
Qala-e Najara
17.4 km² 75.4% 0% 21% Kabul City District 11.png
District 12
ناحیه ۱۲
East Ahmad Shah Baba Mina/Arzan Qimat
But Khak
34.8 km² 33.2% 42.8% 21.7% Kabul City District 12.png
District 13
ناحیه ۱۳
Southwest Bist Hazari
Dashte Barchi
Omid-e Sabz (township)
46.6 km² 32% 23.5% 40.2% Kabul City District 13.png
District 14
ناحیه ۱۴
Northwest Paghman 120.1 km² 8.6% 47% 24.6% Kabul City District 14.png
District 15
ناحیه ۱۵
North Hamid Karzai Int'l (airfield)
Khaje Bughra
Khwaja Rawash
Qasaba (township)
32.1 km² 32.2% 7.5% 33% Kabul City District 15.png
District 16
ناحیه ۱۶
East Mikrorayon (1st/Old)
Qala-e Zaman Khan
Sement Khana
25.2 km² 37.1% 33.2% 24.1% Kabul City District 16.png
District 17
ناحیه ۱۷
Northwest Shakar Dara 56.0 km² 16.7% 9.5% 72% Kabul City District 17.png
District 18
ناحیه ۱۸
Northeast Bakhtiaran
Deh Sabz
Tara Khel
33.9 km² 19.4% 40.2% 29.2% Kabul City District 18.png
District 19
ناحیه ۱۹
Northeast Pul-e Charkhi
141.4 km² 8.1% 0.05% 77.4% Kabul City District 19.png
District 20
ناحیه ۲۰
South Char Asiab 143.6 km² 4.1% 17.7% 71.1% Kabul City District 20.png
District 21
ناحیه ۲۱
East (Populated by Kuchi nomads) 63.9 km² 1.5% 2.7% 88.1% Kabul City District 21.png
District 22
ناحیه ۲۲
Southeast Shewaki 79.0 km² 6.5% 24.6% 62.2% Kabul City District 22.png

Places of interest

Each year about 20,000 foreign tourists visit Afghanistan.[116] Major hotels in Kabul include; the Serena Hotel, the Inter-Continental, and the Safi Landmark Hotel above the Kabul City Center. There are a number of other less-known hotels. Most visitors prefer lodging at guest houses, which are found all over the city. The better and safer ones are in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood where the embassies are located.

The old part of Kabul is filled with bazaars nestled along its narrow, crooked streets. Cultural sites include: the National Museum of Afghanistan, notably displaying an impressive statue of Surya excavated at Khair Khana, the ruined Darul Aman Palace, the tomb of Mughal Emperor Babur at Bagh-e Babur, and Chihil Sutun Park, the Minar-i-Istiqlal (Column of Independence) built in 1919 after the Third Afghan War, the tomb of Timur Shah Durrani, the Bagh-e Bala Palace and the imposing Id Gah Mosque (founded 1893). Bala Hissar is a fort destroyed by the British in 1879, in retaliation for the death of their envoy, now restored as a military college. There are also the Kolola Pushta fort, which is still garrisoned by the Afghan Army, and the nearby 19th-century Shahrara Tower fort, which was ruined in 1928. The Minaret of Chakari, destroyed in 1998, had Buddhist swastika and both Mahayana and Theravada qualities.

Other places of interest include Kabul City Center, which is Kabul's first shopping mall, the shops around Flower Street and Chicken Street, Wazir Akbar Khan district, Kabul Golf Club, Kabul Zoo, Abdul Rahman Mosque, Shah-Do Shamshira and other famous mosques, the National Gallery of Afghanistan, the National Archives of Afghanistan, Afghan Royal Family Mausoleum, the OMAR Mine Museum, Bibi Mahro Hill, Kabul Cemetery, and Paghman Gardens. The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) was also involved in the restoration of the Bagh-e Babur (Babur Gardens).

Tappe-i-Maranjan is a nearby hill where Buddhist statues and Graeco-Bactrian coins from the 2nd century BC have been found. Outside the city proper is a citadel and the royal palace. Paghman and Jalalabad are interesting valleys north and east of the city.

National Gallery of Afghanistan

Government and politics

Arg, the Presidential Palace in Kabul

The municipality's administrative structure consists of 17 departments under a mayor. Like other provincial municipalities in Afghanistan, the municipality of Kabul deals with city affairs such as construction and infrastructure. The city districts (nāhia) collect certain taxes and issue building licenses. Each city district has a district head appointed by the mayor, and leads six major departments in the district office. The neighborhood organization structure at the nahia level is called a gozar. A wakil-e gozar is a person chosen to represent a community within a city district.

The current mayor of Kabul Municipality is Abdullah Habibzai who was appointed in May 2016 as the acting mayor.

Kabul's Chief of Police is Lt. Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi. The police are part of the Afghan National Police (ANP) under the Ministry of Interior and are arranged by city districts. The Police Chief is selected by the Interior Minister and is responsible for all law enforcement activities throughout the Kabul province.

Economy and infrastructure

A commercial area in the city
Dry food in one of Kabul's markets

Kabul's main products include fresh and dried fruit, nuts, beverages, Afghan rugs, leather and sheep skin products, furniture, antique replicas, and domestic clothes. The world bank authorized US$25 million for the Kabul Urban Reconstruction Project which closed in 2011.[117] Over the last decade, the United States has invested approximately $9.1 billion into urban infrastructure in Afghanistan.[118][119] The wars since 1978 have limited the city's economic productivity but after the establishment of the Karzai administration since late 2001, local economic developments have included a number of indoor shopping malls. The first of these was the Kabul City Center, opened 2005. Others have also opened in recent years including Gulbahar Center, City Walk Mall and Majid Mall.[120][121]

Kabul's largest industrial hub is located in District 9, on the north banks of the River Kabul and near the airport.[122] About 6 km (4 mi) from downtown Kabul, in Bagrami, a 9-hectare (22-acre) industrial complex has completed with modern facilities, which will allow companies to operate businesses there. The park has professional management for the daily maintenance of public roads, internal streets, common areas, parking areas, 24 hours perimeter security, access control for vehicles and persons.[123] A number of factories operate there, including the $25 million Coca-Cola bottling plant and the Omaid Bahar juice factory.

Inside an antiquity shop in Kabul's famous Chicken Street (Kochi Murgha)

According to Transparency International, the government of Afghanistan is the third most-corrupt in the world.[124] Experts believe that the poor decisions of Afghan politicians contribute to the unrest in the region. This also prevents foreign investment in Afghanistan, especially by Western countries. In 2012, there were reportedly $3.9 billion paid to public officials in bribes which contributed to these issues.[125]

Da Afghanistan Bank, the nation's central bank, is headquartered in Kabul. In addition, there are several commercial banks in the city.[126]

Development planning

A $1 billion USD contract was signed in 2013 to commence work on the "New Kabul City", which is a major residential scheme that would accommodate 1.5 million people.[127][128] In the meantime, many high rise buildings are being constructed in order to control the overcrowding and also to modernize the city.[129]

An initial concept design called the City of Light Development, envisioned by Dr. Hisham N. Ashkouri, for the development and the implementation of a privately based investment enterprise has been proposed for multi-function commercial, historic and cultural development within the limits of the Old City of Kabul, along the southern side of the Kabul River and along Jade Meywand Avenue,[130]


Studio of Radio Kabul in the 1950s

As of November 2015, there are more than 24 television stations based out of Kabul.[131]

In Kabul, Minister Amir Zai Sangin of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology maintains statistics regarding telecommunications in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Afghanistan Information Management Services (AIMS) provides software development, capacity development, information management, and project management services to the Afghan Government and other NGOs, thereby supporting their on-the-ground activities.

GSM/GPRS mobile phone services in the city are provided by Afghan Wireless, Etisalat, Roshan, MTN and Salaam. As of 2012, all of them provide 3G services as well. In November 2006, the Afghan Ministry of Communications signed a $64.5 million US dollar deal with ZTE on the establishment of a countrywide fibre optical cable network to help improve telephone, internet, television and radio broadcast services not just in Kabul but throughout the country.[132] Internet cafes were introduced in 2002 and has been expanding throughout the country. As of 2012, 3G services are also available.

There are a number of post offices throughout the city. Package delivery services like FedEx, TNT N.V., and DHL are also available.


Flightline at Hamid Karzai International Airport (Kabul International Airport)


The Hamid Karzai International Airport (Kabul International Airport) is located 25 km (16 mi) from the center of Kabul, which has always served as the country's main airport. It is a hub to Ariana Afghan Airlines, the national carrier of Afghanistan, as well as private airlines such as Afghan Jet International, East Horizon Airlines, Kam Air, Pamir Airways, and Safi Airways. Regional airlines such as Air India, SpiceJet, flydubai, Emirates, Gulf Air, Mahan Air, Pakistan International Airlines, Turkish Airlines and others also have regularly scheduled flights to the airport. A new international terminal was built by the government of Japan and began operation in 2008.


Kabul has no train service currently, but the government has proposed the building of rail lines or a metro rail in the future.[citation needed] Kabul's only railway service, the Kabul–Darulaman Tramway, operated for only six years from 1923 to 1929. As part of the approved major Deh Sabz "Kabul New City" development project that kicked off in 2015, a light rail service is being planned during the mid-term development period.[133]


Traffic in Kabul city center in 2013

The AH76 highway (or Kabul-Charikar Highway) connects Kabul north towards Charikar, Pol-e Khomri and Mazar-i-Sharif (310 km (190 mi) away), with leading roads to Kunduz (250 km (160 mi) away). The AH77 highway goes west towards Bamiyan Province (150 km (93 mi) away) and Chaghcharan in the central mountains of Afghanistan. To the south-west, the Kabul-Ghazni Highway goes to Ghazni (130 km (81 mi) away) and Kandahar (460 km (290 mi) away). To the south, the Kabul-Gardez Highway connects it to Gardez (100 km (62 mi) away) and Khost. To the east, the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway goes to Jalalabad (120 km (75 mi) away) and across the border to Peshawar.

View towards Kabul in June 1976

Much of the road network in downtown Kabul consist of square or circle intersections (char-rahi). The main square in the city is Pashtunistan Square (named after Pashtunistan), which has a large fountain in it and is located adjacent to the presidential palace, the Central Bank, and other landmarks.[134] The Massoud Circle is located by the U.S. Embassy and has the road leading to the airport. In the old city, Sar-e Chawk roundabout is at the center of Maiwand Road (Jadayi Maiwand). Once all roads led to it, and in the 16th century was called the "navel of Kabul".[135] In the Shahr-e Naw district there are several major intersections: Ansari, Haji Yaqub, Quwayi Markaz, Sedarat, and Turabaz Khan. The latter, named after Turabaz Khan, connect Flower Street and Chicken Street. There are also two major intersections in western Kabul: the Deh Mazang Circle and Kote Sangi. Salang Watt is the main road to the north-west, whereas Asamayi Watt and Seh Aqrab (also called Sevom Aqrab) is the main road to western Kabul.

The steep population rise in the 21st century has caused major congestion problems for the city's roads.[136] In efforts to tackle this issue, a 95 km outer ring road costing $110 million was approved in 2017.[137][138] Construction will take five years and it will run from Char Asiab via Ahmad Shah Baba Mina, Deh Sabz ("Kabul New City" development area), the AH76 highway, Paghman and back to Char Asyab.[139] A new bus public transport service is also planned to be opened in 2018 (see below).[140] In September 2017, the head of the Kabul Municipality announced that 286 meters of pedestrian overpass footbridges will be built in eight busy areas "in the near future".[141]

Under the Kabul Urban Transport Efficiency Improvement Project that was signed in 2014 and backed by the World Bank, the city has seen widespread improvements in road conditions, including the building of new pedestrian sidewalks, drainage systems, lighting and asphalted road surfaces. The project runs until December 31, 2019.[142][143]

A Toyota Corolla (E100) at a security checkpoint in 2010

Private vehicles have been on the rise in Kabul since 2002, with about 700,000 cars registered as of 2013 and up to 80% of the cars reported to be Toyota Corollas.[144][145][146] The number of dealerships have also increased from 77 in 2003 to over 550 by 2010.[147] Gas stations are mainly private-owned. Bicycles on the road are a common sight in the city.


The taxicabs in Kabul are painted in a white and yellow livery. The majority of these are older model Corollas. A few Soviet-era Russian cabs are also still in operation.

Buses and trolleybuses

Long distance road journeys are made by private Mercedes-Benz coach buses or various types of vans, trucks and cars. Although a nationwide bus service is available from Kabul, flying is safer, especially for foreigners. The city's public bus service (Millie Bus / "National Bus") was established in the 1960s to take commuters on daily routes to many destinations. The service currently has about 800 buses. The Kabul bus system has recently discovered a new source of revenue in whole-bus advertising from MTN similar to "bus wrap" advertising on public transit in more developed nations. There is also an express bus that runs from downtown to Hamid Karzai International Airport for Safi Airways passengers.

An electric trolleybus system operated in Kabul from February 1979 to 1992 using Škoda fleet built by a Czechoslovak company (see Trolleybuses in Kabul for more). The trolleybus service was highly popular mainly due to its low price compared to the Millie Bus conventional bus service. The last trolleybus came to a halt in late 1992 due to warfare - much of the copper overhead wires were later looted but a few of them, including the steel poles, can still be seen in Kabul today.[106][148]

In June 2017 Kabul Municipality unveiled plans for a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system (referred to as "Metro Bus"), the first major urban public transportation scheme. The initial route of 8 km will run from the downtown Deh Afghanan district via the Salang Watt Road to Sara-e Shamali in the north-west. The second phase would connect Deh Afghanan westwards to Kote Sangi via Sevom Aqrab Road and Karte Char. Work is underway for a 2018 opening. In the next phases the service will expand to about 111 km by 2020, including covering Dashte Barchi in the west, Darulaman in the south, and Karte Naw in the east.[149][150][151]


The Ministry of Education led by Ghulam Farooq Wardak is responsible for the education system in Afghanistan.[152] Public and private schools in the city have reopened since 2002 after they were shut down or destroyed during fighting in the 1980s to the late 1990s. Boys and girls are strongly encouraged to attend school under the Karzai administration but many more schools are needed not only in Kabul but throughout the country. The Afghan Ministry of Education has plans to build more schools in the coming years so that education is provided to all citizens of the country. The most well known high schools in Kabul include:


The city's colleges and universities were renovated after 2002. Some of them have been developed recently, while others have existed since the early 20th century.

Health care

Health care in Afghanistan is relatively poor. The wealthy Afghans usually go abroad when seeking treatment. Presently, there are several hospitals in Kabul which include;

Twin towns – sister cities

See also

References and footnotes

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Further reading

External links