The largely Uzbek and Tajik town of Kunduz lies amid rich agricultural land, and is one of Afghanistan’s most stable and thriving towns. The well-watered plains that surround it are ideal for growing rice, while the dusty loess hills to the north near the Tajikistan border turn emerald green at the first hint of the spring rains. Although there are few attractions to see in the town, it’s a relaxing place to rest up on the road and a useful hub for those aiming for Badakh- shan or Tajikistan.
Not all travellers’ reports have been so favourable. In The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron approvingly quotes a proverb of the time stating that ‘a visit to Kunduz is tantamount to suicide’. When north Afghanistan fractured into city-states in the early 19th century, Kunduz was ruled by the slave-raiding Murad Beg. He was the most powerful and murderous of the northern khans, dealing with Kabul and Bukhara as equals. And if the slavers didn’t get you, the fever-ridden marshes probably would. Malaria remains a problem in the area today.
Many settlers didn’t come to Kunduz by choice either. The town has a large Pashtun minority, Ghilzais from the east who were forcibly relocated here in the 1890s as part of Abdur Rahman Khan’s plans to weaken his tribal enemies. Thirty years later the population exploded again with an influx of Uzbek and Tajiks fleeing the expanding Soviet presence in Central Asia.
Kunduz was the scene of fierce resistance by the Taliban in November 2001 and was the first base for the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) mandate outside Kabul, with a German-run Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Although largely peaceful today, the Hezb-e Islami party has a sizeable presence in the area – Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was born in the province – and there have been occasional incidents involving anti-government violence.