Mazar-i-Sharif is the Regional Hub located in the northern region in close proximity to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Mazar-i-Sharif has the highest percentage of built-up land (91%) of all the Afghani provincial capitals, and it has additional built-up area extending beyond the municipal boundary but forming a part of the larger urban area.
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 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 Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in the city has been heavily used during the 1980s Soviet war and the latest 2001-present war.
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 Mazar-i-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 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-i-Sharif.
The Mazar-i-Sharif means "the noble shrine". This name represents the Blue Mosque which is widely known to be the grave of Ali (Muhammad's son-in-law).
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 hundred years until 1979, when the Musahiban dynasty was left powerless due to the planned murder of Sardar Doud Khan, and the 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 militia 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.
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 Taliban prisoners after inviting them into Mazar-i-Sharif." Several of the Taliban escaped the slaughtering and reported what had happened.
The Taliban retaliated in 1998 attacking the city and killing an estimated 8,000. At 10 am on 8 August 1998, the Taliban entered the city and for the next two days drove their pickup trucks "up and down the narrow streets of Mazar-i-Sharif shooting to the left and right and killing everything that moved—shop owners, cart pullers, women and children shoppers and even goats and donkeys." More than 8000 noncombatants were reported killed in Mazar-i-Sharif and later in Bamiyan. In addition, the Taliban were criticized for forbidding anyone from burying the corpses for the first six days (contrary to the injunctions of Islam, which demands immediate burial) while the remains rotted in the summer heat and were eaten by dogs. The Taliban also reportedly sought out and massacred members of the Hazara, while in control of Mazar.
Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, 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. 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. The Bush administration reportedly blocked investigations into the incident.
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.
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 and 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.
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 kilometres (6.2 miles) 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. Among the dead were five Nepalese, a Norwegian, Romanian and Swedish nationals, two of them were said to be decapitated. Terry Jones, the American pastor who was going to burn Islam's Holy Book, denied his responsibility for incitement. 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." U.S. legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also condemned both the burning and the violence in reaction to it.
By July 2011 violence became at a record high in the insurgency. 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.
On November 10, 2016 a suicide attacker rammed a truck bomb into the wall of the German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. At least four people were killed and more than one hundred others were injured.
On 21 April 2017, a coordinated Taliban attack killed more than 100 people at Camp Shaheen, the Afghan Army base in Mazar-i-Sharif.
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; it may snow from November.
The city of Mazar-i-Sharif has a total population of 693,000 (2015), and is the third largest city of Afghanistan in terms of population. It has a total land area of 8,304 Hectares with 77,615 total number of dwellings.
Mazar-i-Sharif is a multiethnic and multilingual society of around 375,000 people. 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%, Pashtun 10%, Turkmen 10%, and Uzbeks 10%. Occasional ethnic violence have been reported in the region in the last decades, mainly between Pashtuns and the other groups. Some latest news reports mentioned assassinations taking place in the area but with no evidence as to who is behind it.
The dominant language in Mazar-i-Sharif is Dari, an eastern variety of Persian, followed by Uzbek, a Turkic language. Majority of the population of Mazar-i Sharif practice Sunni Islam.
Mazar-i-Sharif serves as the major trading center in northern Afghanistan. The local economy is dominated by trade, agriculture and Karakul sheep farming. Small-scale oil and gas exploitation have also boosted the city's prospects. It is also the location of consulates of India and Pakistan for trading and political links.
It became the first city in Afghanistan to connect itself by rail with a neighboring country. Rail service from Mazar-i-Sharif to Uzbekistan began in December 2011 and cargo on freight trains arrive at a station near Mazar-i-Sharif Airport, where the goods are reloaded onto trucks or airplanes and sent to their last destinations across Afghanistan.
As of June 2016 Mazar-i-Sharif Airport had direct air connections to Kabul, Mashad, Tehran, and Istanbul.
The modern city of Mazar-i Sharif is centred around the Shrine of 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 Nowruz 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-i-Sharif to pay respect.Airports
Mazar-i-Sharif Airport - serves the population of Balkh Province and is also used by NATO-led forces, including the Afghan Air Force. It is being expanded to become the 4th international airport in Afghanistan.
Shrine of Ali
Parks and monuments
Maulana Jalaludin Cultural Park
Khalid Ibn-al Walid Park
Mazar-i-Sharif Cricket Stadium
Regional Hospital of Mazar-i-Sharif
Saleha Bayat Hospital
Afghan National Army Regional Hospital at Camp Shaheen
Serena Hotel Mazar-i-Sharif
Marco Polo hotel
Da Afghanistan Bank
Afghanistan International Bank (AIB)
Balkh Youth Conformity Association