Everything You Need to Know about Afghanistan’s Textiles Industry

The Afghan government is currently implementing initiatives to revive the country’s textile industry. In this article, we look at the history of cotton, silk, and cashmere production in Afghanistan and potential future growth in the textile sector.

Afghan Cotton

Afghanistan produces more than 59,000 tons of cottons per year. Despite this, the country’s lack of processing factories presents significant challenges. In the past, Afghanistan boasted several major textile factories in Balkh, Kabul, Baghlan, Kandahar, and Parwan provinces employing around 30,000 people, but the industry declined over the last few decades.

cotton

Currently, only 6 percent of Afghan land is being cultivated. Afghanistan is a rugged, mountainous country. Just 12 percent of the nation is composed of arable land. Despite this, more than 80 percent of Afghans rely on agriculture to make a living.

As Afghan Finance Ministry spokesman, Ajmal Hamid Abdul Rahimzai explained to the Fashion Network website, industrialists have recently campaigned to have their recommendations to revive Afghanistan’s textile industry discussed by the high economic council. Revitalizing this valuable economic sector could create economic growth throughout Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and India entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding textiles production. As per the memorandum, both countries have pledged their commitment to cooperating, developing closer economic relations, and strengthening bilateral ties in the production of textiles, cotton, clothing, handlooms, and man-made fiber.

Afghan Silk

located on the Silk Road, the Afghan city of Herat has a long history of silk production. After years of decline, Afghanistan’s silk industry is currently experiencing a revival. Silk thread is produced by silkworms. The creature is indigenous to Herat, thanks to the abundance of mulberry bushes found there. These plants provide the insects with a plentiful supply of food.

Silkworms use the silk thread they produce to build a cocoon around themselves. When unraveled, the silk fiber from just one cocoon can measure up to a mile in length. Just 8 kilograms of silkworms can produce up to 48 kilograms of cocoons. Silk collectors earn up to $140 biannually from collecting cocoons. This is a significant income in Afghanistan.

Spinners purchase silk cocoons from gatherers, using the fibers to spin silk thread. Historically, this was performed by hand. Since the process is somewhat protracted, this significantly limited a spinner’s income. Nevertheless, the advent of modern technology has led to largescale mechanization in the trade. A spinner with more than 30 years’ experience, Azatullah Amidi, explained to the Guardian that he was able to double his production thanks to the implementation of mechanized spinning equipment.

Once the thread is transferred onto bobbins, it is transported to other regions of Afghanistan, such as Mazar, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city. Another celebrated stop on the ancient Silk Route, Mazar remains an important commercial trading center.

Afghan Cashmere

The cashmere goat is one of many native animals in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Mongolia, and China. It takes a single goat up to 12 months to produce enough wool to make just one cashmere scarf. For hundreds of years, farmers in Herat have collected the thick undercoat shed by the goat every spring, throwing it on the fires used to cook food and heat their homes. It is only relatively recently that some isolated Afghan communities have learned that this fluff could be refined and spun to make a luxury product.

Cashmere

The discovery was life-changing for Mohammad Amin, a goat herder with a flock of 120. Every springtime, after his nanny goats have kids, they shed cashmere in huge handfuls. As Amin explained to AP News, buyers travel from far and wide to buy premium quality cashmere. He sells the surplus at market. With each animal yielding up to 250 grams, Mohammad Amin can earn more than $1,100 each season. This represents a sizeable income in a country where the national average is under $700 annually.

According to statistics published by the World Bank working in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development, despite the fact that 95 percent of Afghanistan’s 7 million cashmere goats could be used in cashmere production, as few as 30 percent are currently being combed for cashmere in this way. The majority of raw Afghan cashmere is purchased by Chinese intermediaries supplying low-cost clothing manufacturers.

Afghanistan ranks third in the world in terms of cashmere production. Mongolia comes second, producing 15 percent of the world’s cashmere, lagging far behind China, at 70 percent. In recognition of this lucrative market, the Afghan government recently unveiled a Cashmere Action Plan targeting the high end of the cashmere market, where just one sweater can cost anywhere up to $1,000. The strategy forms part of broader efforts enacted by the Afghan government designed to breathe new life in the country’s textile industry.

7 of the Most Amazing Landmarks in Afghanistan

Afghanistan may be no bigger than the US state of Texas, but despite its size, this ancient, land-locked country is home to an incredible array of landmarks. The country have has a unique combination of diverse and distinctive geography and a historically important position at the crossroads of several different cultures.

As a result, Afghanistan boasts some of the world’s most fascinating sites, from natural wonders to historic monuments to culturally significant places. Read on to take a tour of some of Afghanistan’s many amazing landmarks, famous and lesser-known alike.

1. The Blue Mosque

It’s not surprising that the Blue Mosque, located in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, is one of the country’s best-known landmarks. The structure is simply breathtaking, often cited by experts as one of the world’s most stunning examples of classical Islamic architecture.

The Blue Mosque is a large complex, about 22,000 square feet in area, that is home to a large prayer hall, a small museum, a courtyard, and a number of holy tombs. Its name comes from the hundreds of thousands of gorgeous, intricate tiles covering nearly every inch of the building.

2. The Herat Citadel

Located in western Afghanistan, Herat is one of the country’s most beautiful cities. The citadel at its heart is nothing short of spectacular. Dating back to approximately 330 BCE, the Herat Citadel was originally built by Alexander the Great when he arrived in Afghanistan with his army.

Over the centuries, it has undergone repeated destruction and rebuilding. Much of the present structure, which includes 18 towers over 30 meters high, connected by walls two meters thick, was built in the 1400s. Today, after extensive rehabilitation efforts supported by UNESCO and other international organizations, the citadel is home to the National Museum of Herat.

3. The Hazarchishma Natural Bridge

The fact that Afghanistan has a great deal of remote, difficult-to-access territory means that some of its most amazing landmarks have only been discovered fairly recently. Such was the case with the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge, a colossal natural stone arch located in the central highlands of the country, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

Carved over millennia by the waters that once flowed through the now dry Jawzari Canyon, the natural bridge has a total span at its base of just over 210 feet, making it the world’s 12th-largest such formation. It was discovered in late 2010 by members of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who were conducting a wildlife survey in the area.

4. The Haji Piyada Mosque (Noh Gumbad)

Northern Afghanistan’s Haji Piyada Mosque measures a mere 20 by 20 meters, but its historic and cultural significance far surpasses its size. This is because the Haji Piyada Mosque is Afghanistan’s oldest known Islamic building, as well as one of the earliest surviving structures found anywhere in the eastern Islamic world. The mosque was built in the latter half of the ninth century, just after the arrival of Islam in Central Asia and only two centuries after the religion was first established.

Its alternate name, Noh Gumbad, comes from the nine cupolas that once covered the architecturally rich religious structure. No other similar buildings from this era are believed to have survived into the present day, a fact which endows the mosque with enormous cultural and architectural importance.

5. Basawal cave temples

The Haji Piyada Mosque may hold the distinction of being Afghanistan’s oldest Islamic structure, but long before Islam came to Afghanistan, the area was home to many different cultures, including a thriving Buddhist civilization. One of the most fascinating landmarks to have survived from this era is the Basawal cave temple complex in eastern Afghanistan.

Hewn directly into the region’s rocky territory, the complex consists of seven groups of cave temples that encompass roughly 150 caves. Exploration of the area has revealed that the caves originally served different purposes, from dwellings to places of worship.

6. Darul Aman Palace

An example of a fascinating landmark from Afghanistan’s more recent history is the Darul Aman Palace. This structure sits opposite the Afghan Parliament about 10 miles southwest of the city center of Kabul.

Darul Aman Palace
Image by PJ Tavera Photography | Flickr

Constructed in the early 1920s during the reign of King Amanullah Khan, the palace was to be a symbol of a modern, hopeful future for Afghanistan. In fact, the name Darul Aman means “dwelling place of peace.”

The palace fell into disrepair during Afghanistan’s conflict years and then spent spent decades in ruins. In recent years, the palace has undergone extensive renovations and refurbishments to mark Afghanistan’s 100th year of independence in 2019.

7. Band-e-Amir

Afghanistan may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of countries with impressive national parks. However, Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first ever national park, may soon change that.

Designated as a national park in 2009, Band-e-Amir is a stunning system of six sapphire-blue travertine lakes located high up in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The area has long been popular with tourists. Afghanistan is hopeful that the national park designation will help even more people, locals and visitors alike, discover the area’s amazing natural beauty.

5 Things You Need to Know about the Abu’l Fazl Shrine

If you walk through the bustling bazaar in the recently restored Kabul neighborhood of Murad Khani—whether in person or online via the amazing Preserving Afghan Heritage platform on Google Arts & Culture—you’ll soon spot a distinctive blue minaret rising above the other buildings. This is the Abu’l Fazl Shrine, a beloved Murad Khani landmark and an important place of worship for Shia Muslims. Read on for a look at five fascinating facts about this unique site.

1. The shrine is named for a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

The shrine takes its name from Abbas Abu’l Fazl, an important historical figure who was the son of Ali, the fourth Muslim caliph. A cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali became caliph in 656 and reigned until his assassination in 661. This period, one of the most tumultuous in Muslim history, eventually led to the splitting of Islam into two main sects: Sunnis and Shias. Shia Muslims, who were known as the “party of Ali” in early Islamic history, believed that Ali and his descendants were the rightful leaders of the Islamic community. However, after Ali’s assassination, his main rival, Muawiya, became caliph. When Muawiya’s son Yazid succeeded his father in 680, Ali’s sons, including Hussein, refused to accept the legitimacy of the new caliph, thus creating a division between the two factions.

2. The shrine commemorates a critical event in Muslim history.

The struggle between Ali’s sons and the supporters of Yazid over the question of who should hold leadership in the Islamic community eventually led to one of the most pivotal events in Muslim history: the massacre at Karbala, which took place in 680, the same year that Yazid became caliph. Stories about the event vary, but most accounts agree that Hussein, who was on his way to a city in what is now modern-day Iraq with a fairly small retinue, was set upon near the city of Karbala by Yazid’s much larger army. This army massacred Hussein’s entire party, including his half-brother Abu’l Fazl, and publicly executed Hussein—the shrine of Abu’l Fazl was built in commemoration of the brothers’ deaths. This devastating event permanently cemented the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims and gave rise to the longstanding feelings of betrayal and martyrdom that still persist in the Shia community. (Today, about 15 percent of the global Muslim population is comprised of Shia Muslims.)

3. Many pilgrims visit the shrine during the religious festival of Ashura.

While people worship at the Abu’l Fazl shrine all year round, the shrine sees the largest number of visiting pilgrims during the religious festival of Ashura. An important day for all Muslims, but especially for Shia Muslims, Ashura takes place on the 10th day of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a commemoration of the massacre at Karbala, and of the martyrdom of Hussein, in particular. The day itself is marked by prayers, fasting, and many mourning rituals, processions, and passion plays that re-enact Hussein’s death. Some Shias emulate Hussein’s suffering through acts of self-flagellation or bloodletting, although this is increasingly discouraged by some contemporary Shia leaders, who instead urge worshippers to donate blood in recognition of Hussein’s sacrifice.

4. The shrine is important to the Murad Khani community for other reasons.

In addition to being the most sacred site of worship for Shia Muslims in Kabul, the Abu’l Fazl shrine plays an important role in the everyday lives of the residents of Murad Khani. Many people who live in the neighborhood believe that their residence there is intrinsically linked to the continuing health of the shrine and that their lives receive the blessing of the shrine’s power. On a more practical level, the shrine has given rise over the years to a thriving local economy—after the construction of the shrine, a sprawling bazaar sprang up to take advantage of the business brought to the area by the large numbers of visiting pilgrims.

5. The shrine was once saved from destruction by a dream.

The importance of the Abu’l Fazl shrine hasn’t always been recognized, however. According to a local anecdote as described in the 2015 book Religion and Urbanism: Reconceptualizing Sustainable Cities for South Asia, during the 1933-1973 reign of King Zahir Shah, urban planners wanted to destroy the shrine to accommodate a paved road directly through the Murad Khani neighborhood. Fortunately, the king changed his mind after a holy man visited him in his dreams and warned him not to demolish the shrine. The very next morning, the king visited the site and told workers to leave the shrine alone. Community elders often tell this story to illustrate the power the shrine is believed to have, as well the blessings it is said to bring to the neighborhood.