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Mazar-E Sharif


northern afghan city.

Mazar-e Sharif is a city in northern Afghanistan and the provincial capital of Balkh Province. Mazar-e Sharif means "holy tomb"; locals believe that Caliph Ali (656661) is buried there, although al-Najaf, Iraq, is generally accepted as Ali's actual burial place. Mazar-e Sharif is Afghanistan's largest northern city and a major marketing and trading center for the northern area. The official population taken in 1988 was about 150,000, but with an influx of internally displaced persons, the population in 2003 was thought to be over 600,000. The people in the area are largely Uzbek, but the city contains major Tajik, Turkoman, and Hazara populations as well. During the resistance war (19781992) the city was a major stronghold of the Marxist government because of its close proximity to the Soviet Union and its flat terrain, which made it easy to defend against guerrilla activities. After the Marxist government fell in 1992, the city saw fighting between the Tajiks led by Ahmad Shah Masʿud and the Uzbeks under the command of General Abd alRashid Doestam.

Mazar-e Sharif became an important city in the resistance against the Taliban. The city changed hands several times between 1997 and 1998, resulting in the killing of several thousand civilians. After the ouster of the Taliban, the forces of General Does-tam and General Ata Mohammad fought for control of Mazar-e Sharif.


Adamec, Ludwig. Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. 2d edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997.

Rubin, Barnett. The Fragmentation of Afghanistan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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