Herat, one of Afghanistan’s largest provinces, is located in the southwest of the country, sharing a crucial border with Iran.

Many foreign conquerers including Alexander the Great, the Persians, the Arabs, and the Mongols, fought over it in the past.

Its recent history has also been turbulent, as the province with a population of roughly 1.7 million people, was instrumental in the uprising against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979-89.

Local military commander Ismail Khan led the resistance and became the governor of the province following the Russian withdrawal. Commonly referred to as the Emir of Herat for his unilimited authority, he continued in that position till he was arrested by the Taliban in 1997.

He returned as the governor again after President Hamid Karzai assumed office following the fall of the Taliban.

Herat witnessed rapid development during the second stint of Ismail, who spent most of the customs revenues from the border with Iran within the province.

However, he was moved to Kabul as minister of water and energy in 2004 amid bitter feuds with other local commanders and allegations of graft.

Harirud Valley, one of the country’s most fertile valleys where cotton, fruits and oil seeds are grown in abundance, is also located in Herat. 

Herat has also been at the forefront of saffron cultivation, a crop that officials hope will replace poppy in the country.

With a predominantly rural population, the province continues to be volatile because of its proximity to Kandahar and Helmand - hotbeds of armed resistance to US troop presence.

As part of the security transition that is expected to be completed by 2014, Afghan forces in January took charge of all districts in Herat, except two.

Source: Al Jazeera