Helmand is a province located in southern Afghanistan and is comprised of 13 sub-regional districts. The town of Lashkar Gah serves as the provincial capital. The Hindu Kush mountains are located in the northern reaches of the province, while the south is largely desert. Virtually the entire population lives along the Helmand River. It is the largest province in Afghanistan but is one of the least sparsely populated with a population of approximately 1 million in an area the size of Ireland.
Helmand has a long and storied history going back to the “Helmand Culture” of the Bronze Age (specifically 3rd millennium BCE). The province has been repeatedly conquered due to its strategic location at the crossroads of South, Central, and Southwest Asia. As a result, it has been part of a variegated series of empires and cultures including the Seleucids, the Indian Mauryas, the Arab Caliphates, the Mongols, and the Timurids. In the early modern age, Helmand was frequently contested between the Persian Safavids and the Indian Mughals, resulting in its location at the juncture between the Persianized western portion of Afghanistan and the eastern portion of the country that has traditionally looked to Central and South Asia.
Helmand officially became a part of the modern state of Afghanistan in 1747 when it submitted to the Afghani founder- Ahmad Shah Durrani. Helmand was part of the “Greater Kandahar” region until the early 20th century when it was officially made into a separate province.
Helmand has gained international notoriety in recent years because of its copious opium production and significant militant presence. The Western-backed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has conducted military operations in the area since 2006 in an effort to combat the Taliban and eradicate opium production.
Helmand is a rural and tribal society composed primarily of Pashtuns. The Barakzai and Nurzai are the largest tribal groups; nearly 100% of the population are Sunni Muslims. The ancient Pashtun code of Pashtunwali retains significant political and cultural sway among the population.
The current governor is Mirza Khan Rahimi. Law enforcement is carried out by the Afghan Border Police (ABP) who maintain the border, with the neighboring Pakistani province of Baluchistan. This border is part of the Durand Line, dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has a very high occurrence of militant activity and smuggling (much of the Afghani Taliban leadership escaped to the Baluchi capital of Quetta following the American invasion of Afghanistan). The ABP is supported by the Afghan National Army and the American-led ISAF.
Farming in the primary economic activity in Helmand. An estimated 42% of the world’s opium is produced in the province, making Helmand the opium capital of the world. In addition to opium the province produces tobacco, sugar beets, cotton, sesame, wheat, maize, nuts, onion, potatoes, peanuts, apricots, grapes, and melons.