The Wakhi people of Wakhan

Wakhan Corridor

In the far northeastern part of Afghanistan a narrow stretch of land is squeezed in between Pakistan and Tajikistan, also touching China. This is called the Wakhan Corridor. The Pamir and the Hindu Kush Mountain ranges dominates the edges of the corridor.

The corridor is 210 kilometers long, and between 20 to 60 kilometers wide, and is a result of the so-called "Great Game", when the British and Russian empires fought for influence in Central Asia in the 19th century. The Wakhan Corridor was to serve as a buffer zone between British India and the Russian Tsar Empire.

Once, a branch of the Silk Road from China passed through this area, and Marco Polo travelled through here during his journeys. This trade route has, however, been closed for nearly a hundred years for political reasons.

There are 12-13,000 people living here in small villages. They are of Wakhi and Kyrgyz origin. Life expectancy in the area is one of the lowest in the world.

The Wakhi people are Nizari Ismaili Muslims, a subset of Shia. Their spiritual leader (Imam) is called "Aga Khan". Today Shah Karim al-Husseini holds the title "Aga Khan the Fourth” (born 13 December 1936). He has held the title since 1957 and is currently living in France.

The Wakhan Corridor used to be the place where the Taliban and the war never reached. After the Taliban takeover in 2021 however, Taliban now also appears to have a presence in the Corridor.

The Afghan authorities had a plan to lay a fiber optic cable all the way from the provincial capital of Badakshan, Fayzabad, through the Wakhan Corridor to the Chinese border connecting to the Chinese system. A new road was also planned through Wakhan and Little Pamir up to the border with China (and further on onto China). Currently, the stretch from Fayzabad to Ishkashim is almost complete, only the last few kilometers near Ishkashim is missing. Currently there is a very bad road from Ishkashim and further up the corridor ending in Sarhad-e Broghil. It is usually navigable, even in winter, but you have to pass places where the road partially disappears in moraine fields or ice-covered areas.

A possible reopening of this part of the Silk Road will have major implications for those who live here. Afghan authorities reckoned, however, that the fiber optic connection to China may generate huge revenues.

See also the image captions for some additional information.

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