is on the other side
Making a tour in history we will know that the Pamiri principalities Shugnan, Rushan and Wakhan had existed since the middle ages. By the nineteenth century they all got into vassalage of Bukhara Khanate, which, in its turn, was over the protectorate of the Russian Empire since 1868. The borders of the principalities were not strictly determined, especially in such a hot region and in the neighborhood of the Afghan Emir Abdurrakhman-Khan who was famous for his special dislike towards ‘the infidels’ (and most of the population of Gorno-Badakhshan fitted this definition) and who very often showed his dislike in practice organizing blood-thirsty attacks.
In the nineteenth century the participants of ‘The Great Game’ in Central Asia , the Russian and British Empires considered the Pamirs as an especially strategic region. One of the reasons of special attention from the English part was the supposed plan of the march of the Russian army to British India through the mountains of the Pamirs. The two parts made efforts to strengthen their positions in the Pamirs, and the lands were swarmed with geographers, ethnographers, various travelers, scientists and, of course, military men at that time. But all of them had the same main task to explore, because no one had enough courage to start trenchant actions. Military impulses of the both parts were restrained by diplomatists and politicians who were afraid of public confrontation.
After all, the Russian and British Empires arrived at the mutually profitable decision that was confirmed by a number of international treaties and finally validated in 1896. According to the treaty, the border between the affected zones had been set along the Pyandj, and the Wakhan corridor (the left riverside) had been given to Afghan Emir. So, the two powers got the buffer zone between their possessions so as not to tempt providence and to spare themselves from all possible boundary conflicts. Naturally, the interests of the local people had been considered in the final turn then; only the interests of the empires had been significant, together with the obvious simplicity in the delimitation of the possessions by their natural water boundary. Thus, the lands of Badakhshani principalities were separated according to the geographic principle, without considering ethnic division. The border between the present-day Tajikistan and Afghanistan has been lying along that very line established by the treaty up to present. And, to this very day, there are two Badakhshans: the Tajik one and the Afghan one.
It is difficult to say whether that separation had more positive than negative consequences for contemporary Gorno-Badakhshan. Of course, relatives had been separated by the border in many cases, long-term tribal connections had been destroyed, some spheres of the local economy had fallen into decay. But, on the other hand, there are still no asphalted roads in the Afghan part of Badakhshan, the overwhelming majority of the population is living under the conditions close to medieval, and peace in the Afghan land had been for a long time out of the question. Besides, the Russian army who came to the Pamirs in the late 19th century literally spared the Badakhshanis from the Afghan Emir’s terror. That is why the local people still treat the Russian cordially. On the whole, taking Russian subjection has always been regarded here as the only right decision, without any efforts to present this page of the history as colonization.
The left banks of the Pyandj and the Pamirs are inhabited not only by the peoples kindred with Tajik Pamiris, but also by the Kyrgyz who got there in the thirties of the last century (I am speaking about the Wakhan Corridor). Then, escaping from the Soviet power, the leader of the Pamiri Kyrgyz Rakhmankul-Khan migrated to the so called Small or Afghan Pamirs together with the people who were subject to him. For quite a long time the life of the Kyrgyz, who had settled down in the Afghan part of the Pamirs, was rather wealthy, and Rakhmankul-Khan was even entitled ‘The Protector of the Pamirs’ by the Afghani monarch. However, those Kyrgyz who stayed in the Wakhan Corridor up to our days are just the remnants of the tribes subject to Rakhmankul, which did not want to leave their pastures in the late seventies when the most people who were frightened by the revolution in Afghanistan set off for long wanderings and finally found their lands in Turkey . The Kyrgyz living in the Tajik part of the Pamirs and visiting Afghanistan on business do not speak well of the life of the Afghani Kyrgyz, saying that there is still Middle Ages epoch on that side of the river. Long isolation does not promote proper development of people who do not still have normal medical service and even primitive education, almost one and all among whom abuse drugs. However, few people would wish to leave the pastures of the Small Pamirs that had become home for them, and prefer isolated life in misery to uncertainty.
Drugs and Afghanistan have awaked mutual associations in people’s minds for a long time. And not in vain: a lot of people say that Khorog develops not only thanks to the activity of international organizations. Closeness to Afghanistan makes Gorno-Badakhshan the first transfer station in heroine-trafficking. From here it begins to spread over Kyrgyzstan , Kazakhstan and Russia, and even farther. I cannot say that there is negative attitude towards drug-trafficking here. Of course, drug abusers are a bad phenomenon, they are dregs of society and almost the only people in Badakhshan who can raise their hand on somebody’s property, but on the other hand, trafficking is business, which lets people survive and feed their families in far from easy economic conditions Badakhshan is living in now.
Such vehement development of drug-trafficking is the reason why the left side of the Pyandj is not so strongly supported by international humanitarian organizations as the Tajik land of Gorno-Badakhshan. But on the whole, the Afghan province of Badakhshan has for many years been a relatively stable place. During the war with the movement ‘Taliban’ the temporary headquarters of the Northern Alliance headed by the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud was located in the capital of Badakhshan, the city of Fayzabad. And this northernmost province was never occupied by the Talibs.
After a few days in the valley of Pyandj we had an impression that the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is not at all ‘locked up’ nowadays. The native people say that the situation is still restrained by the factor that the Afghans have a lot of problems of their own and therefore are not interested in visiting the right side of the Pyandj. They say that formerly, before the Russian Army left Tajikistan, frontier patrols and posts were frequent in the Wakhan Valley. But now, during some days of our staying there, we met the patrol only twice. The first time the frontier guards pretended not to see us, turning their faces to the Pyandj, and the second time they checked our documents when we were sitting near a shop in Shitkharv, and the obvious reason of that was just their having nothing to do. Although I stand up for having no borders and barriers preventing people from communicating, this is not that case, in my opinion.