Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Wakhan Corridor

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Culture, Society, Global Change

Ed Hessler

The BBC's Simon Urwin introduces Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, once seemingly untouched by time but now sure to be touched, if not squeezed hard, when it is directly linked to the outside by a new road with China.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is bordered by China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan or as Urwin puts it it is "on the cusp of six borders." The photo-essay opens with a picture of a street scene in Mazar-e-Sharif, the 4th largest city in Afghanistan large urban center which is "320km  northwest of Kabul." 

Under it is a contrast,  picture of the Wakhan Corridor, a "350km-long panhandle," locataed "at the convergence of three of the world's major mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and the Pamir Mountains - known as the Pamir Knot." (The last link is a video (4m 48s) which is not in English but has the most helpful illustrations I've seen.)

Urwin tells us, each short section isintroduced by a lovely photograph, the Corridor's rural life, the Wakhi, "a population of around 12,000," who unlike "the majority of Afghans are (not) conservative Sunni Muslims." The "Wakhi are Ismailis, who belong to the Shia branch of Islam." Life's cycle is dominated by farming this semi-arid area, described by one farmer as one of feeling "a great connection to the land, and whilst we pray daily, the rhythm of life revolves more around the fields, the seasons and nature.'" Urwin describes "the centuries-old game of buzkashi, sometimes described as rugby on horseback with the body of a goat as a ball."

The Wakhan Corridor has been untouched by tourism and was once part of the Silk Road, "the trade route that emerged in the 1st and 2nd Centuries BCE linking China with the Mediterranean" and transporting valuable goods such as silk silver, gold, lapis lazuli" by camels. It has also been a contested territory, especially a conflict between Russia and Great Britain for control of Central Asia" in the late 19th Century.  Urwin observes that with a new road and access, geopolitics could again come into play

There is a scene of new construction--a lovely bridge built without heavy equipment. In the end, Urwin closes by reporting on the mixed emotions of farmers about this new road. That change is ahead is clear but the nature of the changes are not so clear..

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