The Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan, is situated at the crossroads of four countries: China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Wakhan Corridor is about 350 km long with 16 to 64 km wide at its eastern end, the corridor forks into two prongs that wrap around a salient of Chinese territory, forming the 92 km boundary between the two countries.
The corridor is in part a political creation from “The Great Game”, between the British and Russian empires. In the north, an agreement between the empires in 1873 effectively split the historic region of Wakhan by making the Panj and Pamir Rivers the border between Afghanistan and the Former Russian empire. In the south, the Durand Line agreement of 1893 marked the boundary between British India and Afghanistan. This left a narrow strip of land ruled by Afghanistan as a buffer between the two empires, which became known as the Wakhan Corridor in the 20th century.
The Wakhan is located in the extreme north-east of Afghanistan. It contains the headwaters of the Amu Deria (Oxus). The total population is estimated at about 10,600. Most of its inhabitants speak the Vakhi. The population of Wakhan suffers from lack of education, poverty, ill health, food insecurity and opium addiction. The corridor has been closed to regular traffic for over a century and there is no modern road.
Although the terrain is extremely rugged, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route . A trade route through the valley has been used by travellers going to and from East, South and Central Asia since antiquity. It appears that Marco Polo came this way. The Portuguese Jesuit priests crossed from the Wakhan to China between 1602 and 1606.
It shares a 300 km with Pakistan, on its northeast and west direction it has over 260 km boarder with Tajikistan, and 74 km with China. The Wakhan Corridor appeared as a bridge among the nations with great mountains ranges on the Silk Route. The corridor has great historic value being part of ancient Silk Road. Even today it has great potential for regional connectivity and tourism. The Wakhan territory is considered very peaceful having no law-and-order problem.
The history bears witness to the fact that the strategic importance of this area has kept the surrounding countries hot on its trail. These countries include Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and recently India, Pakistan, Russia and China. This corridor is getting much renewed attention in the context of CPEC even though it was neglected by the authorities in the past. Furthermore, Wakhan Corridor as a trade route has long been used by Europeans and Chinese to access Indian Ocean through the Arabian Sea Coasts as a crucial connectivity point of Silk Route. Wakhan corridor would acquire a great geostrategic significance for Afghanistan, China and Pakistan due to changing regional alignments.
The corridor’s Geo-Political Significance for Afghanistan.
The opening of Wakhan Corridor will enhance political influence of Afghanistan and help in balancing its relations with major powers and the regional countries. It will enhance access of Taliban government to these areas and help it in building infrastructure and uplifting the living standards of the poor people in Afghanistan. The Wakhan Corridor will integrate Afghanistan with China and Pakistan that would undermine its efforts of linking Afghanistan to India through the Chabahar Port.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative coincides with the proposal of making Afghanistan a regional hub for transit trade and Pakistan’s designs of making Gwadar Port a mean to regional connectivity will help Afghanistan’s integration in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Further China will have an exceptional opportunity by connecting Beijing through road networks across the region which in turn will provide it an edge over rivals and competitors particularly US in its venture for Central Asia’s New Great Game
Its Geopolitical Significance for Pakistan
Pakistan can greatly benefit from the Wakhan Corridor as its northern highlands along Chitral provide an excellent trade route linking Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian States through Wakhan Corridor.
Opening up of the Wakhan Corridor will also assist in Pakistan’s security and strategic interests by enabling an increase military posture and countermeasures against Indian intrusions in Gilgit-Baltistan from Ladakh region provided Pakistan respect integrity and independence of Afghanistan and adhere to non-interference in their internal affairs.
The Wakhan Corridor has a great Geo-strategic and geo-economic significance for Afghanistan, China and Pakistan. However, the opening of this corridor will have serious implications for regional and global players involved in Afghanistan, especially India and the US. Further With growing Chinese concerns over radicalisation among Uyghurs in its western region and taking over of Taliban in its neighbourhood, the visual evidence of Pakistan recent made border markings being taken down by the Taliban raises questions about the future of the narrow corridor.
Afghanistan is finding friends in the neighbourhood — in April, the Taliban government approved the Chinatown industrial park project to be located in the country’s capital; in July, the Afghan Ministry of Finance made an agreement with Iran to purchase 350,000 tons of oil and gas, and signalled upon a coming oil deal with Russia and Turkmenistan. Last month, Afghanistan’s Minister for Commerce and Industry Nooruddin Azizi said that Afghanistan hopes to join BRI and CPEC programs.
But Non recognition of Taliban regime by the international community, particularly its immediate neighbours Pakistan, China and CAR due to disrespect of human rights and deviations of Taliban from Doha peace agreement , freezing about $10 billion by US in their banks, refusing to give them back to Afghanistan for buying food and constructing their broken schools, hospitals and roads; and sanctioned the Taliban from entering many of Western countries, have further diminished the prospect of dividends of the corridor.
Now the ball is into the Taliban court, they must address the international concerns by improving human rights credentials particularly with regard to women rights. Since Taliban is reality, their alienation will counterproductive, therefore, international community particularly it neighbours should find out political settlement with Taliban regime in Afghanistan. If a road is built across Wakhan, it will enhance trade and business activities in the region, especially for Pakistan, Central Asia and Afghanistan. It could offer a shortest trade route for Pakistan to reach Central Asia and for China to reach Afghanistan. This trade connectivity will definitely bring peace, security, political stability and economic prosperity in the region particularly bring out Afghans from abject poverty and avert humanitarian disasters in Afghanistan.
Sher Khan Bazai, Former Secretary Education, Balochistan Pakistan. The writer can be reached at [email protected]