Wakhan Corridor

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Wakhan Corridor
Wakhan Corridor
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 瓦罕走廊
Simplified Chinese 瓦罕走廊
Literal meaning Wakhan Corridor
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 阿富汗走廊
Simplified Chinese 阿富汗走廊
Literal meaning Afghan Corridor
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 瓦罕帕米爾
Simplified Chinese 瓦罕帕米尔
Literal meaning Wakhan Pamir
Pashto name
Pashto واخان

Wakhan Corridor (alternatively Vakhan Corridor, or Wakhjir Pass) is commonly used as a synonym for Wakhan, an area of far north-eastern Afghanistan that forms a land link, or "corridor", between Afghanistan and China. The corridor is a long and slender panhandle or salient, roughly 140 miles (220 km) long[1] and between 10 and 40 miles (16 and 64 km) wide.[2] Part of Badakhshan Province, Wakhan Corridor separates Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province of Tajikistan in the north from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan of Pakistan in the south.

The corridor was a political creation of the Great Game. On the corridor's north side, agreements between Britain and Russia in 1873 and between Britain and Afghanistan in 1893 effectively split the historic area of Wakhan by making the Panj and Pamir Rivers the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire.[1] On its south side, the Durand Line agreement of 1893 marked the boundary between British India and Afghanistan. This left a narrow strip of land as a buffer between the two empires, which became known as the Wakhan Corridor in the 20th century. The corridor has 12,000 inhabitants.[3]

The term Wakhan Corridor is also used in a narrower sense to refer to the route along the Panj River and the Wakhan River to China, and the northern part of the Wakhan is then referred to as the Afghan Pamir.[4]


For more details on this topic, see Wakhan.
Lake Victoria, Great Pamir, May 2nd, 1874, watercolor by Thomas Edward Gordon[5]

The Pamir River, flowing out of Lake Zorkul, forms the northern border of the corridor. The Wakhan River passes through the corridor from the east to Kala-i-Panj, joining the Pamir River to become the Panj River.

In the south, the corridor is bounded by the high mountains of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram, crossed by the Broghol pass, the Irshad Pass and the disused Dilisang Pass[6] to India.

At the eastern border, the Wakhjir Pass through the Hindu Kush is one of the highest in the world at, 4,923 m (16,152 ft).[2]

The Corridor as a through route[edit]

Although the terrain is extremely rugged, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route between Badakhshan and Yarkand.[7] It appears that Marco Polo came this way.[8] The Portuguese Jesuit priest Bento de Goes crossed from the Wakhan to China between 1602 and 1606. In May 1906, Sir Aurel Stein explored the Wakhan and reported that at that time, 100 pony loads of goods crossed annually to China.[9] There were further crossings in 1874 by Captain T.E. Gordon of the British Army,[10] in 1891 by Francis Younghusband,[11] and in 1894 by Lord Curzon.[12]

Early travellers used one of three routes:

  • A northern route led up the valley of the Pamir River to Zorkul Lake, then east through the mountains to the valley of the Murghab River, then across the Sarikol Range to China.
  • A southern route led up the valley of the Wakhan River to the Wakhjir Pass to China. This pass is closed for at least five months a year and is only open irregularly for the remainder.[13]
  • A central route branched off the southern route through the Little Pamir to the Murghab River valley.

As a through route, the corridor has been closed to regular traffic for over 100 years.[2] There is no modern road through the corridor. There is a rough road from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil[14] built in the 1960s,[15] but only paths beyond. It is some 100 km from the road end to the Chinese border at Wakhjir Pass, and further to the far end of the Little Pamir.

Townsend (2005) discusses the possibility of drug smuggling from Afghanistan to China via the Wakhan Corridor and Wakhjir Pass, but concludes that, due to the difficulties of travel and border crossings, even if such trafficking occurs, it is minor compared to that conducted via Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province or even via Pakistan, both having much more accessible routes into China.[16]

Afghanistan has asked China on several occasions to open the border in the Wakhan Corridor for economic reasons or as an alternative supply route for fighting the Taliban insurgency. However, China has resisted, largely due to unrest in its far western province of Xinjiang, which borders the corridor.[17][18] In December 2009, it was reported that the United States had asked China to open the corridor.[19]

See also[edit]



preface, M. Nazif Shahrani ; [with a new; author], epilogue by the (2002). The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan : adaptation to closed frontiers and war ([New ed.], paperback. ed.). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98262-4. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°N 73°E / 37°N 73°E / 37; 73