Tajikistan – Forbidden Badakshan

The struggle for dominance on the Piandz, the upper reaches of Central Asia’s most famous river, the Oxus, in Tajikistan’s province of Badakshan, a region where rubies are more numerous than bread, is being fought out between clans, the provincial elite, ex-communist and Islamic-democratic parties, Russian border troops and rebel factions.

Badakshan is inhabited by the Pamiris, who, a few hundred years ago, became Ismailis and began to worship the Aga Khan as Mohammed’s successor. Well looked after during Soviet times, their lifeline now is their spiritual leader Karim Aga Khan IV, known in the West as a highly influential businessman.

When civil war broke out following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Tajikistan’s independence, the Pamiris joined the opposition and formed a militia to prevent an invasion of Badakshan. After the 1994 Tehran cease-fire agreement, they moved their bases into the Tajik Pamir and took their orders from the armed wing of the opposition in exile in Afghanistan. They are in permanent conflict with Russian border guards, whose massive presence Moscow has no trouble justifying. Russian interest continues in the heart of what, in the 19th century, was classic Great Game country – not least due to the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan.

The reportage was commissioned and published by Facts, Zürich, and became part of Travelling through the Eye of History.