Wakhan Corridor is commonly used as a synonym for Wakhan, the area of far north-eastern Afghanistan which 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 and between 10 and 40 miles (16 and 64 km) wide. It separates Tajikistan in the north from 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. 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. 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.
Although the terrain is extremely difficult, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route between Badakhshan and Yarkand. It appears that Marco Polo came this way. The Jesuit priest Benedict Goëz 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.
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.
- 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. There is no modern road through the Corridor. There is a rough road from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e Broghil built in the 1960s, 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.
As Fahad Hussain has once said about Wakhan:
“Once here roamed the kings & angels from the soul
Now left with the twigs played by the horse
Red crystals changed the colors of the white puff
Where the pass remained empty with winds gone bye”