Three of Central Asia’s republics, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, border Afghanistan along a frontier agreed to by Russia and Britain during the late 19th century. The border deal was an outcome of the so-called Great Game.
While Russia annexed the Central Asian khanates of Kokand and Khiva, and the Emirate of Bukhara, the territory ruled by the Emir of Afghanistan fell within the British sphere of influence, providing a buffer state between Russia and British-ruled India.
A consequence of this territorial partition was the creation of the so-called ‘pan handle’ in northeast Afghanistan reaching out to China. Known as the Wakhan Corridor, it lies deep within the Pamir Mountains and, even today, it is a difficult area to reach. There are only about 1,500 households in this 220 mile-long corridor, which includes Afghanistan’s highest mountain, Noshaq, at over 24,500 feet. At its narrowest, the corridor is about 10 miles wide, and is 40 miles across at its broadest point.
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Nicholas Nugent is a writer and broadcaster specializing in Asia and the former Soviet Union.