Historical geography of the Pamirs


The Pamirs have been a contested space in different periods of time. Agricultural, economic, political and strategic considerations have played their roles. Access to fertile pastures characterised the local economic competition between nomads and mountain farmers over long periods of time. International attention reached its peak when the Pamirs became a pawn in the ‘Great Game’. Political considerations dominated economic ones during the second half of the 19th century when control over the mountainous arena was disputed between Great Britain and Russia. Local and regional interests took on a subordinate role. The imperial contest resulted in dividing the Pamirs among four interested parties that nowadays are independent countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and the People’s Republic of China. Since the division became effective separate developments have emerged in all parts. The Pamirs have remained to function as remote abodes to mountain farmers and pastoralists from a common heritage; at the same time both groups have been exposed to quite different political and social developments. Thus the Pamirs represent a focal region of similar ecological properties in which political and socio-economic developments that originate in the 19th century have changed development paths through the Cold War period until the age of globalisation. The spectrum ranged from Tsarist Russia to post-independence Tajikistan, from the Afghan monarchy to the post-Taliban republic, from British India to Pakistan, and from the Middle Kingdom to contemporary China. Political interventions such as nationality policies and concepts of regional autonomy, socio-technical experiments such as the transformation from individual property to collectivisation of resources were followed by a deregulation and reopening of boundaries in the final decades of the 20th century. Varying administrative systems provide insight in external domination that has shaped separate developments in the Pamirs. Presently the Pamirs experience a revaluation as transit corridor for trans-continental traffic arteries and cross-boundary trade.

Keywords: Great Game, boundary-making, pastoralism, collectivisation, Pamirs, Badakhshan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Xinjiang, Pakistan.

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