Afghanistan's isolated corner where people don't know about Taliban

Feb 11, 2018, 10:26 IST | Agencies

"Taliban - what's that?" asks Sultan Begium shyly from her freezing home in Afghanistan's mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a region so remote that its residents are untouched by the decades of conflict that have devastated their country

Their life, largely free from crime and violence, revolves around yaks and cattle, which they barter for food and clothes from the few traders who visit the remote region. Pics/AFP
Their life, largely free from crime and violence, revolves around yaks and cattle, which they barter for food and clothes from the few traders who visit the remote region. Pics/AFP

"Taliban - what's that?" asks Sultan Begium shyly from her freezing home in Afghanistan's mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a region so remote that its residents are untouched by the decades of conflict that have devastated their country. The frail-looking grandmother whose harsh life has etched deep lines in her face, is a woman of the Wakhi, a tribe of roughly 12,000 nomadic people who populate the area. Known to those who live there by its Persian name Bam-e-Dunya, or "roof of the world", it is a narrow strip of inhospitable and barely accessible land in Afghanistan bordered by the mountains of what is now Tajikistan and Pakistan, and extending all the way to China.

"War, what war? There has never been a war," Begium says, poking at a dying fire of yak dung, though she remembers people speaking of Russian soldiers dispensing cigarettes on the border. Such decades-old anecdotes are all the tribe really know of the Soviet invasion and US-funded mujahideen fightback, a brutal nine-year conflict that may have left as many as one million civilians dead and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

The subsequent civil war, in which tens of thousands more people were killed and uprooted, and the rise of the extremist Taliban regime seem to them like folklore. There is little knowledge of the US invasion or the bloody resurgence of the Taliban, and more recently the emergence of the Islamic State group.

"Foreigners invaded our country?" Askar Shah, Begium's eldest son, asks incredulously after being told how America and its allies went to war with the Taliban regime in 2001. "No, they can't do that. They are good people," he says. Created in the 19th century as a Great Game buffer zone between tsarist Russia and British India, the corridor has since remained untouched by any kind of government.

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