The Great Silk Putsch: who is involved in the battle for the Wakhan Corridor

The murder in Khorog of one of the people’s leaders of Gorno-Badakhshan became a new point of growth of the conflict between Dushanbe and the autonomy. Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, known among the local population as Bokir, was considered the leader of the rebellion, as a result of which the key route to neighboring states, the Pamir Highway, was blocked. Who can be behind the massacre of the leader of the Badakhshans and why blood is constantly shed because of the deaf mountain roads – in the material of Izvestia.

One of the informal leaders of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) was killed on May 22 in the administrative center of the region. The official position of the Tajik security forces is that he fell victim to criminal squabbles. In the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the region, he is called “the leader of the organized crime group of the Barkhorog mahalla.” It is known that he died near his home. According to one version, he was shot by a sniper, according to another, he was shot at close range by unknown people in a car when the man was walking alone in the town of Boinya. Despite the fact that Mamadbokirov was definitely related to the criminal world, he had political ambitions. He, as well as oppositionists Mukhiddin Kabiri and Alim Sherzamonov, were considered the organizers of large-scale protests in the region.

Chronicle of the uprising

In his political statements, Mamadbokirov said that he was seeking self-determination for the region, spoke out against officials appointed by the central government in GBAO, specifically against Alisher Mirzonabotov, and accused him of crimes. According to the official authorities, Bokir and his entourage were the organizers of the criminal community and terrorists. The reason for the start of the active phase of the rebellion was the death of one of the people of Mamadbokirov – 29-year-old Gulbiddin Ziebekov in November last year. The slogans under which the protests were held, allegedly organized by Bokir, looked quite harmless: the local population complained that the official authorities were trying to strangle them, accusing them of separatism, and they say they have nothing to do with this, they simply oppose the dominance of the “Varangians”, in the role of which are lowland Tajiks.

Also, Bokir himself and the protesters demanded a thorough investigation into the death of a young man, as well as the removal of roadblocks in Khorog. By the way, Ziebekov was accused by the authorities of taking a hostage and inciting hostility. More radical actions of the Protestants began after the first victims among the rebels and the beginning of their criminal prosecution. In May, Amriddin Alovatshoev, one of the leaders of the Pamir youth, was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. People again took to the streets, in response, the authorities announced the start of an anti-terrorist operation and blocked traffic. It was reported that “eight militants were neutralized, 11 wounded and more than 70 active members of the terrorist group were detained.”

The protesters (the authorities estimated their number at 200 people) among other things “blocked the Dushanbe-Khorog highway and the road to the border commandant’s office at three points.” Izvestia’s sources consider the attempt by the protesters to block the Pamir Highway in Khorog as Bokir’s fatal mistake, which sealed his fate. It is the logistical routes of GBAO that are becoming more and more significant today, both from an economic and geopolitical point of view.

Who is Bokir

It is believed that Mamadbokirov was involved in drug trafficking, like most of those in power in GBAO (both formal and informal), however, he himself repeatedly emphasized that he fought against drugs and even suffered because he covered a large heroin shipment (he called the weight of the batch at 736 kg). Nevertheless, it is obvious that he was aware of the drug trade, and his actions were aimed at weakening border control over caravans from Afghanistan: the removal of roadblocks in Khorog (one of the rebels’ demands) is a direct attempt to weaken control over smuggling.

“This man was of great operational interest to our anti-drug units, because he had real power in the border regions of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region,” a former high-ranking security official who oversaw the investigation of transnational drug trafficking told Izvestia. – He received the rank of colonel and a high post in the border service of Tajikistan after reaching a truce between the authorities and the opposition (United Tajik Opposition, UTO. – Ed.). There was a 30 percent quota for oppositionists, including many Badakhshans, for positions in the administrative and military apparatus, he just fell into this number. By the way, Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, the initiator of the autumn 2015 rebellion, took his post under the same quota. That excitement was connected directly with the redistribution of spheres of influence around drug trafficking.


Another source noted that Nazarzada, unlike Bokir, was a person poorly integrated into the ethnic structures of Badakhshan, since he belongs to the Karategins. Karategin is a historical region within Tajikistan, located in the mountains along the Vakhsh River. In the Pamirs, representatives of this ethnic group are perceived as strangers. But nevertheless, he could well participate in the struggle for traffic. However, there is a version that the general became a victim of a provocation by the special services.

According to a source from a former employee of the anti-drug unit, drug trafficking is only a small part of the illegal trade that took place in GBAO.

– Smuggling of equipment, weapons … Special attention should be paid to the illegal circulation of precious stones, which has been going in these places both to the East and to the West for decades, – added the interlocutor of Izvestia.

According to him, the two-lane road at an altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level, connecting Dushanbe, Hogor and Osh (Kyrgyzstan), is a strategic route, which has no analogues in terms of drug market logistics.

Intestine tonka

The constant blackmail of informal structures by blocking the Pamir Highway in Khorog, and this is a transport hub to China, Afghanistan and the CIS countries, is probably the real reason for the elimination of Bakir and supporters in GBAO.

“Pamir, despite its tiny population (the figures are comparable to the population of one of the administrative districts of Moscow) and a relatively insignificant domestic market, has a huge transit potential,” Andrey Grozin. – On the one hand, there is an exit to the so-called Wakhan corridor. This “gut”, stretching between the borders of several states, in fact, is not controlled by anyone.

The Wakhan corridor is a narrow strip of land in Eastern Afghanistan (Badakhshan province) about 300 km long and 15 to 57 km wide in the valleys of the Pamir, Vakhan and Pyanj rivers.

– On the one hand – the Chinese, on the other – post-Soviet Asia, on the third – Afghanistan. Pakistan is very close, a stone’s throw from India … Giant transit gates that are under the rule of organized crime, drug cartels and similar communities, Grozin notes.

Wherever informal structures rule, the orientalist recalls, not only drug trafficking flourishes, but smuggling in general. The situation is similar, for example, in some countries of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. He believes that there are not so many such gray areas on the planet – four or five places.

Much has already been said about heroin trafficking. But, from my point of view, drug trafficking was not the most important thing [in GBAO], it was just an additional, icing on the cake. Various smuggled deliveries without data, without duties go in all directions, anywhere,” the expert clarifies.

We are talking about both consumer goods and precious, semi-precious stones, rare earth metals. Lapis lazuli, Afghan rubies move along the corridor from country to country. The volume of shadow turnover can only be judged by the estimated conclusions of specialists.

— If not billions, then definitely hundreds of millions of dollars. The figures can be comparable to the estimates of international experts on heroin trafficking,” Andrey Grozin estimates.


Traffic jams on opium highways

One of the problems of gray logistics in GBAO today is the roads along which caravans with smuggling go. They are extremely inconvenient for heavy vehicles, unlike the tracks on the Afghan-Iranian or Afghan-Pakistani border due to the difficult terrain and lack of infrastructure.

“Actually, due to bad roads, the flow of drug trafficking to the north is relatively small. You can’t bring much on donkeys, you won’t bring much on cars. The same applies to other smuggling,” says the head of the department for Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute of CIS Countries.

Another obstacle to the gray trade route is the numerous checkpoints set up by Dushanbe. In the best case for the smuggler, you have to pay for each, and this is expensive, the business becomes unprofitable. At the moment, due to these difficulties, there is no serious flow to the “mainland” through the territory, the scientist believes.

The growth of the trade significance of this route is possible if the official authorities of Tajikistan take Gorno-Badakhshan under control. By the way, the country has been striving to make the region as manageable as possible over the past 10 years.

“In fact, criminal formations act as blood clots on the way to the creation of official and semi-official trade flows,” says Grozin, candidate of historical sciences. If Tajikistan achieves its goal, the situation with the flow of goods may change within a year or two.
The big game continues

Tajik Badakhshan, Vakhan Badakhshan were actively involved during the hysteria with a shortage of medical masks and other consumables during the pandemic, the scientist draws attention.

— This is an indicative thing that demonstrates the potential in terms of large volumes of commodity flows. Actually, these transit gates have always attracted a lot of attention. Even the Russian Empire butted for the same Badakhshan at the end of its existence. The reason was not only the “big game”, that is, the fight against the “Englishwoman”, who actively spoiled us there as best she could … The fact is that Russian officials were aware that the “roof of the world” is very interesting in the transport sense. China today understands this all the more: it is fighting for any, even the smallest and most insignificant commodity market, the scientist adds.

The Great Game was an imperialist rivalry between Britain and the Russian Empire for dominance in South and Central Asia that lasted from 1813 to 1907. The authorship of the historiographic term is attributed to the historian Arthur Connolly, the concept was popularized by the writer Rudyard Kipling.

Tajik Badakhshan is the “northern overhang” over the Afghan provinces, which are of great economic importance in terms of trade and logistics for the whole of Afghanistan. And the military-political significance of the region is difficult to overestimate. In the vicinity of these routes, various forces were dispersed – from outright criminals to foreign mercenaries, representatives of special services from various countries of the world.

– Where are the anti-Taliban insurgents clustering now? Someone says that in Tajikistan, someone says – in Panjshir (Province in Afghanistan. – Ed.). They also name other places. But in any case, it is somewhere near this region. This is because, due to its physical and geographical position, this territory is poorly controlled by the central authorities,” the expert explains.


A tangle of international intrigues

Any crises in Tajikistan are influenced by external factors. According to Andrey Grozin, in fact, today Tajikistan is absolutely dependent on China in the financial sense and is under its protectorate. The Central Asian republic has already begun to pay off its debts to the Celestial Empire – more than 1 thousand square meters have passed under the jurisdiction of the PRC. km of the territory of Tajikistan.

“China’s influence is significant and serious. Another question is that China is trying not to advertise its influence on the political picture of the day and not to interfere in the internal squabbles that periodically arise there, the expert emphasizes.

Distancing itself from the internal affairs of the country and Russia, which has the largest military base abroad on the territory of the republic, the expert says.

The 201st military base in Tajikistan (until 2004 – the 201st motorized rifle division) is the key object of the Russian military presence in Central Asia. It is deployed in Dushanbe and Bokhtar. The contingent, according to various estimates, has between 5,000 and 8,000 servicemen; the base is subordinate to the Central Military District. The personnel regularly participate in large-scale exercises, including with allies. Modern types of weapons are on the balance of the compound.

According to Lawrence of Arabia

The scientist noted that all politics in Tajikistan is riddled with either real provocations or suspicions of provocations. The British occupy a special place in the context of intrigues.

– Since the time of Lawrence of Arabia, British intelligence has always shown interest in what is happening in Badakhshan, even in those days when it was not Tajik, but general. I am sure that the James Bonds have established good contacts with the leaders of various informal associations. This includes the supply of precious stones and other prohibited goods,” Andrey Grozin explained.

However, the specialist made a reservation that there is no serious evidence of these processes.

— Of course, there is a common interest in Tajikistan. This interesting region in logistical, political, economic senses attracts external attention, and a struggle is unfolding for it. There is an opinion that we are dealing with a new round of the “great game”: the united Anglo-Saxon West is concentrating its resources and setting fire to various regions on the borders of Russia. And I think that this concept deserves attention. In the end, there is the logic of international relations: if they want to weaken Russia, they will do it in different directions, including in Tajikistan, which is a strategic ally of Russia, the expert summed up.

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