BADAKSHAN, including Wakhan, a province on the north-east frontier of Afghanistan, adjoining Russian territory. Its north-eastern boundaries were decided by the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1873, which expressly acknowledged "Badakshan with its dependent district Wakhan" as "fully belonging to the amir of Kabul," and limited it to the left or southern bank of the Oxus. Much of the interior of the province is still unexplored. On the west, Badakshan is bounded by a line which crosses the Turkestan plains southwards from the junction of the Kunduz and Oxus rivers till it touches the eastern water-divide of the Tashkurghan river (here called the Koh-i-Chungar), and then runs south-east, crossing the Sarkhab affluent of the Khanabad (Kunduz), till it strikes the Hindu Kush. The southern boundary is carried along the crest of the Hindu Kush as far as the Khawak pass, leading from Badakshan into the Panjshir valley. Beyond this it is indefinite. It is known that the Kafirs occupy the crest of the Hindu Kush eastwards of the Khawak, but how far they extend north of the main watershed is not ascertainable. The southern limits of Badakshan become definite again at the Dorah pass. The Dorah connects Zebak and Ishkashim at the elbow, or bend, of the Oxus with the Lutku valley leading to Chitral. From the Dorah eastwards the crest of the Hindu Kush again becomes the boundary till it effects a junction with the Muztagh and Sarikol ranges, which shut off China from Russia and India. Skirting round the head of the Tagdumbash Pamir, it finally merges into the Pamir boundary, and turns westwards, following the course of the Oxus, to the junction of that river and the Khanabad (Kunduz). So far as the northern boundary follows the Oxus stream, under the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, it is only separated by the length of these slopes (some 8 or 10 m.) from the southern boundary along the crest. Thus Badakshan reaches out an arm into the Pamirs eastwards - bottle-shaped - narrow at the neck (represented by the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush), and swelling out eastwards so as to include a part of the great and little Pamirs. Before the boundary settlement of 1873 the small states of Roshan and Shignan extended to the left bank of the Oxus, and the province of Darwaz, on the other hand, extended to the right bank. Now, however, the Darwaz extension northwards is exchanged for the Russian Pamir extension westwards, and the river throughout is the boundary between Russian and Afghan territory; the political boundaries of those provinces and those of Wakhan being no longer coincident with their geographical limits.
The following are the chief provincial subdivisions of Badakshan, omitting Roshan and Shignan: - On the west Rustak, Kataghan, Ghori, Narin and Anderab; on the north Darwaz, Ragh and Shiwa; on the east Charan, Ishkashim, Zebak and Wakhan; and in the centre Faizabad, Farkhar, Minjan and Kishm. There are others, but nothing certain is known about these minor subdivisions.
The conformation of the mountain districts, which comprise all the southern districts of Badakshan and the northern hills and valleys of Kafiristan, is undoubtedly analogous to that of the rest of the Hindu Kush westwards. The water-divide of the Hindu Kush from the Dorah to the Khawak pass, i.e. through the centre of Kafiristan, has never been accurately traced; but its topographical conformation is evidently a continuation of that which has been observed in the districts of Badakshan to the west of the Khawak. The Hindu Kush represents the southern edge of a great central upheaval or plateau. It breaks up into long spurs southwards, deep amongst which are hidden the valleys of Kafiristan, almost isolated from each other by the rugged and snow-capped altitudes which divide them. To the north the plateau gradually slopes away towards the Oxus, falling from an average altitude of 15,000 ft. to 4000 ft. about Faizabad, in the centre of Badakshan, but tailing off to 1100 at Kunduz, in Kataghan, where it merges into the flat plains bordering the Oxus.
The Kokcha river traverses Badakshan from south-east to north-west, and, with the Kunduz, drains all the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush west of the Dorah pass. Some of its sources are near Zebak, close to the great bend of the Oxus northwards, so that it cuts off all the mountainous area included within that bend from the rest of Badakshan. Its chief affluent is the Minjan, which Sir George Robertson found to be a considerable stream where it approaches the Hindu Kush close under the Dorah. Like the Kunduz, it probably drains the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush by deep lateral valleys, more or less parallel to the crest, reaching westwards towards the Khawak pass. From the Oxus (1000 ft.) to Faizabad (4000 ft.) and Zebak (8500 ft.) the course of the Kokcha offers a high road across Badakshan; between Zebak and Ishkashim, at the Oxus bend, there is but an insignificant pass of 9500 ft.; and from Ishkashim by the Panja, through the Pamirs, is the continuation of what must once have been a much-traversed trade route connecting Afghan Turkestan with Kashgar and China. It is undoubtedly one of the great continental high-roads of Asia. North of the Kokcha, within the Oxus bend, is the mountainous district of Darwaz, of which the physiography belongs rather to the Pamir type than to that of the Hindu Kush.
A very remarkable meridional range extends for 100 m. northwards from the Hindu Kush (it is across this range that the route from Zebak to Ishkashim lies), which determines the great bend of the Oxus river northwards from Ishkashim, and narrows the valley of that river into the formation of a trough as far as the next bend westwards at Kala Wamar. The western slopes of this range drain to the Oxus either north-westwards, by the Kokcha and the Ragh, or else they twist their streams into the Shiwa, which runs due north across Darwaz. Here again we find the main routes which traverse the country following the rivers closely. The valleys are narrow, but fertile and populous. The mountains are rugged and difficult; but there is much of the world-famous beauty of scenery, and of the almost phenomenal agricultural wealth of the valleys of Bokhara and Ferghana to be found in the as yet half-explored recesses of Badakshan.
The principal domesticated animal is the yak. There are also large flocks of sheep, cows, goats, ponies, fine dogs and Bactrian camels. The more important wild animals are a large wild sheep (Ovis poli), foxes, wolves, jackals, bears, boars, deer and leopards; amongst birds, there are partridges, pheasants, ravens, jays, sparrows, larks, a famous breed of hawks, etc.
Badakshan proper is peopled by Tajiks, Turks and Arabs, who speak the Persian and Turki languages, and profess the orthodox doctrines of the Mahommedan law adopted by the Sunnite sect; while the mountainous districts are inhabited by Tajiks, professing the Shi'ite creed and speaking distinct dialects in different districts.
History. - Badakshan, part of the Greek Bactria, was visited by Hsüan Tsang in 630 and 644. The Arabian geographers of the 10th century speak of its mines of ruby and lapis lazuli, and give notices of the flourishing commerce and large towns of Waksh and Khotl, regions which appear to have in part corresponded with Badakshan. In 1272-1273 Marco Polo and his companions stayed for a time in Badakshan. During this and the following centuries the country was governed by kings who claimed to be descendants of Alexander the Great. The last of these kings was Shah Mahommed, who died in the middle of the 15th century, leaving only his married daughters to represent the royal line. Early in the middle of the 16th century the Usbegs obtained possession of Badakshan, but were soon expelled, and then the country was generally governed by descendants of the old royal dynasty by the female line. About the middle of the 18th century the present dynasty of Mirs established its footing in the place of the old one which had become extinct. In 1765 the country was invaded and ravaged by the ruler of Kabul. During the first three decades of the 19th century it was overrun and depopulated by Kohan Beg and his son Murad Beg, chiefs of the Kataghan Usbegs of Kunduz. When Murad Beg died, the power passed into the hands of another Usbeg, Mahommed Amir Khan. In 1859 the Kataghan Usbegs were expelled; and Mir Jahander Shah, the representative of the modern royal line, was reinstated at Faizabad under the supremacy of the Afghans. In 1867 he was expelled by Abdur Rahman and replaced by Mir Mahommed Shah, and other representatives of the same family.
(T. H. H.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)