Recent fighting in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province has prompted Tajik authorities to close the neighboring Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) to foreigners.
Asia-Plus reports that the deputy head of the country’s tourism committee, Rezo Nazarzoda, said that “As soon as the situation in the neighboring country changes for the better we will resume issuing permits to foreign citizens for visiting Gorno Badakhshan.”
GBAO makes up approximately 45 percent of Tajikistan’s territory, but is home to only 3 percent of the population. Nazarzoda said that 80 percent of Tajikistan’s tourists come to visit GBAO, specifically to see the breathtaking Pamir Mountains. The Pamir Highway that traverses the mountains is one of the highest roads in the world, an ancient piece of the Silk Road, and modern GBAO’s only real supply line.
As David Trilling writes for Eurasianet, this is not the first time the region has been closed to outsiders. In 2012 and 2014 GBAO was the site of fighting between locals and government forces:
The government has barred access in the past to the remote region, reachable by one or two poor roads in as long as 16 hours from Dushanbe. After fighting in 2012 between government troops and locals left dozens dead on both sides, authorities put up roadblocks. Since then, they have taken a dim view of anyone trying to investigate what happened, notably arresting a researcher last summer and charging him with treason before releasing him under sustained international pressure. It seems possible that once again the authorities have something to hide.
During the Tajik civil war, GBAO’s local government declared independence. The area is often referred to as “restive” in news reports.
In addition to Taliban activity in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, Tajik authorities may also be responding to reports that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has moved back into the area. Earlier this week Bruce Pannier reported for RFE/RL that last Spring Pakistani authorities began large-scale operations to clean out militants in North Waziristan. The IMU, which had long used North Waziristan as a base, fled into neighboring Afghanistan. Incidentally, U.S. bombing in 2001 forced the IMU into Pakistan.
Pannier notes that this movement back into Afghanistan means that, “IMU militants, for the first time in a decade, are present in large numbers along the border with Central Asia.” However he also points out that the group’s leadership is a shambles, and over the years its ultimate goal of overthrowing a number of Central Asian governments, has “waned and been replaced by more immediate battles alongside their Taliban allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”