بدخشان Badakhshān) is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, consisting
of 28 districts and having its capital at Feyzabad. It is located in the
north-east of the country, between the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya. It is
part of a broader historical Badakhshan region.
Badakhshan is primarily bordered by Gorno-Badakhshan
Autonomous Province and Khatlon Province in Tajikistan to the north and
east. In the east of the province a long spur called the Wakhan Corridor
extends above northern Pakistan's Chitral and Northern Areas to a border
with China. The province has a total area of 44,059 km², most of which is
occupied by the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges.
Badakhshan was a stopover on the ancient Silk Road trading path, and China
has shown great interest in the province after the fall of the Taliban,
helping to reconstruct roads and infrastructure.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Badakhshan contains
temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands, as well as Gissaro-Alai open
woodlands along the Pamir River. Common plants found in these areas include
pistachio, almond, walnut, apple, juniper, and sagebrush.
Montane Grasslands and Shrublands are also existent in the province, with
the Hindu Kush alpine meadow located in the high mountains in the northern
and southwestern regions.
The Wakhan corridor contains two montane grassland and shrubland regions,
the Karakoram-West Tibetan Plateau alpine steppe and in the Pamir Mountains.
South of Fayzabad the terrain becomes dominated by deserts and xeric
shrublands. Common vegetation includes thorny bushes, zizyphus, acacia, and
Amygdatus. Paropamisus xeric woodlands can be found in the province's
northwestern and central areas. Common vegetation includes almond,
pistachio, willows, and sea-buckthorn.
Badakhshan etymologically derives
from the Sassanid word badax, an official title. The
suffix of the name, -ān, means the region belonged to
someone with the title badax. This Sassanid naming
convention is seen in other Central Asian locations,
including Azerbaijan, Isfahan, and Tehran.
Badakhshan and Panjshir were the only provinces that
were never occupied or captured by the Taliban during
their drive to control the country. However, during
the course of the wars a non-Taliban Islamic emirate was
established in Badakhshan by Mawlawi Shariqi,
paralleling the Islamic Revolutionary State of
Afghanistan in neighboring Nuristan. Burhanuddin Rabbani,
a Badakhshan native, and Ahmad Shah Massoud were the
last remnants of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance
during the peak of Taliban control in 2000 and 2001, and
they used the province as their base of operations.
Despite massive mineral reserves, Badakhshan is one of
the most destitute areas in the world. Opium poppy growing is the only real
source of income in the province and Badakhshan has one of the highest rates
of maternal mortality in the world, due to the complete lack of health
infrastructure, inaccessible locations, and bitter winters of the province.
Lapis lazuli has been mined in the Sar-e-Sang mines, located in the Kuran wa
Munjan District of Badakhshan, for over 6,000 years. The mines were the
largest and most well-known source in ancient times.
Most recent mining activity has focused on lapis lazuli, with the proceeds
from the lapis mines being used to fund Northern Alliance troops, and before
that, anti-Soviet Mujahideen fighters. Recent geological surveys have
indicated the location of other gemstone deposits, in particular rubies and
emeralds. Exploitation of this mineral wealth could be key to the
Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan, sits on the Kokcha
River and has an approximate population of 50,000. The chief commercial and
administrative center of northeast Afghanistan and the Pamir region,
Fayzabad also has rice and flour mills. During the winter the city is
sometimes isolated by deep snow. In 1979 it was a focus of Afghan guerrillas
attempting to repel the Soviet invasion. Fayzabad was taken by Soviet forces
in 1980 and became a major garrison town.