The Wakhan Pass
For at least the last 5,000 years, one of the prime the raiding routes (in both directions) between China and the Asian Subcontinent has been the Wakan Pass (now referred to as the Wakan Corridor). It’s high country, well above timber line with the high point at over 16,000 feet, and it’s used in clement months to travel between Afghanistan and China, avoiding the really high peaks of the Pamir Range.
These are your traditional options for transit:
(1) The Northern Route led up the valley of the Pamir River to Zorkul Lake, then east through the mountains to the valley of the Murghab River, across the Sarikol Mountains to China.
(2) The Southern Route led up the valley of the Wakhan River to the Wakhjir Pass to China.
(3) The Central Route branches off the southern route through the Little Pamir Valley (about 60 miles long) to the Murghab River valley.
Marco Polo took the Southern Route as did a number of British Army officers including Francis Younghusband and Lord Curzon. I was there in the spring of 1978 and have scars to show for it.
Now the Pass is back in the news as if it’s “new”. Chinese troops have been operating in the pass (as they have since China came to exist about 5,000 years ago) and there is shock in the fact because it’s Afghan turf. The truth is that the Wakan Pass doesn’t really belong to anyone, no matter what sort of ink you lay to paper. The Chinese have an interest in patrolling the area because it adjoins China and terrorists use the route. There are no “roads” that one would recognize as such.
Afghan officials in Badakhshan Province probably are glad to have Chinese help in patrolling the Wakhan Corridor. It has been used for smuggling for centuries, as a segment of the original Silk Road. It is difficult terrain to police. The Pamir Mountains are referred to as the roof of the world because they are the junction of six of the world’s highest mountain ranges.
Over the past few years, the Wakhan Corridor has been used by Uighur militants to move in and out of China’s Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. China has a security interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan because Uighur militant separatists have trained in both countries.
Sensational articles of late have called for US involvement.
Saba, the Iranian Houthi-controlled news agency, published a statement released by the Yemeni rocket units about the missile attack at Riyadh on the 6th.
The statement said that “the long-range ballistic missile that targeted the Saudi military base in Al Muzahimiyah area, west of the capital Riyadh in Saudi Arabia was of the type Burkan-2.” The website stated that “the missile Burkan-2 is an improved version of Burkan-1, which in turn, is an improved version of the Scud missile.” (“Burkan” translates as “volcano.”)
The Saudis still have not commented on this attack. However, so many open sources have repeated the account of this missile attack that, if the attack did not occur, the Saudis should have denied it. The Houthis posted to the web a video of the missile launch and still images of multiple, supposed Burkan-2 missile air frames in a propaganda display.
This is the first use of the so-called Burkan-2, so few details about it are available beyond those that the Houthis disclosed. The Burkan-1 is known, however. It is a modified, extended range Scud short range ballistic missile, which was used to attack Jeddah last October. It is liquid fueled, carries a 500kg conventional warhead and can range 800kms (497 miles).
The Houthi missile engineers, and whoever is helping them, apparently succeeded in gaining a hundred more miles of range by modifying the Burkan-1. The Houthis appear to be getting as proficient in tinkering with Scud ballistic missile technology as are the North Koreans.
Missile attacks on Riyadh would threaten to expand the battle space to include major cities in Saudi Arabia. Such an expansion would be impossible without outside help, meaning from Iran and/or Lebanese Hizballah. The Saudis might decide the time was approaching for a confrontation with Iran.
The threat of a direct confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran probably would prompt the Saudis to call in their markers with Egypt and Pakistan. Both governments promised to defend the Saudi Kingdom in the event of a direct threat of war.
Will the US become involved?