Wakhan - Badakhshan
Summer camp of a Kyrgyz family in Wakhan.

Wakhanis living in the shadow of oblivion

For Abdul Majid Deljo life in the  Wakhan corridor is a harsh day-to-day challenge for survival. The inhabitants of this snowcapped peak depend on livestock and agriculture for a living. Communication, health, education, and road infrastructures are almost zero in Wakhan. The mortality rate among Wakhani mothers is high. In this remote area of the high corridor of the Hindu Kush, children do not have proper access to education services and health care. “Our problems will not be resolved unless Wakhan’s new generation become literate,” says Abdul Majid Deljo, an inhabitant of Wakhan.

Two weeks ago, Majid along with a small number of his Wakhani fellows came to the capital Kabul to meet government authorities and discuss with them the challenges they were facing in Wakhan.

The forgotten Wakhanis blame the central and local governments for discriminating against the inhabitants of this corridor. Sandwiched between Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, Wakhan is home to nomad communities of Pamiris and Kyrgyz. To the east, the narrow corridor of Wakhan stretches to the People’s Republic of China. But little of the regional multiculturalism is seen in Wakhan as it remains one of the most isolated districts of Afghanistan in the twenty-first century.

“When I used to attend school, there were 14 girls in a classroom, but now the number has reduced to two or three. The illiteracy rate in Wakhan is very high and there is no quality education,” says Amina, another Wakhani.

Jalad Khan Wakhani says clinics in Wakhan are underequipped and understaffed.

A large number of Wakhani girls are deprived of getting an education as there is a very limited number of girl’s schools and female teachers. Only a small number of them are allowed by their families to finish primary school in a co-education setup.

The 25-year old Amina Amu along with one of her schoolfellows were fortunate enough as they graduated high school and participated in the national Kankor, Afghanistan university entry exam. The rest of her schoolmates, either not allowed by their families or got married, failed to pursue higher education. Like many remote underdeveloped areas of the country, child marriage is prevalent in Wakhan. Most Wakhani girls do not get a chance to graduate high school. They are often wedded off in their early 20s.

Amina, who holds a BA in literature from Badakhshan University, said she applied for a teaching post at school in her home town Wakhan but she could not secure the post as she did not have a connection and could not afford to pay a bribe.

Officials at the Ministry of Education say as the population in Wakhan is small in number and dispersed in location, the ministry cannot afford to build new schools for a small number of them. Figure by the ministry shows that 4,049 students including 1,798 girls, study in 17 schools in Wakhan district of Badakhshan. But a number of Wakhanis who had come to Kabul weeks ago claimed that only a few Wakhani girls are able to attend school whereas a larger number of them do not have access to education facilities.

Najiba Arian, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, said the ministry would pay more attention to underdeveloped districts. “We are increasing the provincial resources and plan to build more girl’s schools.”

Health service is poor in Wakhan

With a 23,000 population, the mountain-locked Wakhan corridor is one of the most underdeveloped districts of Afghanistan. Health service in the high altitude of Wakhan is the rarest thing about which the Wakhanis talk with a pleading language. From Wakhan it takes a week-long journey to reach Faizabad, the capital city of Badakhshan.  What is absent in this highland is road infrastructure. People use animals like donkeys and mount for transportation.

Juma Khan Amu, chairman of the Wakhan Development Council, has lost a number of his close relatives on the way to clinics. “I saw several pregnant women who lost their lives on the way to Ishkashim district hospital.” Last year, six mothers lost their lives on the way to the hospital, he said.

In the winter, the temperature drops below 30 degrees in Wakhan. A cold winter coupled with a lack of medicine causes death among pregnant mothers. Wakhanis die of simple curable diseases.

Jalad Khan Wakhani, a representative of Wakhan inhabitants, told Kabul Now health centers in Wakhan are underequipped and understaffed.

Juma Khan Amu has lost a number of his close relatives on the way to clinics.

Nasrullah Nayel, Wakhan district governor, said that there was only one ambulance in the district to transfer patients to a hospital in Faizabad. The governor listed a number of health issues in Wakhan. He called on health officials to provide more medical equipment and improve the health facilities in the remote Wakhan.

Three weeks ago, a presidential delegation visited Wakhan to check health service. Mohammad Nasser Foshanji, director of the provincial health department at the Ministry of Public Health, said all clinics were in the operation and there was no serious health issue in Wakhan.

Heat-wrenching poverty

The sun-backed faces of most Wakhanis paint a portrait that depicts how deep their sufferings are. Poverty and deprivation are the material truth that characterizes Wakhan as one of the most underdeveloped lands inhabited by human fellows in the country which torn apart in nearly four decades of a bloody conflict. As the picturesque beauty of its landscape attracts our minds and eyes, heart-wrenching poverty in Wakhan reminds us of the misery the Wakhanis are dealing with on a daily basis.  They survive on basic food materials like bread, yogurt, rice, and a small amount of mutton which is rarely found during the cold season. Malnutrition is widespread among Wakhani children. “People spend days and nights with an empty stomach,” says Abdul Majid.

Jalad Khan Wakhani says that in the last two years, a large number of Wakhani residents have lost their lives. “Kyrgyz people are in danger of extinction,” says Khan, expressing concern about the high mortality rate of Wakhani women. He says they most often marry women from Pakistan as the female population in his hometown is on the decline.

Ahmad Tamim Azimi, the spokesperson for Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, said State Minister for Disaster Management, Ghulam Bahaudin Jailani, paid a visit to Badakhshan two weeks ago. He said the government would give food, cloth, and cash to poor residents of Pamir. “We have helped 152 families in Small Pamir, and the families in Buzorg Pamir will be supported when aid packages are transferred from Tajikistan.”

“There is no female doctor in Wakhan. Pregnant women are in a bad situation,” says Mr. Wakhani.

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