Afghan Badakhshan (see: map)

Badakhshan Province with its capital Faizabad is situated in the northeast of Afghanistan, in the heart and Pamir highland region of Central Asia, and surrounded by Tajikistan, China and Pakistan. It is separated from Tajik Badakhshan by the Panj River, the headstream of the magical Oxus river (or Amu Darya), which is flowing between the northern spurs of the Hindu Kush and the southern fringes of the Pamir mountains. Badakhshan consists mainly of rugged and difficult mountains and deep, fertile river valleys, but also of high undulating grasslands, especially in the eastern Shiva, Zebak and Wakhan districts. The main routes traversing the country are following the rivers closely. The Kokcha is the main river, traversing the country from southeast to northwest. . The majority of the population is ethnic Tajiks, who are speaking Dari, a Persian language. Other ethnic groups are the Uzbeks, Kirghiz and Pashtuns, who are bilingual, with six smaller linguistic groups: Wakhi, Shugni, Eshkashimi, Munjani and Kurani, and Zebaki, who belong to the so-called mountain-Tajiks and are mainly Nizari Ismailis, Shi’a Muslims who recognize the fourth Agha Khan and 49th Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni as their spiritual leader. No reliable population estimate is available at this moment: most of the inhabitants are Sunni Muslims, living in the centre and western part of Badakhshan, while the Ismaili settlements are mainly situated in the eastern part, along the left bank of the Panj River and in the western part of the Wakhan corridor (and in Tajik Badakhshan). As a Shiite minority group the Ismailis in Badakhshan have undergone discrimination by the Sunni majority during a long period, but fortunately nowadays attempts at reconciliation are made: one example is the fact that in several Ismaili villages mosques were built for the Sunni people in their region, although Ismailis have no culture of building mosques for praying. The majority of the inhabitants are living in the river valleys, and the isolated mountain villages are regularly cut off during the harsh winters by heavy snow, or even sometimes in summertime, when roads are blocked by falling rocks or washed away by overflowing rivers through melting glacier streams. One of the most distinctive features of Badakhshan is the Wakhan district, a long narrow corridor, following the Panj and Wakhan River and shaped in the form of a panhandle for Badakhshan, linking Afghanistan with China. Once the legendary Silk Road was passing through the Wakhan Corridor, and Marco Polo travelled in the 13th century through Badakhshan and the Wakhan region, mentioning the famous balas rubies of Badakhshan, which brought wealth to the province for many centuries, admiring the high and fertile grasslands and describing the hardship of crossing the endless Pamir Mountains of Wakhan. Indeed Badakhshan was once renowned for its rubies, sapphires, lapis-lazuli and its silver, lead and copper mines, until the civil war put an end to all mining activities.