How a poor region of Afghanistan sinks into famine under Taliban rule

This is an outstanding but highly alarming direct testimony from an altitude remote and forgotten Afghan region. Far away from any media, the harsh and poor life of local people has been turned, by Taliban, into dereliction and extreme misery. Trapped in a full lockdown, people cannot escape what became a hell with no hope.
Those who, at an international level, whitewash the reputation of the Taliban 2.0 should reflect on the heavy responsibility they are taking. Those in neighboring Pakistan celebrating the Taliban victory as an Islamo-nationalist triumph should remember that the people who suffer and die share, for some of them, the same ethnicity, the same language, the same faith and the same family roots.
Cynical are those who rejoice at what they see as a Washington’s defeat. Distant America will recover. But the misfortune will be borne, on the spot, by the poorest and the most fragile ones.

Bernard Grua
8 min readSep 10, 2021


Cet article en français

Preliminary background

Ishkashim is an Afghan small town of Badakhshan province on the left bank of the Upper Panj River (Amu Daria). On an island of the river is the border post with Tajikistan. It is not far from the Tajik Badakhshan town bearing the same name, Ishkashim. From there, a narrow strip of territory, the Wakhan Valley leads to the east and to the Little Pamir. This is the only Afghan border with China (92 km). In the past, the Wakhan corridor, 210 km long, was an active part of the silk road but became very isolated with the closing of the borders during the XX century. On the north, the Afghan Wakhan corridor is delimited by the Panj River separating it from the Tajik Wakhan part. On the south, the high mountains of the Hindu Kush range mark the border with Pakistan. Though forgotten by Kabul, very isolated and poor, it was a peaceful slice of land until this year, even during the Soviet war. Additionally, it was the only part of the country were Taliban never entered. Everything changed in mid-August 2021, when it fell under Taliban control. No journalist reports from this remote region.

LEFT — bottom: Ishkashim (Eshkashem), Afghanistan
CENTER — top: no man’s land island with Afghan-Tajik market (closed) between the two border posts
RIGHT — middle: Ishkashim (Eshkashem), Tajkistan

Until recently, a dirt road, in a very bad shape, connected Ishkashim (2,600 m) to Sarhad e Broghil(3,400 m). Then, the journey until Bozai Gumbaz (3,840 m) in Little Pamir had to be done by foot or by riding yaks and horses via steep and dangerous trails. Over the last two years, a Chinese road was built to connect Sarhad e Broghil to Bozai Gumbaz with the intention to terminate it at the Chinese border. This road probably helped the Taliban fast and full invasion.

Afghan Wakhan Corridor

Today, 2021/09/10, I had an internet conversation with a young man of Ishkashim. He was not in his home but next to the Panj River from where he could catch the Tajik network. Here, he is named Ahmed to not put his life at risk. This is not his real name.

Conversation of Friday, September 10, 2021 between Ahmed & Bernard grua

Ahmed: Hello Bernard,

Bernard: Hello Ahmed, In a French media, I wrote a paper about Panjshir. You can read it, thanks to Google Translation.
Ahmed: Great thanks for that. Unfortunately the Pakistan government helps Taliban forces to bombard Panjshir.

We need to talk about what’s is happening to your people.
I don’t have internet now. I have internet for social media only.

Ok. You want me to copy the French article here and to copy its translation in English?
Yes. But I can’t post on Facebook. I am at risk now. I am trying to leave Afghanistan if I can.

You are still in Ishkashim?
Yes. I am trying to cross to Tajikistan but the border is closed for us.

If you cross Panj River somewhere, what will be Tajik reactions? I mean Tajik army ones?
They send us back to Afghanistan. A lot of people crossed by river. They sent them back.

How are these people received by Taliban, when they are sent back?
The Tajik guard give them to Taliban in Ishkashim border. Then, the Taliban pick them to prison or jail.

Did you see anyone sent back by Tajik guard who could leave the prison?
Yes. I know the people who crossed to Tajikistan and went back to ishkashim.

Were they maltreated?
A little bit.

Did you hear about some people who could cross successfully?
A few families.

Do you have contacts in Tajik Badakhshan, who help Afghan people when they cross ?
I have many contacts, but they can’t help.

Could they arrange a pick up for you in Tajik Wakhan?
No. They can’t.

Did you hear about people escaping to Pakistan via Hindu Kush Range?
No one cross from Wakhan area or Ishkashim district (to Pakistan). They are waiting for Tajikistan border.

Are there some helps from Pakistani Wakhis? Are there people crossing via Broghil (3,798 m) or Irshad Pass (4,977 m) to Pakistan ?
No help from Pakistan. No one cross there.

How is Pir Shah Ismaili (religious Ismaili community leader of Wakhan) with Taliban?
He is in Qala e Panja (middle of Wakhan corridor). He is silent. He is not doing anything. No problem for him
A few Taliban are in Wakhan corridor.

Do you think Resistance can take control of Wakhan Corridor?
I don’t think

If you destroy bridges between Ishkashim and Bozai Gumbaz, then Taliban’s cars will not be able to move.
The Taliban are already there.

But they are few. If you cut connections, they are trapped.
No one is ready to fight against them.

Did Taliban killed people in Ishkashim and in Wakhan?

Are they many Tajik soldiers at the border? Are Tajik people scared with a potential intrusion of Taliban in Tajik Pamir?
Yes, many Tajik militaries at the border. Yes, they are scared from Taliban and other terrorists group.

Are they Chinese people in Afghan Wakhan, right now?

Do you think that, without the new Chinese road, Taliban would have been able to go further than Sarhad e Broghil?
The Chinese government like to work with Taliban.
I don’t know more about the road but I know that the Taliban stopped the construction company in Little Pamir.

Chinese people need this road. Do you think they will pressure Taliban for letting the road being completed?
Yes, for their business they like. I think so.

I remember Wakhan people celebrating Chinese-Pakistani friendship one or two years ago.
They don’t know about politics. They think about business. But, nowaday, no cash ,no services. Everything is stopped. Here, the life is very difficult currently. No money, here, all the banks closed. The food is very expensive.

The point is that Wakhan became strategic for China. They will make sure it stays under Taliban control and/or Pakistani mercenaries.
Maybe, by Taliban. The people will not allow Pakistanis. Pakistan is our enemy

The Taliban people you see, are they 100% Afghan? Are they all Pashtuns?
Ninety nine percent are Pashtun from Afghanistan and Pakistan. A few people are Afghanistan Tajik

You mean you saw Pakistani Taliban in Ishkashim?
A few Pakistani Taliban were here, but they went to Kabul.

How is the life in Wakhan with Taliban? Have you been there since mid august?
I have been there. The people worry about the future

Are all women from Wakhan obliged to wear the burqa?
They stopped the women working with men. Now, no services in Wakhan corridors. No medicine in Wakhan hospital ,very bad situation.
If the women travel somewhere they must wear burqa but the Wakhi poor people can’t buy that dress.
[Here, Ahmed presented his wife’s job, explaining why she is not allowed to work anymore. This is not reported, here, to avoid identification].

Are Wakhi women allowed to work outside, in the fields, with cattle etc?
Yes,they have to work. No other way for them

So, they go alone, outside, without burka?
But they cover their face.

Are the schools open?
All the schools are closed. The university too.
All services are stopped here.

All the services ar stopped by order of Taliban?

It is not what we hear.
Do you remember the tourists office? This is the tourist and governor office of Ishkashim. Here, no media to show to the world.

The tourist and Governor office in Ishkashim after Taliban visit- Photos by Ahmed

This is the police station near the ishkashim border if you remember.
They destroyed all the Ishkashim office.

Police station near Ishkashim border after Taliban visit - Photos by Ahmed

I think you should use us for spreading information abroad. But we have to make sure all what we share is direct information from you and pictures taken by you. No second hands.
No,please do not mention about me they will kill me. I am at risk now.

Of course. I will absolutely not mention your name and even not give any indication allowing to identify you.
Sorry, Bernard I have to go home I am near the Tajikistan border because I am using the Tajik network for internet and my battery is going to finished

Ok Ahmed.Thank you for all the detailed information! Think about it: use us to share the information to the world. We will do our best. We feel so sorry and so desesperate for your people. We want to help
Ok,thanks. Please pass some information about the France immigration visa program.

France visa program. It’s a very difficult issue. Let me ask. You are Ismailian?
We, Ismailian, are very few people in Afghanistan. We are at risk

Be very careful. Make sure you don’t have too many information in your mobile phone. Think about how ISI can help Taliban to monitor social media and communication.
Ok. I know that the Pakistan government directly helps Taliban. Two weeks ago the top leader of Pakistani Taliban visited Ishkashim. They visited the border too with Balk (Balk, the city?) cars

Let’s have a talk during next days. When you want. All my wishes for your family
Have a great time. Sorry, I didn’t have more battery to give you more information

Later, don’t worry.



Bernard Grua

Photographer, writer, contributor to French & foreign media: culture, history, heritage, geopolitics — https://bernardgrua.net