Why Badakhshan may have felt safe
- 7 August 2010
- From the section South Asia
Eight foreigners and two Afghans have been found shot dead in the Afghan province of Badakhshan. BBC News website journalist Christopher Sleight has just returned from the province, where he was reporting on the growing tourism industry in the region.
Much of the north-eastern corner of Afghanistan has been left largely untouched by the ravages of the Soviet occupation and the Taliban.
In some districts of the 44,059 sq km (17,011.3 sq mile) province of Badakhshan there is even an infant tourism industry, with at least two commercial operators offering tours in the area.
Adventurous climbers and trekkers are arriving in increasing numbers to explore the isolated reaches of the Wakhan Corridor, where the Pamirs meet the Hindu Kush.
When we arranged our trip to the Wakhan District, one security expert we consulted described the province as an "island of sanity in a sea of madness".
And when you visit the area, there is little evidence of the conflict raging in the south of the country.
The only sign of war we saw was the relics of Soviet-era tanks, abandoned by the side of the road near the village of Ishkashim, where we crossed into Afghanistan from Tajikistan.
Most of the people in the province are very poor, subsisting in a mountainous rural economy that has changed little for hundreds of years.
Tourism is one area where they can earn hard currency, with travellers demanding porters, translators, guides and vehicles.
During our trip, we came across a group from Poland, a lone Swiss traveller going to the province's capital of Faizabad and two British expeditions.
Two female ski-mountaineers also travelled to the district earlier this summer.
One Afghan operating a tourism office in the province said he expected more than 70 travellers to come to the region this summer - and was aiming to attract hundreds more over the next five years.
Ahmed Ghyasi, who runs Wakhan Tourism from Faizabad, said he hoped that the more foreigners came, the safer the province would become.
His thinking was that once the local population began earning an income from tourism, the less they would tolerate extremism in their communities.
We were met with traditional Afghan courtesy and hospitality during our stay. At every visit to the local police station or governor's office we listened to long, elaborate speeches from our hosts welcoming us to Afghanistan and telling us we were important guests.
But religion remains a flashpoint, even in this largely peaceful province.
Our translator told us about an incident this Easter when a group of American missionaries - purporting to be a trekking company - began a church service in the main street of a village in the region.
The missionaries were given 12 hours to leave the country, but not before causing a considerable amount of unrest in the area.
The medical workers found shot dead on Saturday were working for a Christian charity, the International Assistance Mission, though the organisation has denied they were missionaries.
And the spectre of the insurgency is always present in Afghanistan.
Our own trip was cut abruptly short after a warning that we might be at risk if we stayed, and we crossed back into Tajikistan as soon as we could.
It seems that not everyone wants the tourists to come.