[Book] Mapping transition in the Pamirs. Changing human-environmental landscapes

Hermann Kreutzmann and Teiji Watanabe

Certain areas in the world have gained a certain level of attention only when geopolitical interests clash, severe political crises occur, and/or in the aftermath of natural disasters receive short-term attention and trigger-off humanitarian support. The Pamirian Knot has formed such a temporary hotspot in the transitional zone between Central and South Asia. During the colonial period it was the arena of Great Game competition when the superpowers of the time seemed to be clashing, but avoided any direct confrontation by creating boundaries and buffer zones. During the Cold War Soviet troops entered Afghanistan through this corridor and left from there to sound the bell of its end. In the immediate aftermath independent Central Asian states struggled to find a constellation in which power could be shared among struggling stakeholders, where new economic set-ups could be tested and where a vision for statehood outside the former Soviet Union needed to be developed. In some cases this created disastrous results such as the civil war in Tajikistan. The area addressed in this book has been confronted with major natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides and rock falls.

The Pamirian Knot qualifies for the initial statement about short-term attention. The authors who have contributed chapters to this book look at the Pamirian interface from various perspectives and have attempted to draw the readers’ attention towards a number of aspects and issues that allow regular attention for this region. The case studies cover a wide range of topics between the fascinations of earth scientists for geological features such as a mountain knot or for the hydraulic potential of the glacierised Pamirs and neighbouring mountain ranges. The other side of the spectrum draws our attention towards efforts in development and humanitarianism. The challenges of transition after independence have forced rural people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to adapt to socio-economic changes. Those changes have been severely felt and seem to affect people’s lives much more than any climate change to date. Similar perceptions apply for neighbouring countries such as Pakistan where significant changes in the political ecology, development policies and infrastructure assets have affected the lives of mountain dwellers.

In the context of mapping transition in the Pamirs two features have gained a special attention: borderlands and pastures. The process of boundary-making and giving a shifting importance of borders – once open, then hermetically closed, later on perforated or open – are challenging our understanding of cross-border communication and exchange, of cooperation and segregation, and of belonging and migration. The second feature, pastoralism, has a history of cross-border mobility, but as well one of closed-frontier nomadism.

The recent changes in lifestyles and living conditions are reflected in pastoral practices, resource utilisation and nature protection. International and national, regional and local interests are meeting in a supposedly remote mountain area. Remoteness is a perception that is informed by our worldview, our assessment of mobile and settled lifestyles, and by disciplinary perspectives at the threshold between Central and South Asia.

In this book the Pamirs have become centre-stage, and we would like to stimulate an enhanced research interest for an area with a rich heritage and a challenging environment.

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