The Wakhan Quadrangle became an arena of colonial competition when four powers – Afghanistan, China, Great Britain and Russia –
struggled for dominance in a remote mountain region where only scattered communities lived in a challenging environment – called
the “Great Game”.
Prior to this, various international travellers had been sent out, commissioned to record routes, military details and strategic information
for the respective parties in the contest. Among the explorers were so-called indigenous
intermediaries who were trained in measuring geodetic parameters and who noted down their
observations about the customs, culture and economy of the people. They were expected to be
knowledgeable in terms of linguistic skills and cultural practices and were less likely than their
colonial masters to arouse suspicion.
Munshi Abdul Rahim was an explorer who was sent to Wakhan and Badakhshan in 1879–1880
by the fi rst British Political Agent in Gilgit. His report, reprinted in facsimile, is the centerpiece of
this book. It was written during a crucial period for Wakhan that resulted in the imperial division
of the formerly independent principality into two parts and the fl ight and migration of a large
share of its inhabitants. His account is preceded by an introduction to the “Great Game” and its
implications for the Central Asian interface. Munshi Abdul Rahim’s narrative serves to discuss
the function of providers of ‘political’ and ‘non-political’ information, i.e. the distinction between
exploration and espionage from colonial times to the present day.
The comments and interpretations are embedded in archival research and fi eldwork done by
the author over 40 years.