The Violence Curtain: Occupied Afghan Turkestan and the Making of a Central Asian Borderscape

  • Timothy Alexander Nunan (Author)
    Freie Universität Berlin

    Freigeist-Fellow (Research Group Leader)



This article examines the history of Soviet-Afghan encounters in northern Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Drawing on archival materials from the former Soviet Union as well as recently published memoir collections by Soviet border guards, it shows how during the 1980s, northern Afghanistan was subjected to a unique regime of degraded sovereignty. While all regions of Afghanistan were subject to military occupation by the Soviet Army, in northern Afghanistan, 62,000 Soviet Border Troops occupied the northern reaches. Their goal was not only to secure  the Soviet-Afghan border, but also to eliminate mujāhidīn forces in Badakhshan, encourage peaceful and commercial cross- border interactions between Soviet and Afghan Badakhshan, and secure the entire territory inside an “antiseptic” green zone extending 100 to 120 kilometers into northern Afghanistan. As they did so, many elements of the Soviet border regime migrated into Afghanistan itself. Building on earlier work on the making of the Soviet border through areas of security inside the USSR, this piece shows the afterlives of that border as something also capable of being extended outside the USSR itself. In doing so, it not only enhances our understanding of the Soviet-Afghan War but also reveals the Soviet Union and its border forces to be transnational actors in their own right, rather than mere defenders of a statist territorial order.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Contributor or sponsoring agency
Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies
Type, method or approach
Archives; Archival Research
Afghanistan, Soviet Union, Military Occupation, Borderlands, International History, Transnationalism
How to Cite
Nunan, T. A. (2017). The Violence Curtain: Occupied Afghan Turkestan and the Making of a Central Asian Borderscape. The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 8(1), 224–258.