The infamous Khyber Pass, which connects Kābul with Peshāwar between Afghanistan and Pakistan, has since ancient times witnessed many military forces — most recently those of the U.S. and NATO.
Historically, the Khyber Pass has been a key gateway for invasions of the Indian subcontinent. As one of the oldest border crossings, its history is a rich one: that of a legendary route paved at times with bloodshed and horror.
The narrow pass cuts through the Hindu Kush mountain range, and was once a key part of the Silk Road, a key trade and migration route between India and China during the Kushan Empire.
In recent times, it has been utilized by NATO to transport weapons. However, it has also seen countless invasions spanning over 2000 years:
5th Century B.C.: Darius I led Persian armies through the Khyber pass, conquering the country around Kabul.
326 B.C.: Alexander the Great’s army marched through the pass to reach plains of India, then sailed down the Indus river to Gedrosia.
900 – 1200s A.D.: Persian, Mongol, and Tartar armies forced their way through the pass, effectively bringing Islam to India. This included great Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, who invaded as an act of revenge.
1300 – 1500s: Mughal commander Amir Timur invaded India via the pass in 1398, with his descendant Zahiruddin Babur following suit in 1505 and 1526 to establish a mighty Mughal empire, which lasted into the 1800s.
1839-42, 1878-80, and 1919: During the three Afghan Wars, British troops moved through the Khyber pass in offensive attacks. During their 1842 retreat from Afghanistan, 4,500 British troops and 12,000 camp-followers were killed in pass, with just one British soldier making it through alive.
2001-2014: During the Afghanistan war of 2001-2014, as much as 80% of all military supplies were sent through the pass from Pakistan. American and NATO troops traversed its narrow gauntlet as they moved supplies between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Today, the Khyber pass is controlled by Pakistan, and currently includes two highways and a railway line.
With American troops pulling out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, foreign military usage may retreat for a time. The passage’s storied history and two millennia worth of ghosts and battles, however, will stay behind: an enormous piece of history cut into one small path through the Hindu Kush mountains.
First published on April 1, 2014.