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For a (fictional, but set in the real world) story set in 1962, I need to get my protagonists from the USSR into Afghanistan. I've done some research and found no reliable information about the historical status of todays border crossings. In the west, near Aqina the border crossing was officially opened in 2007 - did it not exist before or was it closed for some time? What was its status in 1962? In the middle, at Hairatan, the bridge was built for the Soviet invasion in 1979. What was there in 1962? To the east, the Tadschikistan border is described a "porous", but roads are sparse and typically run along the border, not over it. Many of them are fairly recent and probably didn't exist in the 60s.

I've exhausted my sources and hope for an answer or pointers to other sources.

So how to cross over from the Soviet Union into Afghanistan in 1962? It would be best if there were at least two options that my protagonists could discuss.

(additional information: For reasons, taking the plane is not an option)

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One such crossing was over the Amu Darya river, which separates the Uzbek (Soviet) city of Termez from Hairatan. As Uzbekistan is doubly landlocked, it has no seaports, and Termez is the most important of its riverine ports. In ancient times the port was at nearby Kampyr-Tepe. Before the various bridges were built, "[t]here had been river traffic between Termez and Afghanistan for many years", including ferries. Termez's present port facilities were built up along with or after a Russian "fortress and garrison" was installed there in the 1890s. A bridge across another section of the same river was built in 1901. In the 1960s, it must have been practical to cross the river from Termez to Hairatan.

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I've been to that border region in 2011. It's a largely barren, semi-desert area, hilly and mountainous. As such I'd not be at all surprised if the border was pretty much impossible to patrol for either country without investing massive amounts of manpower and material. While I didn't get very close to the border, I saw no roads leading towards it that would indicate patrol roads along the border, let alone things like watch towers and other fortifications.

So it's entirely possible (I'd say even very likely) that there may well have been a lively cross border smuggling going on.

And that was during the days of the struggle with the Taliban, who saw the Uzbek government as an enemy (Uzbekistan does not allow people being openly religious, ANY religion, and does not allow proselitising within its borders, they also hosted several western nations' air forces providing air support for ground troops operating against the Taliban at the time).

I wouldn't be surprised if there were occasional helicopter patrols of the border, but I didn't see any. During the Soviet era there'd have been more resources available for those, but less technologically advanced so for example night vision equipment would have been hard to come by and less efficient, making it probably rather easy to filter small parties on foot or horseback across the border under cover of darkness (especially given the ruggedness of the terrain).

  • Thanks for the information. I'm assuming that crossing the border without a road requires some kind of off-road vehicle - which may not have been easy to come by in USSR times. Or is the surface hard-packed and driveable? – Tom Dec 17 '18 at 9:29
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    @Tom horses... As is, we saw several quite well armed (rifles, what looked like swords or long knives) civilians on horseback while driving through the area. – jwenting Dec 17 '18 at 10:37

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