Calculated incision rates along the Panj, the main river of the Pamir, are used to investigate any influence by tectonics or climate on the architecture of the river. The depositional ages of Panj River terraces were calculated using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of terrace sand. Fluvial incision rates were generated by integrating the terrace depositional ages with accurate kinematic GPS measurements of terrace heights above the modern Panj. We investigated 16 terraces along the Panj at the western Pamir margin and one terrace from the Vakhsh River to the north of the Pamir. The results reveal brief periods of fluvial deposition over the past 26 kyr. The oldest Panj terrace depositional ages coincide with early MIS 2 and MIS 2/1 glaciations on the Pamir Plateau. Younger terrace ages have no apparent link with glacial cycles. Terraces with varying heights above the modern Panj at different localities yielded similar depositional ages. This suggests that local conditions have determined fluvial incision rates. Combining all of the terrace measurements, the average incision rate of the Panj over the last 26 kyr has been ~ 5.6 mm/yr. A high mean incision rate of ~ 7.3 mm/yr was calculated from terraces where the Panj has cut a steep-sided valley through the Shakhdara dome. Significantly lower incision rates (~ 2–3 mm/yr) were calculated from terraces where the Panj flows along the southern boundaries of the Shakhdara and Yazgulom domes. At those localities, graded segments of the Panj River profile and increased valley widths are indicative of local base levels. Downstream of the Yazgulom dome, river incision rates are generally lower (~ 4–5 mm/yr) than the Panj average. However, there is one exception where higher incision rates (~ 6 mm/yr) were calculated upstream of the Darvaz Fault Zone, a major tectonic feature that forms the western boundary of the Pamir. The Vakhsh River terrace to the north of the Pamir yielded a lower incision rate (~ 3 mm/yr) compared to the Panj average. Variation in incision rates along the Panj does not correspond to changes in rock type or river catchment area. Instead, incision rates appear to have been primarily influenced by river capture across the southern and central metamorphic domes of the Pamir. Wherever the Panj cuts these domes it displays a convex river profile. The combination of localized river profile convexity and changes in incision rates across the Pamir domes indicates that the dome boundaries have been active recently.