News / Asia

'Great Game' Resurfaces in Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban fighters (file photo)
Afghan Taliban fighters (file photo)
Gary Thomas

Occupying a strategic geopolitical position as the crossroads of Central Asia once made Afghanistan a focal point for governments competing for economic, political, and diplomatic dominance in the region. This competition, dubbed the Great Game, is now being replayed in a new 21st century version, but with some of the same nations participating, but this time, they are playing for different - and higher - stakes than some 150 years ago.

Professor Larry Goodson of the U.S. Army War College says that with the U.S. pondering its eventual troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, many countries are looking to see how they can extend their influence there.

Since there is a 21st-century Great Game going on in Afghanistan, a number of other regional actors - China, India, Russia, the Arabian Gulf countries, and then the United States and NATO, not a regional actor but engaged very heavily in Afghanistan - are all engaged and are all supporting different local proxies that can carry forward the interests of the outside actor," said Professor Goodson.

Some are backing the U.S. effort and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  Some are backing the Taliban.  But Afghanistan's closest neighbors appear to be betting to some extent on both.

Jim Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, says Pakistan is playing both sides.

"There's no doubt that Pakistan has a very complicated set of policies and self-perceived interests which do result in its playing a double game, on the one hand insisting that they're part of the U.S.-led coalition to stabilize Afghanistan and on the other hand, tolerating and perhaps even directly assisting Taliban leadership that operates from a sanctuary in Pakistan, " said Dobbins.

Officially, Pakistan says it supports U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan and denies any backing for the Pakistani Taliban or other militant groups.  But analysts say India's influence in Afghanistan is growing, and Larry Goodson says Islamabad sees using militant groups as a way of battling that and keeping India preoccupied in Kashmir.

"You can't really tell a country, 'you should give up your tools of national security policy that work.'  They might say, 'yes, what an excellent idea, we'll do it immediately,' but you shouldn't then believe that they're actually going to do it," he said. "So I don't think that it's reasonable for us to really expect Pakistan to change what it's done, in part because its national security leadership has grown up knowing that these were tools of national security policy."

Jim Dobbins, a veteran diplomat who helped negotiate international agreements on Afghanistan, says Iran is also hedging its bets.  He says Iran does not want to be completely locked out of influence in neighboring Afghanistan, and also finds it convenient to make life uncomfortable for the U.S. and NATO troops there.  But, he adds, it also wants stability and has strongly supported President Karzai.

"So they've maintained low-level contacts and provided very limited levels of support to some insurgent groups," he said. "But the dominant effort has been to bolster Karzai.  They are a major aid donor, and they've been quite consistent in supporting Karzai and supporting Karzai's initiatives.  So, I think on balance, they are not the most problematic of Afghanistan's neighbors.  From the American standpoint, the most problematic is still Pakistan."

For its part, analysts say, China is worried about any spread of militant Islam out of Afghanistan to its own Muslim regions.  And Russia, they add, wants not only to halt any export of militancy, but also would like to minimize U.S. influence in Central Asia, which has spread alongside American logistical needs in region, such as air bases, to supply the effort in Afghanistan.

Jim Dobbins says that for any political settlement the Afghans reach with insurgents to end the conflict to hold, it will need wide international support.

"There are other players who have their own views, their own objectives - the Indians, the Iranians, the Russians, the Americans - and any settlement is going to have to satisfy all of them if it's going to stick," said Dobbins. "I think you can imagine an outcome of this game which stabilizes and pacifies Afghanistan, but that's far from certain.  And it will require a great deal of effort and diplomatic skill on the part of the United States, which is still the single most powerful player in this game."

The Obama administration is currently engaged in a policy review that will have a strong impact on the timetable and pace of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is scheduled to at least partially begin in July, 2011.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid