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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake 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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid