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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs