News / Asia

'Great Game' Resurfaces in Afghanistan

Afghan Taliban fighters (file photo)
Afghan Taliban fighters (file photo)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid