The New Great Game

Since the 19th century there has been a battle raging in Central Asia. Russia urged on by Napoleon fumbled for imperialist possessions in the region. In fact the Tsar and Napoleon came to an agreement to conquer and divide the world together. However the splendid British Raj in India was to play a pivotal role in Britain’s desire for the status quo in the region. Both super powers were therefore forced into a battle which has become famous as “The Great Game.”
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 a power vacuum has once again engulfed the region. There is an opening with key players such as the fundamentalist Taliban.

The U.S has tried to fill the gap as they see fit. The truth of the matter is that today’s current state of Afghanistan is really a legacy of the Cold War. The “Afghan Miracle” as we may call it here in Pakistan was a disastrous campaign for the Soviet Union. Funds were poured in from left right and centre to bolster the Taliban regime against the Russians. As the two new super powers confronted each other in the effort to install puppet regimes – a divided and un-stable Afghanistan began to emerge. This legacy would toil on for another century producing terrorism, war and conflict in the region. It was this very legacy that would give rise to the notorious Osama Bin Laden and guerrilla warriors of the Middle East. It’s surprising to me that when people talk about the end of the Cold War we always look back at the remains of the infamous Berlin Wall. What we all should be looking at instead is the situation in Afghanistan; right at our own doorstep.

There are many differences between the old great game and the new great game. The former was fought for glory and the quest for an Asiatic empire. However today’s great game is far pettier. Its motives lie in the abundance of oil and mineral deposits in the region. We have seen the game manifest itself in the U.S invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Were these countries really thriving with the alleged weapons of mass destruction or was there just another obvious power vacuum? One thing is for certain, the more the Bush administration commits itself to war in the region: more and more illiterate locals will be forced to take up arms in the form of terrorist plots and suicide bombings. The tragedy of September the 11th could not have happened without the attack on Afghanistan. Similarly the invasion of Iraq will only act as a fuelling agent in the force of anti-U.S global terrorism. It is a simple case of cause and effect.

The Afghani people share a common hatred for foreigners or “khar.” They could not tolerate the Russians for their atheist beliefs. How can we truly expect them to accept an American presence in their homeland when even Pakistanis are dismembered from the Afghan fraternity? My answer to this Middle Eastern problem is that the Afghani and Iraqi people should not be provoked further. Just like the once divided Berlin, this legacy too can only be solved with time and patience. If the Western world and the United States just back away from the region they will have more to gain than to lose. Peace and stability will descend upon a region which has been torn apart by chaos and turmoil for not decades but centuries. The Afghani people should be left alone to resolve their problem. If they choose to end up in a world veiled by Talibanisation than that is their choice in the free world. The United States government is walking a tight rope. It cannot afford to make any more enemies in the region with the imminent threat of Iran and the Uranium enrichment programme. So in a nutshell, if there is this “problem” in Afghanistan, it is a problem for Afghanistan and the Afghani people alone. Continued American presence in the region will only encourage and not deter terrorist factions.

In the end this new great game has created a very volatile Middle East. The issues of Israel/Palestine are spilling over into Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Gone are the days of isolated wars and battles between nations. The next major upheaval in the region will send a shockwave of domino effects through the region and at once all the powers big and small will be involved. There will be no more room for diplomacy with factions such as Al Qaeda, Hammas pushing matters to a head. There will be no room for peace negotiations. The cause will be long but forgotten and mankind will sprawl into a hopeless war where missiles and suicide bombings will rule supreme.

Shahryar Malik

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