The New Great Game

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    cobra commando Tharki regiment Veteran Member Senior Member

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    By Col Harjeet Singh
    Issue Vol 24.2 Apr-Jun 2009 | Date : 01 Sep , 2012

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    The “Great Game” was a term prevalent in the 19th century, for the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia. It represented the international struggle to build a stable and secure Asian rimland from the Persian Gulf on the west to India. It aimed at securing a barrier between global economies and the networks of communication and defence linked by the sea, on the one hand, and power based in the Asian heartland on the other.

    India’s relations with Central Asia are influenced to a major degree by the actions of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and the US.

    Today, the Great Game is alive again. However, it has mutated into a different dynamics with varied combinations and permutations as the actors and goals have changed with time. Specifically, the number of actors has increased, and the game is not entirely confined to the goal of security and stability of the Indian subcontinent as the geospatial centre of the Asian rimland. The availability of energy has become a larger issue. While geography remains constant there are now an increased number of factors impacting the Game, making it less predictable.

    The term “The Great Game” is usually attributed to Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer of the British East India Company’s 6th Bengal Light Cavalry, though it was romanticized by Rudyard Kipling.1 From the British perspective, the Russian Empire’s expansion into Central Asia threatened to destroy the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, India. As the Tsar’s troops began to subdue one Khanate after another, the British feared that Afghanistan would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India.

    The British were all too aware that all invasions into India, throughout history, were through Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier. With that in mind, in 1838 they launched the First Anglo-Afghan War and attempted to impose a puppet regime under Shah Shuja. The regime was short lived and the first British venture into Afghanistan ended in disaster. After the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the British Empire extended up to the Hindu Kush mountains and Afghanistan was seen as a buffer state. The Russians continued to advance steadily southward towards Afghanistan and by 1865 Tashkent had been formally annexed.

    In order to secure their interests Britain launched the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1878, when their mission was turned back from Kabul. In retaliation a force of 40,000 men was sent across the border. The second war was almost as disastrous as the first for the British, and by 1881, they again pulled out of Kabul.

    The Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919 was precipitated by the assassination of the then ruler Habibullah Khan. His son and successor Amanullah declared full independence and attacked British India’s northern frontier. Although little was gained militarily, the stalemate was resolved with the Rawalpindi Agreement of 1919 when Afghanistan became an independent state.

    India has lost valuable time in creating viable leverages and lacks bandwidth to use the hard power approach in pursuing its national interests in the region.

    With the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, the United States displaced Britain as the global power, asserting its influence in the Middle East in pursuit of oil, containment of the Soviet Union, and access to other resources. This period is sometimes referred to as “The New Great Game”, and the term became an analogy or framework in the military, security, and diplomatic communities for events involving India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, more recently, the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia.

    The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a nine-year conflict involving Soviet Union forces supporting the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan government against the mujahideen resistance. The latter group found support from a variety of sources including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Muslim nations in the context of the Cold War. This conflict was concurrent to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iran–Iraq War. The Soviet war in Afghanistan began on 27 December 1979 and ended on 15 February 1989.

    The latest war in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001 when the United States (US) launched a military operation in response to the 11 September 2001 airline attacks. The stated purpose was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy Al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime. The US stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between Al-Qaeda and nations that harbor them. There are now two military operations in Afghanistan, which seek to establish control over the country. Operation Enduring Freedom is a US combat operation involving some coalition partners and currently operating primarily in the eastern and southern parts of the country along the Pakistan border. The second operation is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), initially established by the UN Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and its surroundings. NATO assumed control of the ISAF in 2003 and operations are still ongoing.

    The Problem of Asia

    Alfred Mahan, a US Navy officer and president of the US Naval War College, best known for his Influence of Sea Power upon History series of books, analyzed the geopolitical structure of world politics at the dawn of the 20th century. He divided the continent of Asia into three zones:2

    To prevent Russian expansionism and predominance on the Asian continent, Mahan opined that pressure on Asia’s flanks could be the only viable strategy pursued by sea powers.

    A northern zone, located above the 40th parallel, characterized by its cold climate, and dominated by land power;
    The “Debatable and Debated” zone, located between the 40th and 30th parallels, characterized by a temperate climate; and,
    A southern zone, located below the 30th parallel, characterized by its hot climate, and dominated by sea power.

    The Debated and Debatable zone, contained two peninsulas on either end (Asia Minor and Korea), the Isthmus of Suez, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, two countries marked by their mountain ranges (Persia and Afghanistan), the Pamir Mountains, the Tibetan Himalayas, the Yangtze Valley, and Japan. Within it, there were no strong states capable of withstanding outside influence or even maintaining stability within their own borders. So whereas the political situations to the north and south were relatively stable and determined, the middle remained “debatable and debated ground.”

    North of the 40th parallel, the vast expanse of Asia was dominated by the Russian Empire. Russia possessed a central position on the continent, and a wedge-shaped projection into Central Asia, bounded by the Caucasus mountains and Caspian Sea on one side and the mountains of Afghanistan and Western China on the other side. To prevent Russian expansionism and predominance on the Asian continent, Mahan opined that pressure on Asia’s flanks could be the only viable strategy pursued by sea powers.

    Areas south of the 30th parallel were dominated by the sea powers – Britain, the US, Germany and Japan. To Mahan, the possession of India by Britain was of key strategic importance, as India was best suited to exert balancing pressure against Russia in Central Asia. Britain’s predominance in Egypt, China, Australia, and the Cape of Good Hope was also considered important. The strategy of the sea powers, according to Mahan, ought to be to deny Russia the benefits of commerce from the sea. He noted that both the Dardanelles and Baltic straits could be closed by a hostile power, thereby denying Russia access to the sea. This would reinforce Russia’s expansionism in order to obtain wealth or warm water ports. The natural geographic targets for Russian expansionism in search of access to the sea would therefore be the Chinese seaboard, the Persian Gulf, and Asia Minor.

    The British continued with their obsession about the Great Game till their withdrawal from India. Sir Olaf Caroe organized the Viceroy’s Support Group (VSG) in 1942 in his capacity as Foreign Secretary in Britain’s Government of India. It worked on the premise that the security of the Asian rimland from the Persian Gulf to Indochina “is one complete strategical problem.” The security of the Gulf was bound up with the security of the Indian subcontinent which in turn depended on Burma and Indochina. A stable subcontinent formed the fulcrum in the system. Its fragmentation would leave the wings isolated and the balance broken. The notion of a continuous Great Game that would survive the withdrawal of British rule in India transfixed the VSG’s work.3

    According to Olaf Caroe, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was a predictable (and predicted) “after-effect” of India’s partition in 1947. By creating two mutually antagonistic successor states in India and Pakistan, the partition effectively turned the subcontinent’s power potential in on itself. For nearly a century, power based on a stable subcontinent had provided a counterpoise to Russia that had allowed the emergence of a viable Afghan state. The fragmentation of the counterpoise on the subcontinent allowed the Russians to calculate their interests and options in 1979 very differently than their predecessors had in 1838, 1878, and 1919. The continued hostility of India and Pakistan thus weighed heavily against the reconstruction of security and stability in Afghanistan. The latter thus reemerged as a base area and seedbed it had once formed for forces of regional instability and terrorism.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US National Security adviser, advocated a 21st century version of the Great Game after the implosion of the Soviet Union. 4 He cast Eurasia as the playing field upon which the world’s fate is determined. As the US emerged as the world’s sole superpower, he delineated its global strategy to maintain its exceptional position in the world. Central to his analysis was the exercise of power on the Eurasian landmass, which is home to the greatest part of the globe’s population, natural resources, and economic activity. He animadverted that Central Asia is the “grand chessboard” on which US supremacy will be ratified and challenged in the years to come. The problem was to manage the conflicts and relationships in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East so that no rival superpower could rise to threaten US interests. Popular media have referred to the current conflict between international forces and Taliban forces in Afghanistan as a New Great Game. Its arena has expanded to include Central Asia, as the vantage of power has shifted to this region.

    The New Great Game has different contours as the number of players has increased. Its dynamics has two mutually exclusive features – Islamic fundamentalism and the search for energy sources. These forces are moving in two opposite directions – the former from south to north (with a complementary move in the east-west direction) and the latter from north to south. The players also have different goals.

    Central Asia Redux

    Geographical contiguity, racial and religious affinity and long established trade have provided a strong basis for fraternization amongst the people of Central Asia. In early history it was defined by the Great Silk Road, along which trade was carried out between China and Europe. With development of trade by sea this vast region lost its prominence. With its incorporation into the Soviet Union, it faded into near-oblivion.

    Corruption is a problem throughout the region and this is compounded by the illegal narcotics trade…

    The Central Asia region consists of five independent republics, which came into political entities after the break up of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan, by far the largest state in terms of territory, (at 2,727, 300 square kilometres, it is larger than Europe) and is politically perhaps the most stable. It is the largest land-locked country in the world, with a population density of less than 6 per square kilometre. It also has the largest economy in Central Asia, with a range of natural resources (including oil and gas), a large agricultural sector and a number of oil and gas pipelines running through the country. It shares a border of over 7,000 kilometres with the Russian Federation.

    Uzbekistan, south of Kazakhstan and lying in the centre of the region, has the largest population in Central Asia. It is seeking to develop its mineral and oil resources, but still depends heavily on cotton cultivation and the old Soviet-era centralized command economy. Politically it is one of the most authoritarian regimes in Central Asia, and it is its religious centre.

    Turkmenistan, west of Uzbekistan and sharing a border with Iran, is rich in oil and gas. It remains an autocratic state. There are concerns about border security due to the ongoing problems with drug trafficking. Political and economic reform in Turkmenistan has been minimal since independence.

    Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous state bordering China. It has some mineral resources (including gold), hydroelectric power and mixed agriculture, but little oil or gas resources.

    Tajikistan is the poorest of the Soviet Union successor states. It suffered a five-year civil war almost immediately after independence (1992–1997), has limited mineral resources and is highly indebted. It does have hydroelectric power potential and its border with Afghanistan means it may benefit from development efforts there. Tajikistan has taken credible steps toward reform and all major participants in past fighting are now sharing power in parliament. This includes the only legal Islamic political party in all of Central Asia, which is also represented in President Rahmonov’s government.

    Tajikistan is the poorest of the Soviet Union successor states. It suffered a five-year civil war almost immediately after independence…

    While all five states have undergone some economic and political reform since independence, most are still led by former Communist Party or economic figures and power remains resolutely in the hands of a few. Corruption is a problem throughout the region and this is compounded by the illegal narcotics trade: many states lie on transit routes for narcotics from Afghanistan. Energy is a key sector, especially in Kazakhstan.

    These countries have long been at the crossroads of world history. So they are again today. Poor and rapidly growing populations, with intra-ethnic or intra-tribal diversities, still lacking in economic opportunity and feeling a sense of injustice are potentially susceptible to the call of violent extremism, particularly when legitimate avenues of dissent are foreclosed. A legacy of authoritarianism, as well as endemic corruption, continue to hamper the development of public institutions, good governance and the rule of law. Terrorism is one such challenge.

    The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other extremist groups, including The Islamic Jihad Group, continue to pose a threat to security and stability. Retrograde regimes in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan hold their peoples back, and detract from regional cooperation and development. Kazakhstan is the best example of the region’s potential economic dynamism, as it moves to take its place among the world’s top energy-producing nations. In Kyrgyzstan, civil society is gradually finding new political space to assemble freely and call for reform.

    The ‘New Great Game’ in the region revolves around control over energy resources, economic competition, spread of Islamic radicalism and military posturing. The main players of this game are the US, Russia and China and the peripheral players include Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and India.5

    The Energy Paradigm

    Central Asia’s importance on the international stage stems primarily from its energy resources. Many of the issues affecting the region are being played out through the energy sector, not least the competition for strategic influence. Perhaps less immediately or globally significant, but of considerable regional importance, is hydroelectric potential. Kyrgyzstan hopes to be able to develop an export-oriented hydroelectric power industry to substitute income from gold production, as its gold reserves are being depleted.

    The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other extremist groups, including The Islamic Jihad Group, continue to pose a threat to security and stability.

    Russia perceives the region in terms of a ‘southern security belt’, the domination of which is imperative for hedging the mainland against all forms of threats. Russia seeks to retain monopoly over the region’s energy resources. China looks at the region as a Eurasian bridge through which trade can be expanded to West Asia and Europe. More significantly, the hydrocarbon reserves of the region are vital for energy starved China. The US and the European Union (EU) interests revolve around diversification of energy supply, promotion of democracy, fight against Islamic radicalism, proliferation security initiatives and counter drug trafficking.

    Central Asia has enormous quantities of undeveloped oil resources, including some 6.6 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, waiting to be exploited. The Central Asian countries contain about 4percent of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves. The economies of three major countries are energy export driven (Turkmenistan – 83percent, Kazakhstan – 65 percent and Uzbekistan – 10 percent).6 For Central Asian energy to reach Europe, it has to either transit through Russian territory or through the South Caucasus to Turkey and onwards to European markets. Construction of viable pipeline routes to Europe bypassing Russian territory would effectively break the current Russian monopoly on supply of natural gas to Europe. Routes to the South are the shortest and economically viable but are currently unfeasible due to the unstable situation in Afghanistan. Direct overland routes without passing through a third country are only feasible to Russia and China thus giving them an inherent advantage.

    Today, the only existing export routes from the area lead through Russia. Investors in Caspian oil and gas are interested in building alternative pipelines to Turkey and Europe, and especially to the rapidly growing Asian markets. India, Iran, Russia, and Israel, are working on a plan to supply oil and gas to south and Southeast Asia through India but instability in Afghanistan is “posing a great threat to this effort. Afghanistan lies squarely between Turkmenistan, home to the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves, and the lucrative markets of the Indian subcontinent, China and Japan. A memorandum of understanding has been signed to build a 900-mile natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan, but the ongoing war and absence of a stable government in Afghanistan have prevented the project from going forward. Today, its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas pipelines, makes Afghanistan an extremely important piece of the global strategy by energy magnates to obtain control over energy resources. Controlling the transport route is controlling the product.

    Kyrgyzstan hopes to be able to develop an export-oriented hydroelectric power industry to substitute income from gold production, as its gold reserves are being depleted.

    Russia remains an important economic partner to all five Central Asian states, and still holds a monopolist or near-monopolist position in the export of Turkmen and Kazakh oil and gas reserves, given its control over the pipeline system that runs through its territory. The EU and the US remain convinced that this threatens the security of these states (and, more importantly, the security of Europe’s gas supply).7

    The Islamic Radicalism Paradigm

    In each of the Central Asian countries a strange and officially imposed dichotomy between “official” and “unofficial” Islam has appeared. Official Islam refers to religious institutions under the control of the state authorities. Unofficial Islam includes all other Muslims, especially those who believe that Islam cannot be controlled by state power. They are accused of being extremists.

    The Central Asian countries have been struggling to contain religious extremism since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Islam began flourishing throughout Central Asia in the last years of Soviet rule, due to a relaxation of state management of culture and religion. Uzbekistan, the region’s historic seat of Islamic learning, developed the most vibrant religious life in the region, ranging from a revival of Hanafi teachings (the dominant school of Islamic law in Central Asia) to the spread of more radical (locally termed “Wahhabist”) forms of Islam. The Uzbek government began cracking down on the latter in the mid-1990s, fearing that religious ferment could contribute to the breakdown of secular political institutions (as it was doing in neighbouring Tajikistan during its civil war). While many radical Islamists have fought in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, other groups began to spread their ideology.

    Central Asia lacks a tradition of religious fanaticism but the potential of religious extremism spreading to the region is real. The Ferghana Valley, spreading across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is a political fulcrum around which much of the region now moves. The most densely populated area in the region – with roughly 25 percent of the population of the region, it is in the throes of ethno-religious tensions. The regimes, mistaking the genuine desire of the people to explore their identity, have taken numerous steps to curb political Islam. It is in this milieu that the most orthodox Wahhabi strain of Islam is gaining acceptability. The main Islamic movements are:

    Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU, renamed as the ‘Islamic Party of Turkistan’, professes creation of an Islamic state in the whole of Central Asia and Xinjiang. Its cadres have developed close links with drug cartels and arms smugglers who act as their main source of funds. It is being funded by Al Qaeda and has close links with ISI.8

    The New Great Game has different contours as the number of players has increased. Its dynamics has two mutually exclusive features – Islamic fundamentalism and the search for energy sources.

    Hizb ut Tehrir(HUT). It is a secretive transnational Wahhabi fundamentalist organisation, with an avowed aim of uniting Central Asia into an Islamic Caliphate. It is involved in large scale subversive activities, religious indoctrination and renders support to hardline Islamic militant organisations.
    Uihgurs. Approximately 300,000 Uighurs live in Central Asia and have links with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The Uighurs represent a constant source of concern for China; they reject Chinese rule, and their separatist tendencies have often translated into militant resistance to Beijing. Uighur efforts have some financial and material support in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

    Increasing attacks on Russians and their continuing exodus from Tajikistan became important factors in determining Russia’s active policy in this region. Senior Russian leaders in the government and military openly voiced their concern over the security of Russian minorities and vowed to discharge their responsibilities on this account.

    The question of what does or does not pose a threat to security can be very subjective. Some extreme members of HUT advocate the use of force to advance their goals. The majority, however, is focused on using peaceful means to spread its message, a message that is by definition seditious as it seeks to undermine the secular nature of the state. The EU and the US do not always see eye to eye with their Central Asian, Chinese or Russian colleagues over what constitutes religious extremism, or what constitutes an appropriate response.

    Increasing attacks on Russians and their continuing exodus from Tajikistan became important factors in determining Russia’s active policy in this region.

    Impact of the NATO campaign in Afghanistan

    After the first phase of the war in Afghanistan ended with the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Washington’s limited agenda in the region was to press the Pakistani military to go after al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the US largely ignored the broader insurgency in the region, which remained marginal until 2005. This suited the Pakistani military’s strategy, which is to retain the Taliban as a potential source of pressure on Afghanistan. 84 percent of the materiel for US forces in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan, and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) remains nearly the sole source of intelligence about international terrorist acts prepared by Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan.9

    More fundamentally, the concept of “pressuring” Pakistan is flawed. No state can be successfully pressured into acts it considers suicidal. The Pakistani security establishment believes that it faces both a US-Indian-Afghan alliance and a separate Iranian-Russian alliance, each aimed at undermining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and even dismembering the Pakistani state.10

    Pakistan’s military, which makes and implements the country’s national security policies, shares a commitment to a vision of Pakistan as the homeland for South Asian Muslims and, therefore, to the incorporation of Kashmir into Pakistan. It considers Afghanistan as within Pakistan’s security perimeter. Moreover, Pakistan does not have border agreements with either India, into which Islamabad contests the incorporation of Kashmir, or Afghanistan, which has never explicitly recognized the Durand Line, which separates the two countries, as an interstate border.11 That border is more than a line. The frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan was structured as part of the defence of British India. On the Pakistani side of the Durand Line, the British and their Pakistani successors turned the difficulty of governing the tribes to their advantage by establishing Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Within the FATA, the tribes, not the government, are responsible for security. The area has traditionally been kept under-developed and over-armed as a barrier against invaders.

    There is no more a political solution in Afghanistan alone than there is a military solution in Afghanistan alone.

    India has reestablished its consulates in Afghan cities, including some near the Pakistani border. India has genuine consular interests there (Hindu and Sikh populations, commercial travel, aid programmes). India has also, in cooperation with Iran, completed a highway linking Afghanistan’s ring road (which connects its major cities) to Iranian ports on the Persian Gulf, potentially eliminating Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan for access to the sea and marginalizing Pakistan’s new Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, which was built with Chinese aid.

    There is no more a political solution in Afghanistan alone than there is a military solution in Afghanistan alone. Unless the decision-makers in Pakistan decide to make stabilizing the Afghan government a higher priority than countering the percieved Indian threat, the insurgency conducted from bases in Pakistan will continue. Pakistan’s strategic goals in Afghanistan place Pakistan at odds not just with Afghanistan and India; and with US objectives in the region, but with the entire international community. There is no multilateral framework for confronting this challenge. NATO, whose troops in Afghanistan are daily losing their lives to Pakistan-based insurgents, has no Pakistan policy. The UN Security Council has hardly discussed Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, even though three of the permanent members (France, the United Kingdom, and the US) have troops in Afghanistan, the other two have their own agendas. China, Pakistan’s largest investor, is poised to become the largest investor in Afghanistan as well, with a $3.5 billion stake in the Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul.

    The illegal drugs trade

    Central Asia is a key region for the trafficking of illegal drugs from Afghanistan. Tajikistan was the “bottleneck for drugs trafficking to the north” particularly before 11 September 2001.12 European, US and UN programmes have increased interdiction rates and, with better controls, drugs are now passing from Afghanistan across other Central Asian countries and Iran.

    Iran and Afghanistan provide a gateway to Central Asia and a buffer against Wahhabi radicalism. Strategic relations with these two countries are India’s imperative need.

    A substantial amount of drug money was actually used to jump-start certain sectors of the economy in Tajikistan, and it undoubtedly helped support the revival of the home construction industry and the service sector. The illegal drugs trade also seems to have helped ordinary Kyrgyz in southern Kyrgyzstan keep afloat, providing income to small traders who would otherwise have no livelihood. However, drug-based organized crime has overshadowed many forms of legal business, as drug barons have sought to become legitimate businessmen by buying up large amounts of commercial property. This has contributed to the general instability of political life.13

    By contrast, in both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan the drug trade seems to be more managed by government, which reaps financial rent from the trade. Consequently, the governments maintain a hold over organized crime.

    Conclusion

    With the constriction of strategic space in Central Asia, the US is now enlarging its strategic space in South Asia. One view is that the US could achieve its goal of transforming Afghanistan through establishment of a Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development.14

    There appears to be a move in the US establishment to reorient the Central Asian region through trade towards the Indian Ocean.15. Among the many projects to help improve transportation in the region, a US-funded bridge has opened over the Pyanj River, between Tajikistan (Badakshan) and Afghanistan (Kunduz). Likewise, China seeks transformation of Gwadar into a major energy hub and plans to expand the Karakoram overland bridge to China. Conscious of its centrality as a frontline state, Pakistan would continue to leverage this factor to gain maximum favours and balance its relations with the two countries. Both the countries need Pakistan as a transit corridor. How the two countries jockey for the influence in Pakistan would add a new dimension to the ‘Great Game’ in the extended strategic space.

    India’s relations with Central Asia are influenced to a major degree by the actions of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and the US. India has lost valuable time in creating viable leverages and lacks bandwidth to use the hard power approach in pursuing its national interests in the region. India, however continues to enjoy goodwill of the people and its soft power vis-à-vis other players has considerable appeal. Therefore, a soft power approach and a subtle alignment with Russia, which is a vector in the region, will pay good dividends. Iran and Afghanistan provide a gateway to Central Asia and a buffer against Wahhabi radicalism. Strategic relations with these two countries are India’s imperative need.

    The ‘New Great Game’ of the 21st Century in the region revolves around control over energy resources, economic competition, fight against international terrorism, regime change, fight against Islamic fundamentalism and military diplomacy amongst the US, Russia and China. The ‘Great Game’ is likely to have a significant impact on the balance of power in entire Eurasia and great power rivalry may extend to South Asia where the US and China will jockey for influence. From India’s strategic security perspective, Central Asia’s geo-strategic importance as a bridge cum buffer and as an alternate source of energy would remain. India needs to show ingenuity in gaining land access to CAR and explore new avenues for transportation of energy from the region. India’s overarching policy should be to seek convergence of geostrategic interests with the legitimate aspirations of the people of Central Asia and prevent the rise of religious fundamentalism.

    The New Great Game � Indian Defence Review
     
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