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The Great Game
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For other uses, see The Great Game (disambiguation).
Persia at the beginning of the Great Game in 1814
Central Asia , circa 1848
"The Great Game" was the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for
in Central Asia . The classic Great Game period is generally regarded as running approximately from theRusso-P
Treaty of 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 .
A less intensive phase followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In the post-Second World War post-colonial p
term has continued in use to describe the geopolitical machinations of the Great Powers and regional powers as t
geopolitical power and influence in the area.
The term "The Great Game" is usually attributed to Arthur Conolly (1807–1842), an intelligence officer of the B
India Company's Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry. It was introduced into mainstream consciousness by British noveli
Kipling in his novel Kim (1901).
British-Russian rivalry in Afghanistan
Main article: European influence in Afghanistan
From the British perspective, the Russian Empire's expansion into Central Asia threatened to destroy the "jewel i
crown" of the British Empire, India. The British feared that the Tsar's troops would subdue the Central
Asiankhanates (Khiva, Bokhara, Khokand) one after another. The Emirate of Afghanistan might then become a s
for a Russian invasion of India.
It was with these thoughts in mind that in 1838 the British launched the First Anglo-Afghan War and attempted t
puppet regime on Afghanistan under Shuja Shah. The regime was short lived and proved unsustainable without B
military support. By 1842, mobs were attacking the British on the streets of Kabul and the British garrison was fo
abandon the city due to constant civilian attacks.
The retreating British army consisted of approximately 4,500 troops (of which only 690 were European) and 12,0
followers. During a series of attacks by Afghan warriors, all Europeans but one, William Brydon, were killed on
back to India; a few Indian soldiers survived also and crossed into India later. The British curbed their ambitions
Afghanistan following this humiliating retreat from Kabul.
A watercolor of Lake Zorkul, Pamirs, by British Army officerThomas Edward Gordon (1874).
After the Indian rebellion of 1857, successive British governments saw Afghanistan as a buffer state. The Russia
by Konstantin Kaufman,Mikhail Skobelev, and Mikhail Chernyayev, continued to advance steadily southward th
Central Asia towards Afghanistan, and by 1865 Tashkenthad been formally annexed.
Samarkand became part of the Russian Empire in 1868, and the independence of Bukhara was virtually stripped
peace treaty the same year.Russian control now extended as far as the northern bank of the Amu Darya river.
In a letter to Queen Victoria, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli proposed "to clear Central Asia of Muscovites an
them into the Caspian". He introduced the Royal Titles Act 1876, which added Empress of India to Victoria's list
putting her at the same level as the Russian Emperor.
Political cartoon depicting the Afghan Emir Sher Ali with his "friends" the Russian Bear and British Lion (1878)
After the Great Eastern Crisis broke out and the Russians sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul in 1878,
demanded that the ruler of Afghanistan, Sher Ali, accept a British diplomatic mission. The mission was turned ba
retaliation a force of 40,000 men was sent across the border, launching the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
The war's conclusion left Abdur Rahman Khan on the throne, and he agreed to let the British control Afghanistan
affairs, while he consolidated his position on the throne. He managed to suppress internal rebellions with ruthless
and brought much of the country under central control.
In 1884, Russian expansionism brought about another crisis – the Panjdeh Incident – when they seized the oasis
The Russians claimed all of the former ruler's territory and fought with Afghan troops over the oasis ofPanjdeh. O
of war between the two great powers, the British decided to accept the Russian possession of territory north of th
Darya as a fait accompli.
Without any Afghan say in the matter, between 1885 and 1888 the Joint Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission a
Russians would relinquish the farthest territory captured in their advance, but retain Panjdeh. The agreement deli
permanent northern Afghan frontier at the Amu Darya, with the loss of a large amount of territory, especially aro
Panjdeh.
Part of a series on the
New Imperialism
History
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Western imperialism in Asia
"The Great Game"
The "Scramble for Africa"
Theory
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
Gentlemanly capitalism
The Imperialism of Free Trade
Imperialism: A Study
Imperialism, the Highest Stage
of Capitalism
See also

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Imperialism
o

Colonialism
Decolonization
This left the border east of Zorkul lake in the Wakhan. Territory in this area was claimed by Russia, Afghanistan
In the 1880s the Afghans advanced north of the lake to the Alichur Pamir. In 1891, Russia sent a military force to
Wakhan and provoked a diplomatic incident by ordering the British Captain Francis Younghusband to leave Boz
Gumbaz in the Little Pamir.
This incident, and the report of an incursion by Russian Cossacks south of the Hindu Kush, led the British to sus
involvement "with the Rulers of the petty States on the northern boundary of Kashmir and Jammu". This was the
the Hunza-Nagar Campaign in 1891, after which the British established control over Hunza and Nagar.
In 1892 the British sent the Earl of Dunmore to the Pamirs to investigate. Britain was concerned that Russia wou
advantage of Chinese weakness in policing the area to gain territory, and in 1893 reached agreement with Russia
demarcate the rest of the border, a process completed in 1895.
Great Game moves eastward
People of Central Asia c. 1861–1880.
By the 1890s, the Central Asian khanates of Khiva, Bukhara and Kokand had fallen, becoming Russian vassals. W
Central Asia in the Tsar's grip, the Great Game now shifted eastward to China, Mongolia and Tibet. In 1904, the
invaded Lhasa, a pre-emptive strike against Russian intrigues and secret meetings between the 13th Dalai Lama's
and Tsar Nicholas II.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile to China and Mongolia. The British were greatly concerned at the prospect of a R
invasion of the Crown colony of India, though Russia – badly defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese war and w
by internal rebellion – could not realistically afford a military conflict against Britain. China under the Qing dyna
however, was another matter.
Natural disasters, famine and internal rebellions had enfeebled China in the late Qing. In the late 19th century, Ja
Great Powers easily carved out trade and territorial concessions. These were humiliating submissions for the onc
powerful Manchus who ruled China. Still, the central lesson of the war with Japanwas not lost on the Russian Ge
an Asian country using Western technology and industrial production methods could defeat a great European pow
In 1906, Tsar Nicholas II sent a secret agent to China to collect intelligence on the reform and modernization of t
dynasty. The task was given to Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, at the time a colonel in the Russian army, who tra
China with French sinologist Paul Pelliot.
Mannerheim was disguised as an ethnographic collector, using a Finnish passport. Finland was, at the time, a Gra
For two years, Mannerheim proceeded through Xinjiang, Gansu, Shaanxi, Henan, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia to
the sacred Buddhist mountain of Wutai Shan he even met the 13th Dalai Lama. However, while Mannerheim wa
in 1907, Russia and Britain brokered theAnglo-Russian Agreement, ending the classical period of the Great Gam
Anglo-Russian Alliance
Main article: Anglo-Russian Entente
In the run-up to World War I, both empires were alarmed by the unified German Empire's increasing activity in t
East, notably the German project of the Baghdad Railway, which would open up Mesopotamia and Persia to Ger
and technology.
The ministers Alexander Izvolsky and Edward Grey agreed to resolve their long-standing conflicts in Asia in ord
an effective stand against the German advance into the region. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 brought a
classic period of the Great Game.
The borders of the Russian imperial territories of Khiva, Bukharaand Kokand during 1902–1903.
The Russians accepted that the politics of Afghanistan were solely under British control as long as the British gu
to change the regime. Russia agreed to conduct all political relations with Afghanistan through the British. The B
agreed that they would maintain the current borders and actively discourage any attempt by Afghanistan to encro
Russian territory. Persia was divided into three zones: a British zone in the south, a Russian zone in the north, an
neutral zone serving as buffer in between.
In regards to Tibet, both powers agreed to maintain territorial integrity of thisbuffer state and "to deal with Lhasa
through China, the suzerain power".
A less intensive British-Soviet rivalry
Caption from a 1911 English satirical magazine reads: "If we hadn't a thorough understanding, I (British lion) might almost be tempted to ask what you (Russian bear) are doing there with our little playfellow (Persian cat)."
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 nullified existing treaties and a second phase of the Great Game began. The T
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 the northern frontier of British India. Although litt
gained militarily, the stalemate was resolved with the Rawalpindi Agreement of 1919. Afghanistan re-established
determination in foreign affairs.
In May 1921, Afghanistan and the Russian Soviet Republic signed a Treaty of Friendship. The Soviets provided
with aid in the form of cash, technology and military equipment. British influence in Afghanistan waned, but rela
between Afghanistan and the Russians remained equivocal, with many Afghans desiring to regain control of Mer
Panjdeh. The Soviets, for their part, desired to extract more from the friendship treaty than Amanullah was willin
The United Kingdom imposed minor sanctions and diplomatic slights as a response to the treaty, fearing that Am
slipping out of their sphere of influence and realising that the policy of the Afghanistan government was to have
all of the Pashtun speaking groups on both sides of theDurand Line. In 1923, Amanullah responded by taking the
title padshah – "emperor" – and by offering refuge for Muslims who fled the Soviet Union, and Indian nationalis
from the Raj.
Amanullah's programme of reform was, however, insufficient to strengthen the army quickly enough; in 1928 he
under pressure. The individual who most benefited from the crisis was Mohammed Nadir Shah, who reigned from
1933. Both the Soviets and the British played the situation to their advantage: the Soviets getting aid in dealing w
rebellion in 1930 and 1931, while the British aided Afghanistan in creating a 40,000 man professional army.
With the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 during World War II came the temporary alignm
British and Soviet interests. Both governments pressured Afghanistan for the expulsion of a large German non-di
contingent, which they believed to be engaging in espionage.
Afghanistan immediately complied. A period of win-win cooperation continued between the USSR and UK agai
Germany until the end of the war in 1945. This less intensive second phase of the Great Game would enter a new
to post WW2 geopolitical changes.
Reviews of the 19th and early 20th century Anglo-Russian rivalry
Gerald Morgan’s Myth and Reality in the Great Game (1973) approached the subject by examining various depa
the Raj to determine if there ever existed a British intelligence network in Central Asia. Morgan wrote that evide
a network did not exist.
At best, efforts to obtain information on Russian moves in Central Asia were rare, ad hoc adventures. At worst, i
resembling the adventures in Kim were baseless rumours and Morgan writes such rumours "were always commo
in Central Asia and they applied as much to Russia as to Britain".
In his lecture "The Legend of the Great Game" (2000), Malcolm Yapp said that Britons had used the term "The G
in the late 19th century to describe several different things in relation to its interests in Asia. Yapp believes that t
concern of British authorities in India was control of the indigenous population, not preventing a Russian invasio
According to Yapp, "reading the history of the British Empire in India and the Middle East one is struck by both
prominence and the unreality of strategic debates".
Cold War
Main article: Cold War
After the success of the temporary Second World War alliance among the Allied forces, which included the Unit
America, the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union (USSR); a new era of geopolitical realignment began
the US and the USSR as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences.
During this post-Second World War, post-colonial period the legacy of the Great Game would sow the seeds of a
sustained state of political and military tension between the powers of the Western world, led by the United State
its NATO allies; and the Communist world, led by the Soviet Union together with its satellite states and allies.
This era, coined the "Cold War", or "Great Game II" by Eric Walberg, was so named because it never featured an
military action as both sides possessed nuclear weapons and their use would have probably guaranteed their mutu
destruction.
Historians trace the start of Cold War era to 1947. This was the year that decolonisation of the British Empire sta
has been described as one of the focal points of Cold War evolution. Britain's withdrawal changed the dynamics
Asian geopolitics, especially in Central Asia and the Middle East, leading to several conflicts including the Arab
conflict, the 1953 Iranian coup d'état and the 1958 Iraqi Revolution.
The USSR discovered the same bitter truth within its 1979 misadventure in Afghanistan as the British had found
Century, and withdrew its last troops from the so-called "graveyard of empires" – Afghanistan– in 1988. The Co
culminated with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The relevance of the Great Game in the Cold War context is evident in the final years of Mohammad Najibullah,
Soviet-backed president of Afghanistan. During his 1992-96 refuge in the UN compound in Kabul, while waiting
to negotiate his safe passage to India, he engaged himself by translating Peter Hopkirk's book The Great Game in
mother tongue,Pashto. A few months before his execution by the Taliban, he quoted, "Afghans keep making the
mistake," reflecting upon his translation to a visitor.
Between the end of the Cold War and 2001
Middle East geopolitical map
With the end of the Soviet involvement in the region and the end or the Cold War, in the 1990s the expression Th
Great Game was used to describe renewed geopolitical interest in the Central Asia based on the mineral wealth o
which was becoming available to foreign interests after the break up of the Soviet Union. For example in 1997 th
York Times published an opinion piece titled The New Great Game in Asia in which was written:
While few have noticed, Central Asia has again emerged as a murky battleground among big powers engaged in
rough geopolitical game. Western experts believe that the largely untapped oil and natural gas riches of the Casp
countries could make that region the Persian Gulf of the next century. The object of the revived game is to befrie
of the former Soviet republics controlling the oil, while neutralizing Russian suspicions and devising secure alter
pipeline routes to world markets.
In 2004 Lutz Kleveman wrote a book The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia, which further popul
term The New Great Game linking the expression to the exploration mineral wealth of the region. While for man
people the direct American military involvement in the area was as part of the "War on Terror" rather than an ind
Western governmental interest in the mineral wealth of the region, authors such as Eric Walberg suggests that ac
region's mineral wealth and oil pipeline routes, is still an important factor.
Since 2001
Main article: War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
In the aftermath of the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan
aid Afghan rebels of the Northern Alliance in removing the Taliban regime which had allowed al-Qaeda to opera
camps within Afghanistan.
By the end of 2001 the Taliban regime had lost control of most of the territory it had held and its leadership had c
border into Pakistan's tribal areas. United States forces and their NATO allies remained in Afghanistan and suppo
the regime of President Hamid Karzai.
This has led to new geopolitical efforts for control and influence in the region. Many commentators have either c
these political machinations to the Great Game as played out by the Russians and British in the nineteenth centur
described them as part of a continuing Great Game, and has become prevalent in literature about the region, appe
book titles, academic journals, news articles, and government reports.
While energy resources and military bases are mentioned as part of the Great Game, so is the continuing jostling
advantage between great powers and between the regional powers in mountainous border regions in the Himalay
21st century, the Great Game continues.
In a leaked US Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, it was reported that in October 2008 Prince Andrew, Duke
supported the concept of a Great Game:
Addressing the Ambassador directly, Prince Andrew then turned to regional politics. He stated boldly that "the U
Kingdom,Western Europe (and by extension you Americans too)" were now back in the thick of playing the Gre
More animated than ever, he stated cockily: "And this time we aim to win!"
After Halford Mackinder in his book The Grand Chessboard (1997), Zbigniew Brzezinski had emphasized the u
value Central Asia had among US geostrategic imperatives. Yet in his later book (post 9/11 and the American inv
Afghanistan),The Choice: Global dominance or Global Leadership (2004) Brzezinski notably argued the USA sh
to more Soft Power in attempting to politically command key areas of central Asia.
Similarly, Idriss Aberkane claimed Noopolitik was playing a more central role than ever in the balance of power
Great Game, as innovation was the simplest way for Great Gamers to alter the complex status quo and regional b
power.
Aberkane therefore argued that the projection of development and Confidence building measures was gaining mo
a means to leverage political intercourses by other means in Central Asia, and that such was a novel feature of th
Game as opposed to the classic Great Game.
Man is thus free to demonstrate the realist political profitability of peace and the Millennium Development Goals
round of the Great Game (...) we anticipate it be defined by noopolitik and the knowledge economy, beyond geog
most promising means for any Great Gamer to decisively prevail over the many others.
Afghanistan expert Seth Jones published In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan, a book an
Afghanistan's popular name as "The Graveyard of Empires". It is argued that Afghanistan is a position of the Gre
that is impossible to hold over a protracted period, which seems to have remained an invariant over the centuries
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