AFGHANISTAN & THE GREAT GAMEDec.18, 2001 Mumia Abu-Jamal
For millions of Americans, history is a muddling puzzle - and that,American history. When one looks at world history the puzzle onlygets larger and even more impenetrable.
For them, Afghanistan, an ancient nation the size of Texas in the heartof Asia, only became 'real' in the dusty, fear-drenched aftermath of11 September 2001. Except for brief references to the decade of war with the former Soviet Union, most have little idea of Afghanistan's long, martial traditions.
This is seen in that nation's role in what is called the Great Game, or imperial conflicts between the British and the Russians dating from the early nineteenth century. At the time, Czarist Russia sought to expand her imperial borders south into what Peter the Great called, "the warm waters of the Indian Ocean."
This area, however, was claimed by the British Raj (or colonial India). In their midst was the kingdom of Afghanistan.
Russia initiated European intervention by pushing the Persian Qajar Shah to attack Herat in Afghanistan's west, seen as "the Gateway to India." The British countermove was to send forces and material to defend the city of Herat. To resist Persian efforts, a fleet of British ships sailed into the Persian Gulf, thus checkmating Russian efforts on the region, around 1837 - '38.
In the next 80 years or so, the Afghans would fight three wars with the British, winning every one. The last Afghan-Anglo war ended in 1919. By this time, the British turned over much of the imperial duties to the Americans, and the Czar gave way to the Soviets. While the protagonists had changed, the Game remained; albeit one played by the rules of the Cold War.
By the 1980s, the game was again afoot as the U.S. sent in clandestine arms and support to elicit a Soviet military response, and to spring what Carter-era national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski would later call, "the Afghan trap." Afghanistan became the Soviets' Vietnam as it lost tens of thousands in the war, and led to the eventual break-up of the USSR.
With the entry of the military of the U.S. into Afghanistan to topple the multinational Taliban government, a new round of the Great Game is now in play.
With a military strategy of relentless air power and heavy bombings, and ground forces under what is called the Northern Alliance, the Taliban has been overwhelmed in battle. In a matter of weeks they lost virtually every acre of ground.
Yet even this state of affairs is but another stage of the Great Game, with some old players rolling the dice. For the truth is that the Taliban was a client state under Pakistani and Saudi tutelage. With Kabul and many other major cities in Afghanistan under the control of the so-called Northern Alliance, the Saudis and Pakistanis are displaced, and Russia has its hands on the prize that ten years of war could not acquire.
It is not, as Peter the Great once coveted, "the warm waters of the Indian Ocean" that whets Russian appetites, but the black gold, oil, under the Caspian Sea, that will fuel industrial production for the next half-century.
The Great Game plays on, as ever, for wealth and power. c Copyright 2001 maj
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