Afghanistan, ironically like the carcass in Buzkashi

The linkages of the new masters of Afghanistan with global jihadi outfits hints towards a new Great Game that has commenced in the region, with multiple players, both state and non-state actors

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Jan 06, 2022
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Afghanistan: The New Great Games: Edited by: Alok Bansal; Publishers: Pentagon Press

The Great Game, also known as Bolshaya Igra, is described as one of intense rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia, beginning in the 19th century and continuing till early 20th century in which Britain sought to influence or control much of Central Asia to buffer the "crown jewel" of its empire, British India. One of the fallouts of this game was the British partitioning India, which not only led to a massive horrific and tragic human displacement, but also one for which India and Afghanistan are both paying dearly till date. 

While India found its own feet, Afghanistan seems fated to continue to suffer tremendously mainly at the hands of Pakistan. One cannot but help being reminded of the Afghan game, Buzkashi, in which opposing teams of horsemen strive for possession of the headless carcass of a goat or calf. Very ironically, the carcass of that game is what the state of Afghanistan is like, particularly since its takeover by the Taliban, created by Pakistan. 

The US abandoning Afghanistan to let it fall to the Taliban is one of the most catastrophic events of the 21st century. The images of people running to cling to the aircraft taking off from Kabul and falling to death showed their desperation to escape Taliban rule, of which they have horrible memories. Undue haste exhibited by the US, its legitimization of the Taliban and the tactical alliances cobbled with the Taliban by many others in the region led to the sudden collapse of the once brave Afghan Army. How the world abandoned Afghan citizens to medieval barbarians, especially women and the minorities, to further their perceived geopolitical agendas should haunt the international community`s conscience for times to come. 

New Great Game

The people of Afghanistan had hardly gotten over the repercussions of the Great Game that was once played in the region more than two centuries ago. They find themselves embroiled in another one. Various international actors are presently manoeuvring to bring Afghanistan under their sphere of influence, without any due consideration for the rights and freedom of the Afghan citizens. Furthermore, the linkages of the new masters of Afghanistan with global jihadi outfits hints towards a new Great Game that has commenced in the region, with multiple players, both state and non-state actors. 

The book analyses the circumstances that enabled the Taliban to stage a comeback, the suffering of its people, the new Great Game being played in Afghanistan, its possible impact on the region and the global power dynamics. Authors from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan view these tragic stories. 

Alok Bansal, who has edited the book and penned its introduction, is Director, India Foundation, Secretary General of Asian Eurasian Human Rights Forum, Founder Executive Director of the South Asian Institute for Strategic Affairs (SAISA), a visiting professor at the Pakistan Studies Programme at Jamia Millia Islamia, former Executive Director of the National Maritime Foundation and has also worked with the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses as well as the Centre for Land Warfare Studies.  

While serving in Indian Navy for 32 years, Bansal participated in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and commanded two warships. He recently co-edited a book titled UNCLOS: Solutions for Managing the Maritime Global Commons. He earlier authored two books – “Balochistan in Turmoil: Pakistan at Cross Roads” and “Gilgit-Baltistan and its Saga of Unending Human Rights Violations”. 

Book's sweep

The authors and their chapters, which give an idea of what all is covered in the book, are: Contemporary History of Afghanistan, by Harjeet Singh; Imagining the Historical Nation: The Dialogical Project of Nation-Making, Religious and Ethnic Identity in Afghanistan, by Omar Sharifi; America’s World after Afghanistan Withdrawal by Harsh V. Pant and Saaransh Mishra; Afghanistan and the Changing Geopolitical Order, by Ajay Singh; America, Pakistan and the Afghan Frankenstein: India must Learn from Past Follies to Draw Own Strategy, by P. Stobdan; Afghanistan: Pakistan Rides the Taliban Tiger, by Vinod Bhatia; Taliban and Terrorism: The Complex Security Dynamics, by Soumya Chaturvedi; Pakistan’s Terror Machine and the Re-emergence of the Taliban, by Sanchita Bhattacharya; Afghanistan’s Inevitable Fallout on J&K, by Syed Ata Hasnain; Thriving in the Graveyard of Empires, by Devyani Rao; Afghanistan: Confronting the Humanitarian Catastrophe, by Sanghamitra Sarker; Pakistani Aggression Perpetuates Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan, by Ashraf Haidari and Endangered Peace, by Nadeem Shah. 

Out of these, Ashraf Haidari and Omar Sharifi are Afghans. Haidari, who has worked with the Government of Afghanistan in several capacities, including as the Director-General of Policy and Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the country’s former Deputy Ambassador to India, a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka.  

Sharifi lived in Afghanistan throughout his youth, including the civil war years and the Taliban regime. Despite being passionately interested in history and social sciences, he studied medicine and became a doctor because of the civil war. In 2003 he helped establish the Afghan Foundation for Culture and Civil Society and became head of the research and publications department there. From 2006 to 2008 he studied anthropology in Columbia University. He is head of the American Institute for Afghan Studies in Kabul, assisting Western social sciences researchers in their investigations in Afghanistan. 

The book is informative for researchers and those who wish to gain insight and have a clear picture of the developments that have overwhelmed Afghanistan. 

Title: Afghanistan: The New Great Games: Edited by: Alok Bansal; Publishers: Pentagon Press; Pages: 224 (Hardback); Price: Rs 795 

(The reviewer, a strategic analyst is a former spokesperson, India's Ministry of Defence and Indian Army)

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