The New Great Game

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Digital imaging: Amarjeet Singh Nagi; Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP

From being a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ between the British and Russian empires in the early 20th century to three wars in the past 50 years—the anti-Soviet jihad in 1979-89, the civil war from 1989-2001 and the US-led War against Terror from 2001-2021—Afghanistan has been in constant turmoil. Now, with the Taliban returning to power, a new Great Game has begun.

From being a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ between the British and Russian empires in the early 20th century to three wars in the past 50 years—the anti-Soviet jihad in 1979-89, the civil war from 1989-2001 and the US-led War against Terror from 2001-2021—Afghanistan has been in constant turmoil. Now, with the Taliban returning to power, a new Great Game has begun.

The US

President Joe Biden is on the back foot. His top priority is to evacuate US personnel and its collaborators. The US will push the Taliban to form an inclusive government and to protect minorities and women’s rights as well as ensuring the regime does not use Afghan soil to foster terror

China

Appears happy the US had to leave Afghanistan with its tail down. Will want a stable government in the country to ensure the success of its Belt and Road Initiative. Will push the Taliban to rein in terror organisations backing Uighur Muslim rebels in Xinjiang

India

The major concern is that Pakistan is likely to push the Taliban to resume backing terror groups to stir up trouble in Kashmir. Will push for an inclusive government in Afghanistan and find ways to engage factions in the Taliban to diminish Pakistan’s hold on the country

Pakistan

The Taliban’s return to power is a major triumph for Islamabad, as it was the prime backer of the insurgency. It believes it has curtailed Indian influence in the region. Will ensure that it wields major influence with the new regime and will push it to rein in the militant Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan

Iran

While it backed the US overthrowing Taliban 1.0, relations have soured since for various reasons. Iran had hedged its bets by backing both the Taliban and the Afghan government, but wanted the US out. Its main concern now is preventing the persecution of Afghanistan’s Hazara Shia Muslim minority

Russia

Sees the failure of the US-backed government in Afghanistan as sweet revenge for what the US did to the Soviet occupation of the country in 1979-89. Will push for a stable and inclusive government, and for the Taliban to keep terror groups like the Caucasus Emirate, which backs the Chechnya Muslim insurgency, in check

Taliban

Has achieved one of its central aims—ending foreign occupation of Afghanistan. Its immediate concerns will be establishing control across the country and gaining international legitimacy for its government

Back to cover story: How India should deal with the Taliban

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