The Great Game:
The Struggle For Empire in Central Asia
by Peter Hopkirk
The Great Game is a name for the geo-political struggle between Russia and the U.K. for supremacy in the region that we today call Central Asia, the Chinese Far West and Afghanistan. This struggle, which bears many similarities to more recent conflicts in this region, took place during the 19th century.
The gist of the conflict pitted an expansive Russian Empire against the defensive British Colony of India (today's India and Pakistan.) Then, as was the case in the 1980s, the concern was with Russian expansion towards the Indian Ocean. In the 19th century, it was the British who got their ass handed to them by the Afghani's- in particular during the first Afghani War of the 1840s the Brits lost 16,000 men from their occupying force- during the course of their retreat- from an Army that numbered about 16,000.
Aside from the to-and-fro of the British occupying strageically important countries like Afghanistan, the Great Game was a contest between the secret agents of Britain and Russia- trying to bring disparate Central Asian Despots "into the fold." Along the way many people- British and Russians- lost their lives in ways directly and indirectly related to the conflict.
The Great Game very much pre-saged the cloak and dagger aspects of the Russian/Western Cold War in the 20th century- secret codes, spies, murky geo-political ambitions- it was all there in the 19th century. The Brits and Russians even had their own Cold Warriors- called Anglophobes on the Russian side and Russophobes on the British. These partisan created their own body of literature that excited much popular comment, much as similar literature created excited during the 20th century cold war.
I can't help but wonder to what extent the American Government was familiar with the narrative of the Great Game in the aftermath of 9/11, and why, exactly, they thought our intervention would end any differently then the intervention of the Russians and British in the 19th century. Afghanistan is a bloody place, best keep your distance, is my view.