The new great game

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Muham­mad Ali Baig Email: mmab11@gmail.com

THE nine­teenth cen­tury con cept of The Great Game by Rud­yard Ki­pling is tak­ing a set of new di­men­sions. The Cen­tral Asian Republics are try­ing to re­assert them­selves and quite con­trary to play in the hands of the great pow­ers like they did in the past, are now ex­hibit­ing a dra­matic change in their tac­tics pri­mar­ily due to their lead­ers. The New Great Game re­volves around the big three i.e. Rus­sia, Amer­ica and China; and their in­ter­ests in the Cen­tral Asia.

Putin has been able to res­ur­rect Rus­sia from the con­se­quences of the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the Soviet Union. He seems quite con­fi­dent to pos­sess the sta­tus of a great power by dom­i­nat­ing the Cen­tral Asia. On the other hand China ap­peared to have more ex­per­tise re­gard­ing the re­gion. Beijing ini­tially wanted to se­cure its Xin­jiang prov­ince that has ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity with the Cen­tral Asia where Uighur Mus­lims are con­cen­trated. Since the prov­ince shares bor­der with the volatile re­gion, so China wanted to en­hance se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity by fo­cus­ing on Cen­tral Asia. But Chi­nese have shown their su­pe­rior tac­tics and have greatly en­hanced en­ergy co­op­er­a­tion in the re­gion.

The Moscow and Beijing led Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SCO) seems pretty in­stru­men­tal to put an end to the three evils of ex­trem­ism, sep­a­ratism and ter­ror­ism. It can be ar­gued that these Great Games are ac­tu­ally be­ing won by the Cen­tral Asian lead­ers who have ac­com­plished in the pur­suit to set the rules for these games to be played. It is quite ev­i­dent that even the weak Kyr­gyzs­tan can also play the game. The Kyr­gyz leader Kur­man­bek Bakiyev en­gaged Rus­sia and Amer­ica into a bid­ding war over the Manas Air Base in 2009 and even­tu­ally re­trieved pay­ments from both sides.

The au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­ers of the Cen­tral Asian Republics have dis­guised their prac­tices as anti-ter­ror­ist such as the Andi­jan In­ci­dent of 2005. They have de­vel­oped a dis­course that regime sur­vival is state se­cu­rity and have used this rhetoric to con­trol in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. They have used this narrative to sup­press hu­man rights and democ­racy in the name of se­cu­rity. The au­thor­ity they pos­sess is lead­ing to mega-cor­rup­tion and em­bez­zle­ment. The lead­ers have be­gun to con­sider state re­sources as their per­sonal ones.

The good thing is that the great pow­ers had no choice but to ac­cept the lo­cal rules of the Cen­tral Asian regimes; for them to be there and have ac­cess. Rus­sia has a large num­ber of Cen­tral Asian peo­ple work­ing there and by this Moscow uses its soft power to in­flu­ence the re­gion. On the other hand United States in­tends to pro­mote civil so­ci­ety and democ­racy in the re­gion but the episode of Andi­jan in 2005 has greatly af­fected the ef­forts.

It can be said that in this tug of war or pur­suit to dom­i­nate the Cen­tral Asia, China has been the “big­gest win­ner”. China has been able to greatly min­i­mize the Russian mo­nop­oly over Turk­menistan’s nat­u­ral gas. Since Moscow used to buy gas from Ashgabat at low prices and then ex­ported it the Euro­pean mar­kets at a high price. The Chi­nese pipe­lines have sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced the de­pen­dency of Cen­tral Asian republics and Turk­menistan’s in par­tic­u­lar, on Russian mar­kets. Chi­nese have done it all in a quite skill­ful man­ner and they are also the least de­mand­ing as com­pared to Rus­sia and the United States. Since Moscow wants a priv­i­leged sta­tus cou­pled with obe­di­ence and loy­alty, and Wash­ing­ton seeks to en­hance the role of the civil so­ci­ety and demo­cratic re­forms in the re­gion which is quite con­trary to the strategic cul­ture of the Cen­tral Asian regimes.

It can­not be de­nied that Amer­ica, Rus­sia and China have learned to main­tain an equi­lib­rium of strategic in­ter­ests in Cen­tral Asia af­ter 9/11. The nine­teenth cen­tury zero sum game has trans­formed into co­op­er­a­tion and co­or­di­na­tion and these three great pow­ers has been in a peace­ful co­ex­is­tence in the re­gion. Apart from every­thing, it is re­veal­ing that the real win­ners of this new great game are the Cen­tral Asian regimes. They have ef­fec­tively and quite op­po­site to the ex­pected, have es­tab­lished their own rules to be fol­lowed by the ex­ter­nal ac­tors. The way they have used the three pow­ers against each other for their use and ben­e­fit clearly shows their multi-di­men­sional for­eign poli­cies as well. The Cen­tral Asian regimes have suc­cess­fully used do­mes­tic and for­eign threats to le­git­imize their au­thor­ity. — The writer is a free­lance colum­nist based in Islamabad.

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