When Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai came to New Dehli last week, he had more on his mind than pleas for economic support. The Afghan leader also suggested that Indian troops help train a new Afghan army, something that is causing consternation in Pakistan and other neighboring countries.
In the next round of the "Great Game," competing interests are gearing up to clash once more in the "rooftop of the world," the Hindu Kush mountains. At the turn of the 20th century, the game was played by Britain and czarist Russia for control of Central Asia. In the 1980s, the game was about religious identity, with the US encouraging Saudi- and Iranian-financed Islamists to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Today, the game is about oil and settling old scores.
Presumably, Karzai is trying to keep Afghanistan a player - not the football. His success will largely depend on maximizing the world's donor dollars while minimizing foregin interference.
"The hope for Karzai is to multiply some of the money, because in history, every single Afghan power has been determined by his ability to deliver money to the provinces," says Frederic Grare, director of the Center for Human Sciences, a French-funded think tank in New Delhi.
One of the tough parts of the new Great Game is figuring out who is on which team. Russia and the US want to limit the spread of Islamic extremist groups in Central Asia, but Russia is concerned about America's growing military presence in the region. Pakistan and Iran want to see a peaceful Afghanistan, so that millions of Afghan refugees in their territories can return home. The US, which had Iran's vocal support in its war on the Taliban, now calls Iran part of an Axis of Evil.
Complicating things further is the growing importance of the region's oil. The US, Pakistan, and India would like to create an oil pipeline through Afghanistan that pumps oil from the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan with ports in Pakistan and markets beyond.
Iran and Russia seem less enthused about a pipeline. Some diplomats say Tehran's support of Afghan renegade …