‘Now I shall go far and far into the North, playing the Great Game….’
- Rudyard Kipling, Kim, 1901
Definitions of ‘The Great Game’ have morphed through many different generations. What underpins most historical definitions is the importance of Central Asia as the cross roads between East and West and the key hinge upon which trade routes would swing to support economic expansion. Modernity has transitioned this definition of ‘The Great Game’ into being the efforts made by countries maneuvering to fill (or exploit) the demise of the USSR and the fracturing of nation states in Central Asia. Superimpose onto this an increasing desire for natural resources as well the positioning of neighbouring countries considered a threat to democracy and democratic efforts. The dimension of ‘The Great Game’ is being reshaped.
No longer is ‘The Great Game’ about a struggle in Central Asia to control trade routes, but rather posturing to ensure best strategic position to support both political and economic endstates.
Whilst Central Asia, and subsequently ‘The Great Game’ is not solely about ‘Afghanistan’, it is widely recognised that Afghanistan remains pivotal as a location of untapped natural resources that surpasses those, for example, in Mongolia. The attraction as well as the complexity is linked to its immature economy and a young government that struggles with both the concept and the execution of democracy. It remains easily manipulated by those powerful nation states that are willing to prop up the economy in return for an ability to grow strategic posturing and an opportunity to access resource yields. Infrastructure and utilities are limited. The supply chains are highly complex. And all this in a security environment that remains threatening to all, save those with the largest appetite for risk.
Gold in the Hills
The resource sector is the big business key to the economic growth of Afghanistan; and the big consumers of resources know that Afghanistan retains extensive resource wealth. Major mining companies from America, Australia, Canada, China, India and Russia have been scoping, bidding and now leading exploration of resource blocks in Afghanistan. Increasing demand for resources worldwide is driving prices upwards and hence resource companies are drawn with increased risk appetite to challenging locations like Afghanistan.
Leadership? Generals, Politicians or Businessmen?
The response from the international community to the increased volumes of incidents has typically been to increase the rate and tempo of military operations, but Afghanistan is largely an insurgency operation and the success of mainstream military campaigns on insurgencies is destined to win the battles but lose the war. The ‘death from a thousand cuts’ for NATO forces will occur in Afghanistan. Topography and a lack of complex terrain such as built up areas and complex streetscapes will mean that it will take insurgents and factional groups longer, but in the end they can/ will win. History also supports this theory. Afghanistan has a strong history of occupying forces being allowed easy access to the Country and then slowly attritted until political will is lost.
The counter insurgency campaign needs to be replaced with a business insurgency campaign. This will lead to a greatly improved security situation as local economies grow and improved opportunities present themselves to districts and provinces. Stability and progress can be created by small to medium enterprise development; but also more rapidly through larger projects of economic value. The traction in the Afghan Ministry of Mines in developing the contracting architecture to tender resource blocks is encouraging.
Economic progress will dislocate and isolate anti government elements, factional groups and those who are criminally motivated. Communities will not be interested sponsoring nor supporting insecurity where there are livelihoods and standards of living that may be threatened.
War is far too important to leave to the generals, or to the politicians for that matter. In Afghanistan it is best left to the businessmen.