The Great Game was an intense match of geopolitics that could be cited as the predecessor to the Cold war fought between the British Empire and Imperial Russia. The term was coined by a British military man in response to the continuing conflict between the two great powers: Arthur Conolly.
This historical fact determines the reason as to why this region has been mostly troubled upto this day. The main focus of every conflict has ensued has been to side the Afghan people with the power that is pushing the conflict through. The historical rivalry although set between the British and the Russian Empire draws parallels to the generic conflict of the East vs. the West over the region. Although the term “Great Game” was coined in 1829, it is just as applicable today as ever. Surprisingly, there used to be a time when Afghanistan itself was a great power and had a major role in instigating regional instability itself. This was prior to the advent of British forces in India however.
By that time, the region had become a major staging ground for war mainly due to the controlling power in India viewing Afghanistan as a sort of gate that will be used by the ever expanding Russian Empire to overpower British control in India. Thus, the conflict took birth in 1838 when the British Empire launched the first Anglo Afghan was leading to an installation of a regime led by Shuja Shah. The Emir developed an alliance with the British in order to defend against an invasion by Imperial Russia.
The first puppet government installed in Afghanistan as a result of the British effort proved to be unpopular. Whether his was due to the workings of the Russian secret service agents in moulding popular opinion or the general perception developed by the Afghan people as a result of unreasonable government policies, the regime was removed in 1842. The government that rose to power after this particular incident was a result of different circumstances altogether. Dost Muhammad Khan, the youngest of the Barakzai brothers was restored to his former role as Emir of Afghanistan after the murder of Shuja Shah.
Initially, Dost Muhammad renewed his policy of viewing the British Empire as enemies and even at times unofficially allied himself with the Sikh Resistance fighting against the British in India. Even when the two parties were mostly involved in the conflict. During his reign Afghanistan re-established itself as the dominant power in the Central Asian region. He conquered Balkh in 1850 and in 1854 he was successful in seizing control over Kandahar which ultimately gave him power over the handful of tribes living in Afghanistan. Finally, a few years before his death Dost Muhammad re-allied himself with the British in 1855, declaring war against Persia a couple of years later. After Dost Muhammad passed away in lieu of battles with the Persian Empire over Herat and Bukhara he named his son Sher Ali Khan as his successor.
With Sher Ali on the throne, Russian moves into Persia were beginning to be viewed with suspicion. The Russians then forcefully inserted a diplomatic mission into Kabul on July 22nd 1878. The British, viewing this move as an attempted invasion also dispatched a diplomatic mission to force the leader to come to terms with them. As Sher Ali never looked forward to a mission by either the British or the Russians, he demanded the British not enter and blocked their path at the Khyber Pass triggering the second Anglo-Afghan war. Unable to garner support from the Russians the war ended with Sher Ali’s death and the signing of the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879. With this treaty the Great Game took a step towards detente and ultimately ended when a British alliance developed with Russia during the events of World War I.
The constant meddling of foreign powers both from the east and west has ultimately resulted in a permanent damage on the Afghan geopolitical landscape. Analyzing the events of the great game it can be very wisely stated that the policy was instigated by the British and the Russians which upto this day and age continues in the form of alternative regional and international powers battling for proxy control of the country.