Unfolding of the great game in Himalaya region

Halford J. Mackinder‘s major work, on geopolitics is world famous.( Democratic ideals and reality: a study in the politics of reconstruction, appeared in 1919).Mackinder’s most famous quote was: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” And this came true and to enable this impact a country had to be a duel power like America who had the most pre-dominant Sea and Land power capabilities in the 20th century.

China till today is a continental power and is fast transforming into a naval power (see below, old Gwadar port, now being converted into a naval base in the Arabian Sea) but that may take almost a decade. Therefore, China has taken course to a very out of the box intermediate solution of building a global road network cutting across nations and continents. Obviously China will have its controls on them .This will then give them extra ordinary power by bypassing China’s present lacunae of not being a maritime power. In other words this surface communication architecture will enable China to bypass US maritime strength and deployments all over the worlds. The fact is that world trade since thousands of centuries has been through seas and thus there has always been a need for being a naval power. The British model of being a maritime power since the last two centuries or more enabled them to dominate world trade and establish in turn a world empire, which may not have tumbled, had there been no second world war.  


See Gwadar Port in the Arabian Sea. Now being converted into a Naval Base. Is connected to the ‘CPEC’.

Citation: Economic times 12 July 2018

 Biden Administration therefore has to pre-empt and if necessary take coercive steps to checkmate China in this Himalayan chess game. One cannot overlook that this route tramps on India’s Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and is subjugating the Balochs of their natural resources. 

China has yet to become a naval power. Presently it is just a ‘Green Water Navy’ and will take many years before becoming a ‘Blue Water Navy’. It has two options at this juncture of time. One is to wait for next ten years or so till the time they achieve world maritime dominance. The other option is an out of the box strategy to change the rules of the Game and create ‘Land Roads of Communication’(LROC) akin to the concept of safeguarding ‘Sea Lanes of Communication’(SLOC).This land oriented surface communication will enable China to transit the goods manufactured across nations and continents seamlessly. Thereafter, the concept of Free Trade will enable China to freight their goods so manufactured at much cheaper rates. This in turn will enable China to continue with the lowest priced goods in world trading. This in turn will have a cascading effect and China will then continue to have higher trade surpluses and may be surpass the US economy much earlier. Therefore, this concept of the ‘OBOR’ is a drive by China to consolidate its market share and in turn give them the leverage and money to build a corresponding military muscle.

More analyses on this issue needs to be done at the United Nations, as indirectly it is bound to impinge on the sovereignty of many nations, including India in a big way .China’s new strategy of ‘OBOR’ will turn the scene upside down as trade will then be carried out through routes made and commandeered by China. In fact this sleazy Chinese political maneuver toward great power status without a ‘Blue Water Navy’ has to be checkmated.

A similar geopolitical analogy (akin to Mackinder’s thesis) also appears to be taking roots in the 21st century: “Any country, who commands Tibet and the Himalayas, will dominate South and Central Asia. Any country which dominates Indian Ocean will control world trade and energy resources. Any country which dominates both the sea and land routes in this region will control and emerge as a great power” China is on the way to this glory by sheer weight of strategic resources of Tibet (More will be covered below on this line).Let us take a macro view of the legacy of the ‘Great Game’, which was a 19th century scramble for Central Asian territory between the Great Britain and Russia. The period was marked with both the nations sending their military and intelligence gathering expeditions to map this hitherto unmapped region. The whole of 19th century was characterized with an apprehension of the Russians attempting to invade British India from her Northwestern frontiers. The electrifying Russian conquests of Central Asian Khanates (kingdoms) brought, those (Russians) very close to the northern fringes of the Karakoram Mountains, (Present day Tajikistan) near the Pamir. Also, Russia’s trade dealings with Tibet’s Kashgar (now in Xinjiang, was a famous city of the Leh-Yarkand-Kashgar silk route) too made the British worried of a possible Russian infiltration from Tibet’s Xinjiang.

However, by late 19th century, the British tried to carry out a cartographic delineation of borders by demarcating India’s northern frontiers. In this period, the Afghan frontier was drawn (Durand Line) and the northern offensive of Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir took place. Ranjit Singh’s expansion further North and General Zorawar Singh having reached as far North and East towards Taklakot (North of Nepal) is well documented. Efforts were also made to negotiate with the Chinese and Russians. The Russians came to the bargaining table and negotiated boundary agreements and buffer regions but the Chinese, on the other hand refused to be a party to such treaties.

However, the Great Game waned after the second world, as Britain pulled out from the Indian sub-continent in 1947.This caused a power vacuum in the Tibetan region for more than two years, till the time the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.Therefore,as can be seen there was a window of almost two years when Tibet remained untouched. In spite of the British placing a liaison officer in Tibet, but India failed to assert protection of Tibet by sending at least a token military force. Unlike India, China seized the opportunity in October 1950 to overrun Tibet, which was a vast space between India and themselves.Obviously, the Chinese continued the legacy of the Great Game by occupying a potential buffer state between India and China. Since then, the era of suspicion, border disputes, and geopolitical calculations have been propagated and got carried into the post-colonial states of India, China and Pakistan. China is fast emerging as the master of a ‘Greater Great Game’(GGG) then ever seen hither-to-fore in the world with the master stroke of the concept of ‘OBOR’, which  they are selling to the world. Tibet happens to be the base and the very foundation of this great 21st century initiative by a country, which is expanding in all dimensions from land to seas and even the Outer Space dimension.

Tibet has been exploited by the rulers for China’s advancement in world politics. The Chinese have thus repeated the theory of the ‘Greater Great Game’ in a much larger field encompassing not only the Himalayas but is trying to subsume even Central Asian Countries and even Europe, who have all mostly accepted this great connectivity project of the  ‘CPEC’,as part of the greater OBOR project through the Karakorum’s of the Himalayas.

The Karakorum’s have a glorious past as a Silk Route road connecting India to the markets of Central Asia. As Claude Arpi (Claude Arpi writes regularly on Tibet, China, and India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of Tibet…..The Great Game and has researched on Tibet’s great potential), correctly says that the region also characterizes a rich cultural intermingling of Kashmiri, Turkic and Buddhist culture which pass through the crisscrossing of trading caravans. Once India’s historical gateway to CAR and China is today a conflict flashpoint between India, China, and Pakistan.The CPEC if made under Chinese control multiply instability in the region. Politics of terrorism will create many obstacles for this project as even Baluchistan feels exploited by this corridor. Therefore, for Regional stability it becomes imperative that the mechanism for creating such trading lanes and ‘LROC’ be allowed through global funding and global control. This would counter the Chinese great game in Tibet.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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