Replaying the 'Great Game'
By Jeffrey Steinberg
Maybe it was unintended in Washington and Langley, but not so elsewhere. Such American naiveté was anticipated in London, where British intelligence had a 200-year history of playing what Rudyard Kipling had dubbed the "Great Game" across the steppes of Central Asia, and where Islam had been probed, prodded, and profiled by the British East India Company, and by the successor British India Office's Arab Bureau, since the time of James Mill, and, later, Lawrence of Arabia.
Great Britain jealously guarded its Great Game, and, at times, fiercely fought to keep the United States out of the picture.
In 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had gone so far as to assert that Afghanistan was "denied territory" to the Americans, when President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched his most trusted military aide, Gen. Patrick Hurley, to Kabul to get a first-hand picture of how Afghanistan might be drawn into FDR's vision of a postwar decolonized world. British intelligence did everything short of assassinating Hurley to prevent him from successfully reaching the Afghan capital. When Hurley did finally get to Kabul and spend four days with the king and senior government officials, he made such a lasting impression that the Afghanis immediately declared themselves anxious to forge a partnership with the Americans, whom they saw as totally different from the two imperial Great Game rivals, England and Russia, who had kept the country in a state of enforced backwardness and poverty for half a century, preventing the construction of even a railroad or a paved highway. Senior British military officials, based out of the Northwest Frontier Province across the border in Pakistan, had, however, put their stamp of approval on the production of vast crops of opium poppy in the rich mountains of Afghanistan, and had facilitated the processing and distribution of that opium in the South Asian and Chinese markets.
With the death of FDR, Afghanistan's vision of economic partnership with America died as well. Once again, Afghanistan fell into the category of denied territory for the United States.
The British destabilization of the "arc of crisis" began with the Khomeini Revolution in Iran, which overthrew the Shah in February 1979. Khomeini had been a longstanding British intelligence tool, and Khomeini's Islamic Revolution was a crucial ingredient in the Bernard Lewis Plan.
Brzezinski, long schooled in British geopolitics, had locked the United States into the British Great Game in the early days of the Carter administration, when he rejected Japanese offers to finance major development projects in Iran and Mexico. Brzezinski had declared that there would be "no new Japans in the Persian Gulf or south of the Rio Grande." That American embrace of British geopolitics doomed the Shah, and drew the United States into the British covert drive to install Khomeini in power. With the taking of the American embassy hostages in November 1979, the United States was drawn ever deeper into the "arc of crisis."
It would be an oversimplification to say that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the result of a fine-tuned British conspiracy. However, mujahideen operations had been launched inside Afghanistan as early as 1974, when Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was manipulated into sponsoring a 5,000-man guerrilla force under the direction of a young Islamic fanatic, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to destabilize the country and dissuade Afghanistan's President Muhammed Daud from pursuing a "Greater Pushtun" nation extending into Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Territory. Back at the height of the Great Game in the late nineteenth century, the British had deliberately created an Indian-Afghan border that cut through the middle of the Pushtun tribal territory, thereby setting up a border crisis that could be manipulated at will.
Although Hekmatyar's forces were soundly defeated in 1974, the effort did result in Muhammed Daud's decision to negotiate a border deal with Primen Minister Bhutto that brought a temporary peace to the area. The situation dramatically changed when Prime Minister Bhutto was overthrown in 1977 by the Pakistani military, under the direction of Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. During the same period, the Soviet-backed Afghani communists launched their own drive to power, which ultimately resulted in the overthrow of Muhammed Daud and the installation of a Soviet-puppet regime in April 1978.
British brains and American dollarsA careful review of the covert apparatus established to support the Afghan mujahideen effort against the Red Army (see other articles in this section) shows that the entire program was directed, top-down, from London—either directly through senior British intelligence figures like the Privy Council head, Lord Cranborne, or through notorious Anglophiles within the U.S. intelligence establishment, like Wall Street banker John Train and International Rescue Committee President Leo Cherne.
Under National Security Directive 3, signed by President Reagan in early 1982, Vice President George Bush was placed in charge of the entire global covert action program. It was Bush's Special Situation Group (SSG) and Crisis Pre-Planning Group (CPPG) at the White House, that deployed Oliver North, Richard Secord, "Public Diplomacy" head Walter Raymond, and the entire Iran-Contra crew. Throughout the 1980s, the Afghan War was the largest single program under this Bush chain of command. And because the Afghan program was sold to the U.S. Congress as an opportunity to give the Soviets "their own Vietnam," it enjoyed nearly unanimous support and financing—and was to remain a well-kept secret.
Private sector figures like John Train and Leo Cherne (who also served on President Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, PFIAB), who coordinated the American aid program to the Hekmatyar forces, were senior officials in the Bush-directed program.