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The Great Game’s New Players

NEW DELHI – Two “great games” currently roil South Asia. In the West, Afghanistan – and what Henry Kissinger calls “Islamist Jihadists” – challenges the international order. In the East, a large number of Chinese troops have entered Pakistani-held territory high in the mountain fastness of the Kashmir Karakorams, in the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region, not far from the glacial battlefield of Siachen, where India and Pakistan confront each other.

Senge Hasan Sering, from Skardu, the director of the Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress, believes that the number of Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops now present “could be over 11,000,” as there are also additional “PLA construction corps personnel” deployed. It is here that China is currently investing “billions of dollars in mega projects like expressways, tunnels, and oil and gas pipelines.” This, Sering says, is “surely not on account of any overflowing altruism.” 

The Chinese say that some of their troops are present in Pakistan because of another sort of “overflowing,” of which there has been a great deal in this part of Kashmir and in the rest of Pakistan. This year’s heavy monsoon rains have wrought havoc in the area, severing road connections, washing away bridges, and rendering over half a million people homeless in these mountains – without “dwellings, farmlands, moveable assets,” or even “graveyards.” This is over and above the many thousands in the Hunza region, who in January lost everything on account of a cloudburst that wiped out several villages and created a highly unstable artificial lake.

Rudyard Kipling’s old “Great Game” now has new contestants. Instead of an expansionist Russian empire confronting Imperial Britain, it is now a China hungry for land, water, and raw materials that is flexing its muscles, encroaching on Himalayan redoubts and directly challenging India.