Anglo-Russian Rivalry in the Middle East

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Anglo-Russian Rivalry in the Middle East

For centuries, the rivalry between Russia and Great Britain in the Middle East was a major factor in geopolitics. The decline of the Ottoman Empire beginning in the 1700s had brought up what became known as the eastern question: The term does not refer to a single question but to a variety of issues, including the instability of European territories that were part of the Ottoman Empire. The term great game, known in Russia as the tournament of shadows, refers to the Anglo-Russian rivalry with regard to Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, and northern India. Both Russia and Great Britain took measures to gain influence in southeastern Europe, in the Middle East, and in Central Asia.

THE EASTERN QUESTION

The Ottoman Empire was at the height of its power during the seventeenth century, annexing wide parts of central Europe. The Ottoman defeat at Vienna by Austria and Poland in 1683 brought expansion toward the west to a sudden halt, and the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) forced Ottoman rulers to cede most of the empire's central European possessions, including Hungary. Although the Ottoman Empire was thereafter no longer a threat to Austria, tensions with Russia were growing.

The introduction of the eastern question is commonly dated to 1774, when the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) ended in defeat for the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Kuçuk Kainarji (July 21, 1774) established Russia as the major power in the Black Sea region. Furthermore, the treaty was interpreted by Russia as permission to act as the protector of Orthodox Christians living under the sovereignty of the Ottoman sultan.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1787 to 1792, Empress Catherine II (1729–1796) of Russia sought an alliance with the Holy Roman emperor, Joseph II (1741–1790). The two powers agreed to partition the Ottoman Empire, thereby alarming other European powers, especially the United Kingdom, Prussia, and France. The Treaty of Jassy (January 9, 1792) ended the war with and confirmed Russia's increasing dominance in the Black Sea region.

The positions of the European powers relative to the Ottoman Empire became clearer during the early nineteenth century. The power most directly involved was of course Russia, whose major concerns were control of the Black Sea and access to the Mediterranean. Russia was eager to acquire exclusive navigation rights for its merchant fleet and warships while denying these privileges to other European powers. Less important was Russia's role as the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Balkans.

Russia's plans with regard to the Ottoman Empire were strongly opposed by Austria, which had once been the major European opponent of the Ottoman Empire. However, Austria considered Russia's advance along the Danube River in central and southeastern Europe to be a major threat and feared that a disintegration of the Ottoman Empire into individual nation-states would foment nationalism among ethnic groups within the empire. Austria therefore worked to maintain the unity of the Ottoman Empire. This position was similar to that of the British, who regarded the rise of the Russian Empire to be a threat to the security of British colonial possessions in India. Britain was also concerned that Russian control of the Bosporus Strait could threaten British domination of the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, the fall of the Ottoman Empire would undermine the traditional balance of power in Europe.

The Treaty of Tilsit (1807) established an alliance between France and Russia: When Russia agreed to aid the French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) in a war against Britain, the Russian czar was to receive in return the Ottoman territories of Moldavia and Wallachia, known as the Danubian Principalities. If the Ottoman sultan refused to surrender these territories, France would join a Russian attack against Turkey and both powers would divide the Ottoman possessions among themselves.

This alliance, which would have left Britain, Austria, and Prussia almost powerless, was dissolved by Napoléon's invasion of Russia in 1812. After Napoléon's defeat, the representatives of the victorious powers met at the Congress of Vienna, but failed to take action relating to the integrity of the decaying Ottoman Empire. Thereafter, the eastern question became a Russian domestic issue that was of less importance to the other European powers.

The eastern question again became a major issue when the Greeks declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, a development that made a Russian invasion of the Ottoman territory more likely. Viscount Castlereagh (Robert Stewart, 1769–1822), the British foreign minister, and Count Klemens von Metternich (1773–1859), the Austrian chancellor, convinced Czar Alexander I (1777–1825) to maintain the "Concert of Europe," a spirit of collaboration that had arisen after Napoléon's defeat. The Holy Alliance, which had brought together Russia, Austria and Prussia in an effort to continue peaceful cooperation after the Vienna Congress did not take decisive action in Greece.

Alexander's successor, Czar Nicholas I (1796–1855), choose to intervene in Greece. In order to prevent Greece from becoming a Russian vassal state, the United Kingdom and France became involved, while Austria did not. Ottoman sultan Mahmud II (1785–1839) was outraged by the interference of the European powers and denounced Russia as an enemy of Islam. Russia declared war against the Ottoman Empire in 1828, but was unable to resolve the eastern question because the other European powers did not intervene. The Treaty of Adrianople (1829) allowed Russian commercial vessels access to the Dardanelles, a strait in northwest Turkey, and enhanced Russian commercial rights in the Ottoman Empire.

The Greek war ended when Greece was granted independence by the Treaty of Constantinople (1832). Shortly after the war, a new conflict emerged in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman governor in Egypt, Mehmed Ali (1769–1849), had consolidated power in Egypt and set out to gain independence from the sultan. His well-trained nizami army overran Syria, captured the port of Acre (now part of Israel) after a six-month siege, and advanced into Anatolia in Turkey. By this point, it had become obvious that Mehmed Ali might overthrow the reigning Osmanli dynasty and seize control of the Ottoman Empire.

Czar Nicholas offered the Ottoman sultan military aid, which was accepted. The Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi (July 8, 1833) promised mutual assistance, but a secret clause exempted the Ottoman Empire from sending military forces. Instead, the Ottoman leaders would close the Dardanelles to all non-Russian ships when Russia was at war. The treaty was met with suspicion in Britain and France, for both powers feared that Russia had gained freedom of action to send warships through the Dardanelles.

Russian intervention led to a peace agreement between the sultan and Mehmed Ali. In the peace of Kutahya (1833), the Egyptian viceroy agreed to withdraw from Anatolia; in compensation, he received the territories of the Hijaz and Crete. In 1839, however, war broke out again. When Sultan Mahmud II died that year, his son and successor, Abdülmecid I (1823–1861), ascended to the throne in difficult times. The forces of Mehmed Ali had defeated the Ottoman armies, and the Ottoman fleet had been seized by Egyptian insurgents. Although France continued to support Mehmed Ali, Russia, France, and Great Britain intervened in the conflict to prevent the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In 1840 the European powers settled on a compromise in which Mehmed Ali agreed to make a (nominal) act of submission and was granted hereditary control of Egypt.

Although the collapse of the Ottoman Empire had been prevented, control of the Dardanelles remained at issue. In 1841 Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, and the United Kingdom agreed on the reestablishment of the "ancient rule," according to which the strait would be closed to all warships with the sole exception of the sultan's allies during times of war. With the acceptance of the Strait Convention, Czar Nicholas I abandoned his effort to reduce the Ottoman sultan to a state of dependence on Russia. Instead, Russia returned to plans to partition Ottoman territories in Europe.

Although the Ottoman Empire was no longer dependent on Russia, it continued to rely on the European powers for protection. Despite many attempts at internal reform, the decline of the Ottoman Empire continued, rendering Turkey the "sick man of Europe," as it came to be known. Its dissolution was considered inevitable.

The Revolutions of 1848 in Europe moved the eastern question from the center of attention. Russia could have taken the opportunity to attack the Ottoman Empire, while France and Austria were occupied with internal affairs. Russia did not take this action, however; instead, Nicholas committed his forces to the defense of Austria. Nicholas deemed that the goodwill established in 1848 would allow him to seize Ottoman possessions at a later date.

After the suppression of the revolution in Austria, a joint Austro-Russian war against the Ottoman Empire seemed imminent. The sultan had refused to repatriate Austrian rebels who had found asylum in Turkey. When Austria and Russia withdrew their ambassadors, France and the United Kingdom dispatched their fleets to protect the Ottoman Empire. To avoid military confrontation, Austria withdrew its demand for the surrender of fugitives.

During the 1840s, British leaders expressed growing fears of Russian encroachment on Afghanistan and India, and they tried to find opportunities to obstruct the Russian advance. Britain found a pretext in the protection of Christian holy places sites in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Eighteenth-century treaties had given France the responsibility of protecting Roman-Catholics in the Ottoman Empire, while Orthodox Christians were to be protected by Russia. Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian monks had disputed possession of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Sultan Abdülmecid was unable to satisfy the demands of both sides. In 1853 he adjudicated in favor of the French and the Catholics.

The sultan had been committed to protecting the Christian religion and holy sites, but after the decision in favor of the French, Czar Nicholas I sent an emissary, Prince Aleksandr Sergeyevich Menshikov (1787–1869), to negotiate a new treaty. Menshikov was to negotiate a treaty that allowed Russia to interfere whenever it considered the protection of Christians inadequate. At the same time, the British government sent its own emissary, Lord Stratford Canning (1786–1880), who managed to convince the sultan to reject the Russian treaty by pointing out that it would compromise the independence of the Porte (the Ottoman government). Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), the British prime minister during part of the 1860s and 1870s, later blamed the outbreak of war on actions taken by British premier Lord Aberdeen (George Hamilton Gordon, 1784–1860) and Lord Stratford, which led to Aberdeen's forced resignation shortly thereafter.

When Nicholas learned of the failure of Menshikov's negotiations, he seized the pretext of the sultan's failure to protect Christian holy places, and sent armies into Wallachia and Moldavia, where Russia was acknowledged as the guardian of Orthodox Christianity. Given Russian involvement in suppressing the 1848 revolution, the czar was convinced that the European powers would not object strongly to his annexation of two neighboring provinces.

To maintain the security of the Ottoman Empire, both the United Kingdom and France sent fleets to the Dardanelles. Despite attempts at diplomacy by Austria, France, Prussia, and the United Kingdom, a diplomatic solution proved impossible. While Austria and Prussia tried to continue negotiations, Ottoman armies attacked the Russian army near the Danube. In response, Russian warships attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Sinop on November 30, 1853, thereby opening way for Russian troops to land and supply their forces easily. This alarmed Britain and France, causing them to step forth in defense of the Ottoman Empire. After Russia ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to withdraw, Britain and France declared war.

Czar Nicholas had presumed that, in return for support in 1848 Austria would side with Russia, or at least remain neutral in the Crimean War (1853–1856). However, Austria regarded the presence of Russian troops in the Danubian Principalities to be a major threat, and supported British and French demands for Russian withdrawal from the region. Furthermore, Austria refused to guarantee neutrality. The original cause for the war was eliminated when Russia withdrew from Moldavia and Wallachia, but France and the Untied Kingdom were determined to use this opportunity to finally address the eastern question.

Therefore, the European allies proposed the following conditions for the cessation of hostilities: Russia should give up its protectorate over the Danubian Principalities, and abandon all claims granting Russia the right to interfere in Ottoman affairs on behalf of Orthodox Christians. Furthermore, Russia must agree to a revision of the 1841 Strait Convention and guarantee free access to the Danube. The czar rejected these conditions, and the Crimean War proceeded.

Nicholas's successor, Alexander II (1818–1881), began peace negotiations in 1856. In the Treaty of Paris, he agreed to four points: Russian privileges relating to Moldavia and Wallachia were transferred to the European allies as a group, and warships were to be barred from the Black Sea. Russia and the Ottoman Empire further agreed not to establish military or naval arsenals along the Black Sea coast. On these grounds, all the European powers agreed to respect the territorial integrity and the independence of the Ottoman Empire.

The eastern question was thus temporarily settled—until France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. The French emperor Napoléon III (1808–1873), eager for British support, opposed Russia over the eastern question, although Russian interference in the Ottoman Empire did not threaten French interests. After the establishment of the Third French Republic in 1870, France abandoned its opposition. Russia now denounced the Black Sea clauses of the 1856 treaty, and reestablished a fleet in the Black Sea.

When in 1875 Herzegovina, Bosnia, and Bulgaria rebelled against the Ottoman sultan, Europe's great powers considered an intervention necessary to prevent war in the Balkans. The "League of the Three Emperors" (Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia) stated their mutual stance toward the eastern question in the Andrássy Note (named after the Hungarian statesman Count Gyula Andrássy [1823–1890]), which stipulated the following: To avoid widespread conflict in southwestern Europe, the sultan must institute a number of reforms, including the granting of religious liberty to Christians in Ottoman territories; to ensure appropriate reforms, a joint commission was to be formed. The Andrássy Note, which was approved by the United Kingdom and France, was submitted to the Porte. Sultan Abdülaziz (1830–1876) agreed to the proposal on January 31, 1876, but Herzegovinian leaders rejected it.

Before representatives of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia could take further action, the Ottoman Empire faced major internal struggles that led to the deposition of the sultan. His successor, Murad V (1840–1904), was deposed after only three months because of mental instability. He was followed by Sultan Abdülhamid II (1842–1918).

The Ottoman treasury was empty by this time, and the sultan faced insurrections not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in Serbia and Montenegro. In August 1876 the Ottoman armies crushed the insurgents, but widespread rumors of atrocities against the civilian populations shocked the public. While Russia considered entering the war on the side of the rebels, delegates of six European powers (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom) held a conference in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Their proposals were repeatedly rejected by the Ottoman sultan.

Russia secured Austro-Hungarian neutrality with the Reichstadt Agreement of July 1876, which stated that territories captured during the war would be partitioned between Russia and Austria-Hungary, with control of Bosnia and Herzegovina going to Austria-Hungary. On April 24, 1877, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire.

Although the United Kingdom feared Russian threats to British dominance in Central Asia, Britain did not intervene. After the defeat of the Ottoman forces in February 1878, peace was established with the Treaty of San Stefano, which greatly increased Russian influence in southeastern Europe. After large-scale British intervention, revisions of the peace treaty were negotiated at the 1878 Congress of Berlin. The new treaty adjusted the boundaries of the newly independent states (Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro) and divided Bulgaria into two separate states (Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia). Bosnia and Herzegovina nominally stayed within the Ottoman Empire, but control was transferred to Austria-Hungary.

In 1908 the so-called Young Turks, a broad-based political organization that opposed the absolute rule of the Ottoman sultan, led a rebellion against Abdülhamid II and deposed him a year later. Under his successor, Mehmed V (1844–1918), political and constitutional reforms were instituted; the decay of the Ottoman Empire, however, continued.

Austria-Hungary took advantage of Ottoman weakness by annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria-Hungary secured Russian approval for the annexation by declaring support for a treaty that granted Russian warships the right to pass through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus straits. Serbia sought Russian assistance against Austro-Hungarian plans, but Russia could not comply because it had not recovered from the devastating effects of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). After Austria-Hungary announced its annexation on October 6, 1908, Russia declared that it would seek access to the Dardanelles. This move was strongly opposed by France and the United Kingdom, who were not directly concerned with the annexation in itself.

During the Balkan Wars (1909–1912), the Ottoman Empire finally lost most of its European territories. In an effort to keep power in Ottoman hands, regain some of the lost territories, and challenge British authority over the Suez Canal, the Ottoman Empire allied itself with the Central Powers, led by Austria-Hungary and Germany, during World War I (1914–1918).

In the early years of the war, the Ottoman Empire had successes: The Allies were defeated in the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915, and in Iraq and the Balkans, and British landing attempts were repulsed. In the Caucasus, however, the Ottoman Empire lost several battles. Russian forces proceeded in a line from Lake Van in eastern Turkey to the cities of Erzurum and Trabzon in the north. During the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Ottomans took back control of these areas, but the empire was ultimately defeated by the Allies by the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Allies. The Armistice of Mudros (1918) and the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) formally established the partition of the Ottoman Empire, and led to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923.

PERSIA AND THE ANGLO-RUSSIAN RIVALRY

In 1722 Peter I ("the Great," 1672–1725) of Russia invaded Persian territory as part of his attempt to gain domination of Central Asia. At the same time, Ottoman forces successfully besieged the Persian city of Isfahan. Persia was able to weather the invasions, but the Safavid rulers were severely weakened, and the last Safavid shah was executed in 1722.

During the 1730s and 1740s, Nadir Shah (1688–1747) consolidated the Persian Empire, drove out the Russians, and launched campaigns against the Central Asian khanates. Shortly after his death, however, the empire fell into decline. Persia was not prepared for the expansion of European empires in the late eighteenth century. The country was sandwiched between the growing Russian Empire in Central Asia and the expanding British Empire in India. Because of the growing importance of India, Great Britain regarded Persia as an important region in the defense against Russia, first against France and later against the Russians. When the French failed to support the shah in Persia's war against Russia, the shah ousted the French from their advisory position and replaced them with the British. The British, however, tried to appease the Russians rather than support their ally. Facing quick Russian advances in Central Asia, British attitudes were changing.

Although Persia was never invaded, it became more and more economically dependent on Europe. The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 formalized British and Russian spheres of interest and dominance over economic development in the area.

During World War I, Persia was drawn into the periphery of the war because of its geographically strategic position. To prevent the Ottomans from taking control of Persian oilfields, Britain sent military forces to Mesopotamia. In 1916 fights between Russian and Ottoman forces reached Persian territory, where Russia had gained more and more influence. In the wake of the Russian Revolution, however, most of the Russian armies collapsed. In addition, Persian civilians were starving after years of deprivation and war. After the war, Persia became a tool in the political battles of other empires. Although Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878–1944) seized power and established a new dynasty in Iran, Britain and the Soviet Union remained influential in the region well into the early years of the Cold War.

AFGHANISTAN

In the early nineteenth century, British India and the frontiers of Russia were separated by about 2,000 miles (about 3,220 kilometers). There were no trade routes, and the great cities along the old Silk Road, such as Bukhara, Khiva, Merv, Tashkent, and Chimkent, were forgotten. The territory was unmapped, even though both czarist Russia and Qing-dynasty China promoted surveying and cartographic projects in Central Asia during the eighteenth century in projects intended to secure state boundaries and control nomadic populations. Russian maps of that time gave yet another image—they reflected knowledge about Central Asia, but they were not based on detailed surveys.

Russian efforts to gain control over major portions of Central Asia were reinforced in the early eighteenth century. In 1717 Czar Peter I sent a Russian expedition to Khiva, but the Russians were slaughtered there. Shortly after the death of Peter, a story arose that he had commissioned his heirs to take possession of Constantinople and India as the keys to world domination. To subdue and control the Kazakh tribes, the Russians built the fortress of Orenburg (north of the Caspian Sea). At the same time, Persians and Afghans invaded India, where British influence was growing steadily. Czarina Catherine considered a plan to impede this growing influence, but it was never implemented.

When Russian attempts to consolidate the southern frontier began to collide with the increasing British dominance of the Indian Subcontinent and adjacent territories, the two powers engaged in a subtle "game" of imperialistic diplomacy, exploration, and espionage throughout Central Asia. However, the conflict never broke out into open warfare.

In May 1798, Napoléon's invading fleet set out for Egypt and India. The French fleet was defeated by Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805) of Britain, and the threat to British India was thus eliminated. To deal with growing British influence along the southern border, Czar Paul I (1754–1801) proposed a Russian-French invasion of India. The Russian forces were sent to India in 1801, but they were recalled after the death of the czar.

At the same time, a British diplomatic mission approached the Persian shah and signed two treaties. However, when Russian troops besieged Yerevan in Armenia (then part of Persia) in 1804, Britain did not take action.

The Russian position in the "game" was further strengthened by a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire. In the Treaty of Adrianople (1829), Russia gained free passage through the Dardanelles and trading privileges. The Russians gained further privileges when the sultan gave Russia exclusive access to the Dardanelles after Russian forces protected the Ottomans against an attacking Egyptian army in 1833. Furthermore, the reconciliation with the Ottoman Empire gave Russia greater flexibility in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, the Circassians from the Caucasus region found British support for their cause of independence from Russia. In addition, Dost Mohammad (1793–1863), the leader of Afghanistan, approached Russia in 1835 for help in recapturing Peshawar from Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), the Sikh ruler of Punjab and an ally of Britain.

From the British perspective, Russian plans for territorial expansion toward the south threatened to destroy the "Pearl of the Empire," India. When Russian troops set out to subdue khanate after khanate, British observers expressed concern that Afghanistan might become the base for a Russian advance into India. The British therefore initiated the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838–1842), in which Britain tried to impose a puppet regime in Afghanistan. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and the attempt to annex Afghanistan to British India failed. Instead, rival Afghan tribes join forces to fight the British, and Dost Mohammad returned to the throne in 1843.

Dost Muhammad expanded Afghan territory by adding Balkh and Baldakhshan in 1855 and Heart in 1863. Nevertheless, Russia continued to advance steadily toward Afghanistan, formally annexing Tashkent in 1865 and Samarkand in 1868. Although the British government enforced a policy of "masterly inactivity," Afghanistan increasingly became the focus of Anglo-Russian tensions.

Tensions were renewed in 1878, when Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to the Afghan ruler Sher Ali (1825–1879), the son of Dost Mohammad. Britain responded by immediately demanding acceptance of a British diplomatic mission in Kabul. When Sher Ali rejected Britain's appeal, British troops crossed the border, thereby launching the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1879). British operations, however, were nearly as disastrous as in the First Anglo-Afghan War forty years earlier, and Britain was forced to pull out of Kabul in 1881. Abdur Rahman Khan (ca. 1844–1901) remained on the Afghan throne. He agreed to let Britain maintain its foreign policy, but managed to consolidate his position by suppressing all internal rebellions, thereby bringing much of Afghanistan under central control.

In 1884 the Russian seizure of Merv brought about the next crisis, the Panjdeh Incident. Russia claimed all the territory of the former ruler of Merv and fought Afghan troops over the oasis of Panjdeh. When direct military conflict between Russia and Britain seemed inevitable, the British accepted Russia's capture of Merv. Without consulting with the Afghans, the Joint Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission agreed that the Russians would also retain Panjdeh. The agreement designated a northern frontier for Afghanistan along the Amu Dar'ya River.

While Russia concentrated on the Far East and the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the naval base of Port Arthur (Lüshun, China), Britain focused its efforts on Tibet, with mixed results. On August 31, 1907, the Anglo-Russian Convention fixed the boundaries of Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. Persia was divided into spheres of Russian interest in the North and British interest in the southeast, keeping the Russians away from the Persian Gulf and the Indian border. The 1907 convention finally brought the so-called classic period of the "great game" to an end: Russia accepted British control over Afghan politics as long as Britain did not change the regime. Britain, for its part, agreed to maintain the current borders and discourage any Afghan attempts to encroach on Russian territory.

When the 1917 revolution nullified all of Russia's existing treaties, the second phase of the "great game" ensued. After the assassination of Afghan emir Habibullah Khan (1872–1919), his successor, Amanullah Khan (1892–1960), declared full independence for Afghanistan and attacked the northern frontier of British India. In the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919), there was little room for military gains, and the Rawalpindi Agreement of 1919 resolved the stalemate: Britain granted Afghanistan self-determination in all foreign affairs.

The Soviet Union and Afghanistan signed a treaty of friendship in 1921, according to which the Russians provided aid in form of technology, military equipment, and money. Nevertheless, relations between Russia and Afghanistan were tense because many Afghans wished to regain the oases of Merv and Panjdeh, while Russia wanted to extract more concessions from the treaty arrangement. By this time, British influence in Afghanistan was waning, and Britain feared that Amanullah was slipping out of their sphere of influence.

As a response to the Afghan-Russian treaty of 1921, Britain imposed sanctions because British leaders realized that Afghanistan aimed to control all the Pashtun-speaking groups on both sides of the Durand Line (the border between Afghanistan and British India, which had been settled in an agreement signed on November 12, 1893 by the Afghan representative Amir Abdurrahman Khan and the British representative Sir Henry Mortimer Durand). Amanullah responded to British sanctions by taking the title of king (padshah). He also offered refuge for Indian nationalists in exile and for Muslims fleeing the Soviet Union. The Afghan ruler's reforms proved insufficient, however. Amanullah was not able to strengthen his military power quickly enough, and he was forced to abdicate. His brother, who succeeded him, was also forced to abdicate shortly thereafter. A new leader emerged, Muhammad Nadir Shah (1883–1933), who ruled Afghanistan from 1929 until he was assassinated in 1933.

Both Russia and Britain turned the situation to their advantage, the British by helping Afghanistan create a professional army, the Soviets by securing aid against a Uzbek rebellion. World War II (1939–1945) brought a temporary alignment of British and Soviet interests. During the war, the Allied Powers pressured Afghanistan into removing a large German nondiplomatic contingent. Afghanistan initially resisted, but the period of cooperation brought the second phase of the "great game" to an end.

In the early stages of the Cold War, when the United States displaced Britain as a global power, a new phase of the "great game" evolved. The United States took measures to secure access to oil and other resources in the Middle East, and to contain the Soviet Union. In the military, in security, and in diplomatic communities, the term great game continues to be used to frame events in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian states. American diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Grand Chessboard (1997), for example, explored this new version of the "great game."

see also Abdülhamid II; Afghan Wars.

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