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Afghanistan – the “great game” without end?

Peter Gilbert (Staffordshire University, Stoke‐on‐Trent, UK)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 17 February 2012




The purpose of this viewpoint is to provide a perspective on political and military leadership in a current geo‐political situation, with some reflections on how this relates to other public services.


This paper makes use of historical and political sources in order to reflect on current aspects of leadership in public services.


Throughout history, Afghanistan has often played a pivotal role between the superpowers of any particular era. In the ancient world, the Greeks of Alexander the Great's Macedonian hegemony: Persians; Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successors; and a host of other groups have vied for control, often leaving ethnic traces within a complex tribal and ethnic makeup in modern Afghanistan. In the nineteenth century it was part of the “Great Game” between Great Britain and Russia; in the twentieth and twenty‐first centuries, there have been both Soviet and NATO incursions; and now, Afghanistan retains a pivotal role between India and Pakistan, China, Iran and former Soviet Republics. NATO is engaged in a task of “declared nation building”, and also to ostensibly make the streets of Western cities safe. But is this not just a “great game” but a “grand illusion”? Afghanistan has often been internally divided, but has never welcomed foreign domination, an experience which tends to bring Afghans together against the invader. Foreign troops, however well intentioned, propping up an unpopular central government, usually leads to resentment and the opposite of what was intended.


This paper links a number of perspectives to assist in the understanding of how and when strategies follow the wrong path.



Gilbert, P. (2012), "Afghanistan – the “great game” without end?", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 59-72.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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