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The Great Game in Asia

The Taj Mahal is reflected in a puddle in Agra, India, August 2016. Cathal McNaughton / REUTERS

Throughout the nineteenth century, Great Britain was obsessed by the fear that one of the other European powers would take advantage of the political decay of Islamic Asia.

At first it was France. Then it was Russia that moved along the caravan routes of the old conquerors and threatened to establish a new world monarchy on the ruins of the ancient ones. British governments were worried by the implications of the continuing march southward by the Russian empire in Asia. In the early part of the century, the focus of strategic concern was Constantinople. Later, as czarist armies overran Central Asia, attention shifted to Persia, to Afghanistan and to the mountain passes of the Himalayas. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it was a common assumption in Europe that the next great war-the inevitable war-was going to be the final showdown between Britain and Russia.

The history of

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