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Rodgers: Replaying the 'great game'

CNN's Walter Rodgers is in Islamabad, Pakistan reporting on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's meeting with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He spoke live with CNN anchor Bill Hemmer.

RODGERS: Before Mr. Blair arrived there was a very substantial anti American demonstration in Rawalpindi, a city not that far from the capitol, Islamabad. That demonstration was muscle flexing to impress the British Prime Minister Mr. Blair, trying to show him that many people here are against the American led coalition against terrorism, at least in this part of the world.

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There was a demonstration, as I say. They burned President Bush in effigy, more than a few times they shouted "death to America." They danced in the streets, young children carried toy guns to show some sort of militancy here. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, of course, never saw this. It took place shortly before he arrived.

The British Prime Minister Mr. Blair went directly into a meeting with President Musharraf of Pakistan. Mr. Blair is here to assure the Pakistanis that at this critical time, and remember Pakistan is critical being next door to Afghanistan, pivotal; at this time the British and United States very much want and need Pakistan's support. And they say that this time, of course, Pakistan will not be ostracized as it was after Mr. Musharraf came to power ... two years ago.

Mr. Blair will then go onto India. Again, the purpose of the meeting is to assure the Pakistanis that they are key players, once again, pivotal; and that they are very much needed by the western alliance, because of this pivotal position right next to Afghanistan. Bill?

HEMMER: Walter, also, I guess to understand that region, the politics and the history, and of course the religion and violence that has gone on there between these two countries, India and Pakistan; we should underscore the fact that Tony Blair will be going to New Delhi to visit with the prime minister, Prime Minister Vajpayee there.

Maybe give us a better sense, Walter, of the critical relationship, talking and stopping in these two spots, Islamabad and then New Delhi later.

RODGERS: Well, if I can expand the answer to your question, Bill. What we're seeing, very fascinating here, is a replay of the great game of the 19th century between two colonial powers, two empires, Britain and Russia.

Now it is -- the fight is over the future of Afghanistan and who is dominant. Pakistan has been dominant in Afghanistan for the last 20 years or so. Now, Iran wants to be the player there. Iran is just to the west of Afghanistan.

So you have this almost quasi-mutual interest group with Iran, Russia, India versus Pakistan, for who will become the dominant force in Afghanistan.

As I say, it's an interesting geopolitical chess game, and it's a 20th century version of the great game of empire, which used to be played between Britain and Russia.


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