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Power Rivalry in Central Asia

by M.M. Munshi

Central Asia has a long history as a centre of chronic turbulence from which violent explosions have erupted periodically and spread disaster and destruction over great distances either directly or by chain reaction over the centuries. China despite the great wall was the principal sufferer, Indian sub continent despite the mountain barriers of Himalayas, Karakorams did not entirely escape. The cities as far as Moscow, Rome also felt the sting of conquest which has not been forgotten even now.

During the last few centuries the process was for the most part reversed. Pressure from the more developed civilizations succeeded in diminishing the area of turbulence . Three expanding empires, Soviet Russia, China and British India as they gradually grew closer subduing and reducing the areas of turbulence, and by common consent autonomous territories were left until very recently as buffers between the major powers to minimize the mutual fears and border incidents.

Very recently the near elimination of the old buffer system tightening of China’s control over Sinkiang (Xinjiang), conquest of Tibet, emergence of Independent countries like India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. In attempting to crush Tibetan revolt and at the same time denying it Chinese used methods which brought China and India into sharp conflict, China and India during the 7 -9 centuries witnessed in Central Asia the elimination of the integrated drive to form new empires from petty chiefdoms which had emerged from the ruins of the older empires. The struggle to dominate Central Asia was not restricted to Russia, China and Turkestan alone but also involved Tibet, Ladakh Baltistan and probably Nepal.

During the 6 -8 Centuries in Tibet a dynastic line who’s ancestral influence was restricted along a narrow east-west strip south of Tsangpo (Brahamputra) river made a rapid expansion of its dominions covering whole of Tibet and one of its rulers named Tsen-Gan-Po made Tibet a dominant military power and was able to demand and receive royal princesses in marriage from China as well as Nepal. In Kashmir the Karkota dynasty was established more or less contemporaneously to Harsh Vardana of Kanauj who brought much of Northern India under his sway. The period between 640 to 660 AD witnessed extensive contacts between India, China , Nepal and Kashmir.

A new facet was added to these complexities with the advance of Islamic Arabian Empire into Central Asia , via Iran and Iraq and fall of Sind to Arabs in the Indian Sub continent.

Kashmir at that time was an important Buddhist centre and one of the main channels through which Buddhism spread to Ladakh, Baltistan ,Central Asia and parts of China. As being the main line of communication to central Asia through Ladakh, Nubra via Karakoram and Sugat Passes.. Struggle between China and Tibet commenced in early 7th century and lasted for about three centuries involving at times few and at times most of the neighboring principalities The confrontation between China and Tibet took place around six places i.e. Kashgar, Khotan, Kuchia and Kararshu in Turkestan and Szechuan, Tsingai, Kansu east and northeast of Lhasa . It was the war over Turkestan which involved Western Tibet, Ladakh, Baltistan and Kashmir. If the Chinese domination for the four places in Turkestan was to be challenged it was necessary for Tibet to have control of western Tibet west of Mayum Pass and approaches to passes leading to Turkestan through Ladakh and Baltistan. Accordingly western Tibet was brought under control during Tsong Tsengmopo’s rule .After several years of struggle Tibet succeeded in conquering the Chinese’s garrisons in Turkestan in 670 AD and held it for twenty years. Until 690 AD when Chinese forces recovered eastern Turkestan for Tsang Dynasty.

Soon after Ladakh and Baltistan became the chief arena for struggle between China and Tibet for the control the passes leading to Turkestan into which Kashmir was also actively drawn. The Conflict became wider with increased pressure from Arab invaders on areas north of Kashmir and embassies visited China China which brought the two kingdoms together into some sort of an alliance against the advancing Arabs on one hand and Tibetans on the other. Chinese records state that at least three Embassies visited Chinese Court to ask for aid against Arabs and Tibetans .It is corroborated that at least one of the embassies was sent by Then-Ko-Chi-Pen King of Kashmir identified as Chandrapidata Vajradetya.

Much of the fighting took place in Baltistan and Turkestan. It is easy to understand alliances of China and Kashmir on one side, and Arabs and Tibetans on the other side. The latter finding allies from time to time from Turkestan chiefs and Shan states near present India-China- Myanmar trijunction.

In 722 AD Chinese force of about 4,000 came to the aid of Baltistan and prevented the Tibetans the control of passes About ten years latter the great Monarch of Kashmir Laltaditya Mukhtapida not only turned back a Tibetan invasion of Baltistan but also advanced into north western Tibet.

In 737 AD Tibetans again attacked Baltistan but were driven back again by Laltaditya . Chinese helping Baltistan and Tibet by launching a diversionary attack on eastern Tibet.

In 777 AD large Chinese Expeditionary force acting in conjugation with Baltis and Kashmiris after successfully crossing the passes drove the Tibetans out and placed their garrisons as far west as Gilgit in an effort to counter Arab advance from that direction. But Arabs inflicted a revenge defeat and forced them to withdraw from Gilgit and surrender part of western Turkestan to Abbasid Caliphate. King Laltaditya's achievement did not last after his death in 760 AD. The Chinese disaster enabled the Tibetan king to bring Baltistan, Ladakh also under its control., carried the Tibetan empire to its zenith by conquering most of the Turkestan, Kansu, and Szechuan, in 763 AD Tibetan forces even captured Chang-a an the western Capital of China and held it for about 15 days.

And became the most dominating power in Central Asia.

Tibetan power reached new heights with a number of defeats they inflicted on Chinese between 760 AD to 780 AD And resulted in a peace treaty in 783 which was short lived. Tibetans shortly resumed their conquests especially in Turkestan and annexed areas as far as Tuvo ( modern Rumchi).

But by 790 AD fortunes of war turned against Tibetians mainly because of collapse of its alliances with Arabs in the west and Shanin the east ..Shans who were earlier advancing into the territory of Tsang emperors of China by 990 AD were competing against the Tibetans in Yangtsee valley .Shans found it convenient to forge a peace treaty with China and turn against its formal ally Tibet Similarly the Tibetan success in Central Asia had a parallel effect on Arabs .The substitution of Tibetan to Chinese rule in Turkestan meant that it was the Tibet which stood in the way of Arabs advancing to Central Asia.

The Califa of Bagdad Harun Rashid abandoned the alliance with the Tibetians and sent his emissary to Chinese court to arrange a joint attack on Turkestan which Tibetans in the first instance withstood, However Harun Rashid returned to the attack in 808 AD but due to his death and war of succession the attack was given up giving the Tibetans another brief span in Turkestan.

The Chinese for their own part were unable to exploit the situation to their advantage due to internal disorders in their empire.

After years of desultory warfare during which neighboring powers extracted concessions from both a peace treaty was concluded between China and Tibet. In 822 AD process of decay set in and the areas for which Tibet and China had fought so bitterly fell to local rulers and other conquerors.

Turkistan fell to Ughirs, Western Tibet, Baltistan and Ladakh broke into smaller principalities.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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