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Greater Central Asia

A depiction of Central Asia in dark-green along with some nearby associated regions in light-green.

Greater Central Asia (GCA) is a variously defined region encompassing the area in and around Central Asia, by one definition including Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Xinjiang (in China), and Afghanistan,[1] and by a more expansive definition, also including Mongolia and parts of India and Russia.[2] The region was historically interconnected religiously, economically, and otherwise,[3] being important as part of the Silk Road trading network until the 15th century;[4] the competition between Soviet, British, and Chinese spheres of influence split the region apart in the 20th century.[5] In the 21st century, it has been contested by a number of major powers, such as America, China and Russia.[6][7]

The region is defined to a significant extent by its many tribal/clan alliances and histories.[8]


Ancient era

In ancient times, GCA was involved in the Silk Road, and was greatly influenced by Buddhism as it transmitted through the region to East Asia.[9] The region was important in an intellectual sense, coming up with many new ideas and connecting the intellectual spheres of neighboring Eurasian regions.[10] Alexander the Great's conquests throughout the region, culminating in northwest India, Hellenized the region and left Greek kingdoms such as the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in their wake.[10] The Kushan Empire was one of the first empires to unite most of GCA.[11][12]

The Mongol conquest of Central Asia in the 13th century increased the economic connectivity of the region. The Islamization of GCA was ongoing during this time period; Arab conquests of the region from the 7th century onward had surpassed the conquests of the region from the previous millennium in bringing cultural and religious change,[13] with the southern regions of GCA having converted to Islam within the first Islamic century, while the northern parts of Central Asia took closer to a millenium;[14] Central Asia then went on to be a core contributor to the Islamic Golden Age.[15] However, non-Muslim areas of GCA such as Mongolia still share common religious heritage with neighboring areas through elements such as Tengrism.[16] Central Asian conquests of India in the first half of the second millennium, primarily by Timur and later Babur, then resulted in the spread of a Turco-Persian tradition throughout GCA and through northwestern South Asia into the rest of South Asia.[10] By the 17th century, the importance of the Silk Road had declined due to the rise of maritime trade.[17]

Modern era

A depiction of Britain (the lion) and Russia (the bear) contesting Afghanistan (Sher Ali Khan).

The 18th to mid 20th-century British rule of India disconnected South Asians from their centuries-long ties to GCA at the same time that the Soviet Union and Chinese Qing dynasty were conquering parts of the region.[18] Afghanistan became a buffer state between the British Empire and the Soviet Union in what was referred to as the "Great Game".[19] After India's independence in 1947, it was able to build closer ties with Soviet Central Asia as part of its overall close relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, in contrast to Pakistan.[18]

Important events in the early 2020s, such as America's chaotic pullout from Afghanistan, along with Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, have reduced Central Asia's chances of creating land routes to the sea for trade, and have created fears in the region of being invaded again.[20]

China's involvement in GCA, involving over $100 billion in investment,[21] is argued to be aimed towards the protection of its Xinjiang region from neighboring terrorist groups,[5] as well as securing natural resources[22] and curbing the local influence of America and India.[23] India is interested in engaging with GCA, though its difficult relationship with Pakistan and the instability of Afghanistan reduce the potential for such engagement for the time being.[24][18] India also lacks the direct borders with Central Asia as well as the economic heft of being able to provide a Belt and Road Initiative-type project to the region that China has, which are factors that favor China's influence in the region.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "The New Great Game in Central Asia". Survival. 45 (2): 187–204. June 2003. doi:10.1080/00396338.2003.9688581. ISSN 0039-6338.
  2. ^ Chang, H. K. (2023), "Migration of Populations Within Greater Central Asia", Mapping Civilizations Across Eurasia, Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore, pp. 185–195, doi:10.1007/978-981-99-7641-6_14, ISBN 978-981-99-7640-9, retrieved 2024-05-03
  3. ^ "Reconnecting India and Central Asia | Emerging Security and Economic Dimensions" (PDF). 2010-04-08. Retrieved 2024-05-05.
  4. ^ "Sustainable Land Management in Greater Central Asia". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ a b China and Greater Central Asia: New Frontiers? Niklas Swanström
  6. ^ Aghaei, Seyed Davoud; Fallahi, Ehsan (2016-04-01). "Greater Central Asia, from Myth to Reality". Central Asia and the Caucasus Journal. 21 (89): 1–31. ISSN 2322-3766.
  7. ^ "Sustainable Land Management in Greater Central Asia: An Integrated and Regional Perspective". Routledge & CRC Press. Retrieved 2024-05-03.
  8. ^ Starr, S. Frederick (2006). Clans, Authoritarian Rulers, and Parliaments in Central Asia. Silk Road Studies Program, Institute for Security and Development Policy. ISBN 978-91-85473-15-1.
  9. ^ Starr, S. Frederick (2013-10-06), "Chapter 3. A Cauldron of Skills, Ideas, and Faiths", Lost Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, pp. 62–100, doi:10.1515/9781400848805-007, ISBN 978-1-4008-4880-5, retrieved 2024-05-03
  10. ^ a b c Starr, S. Frederick (2009). "Rediscovering Central Asia". The Wilson Quarterly (1976–). 33 (3): 33–43. ISSN 0363-3276. JSTOR 40261858.
  11. ^ Pivotal Pakistan: GCAP and the Geopolinomics of Central Asia’s Traditional Indus Basin Corridor Aftab Kazi
  12. ^ "Chapter 1 The Center of the World" (PDF). Princeton University Press. 2013-08-05. Retrieved 2024-05-05.
  13. ^ Starr, S. Frederick (2013). Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15773-3.
  14. ^ Cornell, S. (2022). "State and Religion in Central Asia". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Weller, R. Charles (June 2015). "S. FrederickStarr: Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013; pp. xl + 646". Journal of Religious History. 39 (2): 327–329. doi:10.1111/1467-9809.12252. ISSN 0022-4227.
  16. ^ Irgengioro, John (2023-02-01). "Mongolia–Central Asia relations and the implications of the rise of China on its future evolution". International Politics. 60 (1): 76–106. doi:10.1057/s41311-021-00372-7. ISSN 1740-3898. PMC 8858705.
  17. ^ Feigenbaum, Evan A. (April 2011). "Why America No Longer Gets Asia". The Washington Quarterly. 34 (2): 25–43. doi:10.1080/0163660X.2011.562078. ISSN 0163-660X.
  18. ^ a b c d Ahmar, Dr Moonis (2023-12-29). "India and the New Great Game in Central Asia". IPRI Journal. 23 (02): 111–129. doi:10.31945/iprij.230205. ISSN 1684-9787.
  19. ^ "In Defense of Greater Central Asia". Retrieved 2024-05-15.
  20. ^ "Rethinking Greater Central Asia: American and Western Stakes in the Region and How to Advance Them". Retrieved 2024-05-15.
  21. ^ Central Asia’s Growing Role in Building Peace and Regional Connectivity with Afghanistan Humayun Hamidzada and Richard Ponzio
  22. ^ Squires, Victor R. (2017), "Greater Central Asia as the new frontier in the twenty-first century", Sustainable Land Management in Greater Central Asia, Routledge, pp. 251–272, doi:10.9774/gleaf.9781315679396_13, ISBN 978-1-315-67939-6, retrieved 2024-05-03
  23. ^ Clarke, Michael (2013). "China's Strategy in "Greater Central Asia": Is Afghanistan the Missing Link?". Asian Affairs. 40 (1): 1–19. doi:10.1080/00927678.2013.759443.
  24. ^ Strategic Environment in Central Asia and India Arun Sahgal and Vinod Anand

Further reading

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Greater Central Asia
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