The Red Piece of the Chessboard
Mandana Tishehyar, Faculty Member, ECO College of Insurance, Allameh Tabataba’i University
India has long been a land of philosophers and scientists. Many sciences have sprung from this land, from mathematics and statistics to medicine and philosophy. Simulation of martial arts based on mathematical calculations and probabilities is also one of the initiatives of Indian scientists during the Gupta Empire about 1,500 years ago. One of the achievements of this initiative is the game of “chaturanga”, which contributes to empowering the actors’ foresight and reasoning abilities. Indian Kings believed that the game could provide the ground for learning bravery, determination, patience, and courage. Chaturanga is a Sanskrit word, meaning “four-limbed” referring to the four military divisions in the Indian Army, namely the chariots, elephants, cavalry, and infantry.
At this time, the Shah of India used scientific diplomacy and tried to subdue the Iranians with the Indian scientists’ complex minds and creative ideas by introducing the game of Chaturanga to the court of Khosrow Anushirvan (or Kasra Nushin-Ravan), the Sassanid king. However, according to the stories of Shahnameh, the wise Bozorjmehr, the famous Iranian vizier, managed to find out the secret of the game. He then designed and presented the Iranian nard (backgammon) game, which was about Iranian warfare in mountains, plains, and other situations, thereby amazing the Indian priests. The Indian game, known at those times as chatrang in Iran, found its fans, and, years later, it was introduced into Arab and European lands by Iranian merchants and its name was gradually changed to shatranj (chess).
The game of chess, which is world-renowned today, has undergone several changes over the centuries, and the peoples of different lands have introduced modifications into it according to their ideas and tastes. In this game, not only have the names of pieces and their functions changed several times, but also the number of chessboard squares, the number of players, and even the rules governing the game have altered according to players’ agreements. This has paved the way for the emergence of more complex games which have challenged the human mind more than before.
The complexity has progressed to the point that sometimes chess has changed from a two-player game to a game with multiple players and, depending on the number of players, the form of the chessboard has even been transformed into polygons with various shapes. Sometimes, professional chess players enter a piece (for example a red piece) onto the chessboard. Despite belonging to none of the players, all players can move the red piece in their turns and remove opponents’ pieces. In fact, the single red piece does not care about which player moves it; it belongs to none of the players and has the ability to disobey the rules of the game. Indeed, it makes the game more exciting and the calculations more complicated.
Over time, chess, a strategic game to depict war scenes from the beginning, has maintained its position as the most political game among politicians and warriors. It can be testified by the repeated appearance in political and security texts of terms like “political chessboard” and the “political game of chess,” etc. The game has proved to be effective in domestic and foreign policy, and many political scientists and international relations scholars today acknowledge the shared features in politics and chess. In recent years, in particular, the chess footprints can be found in future studies, the area which uses simulation models and probability theories to formulate future scenarios.
In the area of international politics today, small and large-scale chess games are taking place at the national, regional, and international levels, and players are sometimes attending several games at the same time. The synchronous and multi-layered nature of the political chess game in the real world has added to the complexity of decision-makings for the actors and provided them with new manifestations of threats and opportunities.
In the meantime, one of the most challenging instances of the political chess game in our region can be observed in Afghanistan. The chessboard is composed of various sides in this region, and small and large regional and international actors sit around it, each of whom has both an eye on this game and another look at other chess sets. However, a single red piece has often been added to the games by a willing or unwilling agreement. Although the red piece does not belong to any of the actors, all actors can move it. Moreover, no rules or regulations govern this piece’s movements, and each actor, according to their capacities, moves the piece, hits an opponent’s pieces, or chooses to restrain the red piece for a while. All the actors have more or less contributed to the construction and roles of the red piece in our region, depending on their skills in the game, they have received benefits or damages from the red piece over time.
On the chessboard of the region, the same red piece, which can be claimed to be the “Taliban,” has cooperated with the US, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia and had relations with Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and India. The red piece has not restricted itself to any of the game’s rules and has worked hand in glove with anyone who has asked for cooperation. In such a game where multiple actors have numerous equations in their minds for determining their relations with other actors and has to consider several possibilities before each move, the red piece can be both attractive and threatening. Confusion over the role the red piece could play on our region’s chessboard has increased, especially following the overthrow of the central government in Afghanistan in recent months. There are numerous analyses and discussions on who took the red piece to Kabul, who will benefit from the move, who will make the next move, and what the future of power equations in the game will be like. At the same time, all regional and international actors are wondering whether the red piece would turn into an actor in the future and sit next to other actors to play on another corner of the regional chessboard.