Uzbekistan is another of those Central Asian countries that we never quite got round to invading during the Great Game. But that didn’t stop us window-shopping.
In the early nineteenth century, Captain Alexander Burnes acquired the rather unimaginative nickname of Bukhara Burnes for having made it as far as, you guessed it, Bukhara. Colonel Charles Stoddart made it to Bukhara a few years later and had a rather less happy time of it. He was taken prisoner by the Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan. Captain Arthur Conolly, the man who invented the term the Great Game, headed to Bukhara to try to persuade the emir to release Stoddart, and both men were eventually beheaded in 1842 as British spies.
The arrival of heavy Russian influence in the area later in the nineteenth century somewhat curtailed our efforts in the region, but we were still interested in it.
In 1918, after the Russian Revolution, Frederick Marshman Bailey, a British intelligence officer, was sent on a mission to Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) to see if some understanding could be reached with the head of the Tashkent Soviet. When that proved impossible Bailey went underground, making contact with opposition groups. He even ended up posing as an Austrian POW and joining the local Cheka to search for a foreign spy, in this instance himself. When he finally escaped from Taskhent, he did so via Bukhara, but with more luck than Stoddart and Conolly. He got out safely and wrote a book about his adventures.
Meanwhile, our General Malleson, facing the Bolsheviks in Turkmenistan, had also been in contact with the Bukharans. The emir had sent him an envoy to discuss possible cooperation. Malleson had been cautious and the meeting concluded with the emir sending Malleson two Bukharan carpets plus a silk robe, and Malleson sending the emir two sporting rifles.
After the meeting, Malleson was given permission to send a small supply of weapons to the emir.
Eventually, Malleson’s men withdrew and the Soviets took over in Bukhara and the rest of what is today independent Uzbekistan.