Given China’s alliance with Pakistan, strategic partnership with Russia, and key role in developing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Chinese leadership would seem to be uniquely placed to play a major role in Afghanistan. Indeed, the United States and NATO have long sought to secure China’s constructive involvement, in particular urging China to provide more economic aid and to encourage Pakistan’s cooperation with anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, China faces constraints in its bilateral partnerships with Pakistan and Russia as well as in its multilateral engagement through the SCO that will limit Chinese participation in international efforts to stabilize and develop Afghanistan.
Far from showcasing the SCO as an effective regional security organization, Afghanistan’s regional security challenges thus far have highlighted its shortcomings. Similarly, China’s partnerships with Pakistan and Russia have complicated Chinese foreign policy in Afghanistan. Instead of providing leverage, the Sino-Pakistani alliance has increased China’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks and made Chinese leaders more cautious about participating in international efforts in Afghanistan, such as the Northern Distribution Network. China is now the largest foreign investor in Afghanistan, however, and has sought to integrate the country into Chinese economic and infrastructure networks in Central Asia, a strategy that may lead to tensions with Russia, which considers the region as its sphere of influence. [...]