Russia, China jockey for position in post-war Afghanistan

Russia and China combined have invested billions into infrastructure projects in Afghanistan while forging stronger ties with the Afghan government and their neighbors in the region. 

For their part, Russia wants to "reemerge as a great power and to contain U.S. power in Central Asia, including Afghanistan," Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service, writes in his April 4 report. 

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"Although Russia supported the U.S. effort against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan . . . Russia continues to seek to reduce the U.S. military presence in Central Asia," he writes. 

Roughly 23,000 American soldiers are set to rotate back to the United States this summer as part of the White House's withdrawal strategy. 

The 68,000 U.S. boots on the ground left in Afghanistan will leave the country by 2014. 

In preparation for that drawdown, Russia is investing $1 billion in Afghanistan to develop its electricity capacity and build out other infrastructure, according to the report. 

As part of that effort, Russia will resume work on "Soviet occupation-era projects" left incomplete when the Red Army left Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

That work will include completion of the Salang Tunnel, which will connect the Panjshir Valley to Kabul, hydroelectric facilities in Kabul and Baghlan provinces and a university in Kabul, Katzman writes. 

Additionally, Russian officials have hosted two "quadrilateral summits" with representatives from Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. 

The summits focused on counter-narcotics and anti-smuggling initiatives being taken by Kabul and Islamabad, Katzman writes. 

However, the high-level meetings "could represent stepped up efforts by Russia to exert influence [in] Afghanistan," according to the report. 

China is also making headway in terms of increased investment and influence in the country. 

China’s growing involvement in Afghanistan policy is "primarily to secure access to Afghan minerals and resources but perhaps also to help its ally, Pakistan," according to the report. 

Between 2002 to 2009, China has sunk over $300 million in economic aid to Afghanistan while indicating that support would only grow long after U.S. and NATO troops leave. 

"Chinese delegations continue to assess the potential [in Afghanistan] for new investments in such sectors as mining and energy," it states. 

Beijing has taken similar actions in resource-rich countries in Africa, as a way to secure new energy sources and raw materials to support its rapidly growing military and economic power.  

While money and influence seem to be Russia and China's preferred method of gaining a stronger foothold in Afghanistan, neither country has committed any troops to U.S. and coalition forces fighting in the country. 

Moscow has been wary to become entangled in the current conflict "because it still feels humiliated by its withdrawal . . .  and senses some Afghan resentment of the Soviet occupation," Katzman writes. 

Russia was ousted from the country by Afghan rebel forces supported by U.S. intelligence, which provided them with weapons and supplies. 

China has not participated in the war effort, despite "established significant strategic and economic interests in post-Taliban Afghanistan," according the report. 

Leaders in the People's Liberation Army considered sending troops to Afghanistan in a "non-combat role" back in 2009. 

That year, Beijing also made overtures to Washington that it was also willing to take on a larger role in securing the country, Katzman writes. 

However, that military support never materialized, since "China did not enthusiastically support U.S. military action against the Taliban," the report states.