Illicit Drugs and Insurgency in Afghanistan

Ekaterina Stepanova


It is argued that the relationship between illicit drugs and the insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be captured by the simplistic concept of “narco-terrorism”. Rather, it has to be seen in terms of linkages of various types and degrees between two distinct phenomena. Drug trafficking may generate criminal violence in both peacetime and conflict settings. In the latter case, the illicit drug business becomes a “conflict resource”, while also serving shadow economic functions (such as serving as a social-economic coping strategy to peasants in some areas) and generating organized criminal violence and street delinquency. Organized crime groups play the main role in the illicit drug business, especially at the higher, internationalized levels of the drug chain. Drug profits are in fact lowest in the drug producing areas themselves. In the case of Afghanistan, only 4.3 per cent (or US $ 2,9 billion) of the US $ 60 billion average annual volume of the global market for Afghan opiates remain in the country. Of the proceeds that stay in Afghanistan, the author estimates that no more than between US $ 100-150 million probably went to the Taliban in 2011. The US/NATO war on the Taliban has not significantly reduced Afghanistan’s opium economy. The prospects for achieving significant results in counter-narcotics after the US/NATO withdrawal in 2014 are dim unless major armed conflict comes to an end – a goal likely to be achieved only if Afghanistan is decentralized and regionalized and the Taliban is given a regional role in Pashtu parts of the country whereby tougher counter-narcotics provisions should be a negotiable demand/condition for any configuration of talks with the insurgents on the political settlement.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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