Drugs and security
Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009: Summary Findings, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, September 2009,
In 2009, opium cultivation in Afghanistan decreased by 22%… the number of poppy-free provinces has increased from 18 to 20… Production has dropped less dramatically because farmers have extracted more opium per bulb. Over-supply at the source and lower market penetration (in Europe) are pushing opium
prices down… Falling prices and lower cultivation this year caused a 40% collapse in the total farm-gate value of opium production in Afghanistan.
There is growing evidence – from tougher counter-narcotics and improved intelligence – that some anti-government elements in Afghanistan are turning into narco-cartels. Yet, the world over, drug money eventually trumps ideology, and becomes as addictive as the dope itself. Illicit drug stockpiles may have now reached 10,000 tons – enough to satisfy two years of world (heroin) addiction, or three years of medical (morphine) prescription.
, Gardner B. Hilton, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, 2006
“Afghanistan supplies 87 percent of the global opium product, and terrorist organizations are using the narcotics trade to fund their operations. The nascent Afghani government has a limited capacity to combat this problem without significant assistance from the US and its coalition partners.”
Can Anyone Pacify the World’s Number One Narco-State? The Opium Wars in Afghanistan, Alfred W. McCoy,The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 5, 2010.
In ways that have escaped most observers, the Obama administration is now trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and death in Afghanistan from which there is neither an easy end nor an obvious exit. Throughout all the shooting and shouting, American commanders seemed strangely unaware that Marja might qualify as the world’s heroin capital — with hundreds of laboratories, reputedly hidden inside the area’s mud-brick houses, regularly processing the local poppy crop into high-grade heroin. After all, the surrounding fields of Helmand Province produce a remarkable 40% of the world’s illicit opium supply, and much of this harvest has been traded in Marja.
The ecological devastation and societal dislocation from these three war-torn decades has woven opium so deeply into the Afghan grain that it defies solution by Washington’s best and brightest (as well as its most inept and least competent). Caroming between ignoring the opium crop and demanding its total eradication, the Bush administration dithered for seven years while heroin boomed, and in doing so helped create a drug economy that corrupted and crippled the government of its ally, President Karzai. In recent years, opium farming has supported 500,000 Afghan families, nearly 20% of the country’s estimated population, and funds a Taliban insurgency that has, since 2006, spread across the countryside.
To understand the Afghan War, one basic point must be grasped: in poor nations with weak state services, agriculture is the foundation for all politics, binding villagers to the government or warlords or rebels. The ultimate aim of counterinsurgency strategy is always to establish the state’s authority. When the economy is illicit and by definition beyond government control, this task becomes monumental. If the insurgents capture that illicit economy, as the Taliban have done, then the task becomes little short of insurmountable.
Opium is an illegal drug, but Afghanistan’s poppy crop is still grounded in networks of social trust that tie people together at each step in the chain of production. Crop loans are necessary for planting, labor exchange for harvesting, stability for marketing, and security for shipment. So dominant and problematic is the opium economy in Afghanistan today that a question Washington has avoided for the past nine years must be asked: Can anyone pacify a full-blown narco-state?
So the choice is clear enough: we can continue to fertilize this deadly soil with yet more blood in a brutal war with an uncertain outcome — for both the United States and the people of Afghanistan. Or we can begin to withdraw American forces while helping renew this ancient, arid land by replanting its orchards, replenishing its flocks, and rebuilding the irrigation systems ruined in decades of war.
At this point, our only realistic choice is this sort of serious rural development — that is, reconstructing the Afghan countryside through countless small-scale projects until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, you can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.
, Barnett Rubin, Informed Comment Global Affairs, 9 July 2007
“There are a few things we know about Afghanistan with a great deal of certainty, and there are a few pretty robust research results. We know that Afghanistan is the poorest country in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa and that it has been at war for almost 30 years. We know that the great and also some rather mediocre powers have spent billions and billions of dollars sending weapons to anyone in the country who asked for them — and some others as well. Actually, the value of these weapons has exceeded several multiples of Afghanistan’s economy. Perhaps that’s why some people are optimistic about Afghanistan — it has attracted a lot of attention.
“I say, ‘we know’ these things, but I feel a Saeedian puzzlement. Who are ‘we?’ Apparently many people – even people wielding history’s most deadly weapons and budgets of billions of dollars — have not bothered to acquaint themselves with these facts. Recently I attended an off-the-record meeting outside of Washington. At this meeting officials from many parts of the US government (but not the Department of Agriculture) met to discuss counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan. I learned many things. I learned that Afghan farmers are too secure and are making too much money. That is why it is necessary to eradicate their crops. But no one at this meeting mentioned that 40 percent of the families in rural Afghanistan do not have enough food to eat, though they can easily find someone with an automatic weapon to “protect” them. I suggested that maybe Afghan farmers needed more rather than less security, but no one wants to reward bad behavior like growing opium poppies.”
, Jessica West, Innovations, Volume 6, 2006
Political economy of organized crime in Afghanistan and Tajikstan. “Targeting the drug trade through military means is another popular policy with little potential for success. The problem lies in the assumption that the drug trade will disappear if the Taliban, IMU and other political insurgency groups are defeated. Organized crime, while connected to violence against the state, is not inimical to it and has its own primarily economic logic and dynamics that must be directly addressed.”
, Matt Weiner, Canberra Papers in Defence No. 158, August 2004
“By assessing the control and regulation by drug networks of a state’s three key pillars — Coercive Instruments of the State, Financial Apparatus and Government Executive and Policy — the degree to which a state approaches the ideal-type ‘complete narco-state’ can be measured. This paper applies this model to contemporary Afghanistan and concludes that it merits the label of a ‘narco-state’ only to a medium degree, but the embryonic nature of the post-conflict state apparatus places it at risk of higher control in the future. The narcotics trade also has created regional security implications that are subsequently analysed across human, economic and political security spheres.”
, Jonathan Goodhand, Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 5 no. 2, April 2005.
Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Ronald Li
Updated: 6 April 2010