Immune to law enforcement efforts

The country’s security situation remains volatile and that boosts the drug economy too. In past decades, the illegal business has become professionally organised. It is now largely immune to any law-enforcement efforts. Such efforts have not been made systematically, moreover.

The policy of intentionally including former warlords in the new governance system by granting them positions of power has allowed them to act as official political operators while remaining constituents and protectors of the illegal drug economy at the same time. They have assumed patronage roles in the drug sector. Some managed to rise in its hierarchy.

From the highest levels of government, former warlords have been exerting influence on newly created drug-fighting institutions – especially the security forces. These patrons have torpedoed enforcement measures such as arrests, the destruction of fields, investigations into smuggling rings and the seizure of large drug volumes.

Their attitudes have invigorated the drug economy, but badly damaged the credibility of the state. Government action has been reduced to symbolic engagements like the small-scale destruction of fields and the arrest of low-level poppy farmers or drug dealers.

Fringe benefits for everyone except the addicts

For decades, cultivation has been concentrated in the southern provinces, which are also the traditional spheres of influence of the Taliban and other insurgent groups. It has therefore been assumed that the drug economy serves primarily to fund their operations. This interpretation is most superficial, however and ignores the complexity of the national and regional drug trade.

Yes, the Taliban and other insurgents do indeed profit, but there are many other beneficiaries. They include regional militia leaders, mullahs and village headmen, all the way up to high-ranking officials in the central and provincial governments. They rake in drug revenues, for example, by collecting protection money and tariffs.

Even more drug profits, however, accrue outside Afghanistan. Along the most important route to western Europe, the so-called Balkan route, Turkish and Kurdish mafia organisations and clans dominate the illegal business.

Janet Kursawe

© D+C | Development & Cooperation 2018

Janet Kursawe teaches political sociology and drug policy at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Bochum.

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