How instability in Afghanistan raises the global risk of narco-terrorism
- Given the continuing international freeze on Afghanistan’s economic assets and meagre financial support from erstwhile donors, an increase in the production and sale of illegal drugs is likely
- A Taliban boost for the opium trade, combined with its support to terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda, can exacerbate the challenge of narco-terrorism
One of the hotspots of the seemingly unending conflicts, the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan have become a significant link in the global chain of narcotics production. Add to this cauldron a potent mix of terrorism, extremism and radicalism, and we have a nexus of activities and events that pose a threat to both countries, and to the rest of the world.
India, because of its geographical proximity to the infamous “golden crescent” – the region comprising Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan that is the world’s largest producer of illicit opium – often finds itself reeling under the impact of narco-terrorism.
The rising instability in Afghanistan and schisms within the Taliban may provide greater impetus for the production of and trade in drugs. Frictions over control and styles of governance could make leaders of factions within the group turn to poppy cultivation to finance their own agenda.
Today, narco-terrorism circuits transcend regional boundaries; the drugs produced and refined in the golden crescent are known to have bolstered conflict and organised crime in countries beyond South Asia.
According to Narco-Insecurity Inc, a recent Nato publication, the opium channelled through the drug pipeline originating in Afghanistan reaches 84 per cent of the world. Under the Taliban, the trade in opium of Afghan origin made its way into Central Asian states as well as countries in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
Narco-terrorism is both a cause and effect of political, social and economic insecurity, which creates a conducive environment for various non-state actors to use drug trafficking and extremism to attain their objectives. It is no surprise that states that are either classified as failed or are considered to be failing at delivering basic goods and services to their citizens often become hubs for the illegal drugs trade and the perpetuation of violent extremism.
In areas marred by a general level of insecurity, such as the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the line between drug trafficking organisations and groups that promote religious extremism is often blurred.
However, these non-state actors often work in cahoots with other segments of society, including corrupt state officials, farmers and labourers, warlords and the like, which make the drug-terrorism nexus difficult to dismantle. In other words, it is not just the drug-trafficking organisations or terrorist entities that are responsible for the perpetuation of narco-terrorism, but also the larger context, where political insecurity, economic instability and other geopolitical and domestic factors come together.
With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent takeover by the Taliban last year, the halting of international financial support, and an evident decline in global interest in the conflict-ridden country, the shape of narco-terrorism will undoubtedly evolve. Narco-terrorism may have already witnessed a massive operational shift, moving away from older transaction methods to those based on fintech.
Similarly, the gap created by the lack of an on-the-ground intelligence network in Afghanistan will have an impact on international operations against drug trafficking and terrorism, requiring the global community to devise newer and more effective monitoring and other techniques to counter the ills of narco-terrorism.
Chayanika Saxena is a president graduate fellow and final year PhD candidate at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore