chapter  9
18 Pages

Corrupting or consolidating the peace? The drug economy and post- conflict peacebuilding in Afghanistan


In 2011, Afghanistan was responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s opiates. No other country has ever had such a dominant position in their global supply. However, in 2002 the opium economy was not seen as a priority of the newly-installed Karzai regime or its international supporters. The US-led intervention that overthrew the Taliban was primarily concerned with counter-terrorism and political consolidation. Coalition forces initially turned a blind eye to poppy cultivation and trafficking, fearing that counter-narcotics (CN) efforts would upset the fragile political coalition that had been forged to pursue the ‘war on terror’. But between the Bonn Agreement of December 2001 and the Afghan Compact signed in London in 2006, CN rapidly rose up the policy agenda, based on the growing perception that the opium economy was a significant driver (as well as a symptom) of insecurity and bad governance. Although there is a large body of research on the upstream dimensions of the drug economy – particularly the micro-level dynamics of cultivation (Mansfield 2004; Mansfield and Pain 2006) – the downstream side remains relatively opaque and there has been very little work on the political effects of the drug industry (for an exception, see Shaw 2006). This chapter examines the interconnections between drugs, corruption and peacebuilding.1 Based upon the assumption that behind peacebuilding stands statebuilding – the construction of legitimate political authority – it focuses on the various pathways through which drug-related corruption has influenced processes of political consolidation (and crisis) since the fall of the Taliban regime. It argues that there is no universal uni-directional relationship between drugs, corruption and conflict. In some parts of the country drugs and corruption have contributed to a level of political order, whereas in other areas they have fuelled disorder. Following Snyder (2004), it is argued that political order is more likely where rulers and private actors have developed joint institutions of extraction around valuable resources such as drugs. One policy implication of this finding is that peacebuilding in Afghanistan is likely to be the result of complex bargaining processes between rulers and

peripheral elites, which may ultimately lead to stable interdependencies. Current CN policies have had the opposite effect and in fact played a role in fuelling conflict.