AAN Papers

Afghanistan’s Drug Career: from War to Drug Economy


This new AAN thematic report (with SWP Berlin) by German scholar Citha D. Maass looks into the beginnings and the evolution of drug production in Afghanistan during its three decades-long war. Starting with the Western-supported anti-Soviet jihad in 1979, drug production became a major base for the country’s war economy. After the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001, the US rehabilitated the former mujahedin leaders who – as the Taleban regime had done – funded themselves to a large extent by trafficking drugs and turned into ‘war entrepreneurs’. From 2002 onwards, President Hamed Karzai co-opted these war entrepreneurs into the new political system. As a result, a new drugs economy consolidated, beginning in 2005, resulting in a new regulative system in post-war Afghanistan which she terms a ‘criminalized peace’.

The author argues further that currently an alliance of interests links the weak Karzai government with the co-opted former warlords; the weak state institutions provide power, sinecure and profits. The illicit economy, based on a drug economy, dominates the rudimentary licit economic sector.

The prevalence of this system and – on the political side – President Karzai’s re-election on 20 August 2009 after systematic electoral fraud, the conditions to achieve a stable peace order in Afghanistan have become even more unfavourable: The power networks of the criminalized peace order are likely to limit President Karzai’s room for manoeuvre to carry out necessary drastic reforms. Realistically, Citha D. Maass argues, it will take 20 to 30 years to weaken the drugs industry and to establish a stable peace order in Afghanistan.

This paper was first published in German as SWP Research Paper S 2 in January 2010 (‘Afghanistans Drogenkarriere’). It was translated into English by David Barnes for the Afghanistan Analysts Network and in cooperation with Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin.

AAN Thematic report 02/2011. The full report can be downloaded here

Date of publication: 31 March 2011.

Thematic Category: