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The Impact Of Illegal Drugs In Afghanistan On Political Settlement

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The Impact Of Illegal Drugs In Afghanistan On Political Settlement

The result of a study conducted by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) with the financial support of the European Union indicates that ongoing debates on the peace and reconciliation process have largely ignored the production of illegal drugs and its significant impacts on a possible political settlement. 

Drawing on the author’s long term research in Afghanistan, the paper analyzes the role that illicit drugs and the monies they generate play in the conflict. 

“The risks that illegal drug crop production – opium, opiates, marijuana and increasingly methamphetamine — might pose to a political settlement is not raised at all,” the study says and adds that the lootable and illegal nature of the products that limit the state’s ability to regulate and monopolize taxes on production, and the amounts of money earned by different armed actors — those working for the state and those engaged in the insurgency – and the implications this has for an enduring peace are overlooked.

According to the study, the amount of money earned from illegal drugs production is significant and its trade is currently the largest single economic sector in Afghanistan. “More than 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018 was made by opiates alone and over US$ 40 million in taxes were earned by different armed groups along the value-chain,” the study stated.

The study further elaborates that opium poppy, as the country’s most valuable cash crop, worth US$863 million and employs more people than any other industry in Afghanistan, over 500,000 Full-time Equivalent. The crop occupied an estimated 263,000 hectares of land in 2018; three times more land than it did in 2000 when the Taliban imposed an outright ban. And the opium economy provided Full-time-Equivalent (FTEs) employment for as many as 507,000; making it one of the country’s largest employers, considerably more than the total number employed by the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.

The paper recommends that considering economic and political importance of the illicit drugs economy in Afghanistan, it is unwise to assume the problem away or look to resolve it with wishful and simplistic policy responses – or as the Afghan proverb says the sun cannot be hidden by two fingers. By their very nature, illicit drugs are difficult for governments to tame, particularly for those governments in or coming out of protracted conflict and violence.  

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