How Opium Profits the Taliban

By: 
Gretchen Peters

In Afghanistan's poppy-rich south and southwest, a raging insurgency intersects a thriving opium trade. A new USIP report, How Opium Profits the Taliban, examines who are the main beneficiaries of the opium trade, how traffickers influence the Taliban insurgency as well as the politics of the region, and considers the extent to which narcotics are changing the nature of the insurgency itself.

Overview

In Afghanistan’s poppy-rich south and southwest, a raging insurgency intersects a thriving opium trade. A new USIP report, How Opium Profits the Taliban, examines who are the main beneficiaries of the opium trade, how traffickers influence the Taliban insurgency as well as the politics of the region, and considers the extent to which narcotics are changing the nature of the insurgency itself.

Author Gretchen Peters identifies key challenges to disrupting the drug trade and the smuggling networks, arguing that it is no longer possible to treat the insurgency and the drug trade as separate problems to be handled by the military and law enforcement respectively.

While the West has for too long downplayed the severity of the "drug problem" at hand, Peters explores opportunities to break up the well-entrenched criminalized insurgency and drug profiteers. The best strategy against the Taliban, she underscores, is not to wipe them out militarily but to make them irrelevant by offering Afghans better alternatives. She concludes that success will require a multipronged approach, combining diplomatic, military and intelligence efforts with targeted development programs, as well as various economic and judicial reforms in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Peters finds that the international community must view this as a regional and multinational issue, not simply Afghanistan's "drug problem."

About the Author

Gretchen Peters has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for more than a decade, first for the Associated Press and later as a reporter for ABC News. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her coverage of the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto and won the SAJA Journalism Award for a Nightline segment on former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. She is the author of Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda (2009). She has published numerous articles in leading media publications, including National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New Republic and has served as a commentator on NPR and CNN.

The research for this publication was supported through a grant from the United States Institute of Peace.

August 2, 2009