Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a failed (narco-)state (Mark L. Schneider/ICG)

Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a failed state, in part because it is in danger of becoming a narco-state, controlled at critical points of its security structure by those who do the bidding — willingly or unwillingly — of drug traffickers.

That was my judgment at the end of my first trip to Afghanistan nearly four years ago. It now is the conclusion as well of the executive director of UNODC Antonio Maria Costa, who said, “the threat is definitely there that the country will become a narco-state.”…

Without clearer evidence of political will with the very top of the Afghanistan government setting down an absolute bar on holding public office and engaging in drug trafficking, counternarcotics efforts are doomed to failure.

It is not just the Taliban and other insurgents who benefit from the drug trade. Corrupt government officials, warlords in and outside the government are also facilitating the drug trade and financially benefiting from it. Currently local people see hypocrisy when most counter narcotics efforts appear directed at poor farmers – who may not even own the land — while the well-connected flaunt their drugs wealth with lavish houses and big SUVs. This further fuels discontent.

Narco-corruption is present at all levels of the Afghan government. This has to change if the insurgency and drug traffickers are to be defeated. Every corrupt governor, police chief or ministry official is a recruiting agent for the Taliban. Public officials trying to build a new transparent Afghan state where impunity is no longer the rule are directly undermined by corruption around them.

The new rule in Afghanistan has to be that no one can keep their day job as a government official if their night job is to enable or conspire with drug traffickers. A fundamental arm of the law in implementing that kind of policy as well as offering basic citizen security in Afghanistan is the Afghanistan National Police.

In some ways, the Crisis Group report last month on Reforming Afghanistan’s Police underscores the flaws in some key elements of the statebuilding endeavor in Afghanistan. While there have been important achievements, and the goals of the Afghanistan compact “…to work towards a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, with good governance and human rights protection for all under the rule of law” remain valid, the magnitude of the problems faced in moving Afghanistan toward stability after more than a quarter century of war cannot be underestimated. However, the current strategy needs major corrections…

Testimony to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Counternarcotics and Police Training” in Afghanistan, by Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group

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