Post 2014: The Regional Drug Economy and Its Implications for Pakistan

Post 2014: The Regional Drug Economy and Its Implications for Pakistan

Publication date:
Safiya Aftab, Independent Analyst

Policy Research Papers

February 2014

The history of Afghanistan and what now constitutes Pakistan has been intertwined for centuries. The last three decades bear testimony to this, as three successive wars in Afghanistan1 have each had distinct impacts on Pakistan, ranging from increased drug abuse and proliferation of illegal arms, to a growing militant movement that draws inspiration from the Afghan Taliban.

Afghanistan is now entering a critical period, with the imminent withdrawal of ISAF combat forces in 2014, and with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) assuming responsibility for maintenance of security, and law and order over large parts of the country. Afghanistan is also due to witness a change of guard politically, with presidential elections scheduled for April 2014, which will see the exit of Hamid Karzai, the two-term president who
has headed the government since 2001.2 It is difficult to make any definitive statements about how events in Afghanistan will proceed post 2014, but possible scenarios include a period of stability following the elections; increased unrest in the south and south-east (albeit with Kabul remaining under the control of a strong central government); or even (in a worse case scenario) a full-fledged civil war like the one seen in the early 1990s.

This paper concerns itself with how the drug trade emanating from Afghanistan, is carried further in Pakistan, and possible impacts of this trade on Pakistan’s economy and society. It looks mainly at opium, heroin and cannabis, as Afghanistan is the lead producer for these drugs, and Pakistan is a key transit country, as well as an end-use destination, in their trafficking. It also briefly explores the trade in precursors, which are also thought to transit into Afghanistan through Pakistan. The paper is, of necessity, somewhat speculative in nature, looking as it does at an undocumented trade. Nevertheless, it provides a basis for understanding the channels through which narcotics trafficking comes to impact the licit economy and can be used to influence key stakeholders.

The paper begins with a brief history of the drug trade in the region over the last few years, and analyses key trends. It then assesses how drugs have impacted Pakistan’s security landscape, its political development, and its licit economy and delineates possible future scenarios.