The War on Terroin

281009topI listened to a fascinating BBC World Service podcast the other day on Taliban & Al Qaeda’s finances. The thrust of the show was that an unintended consequence of an effective global crack-down on terror financing (freezing of accounts, prosecution of dubious “charities,” etc.) has been to drive terrorist organizations to criminal activity to finance their political activities.

The result two-pronged awful: (1) Afghanistan is evolving into a narco-terrorist state in the tradition of Mexico, threatening its future stability, and (2) heroin and opium are killing more westerners than war.

“If we do not address this, it will be hard to solve all the other problems in Afghanistan,” Mr. Costa said, adding that the lucrative nature of the heroin trade is creating a “narco-cartel” in Afghanistan that includes corrupt government and security officials.

The annual death toll in all NATO countries from heroin overdoses is estimated to be more than 10,000, an annual total that is about five times higher the number of NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan in the past eight years, the report said.

[NYT “Report Shows Afghan Drugs Reach Deep Into the West”]

There’s policy implications in here somewhere. The US has shown how ineffective the “War on Drugs” can be (see: Central America) – I can only imagine its infinitely worse trying to wage such a war somewhere as distant and hostile as Afghanistan. On the flip side, liberalizing drug policy around something like heroin takes away the lion’s teeth – at the expense of the fabric of our society.

At the root of the problem, I believe, is a mis-placed emphasis on the development of government & democracy in advance of a legitimate economy. The gap leaves the door open for insurgencies to strengthen their ties to a society, targeting to poor and disaffected, while newly minted governments provide them with ample motivation to do so – allegations of corruption, vote-rigging, and all the rest be-devil Afghan efforts, for example.

If an economy were built first (I’ll leave it to you to imagine how), I’d like to think the task of government building would be easier: employed people with opportunities are interested in stability and growing their opportunities, not running off to the hinterlands to raise poppies and learn how to fire RPG’s.

The bottom line is that the intersection of political-religious terrorism and narco-economics is a bad one.

What’s your suggestion for beating it?

Picture Credit: PrisonPlanet

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