The politics of drugs and conflict: the challenges of insurgency and state-building in Afghanistan

Azami, D. 2015. The politics of drugs and conflict: the challenges of insurgency and state-building in Afghanistan. PhD thesis University of Westminster Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities

TitleThe politics of drugs and conflict: the challenges of insurgency and state-building in Afghanistan
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsAzami, D.

This thesis explores the dynamics of conflict by focusing on two aspects of the problem – (a), links between illicit drugs and conflict and (b), the mechanism and extent to which illicit drug production and trade weaken the state. The research question I have set out for this project is: “what is the impact of illicit drugs on conflict and how does access to drugs affect the strength and ideology of insurgent groups and hampers state-building?” Although Afghanistan is the main case study, in order to understand the phenomenon in a wider context, the study also explores the relationship between drugs economy and conflict through examples of insurgencies in other parts of the world – mainly the FARC in Colombia, PKK in Turkey and LTTE in Sri Lanka.

In addition, the thesis offers a unique empirical contribution. Based on first-hand knowledge from the field, this study is unusual in many ways as it critically analyses the impact of illicit drugs on conflict and governance and explores how the patron-client relations in the drug trade create and cement structural corruption. In order to produce a uniquely detailed picture of the conflict in Afghanistan and the overall impact of drugs, this study draws on an extensive field work and more than a hundred original interviews with several actors including insurgents, drug traders/smugglers, poppy farmers, local elders and politicians, government officials as well as experts. It explores, arguably, for the first time, the detailed mechanism and extent to which drug production and trafficking inhibit state-building and facilitate insurgency in Afghanistan. The study argues that the conflict in Afghanistan didn’t start because of drugs; it was the war that created a suitable environment for drug production which now plays a significant role in perpetuating and prolonging the violence. The study examines the Taliban’s evolving involvement in the drugs economy and discusses the insurgent group’s multiple sources of income. It also provides a comprehensive picture of the Taliban’s governance and organisational structure.

This research offers a multidisciplinary framework drawing together data from a number of areas of knowledge and sources and examines the nexus between drugs, insurgency and state-building by offering detailed and fresh information on the current state of overlapping fields such as International Relations, Political Economy, Political Anthropology and Development and State-Building. While focusing on the decades-long war in Afghanistan, the thesis attempts to provide an integrated and comprehensive framework for understanding the conflict in general. While discussing the conflicts’ causes and motivations, the existing literature is mostly focused on a few factors including greed, grievance, ethnic and social deprivation. Although these are all valuable and important contributions, the thesis argues that the conflict itself is a complex phenomenon and its understanding and analysis needs a comprehensive approach. Therefore, the thesis also examines other overlooked and overlapping factors including the role of foreign actors, nationalism, criminality and ideology in initiating and perpetuating the conflict. This study fills a conceptual lacuna in the field of conflict studies and devotes considerable attention to the problems of drugs and conflicts, the challenges of state-building and the complexities of insurgency by bringing together various dimensions and factors into one whole.

The thesis argues that in an increasingly perplexing and globalising world, conflicts are becoming more complicated involving a variety of actors at local, regional and international levels as well as a combination of a wide range of causes and motivations. While discussing the motivations and causes of conflicts including civil wars, this study suggests the “Hybrid Framework” of conflict to understand the nature of intra-state conflicts. The “Hybrid Framework” takes into account a variety of overlapping causes and motivations as well as the complex web of actors at different levels.


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