Opium production and trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan has provided funding and support for terrorists in these countries, helping them to fund their operations and even gain public support and influence governments. Militant groups operate in environments where they are supported by tribal and lineage ties, criminal organizations, and other militant groups.
Since Coalition forces in Afghanistan drove the Taliban regime from power in Kandahar, many insurgents fled to Pakistan, a country now commonly regarded as a safe haven for insurgent groups. According to an article in Foreign Affairs “every major Afghan insurgent group … has established its command-and-control headquarters on the Pakistan side of the border.” These groups have largely operated in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Baluchistan. These areas provide environments with low levels of government interference, informal hawala-type trading systems, and in some cases, support from elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence service.
Profits gained from the drug trafficking industry support terrorist group operations and the resulting “narco-terrorism” constitutes a security threat to the international community. The term “narco-terrorism” has been defined in various ways. Oxford dictionary inclusively defines it as “terrorism associated with the trade in illicit drugs.” In the United States, it has most recently been used to refer to the “recognized association between drug trafficking and terrorism.” This report will seek to address the nature and scope of this threat by exploring the influence of the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and will include its relationships with other extremist organizations. It will address the threat that these groups pose to the international community by detailing extremist involvement in global trade routes originating in Afghanistan. It will analyze the policies and actions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of the United States that have sought to decrease the prevalence of terrorism supported by the opium trade.
While extremist organizations profit from the Afghan drug trade, it is important to understand that they are only part of a complex web of criminal organizations, individual traffickers, government officials, and other elements that have a hand in the lucrative industry. Criminal activities in Afghanistan undermine the rule of law and complicate security operations focused on interdiction. This report will focus on the main extremist groups that profit from the Afghan drug trade. It will explore their relationship with individual traffickers, criminal organizations, state governments, and intelligence services to the extent that it is relevant to understand the networks that support their operations. These intricate criminal networks should not be oversimplified, and the focus on extremist groups in this report is not meant to undermine the importance of other elements.