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Friday, 5 October 2012

1.4 – Assessing the links between terrorism and organized crime, and the impact of the narcotics industry on conflict and post-conflict situations.

By Daniel Mossop

“War between ideologies stops at the edge of cannabis and poppy fields.”                                        

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the interaction between narcotics, crime, terrorism, insurgency, weak states and conflict offers a highly very area of study, especially in the current political climate today with regards to Afghanistan. This chapter aims to gauge a better understanding of the interaction between these entities. Focus will be directed towards giving insight into the links between terrorism, insurgency, crime and the narcotics industry and to assessing their relationship, if any, to conflict and post-conflict situations.

Throughout this paper it has been established that there are a number of factors pushing terrorist groups to align themselves with organized crime in some way. The main factor contributing to this is the pursuit of funding and operational support. The end of state sponsorship along with the internationalization of terrorism and the global crack down on terror has forced groups to seek financial support elsewhere. One of the greatest sources of funding in this respect can be found in the narcotics industry.

India’s security Prabha (2001) sets out a logical explanation for the establishment of links between terrorist groups and the drug trade. Narcotics producing countries generate huge sums of cash with no documentation or accountability (black money). Terrorists require these huge sums to fund their operations and so it becomes logical to form links with others working in the criminal underworld to gain such profits as other means of acquiring the capital are more dangerous in light of the crackdown on terrorist funding. Those organizations putting up the cash or allowing for involvement in the trade may accept the idea of a relationship as it affords them a political edge, which may be useful to their organization in the future (Prabha, 2001).

As terrorism has become increasingly transnational, reliance on states and individuals for support has decreased pushing groups to search elsewhere. Narco-terrorism thus becomes an emerging concept which involves the networking of terrorism and the drugs trade; a phenomena that may include three levels of actors – terrorist groups, government officials and intelligence services and the narcotic dealing criminals (Combs, 2011). The drug trade offers such substantial support that according to Combs (2011) Syria, without the drug trade would be unable to offer such assistance to insurgent groups.

 It should be noted however that the concept of ‘narco-terrorism’ is not a new phenomenon, solely generated by the fall of state sponsorship and the internationalization of terrorism. Research suggests it first emerged during the 1980s to refer to the use of terrorist violence by drug cartels against the state. In 1993 for example, Colombian drug cartels utilized terrorist violence against the state to ensure the freedom of some of its members against extradition to the U.S. (Hoffman, 2006, Chalk, 2004). The original meaning of narco-terrorism was therefore used to refer to the use of terrorist violence by drug syndicates against the state, but as Chalk (2004) notes, there are now two forms of the concept. The second is terrorist and/or guerrilla insurgent groups involving themselves in the industry for the purposes of raising funds and support for their operations.

When assessing the interaction between terrorism, narcotics, crime and insurgency, we may do so at different levels. The convergence between terrorism and organized crime in relation to the drug trade can be assessed using the crime-terror continuum and relationships may thus vary from the formation of alliances to hybrid groups. Peru offers a good example of terrorist and organized crime groups cooperating by forming alliances of convenience for the sake of  utilizing the drug trade. In this case the terrorist organization known as The Shining Path – Sendero Luminoso –  formed ties and worked in cooperation with the coca farmers and drug traffickers for the purposes of profit. Although the two groups essentially held different motivational goals they both enjoyed the benefits of the instability of the state as this allowed the continuation of the drug trade without significant interference from law enforcement or the military (Combs, 2011).

The degree of integration of groups into the drug trade can be linked to Hutchinson and O’Malley’s (2007) distinctions of a groups organizational structure and furthermore, their political orientation and technical capabilities will essentially dictate their involvement in any criminal activity, (in this instance, the drug trade). For example, ‘ephemeral-sporadic’ groups tend to require limited finances and consist of a loose network structure and therefore are more likely to engage in less sophisticated crime. ‘Organized-enduring’ groups on the other hand are better suited for higher levels of criminal activity due to greater funding requirements, their stronger organizational structure, and the increased technical capacities (Saab & Taylor, 2009).

We can see this difference in group integration by looking at one of the best known examples of narco-terrorists, FARC, in relation to other armed non-state actors within the region, namely the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) . The cocaine industry in Columbia offers one of the main sources of funding for most, if not all non-state actors within the state. The fall of the Cartels in the early 1990s led to increased involvement by such groups in the trade. The two groups in discussion here, FARC and the AUC, held different operational motivations, technical capabilities and political orientations which in turn dictated their levels of involvement (Saab & Taylor, 2009).

FARC are a very politically-orientated group and therefore attempt to distance themselves from being seen as part of the drug industry’s criminal underworld as it would devalue their political status by defining them as a criminal organization in the eyes of the state and government. As a result, they offer their services for protection, although they have been reported to be heavily involved in the production stages. In attempting to limit their involvement they formed links to organized crime groups for the purposes of trafficking and distribution and have also been reported to be involved in arms-for-drugs trades, which demonstrates their persistent links with the industry (Saab & Taylor, 2009). FARC’s organizational structure is one better suited to less sophisticated crime as they are made up predominantly of peasants and possess limited technical capabilities, which would match up with Hutchinson and O’Malley’s (2007) distinctions. However they do seem to have established an enduring relationship with organized criminal groups which suggests  the distinctions may be open to adaptation.
The AUC’s concern over political orientation on the other hand, has decreased and their motivations have shifted to being driven by the prospect of profit. Due to this, their integration in the trade is significantly higher to the extent that they have mutated into a hybrid group, developing their own in-house capabilities. Thus they are involved at all levels of the trade from production through to distribution. The group’s strong and militarized organizational structure and technical capacities allow for more sophisticated criminal activities (Saab & Taylor, 2009).

The examples above demonstrate the different levels of integration by groups within the trade. However by looking at the narcotics industry in the Middle East, we can assess the impact of the interaction between narcotics, terrorism, crime and insurgency on conflict and post conflict situations which betters aids the understanding of the threat posed by such phenomena.

The high levels of interaction between narcotics, crime, terrorism, insurgency and conflict within the Middle East can be largely attributed to the weak states in which these phenomena operate, as they provide an environment conducive to such activity. My interest in this area is centered on Afghanistan due to the continuing instability since the Soviet invasion and in which U.S. and coalition invasion has seen an increase in terrorist and drug related activity within the region since 2001. Afghanistan is a dominant figure in today’s drug industry – in 2007 it was reported as having produced 93% of the world’s  opium (Hodes & Sedra, 2007). As a weak state that has witnessed decades of conflict, instability, poor governmental control, and corruption, Afghanistan, in support of Makarenko’s (2004) ‘black-hole thesis’ has become a breeding ground for criminals, terrorists and insurgents (UNODC, 2009) and is now regarded by many as a ‘narco-state’ (Felbab-Brown, 2009). The impact of state instability and narcotics can also be witnessed in Iraq, which due to it being a main transit point of drugs coming from Afghanistan and its high levels of insurgent, terrorist and criminal activity, is also at risk from becoming a narco-state (Kan, 2007).
The concern in Afghanistan is that the opium industry is fueling conflict as insurgent groups are involving themselves within the trade in order to raise funds and support for their operations. The resulting increase in military capabilities of such groups in turn prolongs the conflict. However this is not the only factor contributing to it. Organized crime groups also share an interest in the continuation of conflict so the trade can continue as they rule in terms of organization and beneficiaries (UNODC, 2009).

The Taliban are reported as receiving 20-40% of their funding from the opium trade which provides them with substantial financial support for their operations. Along with this, they also acquire political power among parts of the Afghan population as they essentially protect the livelihood of many, which poses a further threat to the stability of the country and its reconstruction efforts (Falbab-Brown, 2009). The Taliban, along with organized crime groups, thus pose a tremendous security threat to the state, although there is also increasing concern over Afghan-Pakistan insurgent and organized crime interaction. According to a UNODC report, there has been an increase in convergence between Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, is a cause for concern as the latter is more extremist and sympathetic to groups such as al-Qaeda. Further to this is the emergence of what is referred to as the ‘neo-Taliban’, a younger generation of Taliban members thought to have significant operational independence from Pakistan but who receive orders, support and assistance in performing attacks. Members of the ‘neo-Taliban’ are also assumed to be traffickers and criminal gang members (UNODC, 2009).  

The Taliban’s involvement in the narcotics industry may come as a surprise as it is a common assumption that they were against production and imposed bans on opium cultivation. Although this may hold some degree of truth, a study into the relationship between opium cultivation and the narco-terror nexus asserts that there was a 25% increase in opium production in the year after the Taliban gained power, and due to its connections to Pakistan it can be assumed that the two are linked in respect to production and trafficking (Maloney, 2009). This claim is weakened however by Hodes and Sedra (2007) who note a Taliban ban on cultivation in 2000 with a 185 ton decrease in production. Production post 2001 however has risen, with a reported 59% increase from 2005 to 2007 suggesting its use for supporting the conflict (Goodhand, 2008).

As for the involvement of terrorist groups in Afghanistan’s narcotics industry, there is no concrete evidence connecting al-Qaeda to the trade, possibly due to the fact that al-Qaeda now operates as a transnational terrorist organization or network and holds minimal territory in Afghanistan. Their presence within the Pakistan border regions however has been reported which puts them in a good position for low-level drugs and arms smuggling. Despite this, terrorist and insurgent groups allied with al-Qaeda, such as Hizb-i Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), have been found to be involved in the trade which poses considerable concern (UNODC, 2009).

Writing on the involvement of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the drugs trade, Cornell (2005) states that the link between conflict and narcotics is very important in understanding the threats to security, and that there is a certain attractiveness of crime, especially the drugs trade, to such groups. “Crime and drugs are instrumental in enabling a group to threaten the security of the state at its very foundation” (Cornell, 2005, p.625), as they allow groups the funding, and thus the capabilities, to undermine the state corruption, and to acquire support among the population. These, along with other factors strengthen groups, making them more dangerous, and a greater threat to the government as they are better equipped for fighting for control over territory; territory which is then used for further criminal activities and the further acquisition of funds (Cornell, 2005).

The IMU’s involvement in Afghanistan’s narcotics industry is one which ensures the group’s continued survival. Their survival may be attributed to the fact that the territory in which they operate happens to include several opium producing areas, which provides the advantage of having pre-established ties between other like-minded non-state actors and organized criminals (Cornell, 2005). Once again, the decrease in funding from other sources and the increased pressure by law enforcement agencies on cracking terrorist financing has essentially forced the group to remain active in the trade. The worrying aspect is obviously the increased operational capacities the IMU will enjoy but as Cornell (2005) notes, it is also the links it has to other terrorist groups, namely al-Qaeda, which are said to be of substantial strength and significance. If such links do exist then we, as a global community must remain alert, as al-Qaeda, unlike the IMU, is a transnational terrorist network posing a transnational threat. The financing and operational support made available via the drugs trade and the IMU will therefore be detrimental to global security.  

The threat posed by the formation of relationships between terrorist and/or insurgent groups to the narcotics industry and the criminals at work within it offer an interesting area for analysis. Koehler and Zuercher (2007) after conducting a series of surveys and interviews throughout the Laghman and Nangarhar provinces in Afghanistan came up with a number of findings. One such finding mentioned the interaction between war and the dependence on natural resources – in this case on opium – which suggests the two converge with each other to a significant extent. Cornell (2007) offers support for this contention in asserting that the interaction between drugs and civil war is becoming increasingly apparent around the world. Nonetheless research has showed no link to the initiation of conflict, although a positive link has been established between natural resources (narcotics) and conflict duration, which is supported by Koehler and Zuercher’s (2007) research: “Comparative research suggests that the narcotics industry extends the duration of a conflict.” (p.62)

From research conducted within the Nangarhar and Laghman provinces as well as previous studies, Koehler and Zuercher (2007) were able to suggest three points of interaction in relation to conflict and narcotics. Insurgent and criminal groups tend to take advantage of the instability and opportunities provided by on-going armed conflict, which they say correlates with increased levels of drug production and trafficking, (note four of the top warlords within Afghanistan were found to be involved in the narcotics industry). In supporting the view that the narcotics industry may extend the duration of a conflict, they note how an insurgent and/or terrorist group, due to the increased funding coming from the trade, will experience an increase in their operational capacities and resources thus allowing for continued conflict. This isn’t the only promoting factor. The profits raised from such a lucrative trade could be so large that a peace settlement would be undesirable. It should be noted that in situations such as in Afghanistan it won’t be only the rebel, non-state groups that benefit from such profits, but figures from within the government as well, (as it has also been established that in weak states, conflict, and the narcotics industry, corruption is also rife) (Koehler & Zuercher 2007). For groups to deny a peace settlement for the purposes of profit would involve a shift in their motivations from a political orientation to one of economic gain – a transformation suggested in Makarenko’s (2004) ‘black-hole thesis’.

Focus so far has been directed at the relationship between the narcotics industry and conflict at the macro level, although it impacts at a micro level as well, although to a different degree. Koehler and Zuercher’s (2007) research provides a strong analysis into this area as their data was collected via interviews and surveys to gain perspective from a local level. It was suggested that “the drug economy in most circumstances negatively impacts on local governance, further de-stabilizing the country” (Koehler & Zuercher 2007, p.65), however the interviews and case studies determined that the opium trade was not directly fueling conflict. An indirect link was however established as conflict seemed to arise over quarrels over land and credit systems. The scarce land on which the crop grew, those attempting to be part of it, and the prices and debts involved all added up to high instances of violence at a local level. The dynamics of conflict may also differ as opium may either increase the price of the land used to grow it or may provide those involved in the conflict with resources such as weapons with which to win the dispute. The data collected suggested that money was the most important factor in deciding the outcome of conflicts at the micro level; money which is gained via the growing of opium. Thus we can see how the trade indirectly fuels conflict at this lower level.

The last point asserts that there is a link between weak states and the drug economy whereby state institutions become weakened through corruption, thus allowing for continued trade. Furthermore, counter-narcotics operations generate anger among the population that benefits from the trade, which may cause them turn on the state and align anti-state groups such as the Taliban, adding to the conflict. This point highlights two issues, namely the effects of corruption on conflict and the effects of corruption and counter-narcotics operations on state reconstruction.

Afghanistan is essentially a criminalized economy which fuels corruption and undermines the state (Goodhand, 2008). Corruption stems from the need to quell law enforcement and to allow for the trafficking of the product as well as numerous other reasons. Consequently the state loses legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, which increases the weakness and the instability of the country. The export value in 2006 of Afghan opium was estimated at US$ 3.1 billion, of which a significant portion was spent on payments to government officials and security providers in attempts to reduce the risks (Goodhand, 2008). Coincidently some of these funds do get retained within the Afghan economy for example through the purchasing of goods, although this is only a minimal amount. It would be interesting to surmise what the effects would be should the complete export value be spent on reconstruction projects as opposed to going into the hands of criminals, insurgents, terrorists and corrupt government officials.

Corruption poses a great threat to reconstruction efforts as it de-legitimizes the state and its functions. A weak, unstable and corrupt government allows for the continuation and increase of criminal activity as well as the continuation of conflict as groups strive to bring down these illegitimate institutions. One of the main concerns regarding corruption and the narcotics industry is that it provides those involved with a degree of political power which may manifest itself as a mafia controlled government.

Warlords are perceived as one of the most potent challenges to reconstruction as they essentially play for both sides. By taxing the trade and offering support in terms of security and transport they take advantage of and exploit the criminal economy, but at the same time the international community and the Karzai government has pushed for their involvement in the reconstruction process as a form of extended governance into those areas distant from central government control (Hodes & Sedra, 2007). This gives them a role in the state-building process however they will be hosting a profit-based agenda of their own which further de-legitimizes the state.

Corruption is present throughout all areas of the government and its institutions with high levels reported within the ANSF and even accusations of Karzai’s brother being involved in the trade (Hodes & Sedra, 2007). Furthermore there have been private reports from Afghan officials that a possible 80% of Ministry of Interior personnel benefit from the trade, while a further 100,000 from the 250,000 - 400,000 civil servants at work in Afghanistan are estimated at directly benefiting from the industry. These figures support the contention that positions within the government are being sold to people with ties to the opium trade (Goodhand, 2008). 

An interesting aspect to this issue is the eradication of the opium fields where we are seeing a ‘war on terror’ vs. a ‘war on drugs’ scenario. According to Hodes and Sedra (2007), some 3.3 million Afghans benefit directly from opium cultivation, not including the criminals, insurgents, and corrupt officials who also benefit. Counter-narcotics efforts thus present a significant threat to the  stability of the state as they may spark further conflict as farmers etc ally with groups like the Taliban. Eradication also fuels corruption as those in charge of the operations may manipulate the statistics so that it appears to have been a success when in fact it may be that no eradication took place in that area at all, which then further de-stabilizes the government and it’s reconstruction efforts (Felbab-Brown, 2009). “Eradication fields leave families in economic distress, trigger humanitarian disaster, and increase the temptation to join the insurgency. (Hodes & Sedra, 2007, p.34) Counter-narcotics initiatives thus have numerous effects, unfortunately more negative than positive. They strengthen the insurgency by pushing ‘economic refugees’ to align with them whilst alienating the population from the government. It undermines the willingness of the population to offer support and intelligence to the US and Coalition forces in fighting the insurgency whilst at the same time pushes them to give intelligence to groups such as the Taliban (Felbab-Brown, 2009).

Here we see ‘catch-22’ situation where counter-terrorism, insurgency and reconstruction efforts rely on the good faith of the population to cooperate in the ‘war on terror’, along with the ousting of corruption. However, for this to succeed the authorities are obliged to turn a blind-eye to such intense eradication programs for the sakes of maintaining stability, although this further fuels corruption and thus de-legitimizes state reconstruction. According to Felbab-Brown (2009), for eradication operations to be effective, the state first needs to be ultimately strengthened and for conflict to have ended – something which appears to be in a questionable state. “Premature and inappropriate efforts against such an illicit economy - be it in the production and trade of drugs or other commodities - greatly complicate counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, and stabilization objectives, and hence ultimately also jeopardize economic reconstruction and political consolidation.” (Felbab-Brown, 2009, p.112)

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