Similarities between Afghanistan & the 1980s Columbia

Naser Koshan


As a hugely corrupt and mal-functioning leadership, Afghanistan surely resembles the 1980s Columbia where the drug mafia had a visible stake within the system and each single movement to crack down their operations were turned down by their sympathizers within the bureaucratic legal system. No doubt, Extortion, drug trafficking, money laundering and underground activities make up the core source of revenue for these invisible entities and their upper hand within the government has further flourished the rooms for them getting bigger and bigger each single day.

If it was Pablo Escobar in Columbia or the Gambino family in New York, there are indeed similar families within the ruling circle in today’s Afghanistan. These families have been cunningly able to cover up their illegal activities with close ties to the president and his close men.  At least in 1980s Columbia the president and his justice minister were committed to fight Pablo Escobar and bring down his drug cartel, but unfortunately, in Afghanistan both the president and his inner circle are the key benefiters from such illicit businesses.

Unfortunately, during the last decade the focus on eradication of poppy fields and drug trafficking has been meager, nothing worthwhile and lacking concrete results.  We should have been able to provide the farmers the means to switch to legal crops and refrain from growing poppies permanently.

Most recently I had the chance to watch the Opium brides of Afghanistan on PBS which was both shocking and annoying reflecting how small kids are victimized in poppy trade when the farmer is not able to pay the cash he has received from the smugglers and is forced to give his underage daughter as a ransom.  It is quite obvious that there are numerous families who are facing similar fates in different parts of the country while no state or local authorities have ever been able to query such matters and bring the culprits to justice. Globally, as an economist I strongly believe that supply and demand eventually results in a market place and as long as there is increasing demand for controlled substance in the western market, corrupt officials and smugglers in countries such as Afghanistan, Columbia or etc… with the support of their trading partners in the rich countries would be willing to profit from this business. In fact, when there exists a huge demand for a commodity the supply curve automatically shifts up and here comes the side effects in forms of anarchy, corruption, extortion, target killings and suppression of ordinary citizens.

I am sure there is a general consensus among the assisting countries to Afghanistan that drug business has indeed been used by terrorists to finance their activities and strengthen their financial backbone making them able to continue their armed struggle at the current increasing pace, but so far The UNODC operations in Afghanistan had been limited and extremely inefficient, the UNODC and its Afghan anti narcotics counterparts have only focused on designing policies never executed by the upper key who are the real stakeholders in the business.

They occasionally crackdown low level dealers and helpless farmers who constitute no importance to the war on drugs. We need to establish federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI here or CBI of India fully trained and equipped to conduct ruthless operations on drug mafia and demolish their processing plants anywhere within the country. It is highly recommended that a pragmatic leadership in the upcoming years in Afghanistan would be able to establish the given force totally impartial, invisible and tough on fighting crimes.  We could benefit from the expertise of DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) of the U.S. who were also heavily involved with the Columbian DAS (Equivalent of FBI) and Columbian anti drug forces who played a key role in cracking down Pablo Escobar and his drug empire.

Hopefully, the ongoing Chicago conference on Afghanistan will clarify the role of the international community post 2014 in Afghanistan and their financial commitment to the civilian and military establishments of the country will lead the proceeding leaderships in Afghanistan to allocate considerable resources and efforts in the war against processing and trafficking drugs.

As for now, as an Afghan I am optimistic about the outcomes of the concerning conference and certainly looking forward to a dynamic leadership in Afghanistan post 2014.


Author: Naser Koshan

Washington, U.S.

May 2012