The purpose of this short note is to examine the so-called ‘Narcoterror Nexus’ in Afghanistan through the lens of a conceptual model of heroin production and distribution for the region. The western media, the UN, and the law enforcement community have portrayed the linkage between narcotics production and the Taliban insurgency in near-apocalyptic terms, while the issue has been used for domestic political purposes in various countries to call into question the efficacy of the western military effort against the Taliban and the reconstruction support provided to its allies in Afghanistan. Consequently, there are numerous misconceptions and assumptions that have perhaps distorted the reality of the situation in that country. There are, no doubt, a variety of classified studies generated by the American Drug Enforcement Administration, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and their British and German equivalents. This study is not informed by access to classified information or sources from them. It is by no means exhaustive and does not pretend to be comprehensive. Its purpose is to propose one possible method to understand the reality of how the Taliban and the narcotics producers interact and thus inject some better-grounded assumptions than are presently available.


This piece emerged from my annoyance at the international media repeating itself (including using the exact same language on three different continents) on the narcotics situation in Afghanistan. That led me to examine how that portrayal related to a variety of pronouncements on this complex problem by a number of governments engaged in the problem. When I sent the draft to a senior official dealing with the issue I was told: “We wish we could say this publicly. I have no opposition to anything you say in here. I just can’t state it this plainly in public.”



Originally Published in Small Wars and Insurgencies.