What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Securitisation puzzles

The Taliban also happen to profit from the drugs trade, as many others do as well, and the revenue from the trade helps them finance their war effort, for which they have much support from other sources as well. That is the truth. Now, I really got used to people not giving a ..... about that, and this does not bother me too much any more, in the sense that it does not distract me in my work.
So many seem to think the Taliban are basically narco-terrorists, and, don't forget, they also think, at the same time, that narco-terrorists are normal in the Pashtun part of the world and that one just can't change this, and one just needs to show resolve to bomb them and to assassinate their morally retarded leaders forever. One has to deal with the prominence of such views, with a close-to-zero chance of incluencing the discourse in a major way.
One way to deal with this personal challenge for an analyst is to retreat back to the ivory tower sometimes, for a little abstract reflection on all that is going on. An example of what might be interesting in such moments is to contemplate what exactly is being securitised - i.e. more or less consensually regarded as a security threat - when it comes to Afghanistan, and just exactly how (abandoning interest for the moment about what the analyst oneself considers to be threats, being interested only about what people's threat perceptions are).
Is the drugs trade securitised? Is terrorism securitised more in the Afghanistan context, if one can look at this in relative terms? Is the nexus of the two securitised? Who are the securitising agents? Who are agents of the threat itself? And what or who should be referent object(s), i.e. that what needs to be protected? And so on. These are the sort of questions one is asking.
Now, UNODC, a major securitising agent, by default, when it comes to the drugs trade, has, as many will know, once again turned up the volume to spread the word about the threat which by the way does not really "originate" in Afghanistan, as precursor materials and weapons, made largely outside Afghanistan, are necessary to sustain it. So who or what is the referent object? When it comes to the drugs trade, a vague definition of the referent object is usually that it is societal cohesion in general that is being/should be protected, as put forward by a number of sources that I won't bother to cite right now. But getting down to the details of how this is viewed in public discourse may be interesting.
UNODC is claiming (by way of guesstimate more than they are ready to emphasise) that "Heroin overdoses kill more than 10,000 people in NATO countries every year -- five times the total number of alliance troops that have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of 2001." See? Shipments of heroin structurally amount to ballistic missiles fired by the Taliban at German, Austrian, British, Italian, French and other streets, at ordinary people living there. And it is a self-sustaining barrage (unless we intervene really-really-really decisively, with a relatively minor sacrifice in terms of troops killed), because the money that returns helps the shipments continue.
At the same time, however, this view of the situation is challenged by others. This CNN blogpost by Randi Kaye seems to go for the safe default option of blaming everything on the traders and the dealers, on the distribution network connecting (poor Afghan) farmers and (desperate, unfortunate) drug users, neither of whom should really be harmed more than they are right now.
Finally, as far as this non-comprehensive overview is concerned, a recent article in a British paper was published with the telling title of Drug users 'funding attacks on touring soldiers.' It starts off saying that "Drug users who buy heroin on the streets of our towns are paying the Taliban to attack British soldiers in Afghanistan." Drug users here seem to be presented as facilitators of the threat themselves, structurally a part of the enemy. But then some phrases later on make the argumentation more ambiguous. Drug users are again "our young people," whose "lives are destroyed" (by the enemy).
Like I said, this was not meant to be a comprehensive presentation of the discourse. Of course there are many other views as well. The picture you get is this diverse.
(Alright, I'll get back to work now.)

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