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

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shooting up: Felbab-Brown on COIN and counternarcotics

Here is a useful quote from Vanda Felbab-Brown's book, Shooting up, from page 155.
"... the financial impact of the Taliban's ouster from the poppy-growing areas is likely to be small. (...) Moreover, its losses will be cushioned by continued access to funds raised in Pakistan and the Middle East and funds from other illicit economies."
Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote this long before the operations around Marjah, and before last year's shift of focus to Helmand.
I also pointed out similar things in my doctoral dissertation back when I was writing it, in the early summer of last year. So how did I like the book then? There were aspects of Felbab-Brown's case study about Afghanistan in it which, I found, could have been informed with somewhat more insight into the details. Importantly, she seems to miss, for example, how U.S. cooperation with Ahmed Shah Massoud against the Taliban was also made cumbersome right up till the last period before 9/11, partly because of Massoud's militia's taking money from the drugs trade. Ironically, this missing detail only reinforces her book's overall thesis (and thus mine, too). The U.S. administration was under internal pressure against allying with a militia that took money from one out of an impoverished, destroyed country's few viable economic sectors. Massoud's men did so basically for the reason that they didn't receive sufficient support from other (external) sources to continue fighting. Faute de mieux. Thus the U.S policy towards him was almost a self-enforcing one. Otherwise, Massoud was so not the druglord type that he was there in Afghanistan on September 9, 2001 instead of having fun making phone calls to his "drug-smugglers" from a Dubai villa, or wherever. That's how he could be assassinated by al-Qaida.
When you find that a book's thesis is made stronger even by something absent in its argumentation, you have a book you certainly might be interested in. And it comes with other case studies, with further evidence from very different regions/countries, of the relationship between counterinsurgency and counternarcotics working as it is described in the book (aggressive counternarcotics being to the detriment of counterinsurgency). Her reconceptualisation of what is happening in Afghanistan and elsewhere in terms of a political capital model of how one can approach illicit economies as such, is very valid in light of what one sees, and instead of what some wish to see: a "war on drugs" and on "narco-terrorists."

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