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Islam and Central-West Asian Narco-States: The Nexus Between Corruption, Governmental Systems, and Drug Trafficking by Extremist Groups

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Islam and Central-West Asian Narco-
States
The Nexus Between Corruption, Governmental
Systems, and Drug Tracking by Extremist Groups
2 JULY 2019
1
The Problem
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in November 2000, the
UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) acts as the primary
international legal instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. Signifying
the recognition of the problems in poses to peace and stability in the international system,
member states that ratify the Convention commit to implementing a series of measures
against issues that perpetuate criminal enterprise. These measures broadly include the
creation and prosecution of domestic criminal offenses, the adoption and implementation of
cooperative legal frameworks, and the promotion of upgrading the necessary capacities of
state authorities.1 The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as the deemed guardian of
the UNTOC, assists UN member states in the “ratification and implementation of the
UNTOC and its supplementary protocols,” helping them to “adopt legislation to capture
criminal offences addressed by the Convention, to establish frameworks for mutual legal
assistance and extradition, and foster law enforcement cooperation.”2
Included in the domestic criminal offenses mentioned in the UNTOC are drug
trafficking, terrorism, and government corruption. In hindsight of the Cold War and the
reality that governmental institutions had fostered drug trafficking for strategic purposes
regarding these three issues in the past, the UNGA recognized a need for an effective
international legal instrument against corruption. Independent of the UNTOC, the UN
Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) promotes the prevention, detection, and
sanctioning of corruption by the state, international cooperating state parties, and
transnational cooperating state and non-state actors.3 The legally binding character of many
1 "United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime". 2019. www.unodc.org.
Accessed June 8 2019. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/organized-crime/intro/UNTOC.html.
2 "Overview Of The Work Of UNODC In Relation To Organized Criminal Activities".
2019. www.unodc.org. Accessed June 8 2019. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/organized-
crime/work-of-unodc-crime.html.
2
of the Convention’s provisions enables it to provide a comprehensive response to the global
issue of corruption in its many manifestations.4
However, while these conventions provide the necessary frameworks for combating
transnational organized crime and its pervasive influences on the state, some states have a
harder time with implementation and enforcement than others do. This is especially the case
with the narco-states of Central-West Asia, whose governments are notorious for their
corruption and co-option by the drug trade for illicit purposes. While each of these states has
been a party to the UNTOC and the UNCAC as a signatory, ratifier, or both, their status as
narco-states thereby prevents them from fully implementing and enforcing the legal measures
outlined in these conventions. By dabbling in the drug trade with the violent non-state actors
(VNSAs) who produce and traffic illicit narcotics, the very nature of their collaborative
involvement violates the principles established in these treaties.
While it is highly unlikely that a government will admit to involvement in the drug
trade in any fashion, some narco-states do have a tendency to acknowledge when they work
with VNSAs in other matters. Therefore, when a state publicly acknowledges collaboration
with a VNSA that is heavily involved in the drug trade, and that state also experiences
narcostatization, it is likely that the state has been corrupted as a direct result of their
involvement with the VNSA in the drug trade. Therefore, in that country publicly
acknowledging that they are collaborating with a VNSA that is active in the drug trade, they
are, by extension, acknowledging that they are involved with that VNSA in the drug trade as
well. However, clearly not all Central-West Asian narco-states collaborate with VNSAs in the
same manner, because some Central-West Asian narco-states do not publicly collaborate with
VNSAs at all. Understanding this reality then raises the question: why do some Central-West
3 "United Nations Convention Against Corruption". 2019. www.unodc.org. Accessed June 8 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/corruption/tools_and_publications/UN-convention-against-
corruption.html.
4 "Convention Against Corruption". 2019. www.unodc.org. Accessed June 8 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/
3
Asian narco-states publicly collaborate with violent non-state actors in the drug trade while
others do not?
Importance of Question for Theory
In the past, traditional security theory assumed that the major victimizers in the global
illicit drug market were organized criminal syndicates who preyed upon governments
attempting to suppress the trade. According to Kan, the emergence of narco-states in the late
twentieth and twenty-first centuries served to undermine this notion, calling attention to the
fact that source, transshipment, and hybrid countries all benefit in some way from being
involved in international drug trafficking networks.5 In this way, drug trafficking as a
corruptive influence on good governance has shaped institutions, economies, and societies
across the world. With the state itself as the fundamental unit of analysis in traditional
security theory,6 Jordan argues that the emergence of the narco-state as an overall
phenomenon calls into discussion the implications of the drug trade on peace and security at
the global level.7
This study seeks to critically engage with the construct of the narco-state, as opposed
to denying its existence and influences the international system, seen in Chouvy’s critiques.8
It will take Jordan and Kan’s side of the debate, arguing that narco-states are separate entities
than failed states and encouraging an understanding of how they manifest in and impact
reality at the local, state, and international levels. Like Jordan and Kan, this study supposes
that narco-state involvement in drug trafficking does not just boil down to supply-and-
demand. Rather, they indulge in trafficking to defend themselves and compete economically
in the international system, with their domestic concerns bowing to international systemic
pressures of competition. This supposition stands in direct contrast to neoliberalism’s
5 P.R. Kan, Drug Trafficking and International Security. (Rowman & Littlefield: 2016).
6 Attinà, Fulvio. 2016. "Traditional Security Issues". China, The European Union, And The
International Politics Of Global Governance, 175-193. Palgrave Macmillan US.
doi:10.1057/9781137514004_10.
7 David Jordan, Drug Politics: Dirty Money and Democracies (Norman: University of Oklahoma
Press, 1999).
8 Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, The Myth of the Narco-State. (Space and Polity, 2015.)
4
assumptions about the structure of the international system, arguing instead that states exploit
the neoliberal system for their own benefit.
Where the question of if and to what extent different kinds of narco-states collaborate
with VNSAs stands is ultimately a part of what should be a larger inquiry into the theoretical
paradigms surrounding international relations. The neoliberalism paradigm expects increased
levels of inter-state cooperation and combined economies, like the European Union or the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Consequences of this paradigm include weakened
state sovereignty, borders, and overall independence.9 These weaknesses allow for
government corruption, international money laundering, and transnational organized crime
groups to operate with increased mobility. As a result, countries see a decrease in
governmental transparency and accountability and loss of control over their domestic
economy. While at first glance this appears an issue of functionalism, Love reminds us that
drug trafficking compromises security in the neoliberal system just as in any other system,
and when it corrupts a country’s governmental institutions to the point of narcostatization, it
creates a state that is a danger to both itself and those around it. Neoliberalism’s stress upon
democratization allows for parts of the state’s government to be corrupted while others
remain relatively clean, an occurrence that is especially prevalent within the governments of
the Golden Crescent states (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran), which possess nominally
democratic institutions but remain subject to Islamic law and produce/traffic the most opium
in the world. Because it is comprised of a system that has been co-opted by violent non-state
actors, the narco-state is all the more vulnerable to insurgency, intergovernmental conflict,
and civil war.
Importance of Question for Policy
Considering the theoretical implications of the narco-state on neoliberalism theory,
investigating the question as to why some narco-states collaborate with VNSAs in the drug
trade is crucial to building comprehensive drug reform policies. Understanding that drug
9 Love, Maryann Cusimano. 2011. Beyond Sovereignty: Issues for a Global Agenda. Boston, MA:
Wadsworth
5
trafficking is not entirely driven by consumption, governmental policies need to reflect this
reality moving forward. In the past two decades, there has been a slow but steady shift in
drug reform policy across the globe, based off the consumption perspective. Instead of
punishing users on the demand-side with harsh prison sentences, the objective is to reduce
demand for illicit narcotics via greater access to health care and treatment infrastructures. As
this policy shift gains traction, it has become apparent that in order to successfully reduce
demand in this manner, resources need to be directed at hard users. The downside to this is
the fact that if resources are diverted away from treating casual users, the number of casual
users increases, still perpetuating the problem in that many of those casual users will become
had users down the line. To be effective, current treatment policies need to be aware of this
and understand the fine line between treatment an immediate concern and combatting a long-
term epidemic.
Another downside of this seemingly positive policy shift has been the proliferation of a
more radical solution: harm reduction policies. As policies designed to either legalizing
certain illicit substances or lowering the consequences of possession in hopes of lessening
negative social and physical consequences of drug abuse, harm reduction policies advocate
drug liberalization first and drug regulation second. While effective in theory, these policies
run the great risk of being exploited, as they corrode legitimate efforts to treat victims and
reduce demand by affecting attitudes towards drug use. While it is true that consumption is
not the primary or even the only driver of the drug trade, increased consumption encourages
an influx of product into the market nonetheless. By not actively discouraging possession and
abuse, these policies may inadvertently increase demand in the market, and in narco-states,
this has catastrophic consequences on the general populace. Initial rising rates of addiction
and increased contact with diseases associated with rampart drug use in local communities
often lead to subsequent spikes in HIV/AIDS/Hepatitis, contributing to epidemics that
overwhelmed public health systems in already fragile system cannot contain.
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The implications of this study do not just extend to health and human-oriented policies.
Drug trafficking’s aggregate influence on countries’ social, economic, and political indicators
amounts to the fragmentation of state power and sovereignty. This kind of splintering in state
sovereignty holds a multitude of implications for both scholars and policymakers. When
dealing in geo-narcotic policy, policymakers generally tend to focus on the country’s status as
a source or transshipment state rather than where they fall on the narco-state spectrum, using
traditional tactics (crop eradication, drug interdiction, alternative development programs) to
combat the trafficking itself rather than its enabler, government corruption.10 Because these
traditional tactics focusing solely on trafficking rather than its interconnectedness with other
security concerns cannot adapt to the constantly evolving dynamics of the drug trade, we see
a stagnation in gains against the drug trafficking industry, which leads to political inertia and
thus the breakdown of international cooperation.
Instead of focusing on harm reduction or consumption, this study has chosen to focus
on the role of state and non-state actors in the international system, as they are actively
involved in the trafficking of illicit narcotics. Implementing policies that recognize the narco-
state as a legitimate actor on the global stage and how it affects internal and external
sovereignty means acknowledging its entanglement with other security issues related to
public health, infrastructure, economic decline, human rights, and rule of law. As all of which
worsen in the presence of drug running activities,11 emphasizing this will serve to lessen the
role of narco-states in the destruction of international law and order. Furthermore, if the
examination of the impacts of drug trafficking on indicators of state fragility are prioritized,
then issues like refugee crises, group grievance, brain drain, and uneven economic
development may be analyzed in a new light and remedied accordingly.
Literature Review
10 P.R. Kan, Drug Trafficking and International Security. (Rowman & Littlefield: 2016).
11 Kan. Drug Trafficking and International Security. Table 4.1.
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The existence of literature relevant to this study as briefly described above is small in
number but broad in scope, ranging from loose interpretations to standardized definitions to
harsh critiques of the narco-state paradigm. While articles within the media have an
increasing tendency to play fast and loose with the term narco-state, rarely providing the
audience with a basic meaning of the term, there is a fierce debate within the academic
community over the precise typology through which a narco-state may be defined, if it can be
defined at all. This study must contend with this divisive dichotomy in this section, seeking to
provide a refined understanding of various perspectives and positively contribute to pre-
existing gaps within the existing literature.
In his book Drug Politics, author David C. Jordan’s evaluates this field of literature,
challenging the assumption that narcotics trafficking is an issue of supply-and-demand, with
states as corrupted objects bent to the will of traffickers. His findings suggest a reality where
governments and financial institutions are deeply involved with, or even dependent, on the
drug trade, having a greater interest in facilitating the trade than in shutting it down. Jordan’s
analysis of already existing information asserts a more structural model through which drug
trafficking-induced corruption can be viewed. Instead of dealing in supply-side or demand-
side economics of drug trafficking, he approaches the issue by examining the dependency
that some countries have on money laundering in the drug trade and involvement in
protecting rather than combatting illicit cartels. Jordan accomplishes this in his development
of the ‘narcostatization’ index. Comprised of a scale of indicators, the index classifies a
state’s levels of corruption and accountability at five phases – incipient, developing, serious,
critical, and advanced – with each phase describing a certain level of corruption that occurs
within a governmental system because of involvement in the drug trade. While the scale takes
the existence of corruption as a given, each phase accounts for corruption incidence levels.
Building off the bribery of low-level officials at the incident level, the greater the incidence,
the higher the state is placed on the spectrum. For example, institutional infiltration by
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prodrug officials occurs at the developing stage, mass bribery and judicial corruption efforts
at the serious stage, judicial corruption and protection of the trade at the critical level, and
institutional compliance and complicity within the executive branch at the advanced level. In
this manner, Jordan’s index is the only qualitative measuring system in existing literature that
possesses the capacity to operationalize collaboration between narco-states and violent non-
state actors (manifesting in the governmental system as institutional corruption) in any
meaningful way.
To this end, Paul Rexton Kan acknowledges the usefulness of Jordan’s index and
accompanying criteria. Kan utilizes much of Jordan’s typology when compiling a
comprehensive list of narco-states, identifying and ranking over 30 countries using the
narcostatization index. However, Kan’s study amends Jordan’s index to account for the
effects of narco-states on international security and durable disorder by contributing two
additional indicators: geo-narcotic placement and the State Fragility Score. The indicator
‘geo-narcotic placement’ refers to the function of the country in the drug, as either a source
state, transshipment state, or a hybrid of the two. Kan justifies adding geo-narcotic placement
by arguing that pairing narco-state typology with geo-narcotic placement allows for one to
discern patterns in contemporary drug trafficking. For example, transshipment and hybrid
states generally place lower on the spectrum than source states. Kan also utilizes the State
Fragility Score to prove that state fragility intersects with drug trafficking, saying that poorly
governed states are easier to traffic through than failed states. While Kan is correct in his
assertion that geo-narcotic placement functions as a pattern indicator, geo-narcotic placement
as an indicator is subject to several caveats. Many transshipment states still stand on the
higher side of the index due to both proximity to a source state and the type of narcotic
moving through its borders. Kan admits that states that traffic harder substances are
extremely likely to place higher on Jordan’s index, and hybrid and transshipment states that
9
traffic and produce illicit narcotics have increased potential to qualify for the higher
categories if economic benefits of the drug trade outweigh profiting in legitimate sectors.
Likewise, while state fragility may explain why some states experience trafficking
more than others, it does not cause higher incidence rates of trafficking on its own.
Furthermore, while Kan’s assessment of the 31 countries on his list is initially correct – each
one does exhibit the basic indicators needed to place on the narcostatization index – his
ranking of them on that spectrum is flawed. While sometimes underestimating incidences of
institutional corruption within states, he also leaves some states that do exhibit prerequisite
narcostatization indicators out of the list entirely. Even still, Kan does stand by Jordan’s
original assertion that the narco-state exists separate from the failed state, a controversial
claim that many scholars do not make.
The scholarly literature on the matter of the existence of the narco-state phenomenon
has not always been so affirmative. Some scholars, like Chouvy, assert that the narco-state is
a myth, arguing that the use of the term only encourages the oversimplification and dismissal
of complex socio-political dynamics and economic realities that drug-producing countries
face.12 Others, like Paoli et al., acknowledge narco-state as a term, but define it only to
encompass the upper-most echelons of government.13 The problem with the first assertion is
that it dismisses narco-states as transshipment and destination countries, which also
experience institutional corruption by the drug trade. The second conditional perspective,
while more accepting in premise, still ignores local and low-level state corruption that is still
pervasive and actively undermines the law of rule. This issue is also exemplified in Bybee’s
literature, though under a slightly different framework. Challenging the theoretical
conceptualization of narco-state as a separate entity, Bybee argues that while the phenomenon
12 Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, The Myth of the Narco-State. (Space and Polity, 2015.)
13 Letizia Paoli, Irina Rabkov, Victoria A. Greenfield, Peter Reuter, Tajikistan: The Rise Of A Narco-
State. (Journal Of Drug Issues, 2007. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10)
10
exists, it may already be represented under the umbrella of the failed state typology, though
Bybee stops short of implying this directly.14
As far as collaboration is concerned, different narco-states can and do choose to work
with VNSAs for reasons other than specifically drug trafficking. Levitt cites Hezbollah as an
example: though emerging as a distinct entity founded by Shia Muslim clerics from Lebanon,
it accepted funding and training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and continues
to act as Iran’s proxy in the Iran-Israel proxy conflict.15 While Hezbollah has emerged as a
leading regional producer of amphetamine-type stimulants, its relationship with Iran is a
strategic one, rooted in the Iranian agenda to unify various militant Lebanese Shia groups into
a single body. Similarly, the Pakistani government has alleged that both the Afghan and
Indian intelligence agencies have been funding and assisting Tehrik-i-Taliban, Pakistan’s
largest militant organization, since 2014 as a means of collecting intelligence and
destabilizing Pakistan’s internal security.16 Afghanistan has seen a dramatic increase in anti-
Pakistan sentiments over the hundreds of suicide bombings and assassinations.17 Though it
may not seem logical that Afghanistan would want to collaborate with a group affiliated with
the Taliban, the very organization that it has been fighting against for decades, it appears that
the Afghan government is not above working with its Pakistani counterpart as a means of
reprisal. Likewise, the fact that India would be willing with collaborate with a violent non-
state actor speaks not only to India’s hostile relationship with Pakistan, but also explains why
states would work with VNSAs for strategic and intelligence purposes.
However, while states do collaborate with VNSAs for strategic and intelligence
purposes unrelated to the drug trade, some of those same states also embrace drug trafficking
14 Bybee, Ashley Neese. 2011. "Narco State Or Failed State? Narcotics And Politics In Guinea-
Bissau". Mars.Gmu.Edu. Accessed May 12 2019. http://mars.gmu.edu/handle/1920/6618.
15 Matthew Levitt. "A Proxy for Iran". (Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 2016.)
16 "FSI | CISAC | MAPPINGMILITANTS CISAC - MMP: Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan".
2019. Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation. Accessed June 9 2019.
17 Gall, Carlotta (15 February 2006). "Afghan Suicide Bombings, Tied to Taliban, Point to
Pakistan". The New York Times.
11
as a means of securing intelligence and advancing strategic agendas. While India is not a
narco-state, Afghanistan is, and it is evident that the Afghan government profits off the
Taliban’s drug-running activities. Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in
Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reports that narcotics
production is key source of Taliban income, and now that the Taliban possesses every
element of an international narco-trafficking criminal network, it collaborates with Afghan
officials and security forces to facilitate undisrupted trafficking flows.18 This suggests that
without institutional corruption, drug trafficking as an industry would not be nearly as
successful in its daily operations.
The body of the extant literature on this topic is indecisive. The existence of the
narco-state is debatable, and when its existence is agreed upon, it seems that few scholars
have been able to say for certain what it means to be a narco-state. Jordan’s typology and
Kan’s utilization of it are the closest the literature comes to of being able to define narco-
states, which they do through analyzing levels of corruption. This successful utilization of
methodology indicates that institutional corruption is a primary factor in narco-state
development. In order to fully comprehend the influence that such corruption has over narco-
state governments collaborating with VNSAs in the drug trade, this study will need to factor
in the nature of the narco-state’s governing institutions, including religious affiliation.
Research Design
The objective of this study is to examine why some Central-West Asian narco-states
publically collaborate with VNSAs in the drug trade while others do not – specifically, why
Islamic narco-states in Central-West Asia publically collaborate with VNSAs and secular
narco-states do not. The study stemmed from a reading of Kan’s 2016 book, and in the
18 Cordesman, Anthony H. "Afghan Narcotics: 2000-2018: From Control And Elimination Efforts To
A Drug Economy And Bombings Labs". 2019. Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Accessed June 9 2019. https://www.csis.org/analysis/afghan-narcotics-2000-2018-control-and-
elimination-efforts-drug-economy-and-bombings-labs.
12
absence of the resources necessary to conduct field-based research, I will be using much of
the same methodology that he did. This study will utilize Jordan’s narcostatization index to
conduct a content analysis of previous studies done by Kan, Paoli et al., the UNODC, the US
State Department, and other political and academic institutions that have undertaken drug
trafficking and corruption research in the aforementioned geographic region. While this
methodology is not the most ideal, given the clandestine nature of drug trafficking and
corruption, in organizing the proceeding information systematically and examining the
relevant scenarios on a case by case basis for patterns and parallels, this study will be able to
contribute in some way to the small but increasingly prevalent body of extant literature.
Dependent Variable Operationalization
To begin in this venture, this study examines the nature of collaboration between state
governments and violent non-state actors in drug trafficking. That nature, being corruptive of
government institutions and the people who embody them, is the discreet and illegitimate use
of money by public officials for illicit gains,19 and is the defining feature of the narco-state.
The measure of its extent in the state’s governing institutions is what places a country on the
index and determines its categorical definition. Given this, all evaluations of case studies
within this paper must include an incident level of corruption, measured through Jordan’s
narco-statization index at the aforementioned following levels: incipient, developing, serious,
critical, and advanced. That is not to say that such incidents must always involve coercion.
While civilians themselves are always the primary victims, the state itself is sometimes not.20
For academic purposes, it should be noted that the data shown in this study is not
impermeable. As stated previously, trafficking is largely comprised of covert operations, and
this makes data collection an extremely difficult process. Because of this, the fact that
complete up-to-date information may not always exist across all case studies serves to
19 David Jordan, Drug Politics: Dirty Money and Democracies (Norman: University of Oklahoma
Press, 1999).
20 As is the case in North Korea, the state can also be a victimizer and actively participate in the
drug trade freely of its own volition.
[P.R. Kan, Drug Trafficking and International Security. (Rowman & Littlefield: 2016).]
13
impede efforts to draw clear-cut parallels and conclusions. This means that as the study
collects data on trafficking and corruption incidences, the study will have to account for
context and use discretion when attempting to draw parallels between like incidences in other
narco-states. In summary, the shortage of prevalent data is not necessarily problematic for
this analysis, as the likelihood of underestimation of impacts is greater than overestimation
and thus entirely false representation.
Another important factor to consider when operationalizing the dependent variable is
whether or not and what kind of government institutions are collaborating with violent non-
state actors under the context of the international drug trade. Components and circumstances
will be extremely important in this regard, because just as an entire government can be a
victimizer and actively participate in the drug trade, so can only part of a government. Jordan
notes that while there are merits to traditionally viewing corruption as an isolated event
without pervasive impacts on the political system, analyzing corruption as a structural
phenomenon accounts for the complex relationship between elites and traffickers by
suggesting that the merging of government and organized crime creates a situation where a
government is in a partial civil war. “While elements within the government seek to control
drug trafficking, other elements of the government form an alliance with the traffickers.”21
For example, Kan affirms this reality through his placement of Afghanistan as a level
five – advanced narco-state. He notes that in practice the Afghani government has actively
engaged in an international coalition to combat the Taliban and other militant groups funded
by the opium trade, proving that it does not centrally organize and direct drug trafficking
activities.22 However, collaboration between insurgents and individuals and groups linked to
the Afghani government actively thwarts counterinsurgency operations through the strategic
cultivation of opium and heroin, the profits from which continue to distort legitimate
economic growth, sustain militant violence, and foster further political corruption.
21 Jordan, Drug Politics: Dirty Money and Democracies, pg. 6.
22 Kan, Drug Trafficking and International Security, pg. 59.
14
In short, this study chose to use Jordan’s index in conjunction with Kan’s research
because together they provide the most comprehensive means through which this study can
analyze various incidences of corruption across selected case studies. As stated previously,
Jordan’s index is the only qualitative measure capable of operationalizing collaboration
between narco-state governments and various VNSAs. Likewise, of the cases that Kan
surveys in his research, every country in his narco-state list qualifies as a narco-state in that
they all exhibit a base level of governmental corruption because of drug trade influences.
However, this study disagrees with several aspects of Kan’s research, questioning the
effectiveness of his additional indicators to Jordan’s index, geopolitical placement and state
fragility score, as well as Kan’s ranking of several countries’ level of narcostatization and
exclusion of other states entirely. Because Kan does not justify every single ranking on his
list, there is no way to discern if his additions to Jordan’s model affected his decisions.
Therefore, erring on the side of caution, this study will thus will be utilizing Jordan’s original
model without any additional indicators. However, it should be noted for academic purposes
that Kan’s original assessment of the countries on his list as narco-states remains valid, and
will be taken into consideration alongside the independent findings of this study.
Jordan and Kan accomplish much in their work regarding narco-state development.
Jordan lays the framework for investigating narcostatization uniformly across all countries,
and Kan practically applies it across multiple case studies. Considering that both authors hold
incident levels of corruption as a constant in presence and variation in degree, it is precisely
such corruption levels that this study must also take into consideration when investigating the
research question. Accounting for the nature of the research question itself, in that it asks why
some narco-state governments would choose to publically collaborate with VNSAs, it must
be made clear that collaboration between governments and VNSAs is an incidence of
corruption. Knowing this, to examine the enabling relationship between governments and
VNSAs, the study will look at five variables that may indicate if and how narco-state
15
governments in Central-West Asia are corrupted by VNSAs: weakened governmental
institutions, the limited capacity of anti-corruption institutions, proximity to a source state,
the presence of Islamic insurgency groups, and Islamic law-based governments.
It should be noted for the purposes of this study that although it may be public
knowledge that a narco-state’s government is collaborating with a VNSA, that public
knowledge is not a public acknowledgement by the state. For example, although it is public
knowledge that the Afghan government funded Pakistani armed group Tehrik-i-Taliban,
Afghanistan completely denies their relationship.23 Therefore, this incident, along with any
other like it, cannot be counted in contribution to the dependent variable. Similar intricacies
in coding the proceeding independent variables are discussed in the section below.
Independent Variable Operationalization
As stated previously, the five independent variables this study will be looking at to
answer the research question above are: weakened governmental institutions, the limited
capacity of anti-corruption institutions, proximity to a source state, the presence of Islamic
insurgency groups, and Islamic law-based governments. (For simplicity, Islamic law-based
governments will also be referred to as Islamic republics.)
The “weakened governmental institutions” referred to in this study still function in
basic sense, but have been worn down by the pressures of VNSAs. VNSAs often serve as
coinciding authorities to pre-existing central governments within narco-states. They are able
to act in this capacity due to their ability to generate a profit through illicit means, enabling
them to establish secondary frameworks through which economic, political, and security
issues may be addressed. Such precedents are established when state institutions are present,
but barely functional. Weakened governmental institutions can then be co-opted by VNSAs,
who continue their operations underneath the protective umbrella of state corruption and
violence. In this way, the activities of VNSAs are opportunistic. As stated previously,
23 Ahmed, Traub, Walt, and Cook. 2015. "Heroin And Extremism In Pakistan". Foreign Policy.
Accessed June 9 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/17/heroin-and-jihad-in-pakistan/.
16
traffickers prefer to transport products through states with weak but functioning governments
as opposed to states with no government at all, as weak institutions provide a means of
additional security. VNSAs engaging in drug trafficking are motivated to secure their trade by
collaborating with such institutions rather than confronting them. Because drug trafficking is
an illicit trade, such relationships between VNSAs and government officials or
representatives amount to institutional corruption. Incidences of corruption may include
military aid, bribery, extortion, intimidation, intelligence, illicit financing, and in some upper
level cases examined in this paper, assassination. The weakness of governmental institutions,
measured by the International Monetary Fund’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI)
project, when compared against the state’s historic and contemporary collaboration with
VNSAs, will serve as a baseline indicator of overall institutional corruption. Each case study
characterized by weakened government institutions in this regard is thusly coded as such.
Another aspect that will be examined is the “limited capacity of anti-corruption
institutions”, referring to the ability of state bodies to adopt and successfully implement anti-
corruption measures within governmental structures. This is important because states that do
not possess strong institutional checks against corruption are more likely to be co-opted by
non-state actors for illicit purposes. The capacity of a country’s anti-corruption institutions
will be measured through most recently available UNODC reports on compliance with
UNCAC to gain an accurate sense of the state’s ability to protect itself against corrosive
influences, and thus an indication of corruption levels. If the state’s capacity to combat
corruption is limited, it is coded accordingly, and vice versa. While the inclusion of anti-
corruption institutional capacity may appear out of place in this study, it must be kept in mind
that states often initially comply with treaties at the surface level to promote the appearance
of legitimacy.24
24 Franck, Thomas M. "Legitimacy in the International System." The American Journal of
International Law 82, no. 4 (1988): 705-59. doi:10.2307/2203510.
17
The third independent variable, proximity to a source state, accounts for the variation
in increased likelihood of a narco-state’s development insofar as it is closely located to the
source of primary narcotics flows. As Kan argues, the closer the proximity to the source state,
the higher the chance of the transshipment or hybrid state experiencing increased trafficking
flows, and thus the greater the risk of the state undergoing corruption by the drug trade. Both
Jordan and Kan are correct in assuming that the state’s physical location in the transnational
narcotics trade correlates with advanced levels of narcostatization, so this study must also
factor in geographic location. With this in mind, the case study’s proximity to the regional
source state will be weighed based upon geographic boundaries, as drug trafficking is less
likely to be impeded when narco-states share borders. Therefore, even though they may be
located in the same region overall, the case studies listed here that do not share borders with a
source state are not coded as being in proximity to a source state itself.
The presence of Islamic insurgency groups, the fourth independent variable, accounts
for government-VNSA transnational collaboration as well as intra-state collaboration. Just as
there have been instances where drug-peddling armed groups in a country have worked with
or influenced local and state officials,25 foreign governments can also sponsor militant groups
based in other countries for personal gains. A prominent example of such an incidence would
be the Iran-Contra affair, in which U.S. government officials secretly made arms deals with
the Iranians in the hopes that the money from those proceedings would fund the rebel Contras
in Nicaragua.26 Given the religious backgrounds, historical relationships, and the nature of
violent non-state actors in Central-West Asia, this study will be looking specifically at Islamic
insurgency groups in each case, as their regional presence, influence, and identities as violent
25 "El Chapo Trial Shows That Mexico’S Corruption Is Even Worse Than You Think". 2019. The
New York Times. Accessed June 9 2019.
26 Hamilton, Lee H., and Daniel K. Inouye. 1987. Report of the Congressional committees
investigating the Iran-Contra Affair: with supplemental, minority, and additional views. Washington,
D.C.: U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with
Iran, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan
Opposition.
18
non-state actors who generally do not respect national sovereignty enables them to participate
in the international drug trade. Because presence and influence are both polar questions, they
will be codified likewise in the truth table.
The fifth independent variable, Islamic law-based governments, accounts for the
increased likelihood of Islamic narco-state governments to collaborate publically with
VNSAs. Even if a state with weakened governmental structures feels the external pressure of
a VNSA, it may not completely buckle under and do away with the auspices of capacity and
control just yet. While it is certainly not in any state’s interest to ever admit to collaborating
VNSAs via drug trafficking, especially not states whose governmental structures are
supposedly rooted in the same religious ideology as various VNSAs, some states do seem
more inclined to admit to collaborating with VNSAs than others. For example, it is well
known that the Pakistani government provides direct military aid and intelligence to the
Taliban, whom it sees as a political ally in unstable Afghanistan, and has neither supported
nor condemned the Taliban’s various activities over the years.27 Likewise, governments
whose interests coincide with VNSAs are more likely to overlook any illicit activities that a
VNSA conducts so long as both parties are working towards a common goal (see US funding
of mujahideen in Afghanistan) or share a similar ideology.28 Accounting for like relationships
between states and VNSAs and their intricacies enables to further investigate why some, but
not all, narco-states publically collaborate with VNSAs in the drug trade. Therefore, the
presence of governments operating under Islamic law-based systems may indicate an
institution’s willingness to collaborate with VNSAs who have shared interests or ideologies,
with that presence coded appropriately. The study is considering this variable because the
Golden Crescent states also share the same trait of being Islamic republics, and there may be
a correlation between the two.
27 Felbab-Brown, Vanda. 2018. "Why Pakistan Supports Terrorist Groups, And Why The US Finds It
So Hard To Induce Change". Brookings. Accessed May 30 2019.
28 Bergen, Peter, Holy War Inc., Free Press, (2001), p.68
19
Testing Procedures
To reiterate, the issue of data and methodology for analyzing the following case
studies stems from the incomplete nature of provided information. The clandestine reality of
the drug trafficking industry makes precise data impossible to come by, thereby making
holistic representations of its impacts hard to determine with total and confident accuracy.
Thus, what this study has attempted to do with the cases provided here is piece together the
narrative that exists surrounding the development of narco-states in Central-West Asia as
affected by VNSAs, geographic proximity to Afghanistan, and type of governmental
structure. The implications of these things on issues of theory and policy have been discussed
previously.
Procedurally, this study will be utilizing Jordan’s typology and aspects of Kan’s
qualitative research, as seen in both Drug Politics and Drug Trafficking and International
Security and outlined above. Previous studies utilizing aspects of Jordan’s typology have
demonstrated that the majority of research into this field is qualitative in nature. Common
methods such as statistical analysis, interviews, and police files have all been excluded due to
issues with data accessibility and reliability, time constraints, and personal security.
This study chose the qualitative case study approach because there exists a lack of
comprehensive and organized research into the relationship between narco-state
governmental structures and VNSAs. Furthermore, attempting a quantitative study is near
impossible, given the clandestine nature of the international drug trade and subsequent
missing information, and would not provide an adequate characterization of the actors present
within the data. This study seeks to gain a full understanding of cases examined by using the
appropriate methodology, and will use the multiple case study approach. Stake defines the
multiple case study approach as the study of a number of cases to investigate a phenomenon
or population.29
29 Stake, Robert. 2008. “Qualitative Case Studies.” In Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry, 3rd ed, Ed.
Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 119-147. California: Sage.
20
This study utilized the multiple case study approach by examining the governmental
statuses of Central-West Asian narco-states that collaborate with VNSAs in drug trafficking.
The purpose of the case studies are to generalize about the corruptibility of differing
governmental structures as opposed to populations and groups. This particular study is
explanatory and will test various theories on government corruption, violent non-state actors,
and drug trafficking, so the multiple case study approach is the best suited methodology.
Because multi-case studies are comparative, this study’s case selection was chosen for both
their similarities and their differences. All cases were selected using a basic criteria, but
circumstantial variations within each case will guide a comparative analysis of variations in
operational structure.
Each case selected for analysis is contained within a set of boundaries identified at the
onset of this study. This study refined its research focus to feature governmental structures of
narco-states to explore the question as to why some Central-West Asian narco-states
collaborate with violent non-state actors in the drug trade while others do not. To address this
research question, this study identifies cases involving Central-West Asian narco-states,
violent non-state actors, and drug trafficking, thus forming a multi-case study.
This venture is a qualitative study testing the validity of theories and typologies from studies
into narco-state development. The study will conduct content analysis of previous case
studies done by Kan, Paoli et al., the UNODC, the US State Department, and other political
and academic institutions that have undertaken drug trafficking and corruption research in the
aforementioned geographic region.
The truth table found below will be used to determine if the research statement, a
compound statement, is true or false. In this study, the truth table will illustrate the
relationship between elements of the narco-state’s government and that government’s
collaboration in the international drug trade with violent non-state actors. For example,
should the first independent variable, the presence of weak governmental institutions, be
found in a selected case study, it will be coded thusly on the table as ‘YES’, and vice versa.
21
This procedure is repeated on the other four independent variables and the dependent
variable. If the state’s anti-corruption institutions operate at a limited level of capacity, in
close proximity to a source state, have a presence of Islamic insurgency groups, and if they
are classified as Islamic republics, they are coded as ‘YES’ on the table, and if the narco-state
publically collaborates with VNSAs in the drug trade, it will be codified thusly.
Case Selection
For the purposes of determining why some Central-West Asian narco-states choose to
collaborate with VNSAs while others do not, this study will select cases where the
international drug trade has corrupted a state’s governmental institutions. The extent of that
corruption will in turn determine that state’s placement on the narco-state index, utilizing the
five categories in Jordan’s narco-state index to examine identifiable criteria. This study chose
to use Jordan’s index in conjunction with Kan’s research because together they provide the
most comprehensive means through which this study can analyze various incidence levels of
corruption across the selected case studies.
For the purposes of determining whether or not governmental institutional structure is
a contributing factor in the decreased likelihood of narco-states collaborating with VNSAs in
the drug trade, this study will select and compare cases where the drug trade has corrupted
both Islamic and secular governmental institutions. Out of all the countries that are located in
the Central-West Asian region, the selected cases must possess at least a benchmark of two
out of three qualifications deemed necessary to be included as a case study: existence as an
Islamic republic, existence as a narco-state, and existence as a secular state. Therefore, while
the secular Republic of Iraq experiences insecurity due to Central-West Asian drug trafficking
networks, it has been excluded from consideration because is neither a narco-state nor an
Islamic republic. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania has also been excluded from
consideration because while it is an Islamic republic, it is not a narco-state and does not
experience insecurity stemming from the Central-West Asian drug trade.
It should also be noted that for the sake of consistency across both case studies and
22
academic references, this study’s case selection was further dictated by the fact that all
selected cases are, in some way or another, impacted by the opium trade in Afghanistan. In
the year 2001, the ruling Taliban government instituted a ban on all opium-based substances
in Afghanistan, severely reducing poppy production from 3,276 metric tons to just 74.30 This
move devastated the population, which had used profits from the opium trade to fend off
starvation,31 but the Taliban continued to profit from the trade through raised prices and
subsequent profit off large existing stockpiles.32 After the fall of Taliban rule in December
2001, Afghani framers once again resorted back to growing and exporting opium, a practice
that continued as the country transitioned into a free market economy in 2002. Considering
that the contemporary Afghan drug trade experienced this systemic overhaul during the
period 2000 to 2002, the effects of which are most prevalent to realities facing narco-state
development today, this study will be looking at cases in Central-West Asian narco-states that
have been potentially impacted by these events starting from the year 2002 to the present.
The specific cases this study selected are as follows: the Islamic Republic of
Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Syrian Arab
Republic, the Lebanese Republic, the Republic of Tajikstan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The inclusion of the Syrian Arab Republic may be controversial because Kan does not
classify it as a narco-state and it is not an Islamic republic. However, like the rest of the
selected case studies, Syria does experience insecurity resulting from the Central-West Asian
drug trade, and given that it is comparable to Lebanon in terms of hosting extremist groups
who cultivate illicit narcotics within its borders and maintain active relationships with the
state’s central government, it should be classified as a narco-state. While the context of the
Syrian Civil War casts a reasonable shadow of doubt on the sovereignty of the Assad regime,
the regime itself still maintains control over a vast majority of Syria’s traditionally-defined
30 Lyman, Michael D. (2010). Drugs in Society: Causes, Concepts and Control. Elsevier. p. 309.
31 Shaffer, Brenda (2006). The limits of culture: Islam and foreign policy. MIT Press. p. 283.
32 Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud (2010). Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy. Harvard University
Press. pp. 52.
23
territories, meaning that despite non-recognition by some members of the international
community it is still the de facto authority over the country. For better or for worse, it can still
be classified as a state in itself. Noting this, it becomes apparent that Syria possesses the
benchmark two out of the three necessary qualifications to be included as a relevant case
study.
Table 1: Selected Case Studies
IV 1:
Weakened
Governmental
Institutions
IV 2:
Limited
Capacity of
Anti-
Corruption
Institutions
IV 3:
Proximity
to a source
state
IV 4:
Presence of
Islamic
insurgency
groups
IV 5:
Islamic law-
based
government
DV: public collaboration
with VNSAs in the drug
trade
Afghanistan
2002 -- Present
YES YES YES YES YES NO
Iran
2002 -- Present
YES YES YES YES YES NO
Lebanon
2002 -- Present
YES YES NO YES NO YES
Pakistan
2002 -- Present
YES YES YES YES YES NO
Syria*33
2002 -- Present
YES YES NO YES NO YES
Tajikistan
2002 -- Present
YES YES YES YES NO NO
Uzbekistan
2002 -- Present
YES YES YES YES NO YES
Information in the above table taken from UNGEGN and UNODC reports, Kan 2016, and Jordan 1999.
Findings and Discussion
As to be expected with narco-states, all of the case studies exhibited some form of
institutional corruption that contributed to the first independent variable, weakened
governmental institutions. In all cases, the limited capacity of the state’s anti-corruption
institutions exacerbated this present corruption, as evaluated by UNCAC review groups and
other sources. There existed a widespread and systemic presence of governmental corruption
to the third degree (serious) or greater, and in three out of the seven, there was evidence of
significant corruption involving the international drug trade in the upper levels of
33* The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (2016). The nexus of conflict and illicit drug
trafficking Syria and the wider region. Geneva: The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
November 2016.
24
government. While states who are signatories to the legally binding UNCAC supposedly
make greater efforts towards implementation because noncompliance is more costly,
UNCAC’s weak enforcement mechanisms inadvertently enabled corruption because they
provided narco-states with a mask of legitimacy without having to deal with the
consequences of actually strengthening presently weak anti-corruption institutions that could
otherwise mitigate the impact of trafficking influences. This evidences in six out of the seven
case studies (as Syria is not a signatory to UNCAC), mostly clearly in the cases of
Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, the Golden Crescent states.
Additionally, Islamic insurgency groups (also referred to as VNSAs in this study)
were present in all the cases, but the extent of their influence on states within the context of
drug trade-related corruption is mixed. While the Syrian Arab Republic is the country most
affected by Islamic insurgent groups, Afghanistan is the country most affected by Islamic
insurgent groups as their operations pertain to drug trafficking-related corruption. The cases
of the Golden Crescent states most frequently and extremely displayed both heavy
involvements in the illicit drug trade and the proclivity to collaborate with local and state
officials in it. Because of this, this study classified all three Golden Crescent states as either
critical or advanced narco-states, in contradiction to Kan’s previous rankings of Pakistan and
Iran. Unlike Kan, this study’s analysis of Pakistan’s control of corruption found that
corruption existed at the highest levels of the police and judicial systems, thereby placing it
on the narco-state spectrum as a stage four – critical narco-state. It furthermore contradicts
Kan’s classification of Iran as a mere incipient state. Iran’s case is unique because unlike
Afghanistan (and Pakistan to a slightly lesser extent), the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC) is the primary driver of advanced governmental corruption regarding the drug trade,
not Islamic extremists. Iran’s status as an advanced narco-state proves that although the
presence of VNSAs is a necessary factor attributing to the narco-state’s public collaboration
25
with VNSAs in the drug trade, the VNSA itself is not always the primary driver of drug-
related corruption.
Likewise, while proximity to a source state is not always an all-determining variable
in a narco-state government’s public collaboration with VNSAs in the drug trade, it
sometimes is. This section’s primary assertion was that of the narco-states located in close
proximity to the regional source state, Islamic narco-states do not publically collaborate with
VNSAs in the drug trade and secular narco-states do. While the Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan,
and Uzbekistan case studies all affirm this narrative (and thus the overarching narrative of
this paper), Tajikistan emerged as the sole contradictor. After careful analysis, this study
concluded that Tajikistan’s strategic location, combined with a presence of Islamist
insurgency and complete lack of effective anti-corruption mechanisms, contributed most
heavily to Tajikistan’s higher placement on the narco-state spectrum, while Islamic law-based
governance was not a determining variable. For this reason, Tajikistan’s case is an outlier in
this study, and should not be held against the overall findings on account of the results of the
other six, which otherwise affirm this paper’s original hypothesis.
The classification of all three Golden Crescent states as either critical or advanced
narco-states is significant when noting that these three states are also Islamic republics.
Indeed, the findings of the truth table above may encourage the conclusion that because a
state is an Islamic republic, it is more likely to be heavily involved with drug trafficking
Islamic extremist groups due to shared ideology. However, while they most certainly do not
inhibit the potential for an Islamic narco-state to enter into the drug trade with an Islamic
VNSA, this study did not find that shared ideologies were a determining factor in public
collaboration. The truth table’s findings are not inaccurate, but without proper context, they
may appear initially misleading.
It is true that Islamic republics do face the most pressures from the illicit narcotics
trade, and it is true that their governments are the most corrupt because of it. However, their
governments are not corrupt because their governments are rooted in Islamic law. In fact,
26
theoretically speaking, it should be the exact opposite. The most prominent Islamic
theological perspectives found in Central-West Asian narco-states are preventative models
based on an understanding of society rooted in shame-culture: “Islam takes the protection of
society from moral pollutants seriously… [stipulating] corporal and capital punishment
(hadd) where it feels that these boundaries have been violated.”34 Following this sense,
Islamic republics ought to be states that see the least amount of drug cultivation, trafficking,
and corruption. This is obviously not the case, as Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer
of opium and neighboring states Iran and Pakistan see most of that product pass across their
shared borders. The reality of the situation is that historically opium production in Central-
West Asia has been driven by political instability, regardless of its haram Islamic status.
Islamic extremists groups may give lip service to the tenants of Sharia law, but the fact
remains that VNSAs prioritize their own political objectives over ideology, and corrupt
officials within Islamic republics are obviously no different, or else they would not be corrupt
at all.
So if shared ideology isn’t a factor in public collaboration between Islamic republics
and Islamic VNSAs, what is? The answer cannot be solely found in one specific variable, but
rather a combination of two within the context of this study: Islamic law-based government
and the presence of Islamic insurgency groups.
This study finds that Islamic law-based governments publically collaborate with
violent non-state actors in the drug trade while secular states do not. The fact that the three
Islamic republics within Central-West Asia are also the three Golden Crescent states is clearly
not a coincidence. This can be attributed to the presence of Islamic insurgency groups and
their objective to undermine political stability within the state. It is not for this paper to say
that Islamic law-based governments are inherently extremist, but objectively speaking,
attaching political significance to religious ideology in any form encourages radicalization
34 Ali, Mansur. 2014. "Perspectives on Drug Addiction in Islamic History and Theology." Religions
5, no. 3: 912-928.
27
and exploitation. Because Islamic law-based governments have attached political significance
to religious ideology, they added an additional characteristic to their political system that can
be exploited. VNSAs fund their destabilization efforts through drug trafficking as either a
means of profit or influence. The rampart corruption of political officials and law
enforcement within Islamic law-based governments through drug trafficking incentives is, in
itself, political destabilization and the goal of the VNSA. While religiously motivated VNSAs
may also seek political destabilization in secular narco-states, secular narco-states generally
do not attach as much political significance to religious ideology, and therefore their public
policies cannot be exploited in this specific sense.
Conclusion
This study sought to critically engage with the construct of the narco-state as it
pertained to the ongoing security situation in Central-West Asia. Its finding that Islamic law-
based governmental systems contribute to increased narcostatization via a combination of
institutional corruption and the presence of Islamic insurgent influences demonstrates Jordan
and Kan’s assertion that narco-states indulge in trafficking to defend themselves and compete
economically in the international system, with their domestic concerns bowing to
international systemic pressures of competition. Even the case of Tajikistan, this study’s
outlier, argues to this point. In this way, this study has shown that that states exploit the
neoliberal system for their own benefit, in direct contrast to suppositions about the
cooperative structure of the international system.
The case studies shown here furthermore demonstrated that neoliberalism’s stress
upon democratization allows for parts of the state’s government to be corrupted while others
remain relatively clean, and this co-option by VNSAs further perpetuates corruption, war, and
conflict. This evidences in the cases of both the secular narco-states and the Islamic narco-
states, noting that weakened governmental institutions, lacking capacity of anti-corruption
institutions, and Islamic insurgency all contribute to narcostatization in Central-West Asia.
28
However, knowing that the Golden Crescent states are also Islamic republics, and Islamic
republics rank higher on the narco-state spectrum, this study’s findings imply that the
additional variable of Islamic law-based government contributes most heavily to advanced
narcostatization, and thus the splintering of state authority and the breakdown of international
cooperation.
This study chose to focus on the role of state and non-state actors in the international
system because recognizing the narco-state as a legitimate actor on the global stage affecting
internal and external sovereignty is key to understanding how drug trafficking entangles with
other security issues related to public health, infrastructure, economic decline, human rights,
and rule of law. Within the context of this study, acknowledging narco-states as valid actors
means acknowledging Islamic narco-states as valid actors, and dangerous ones. This paper
does not endeavor to explain the intricacies surrounding Islamic insurgency’s relationship
with drug trafficking, nor does it account for the motivations of individual actors within
Islamic state governments who collaborate with Islamic insurgency in the drug trade. To more
accurately examine the precise nature of drug trafficking within these environments, further
study and development of methodological framings is needed. Literature regarding narco-
states must expanded. However, these limitations do not detract from the real value of this
project, which lies in the examination of the existing study and arguments on the case studies
shown here.
This study can say with absolute certainty is that drug trafficking is a powerful tool of
corruption. Extremist VNSAs have been trafficking drugs for illicit gains, utilizing both their
own profits and the shortfalls in Islamic law-based governments regarding corruption to
destabilize political systems. Such exploitation has catastrophic consequences upon the state
and international system, because as neoliberalism theory asserts, a system that has been co-
opted by violent non-state actors is all the more vulnerable to further insurgency,
intergovernmental conflict, and civil war. The narco-state that has been co-opted in this sense
29
poses a danger not just to its own system, but those around it. As asserted previously,
understanding of how narco-states operate within the international system is crucial for
building comprehensive drug reform. However, with consideration to the added threat that
radicalized actors pose to the international community, their involvement in the drug trade,
and their ability to co-opt state systems, further study of the issue within this context must be
undertaken to allow for comprehensive drug reform efforts that cannot be impeded by the
necessary counterterrorism measures.
Appendix
Case Studies
1. Afghanistan
As Central-West Asia’s only true source state, Afghanistan is arguably the most
textbook case of narcostatization in the world. Although opium production fell from 82,000
tons to a mere 8,000 in 2001, the defeat of the Taliban regime and subsequent repeal of
Mullah Mohammed Omar’s opium ban saw to it that poppy cultivation bounced right back to
74,000 tons in 2002, solidifying Afghanistan’s place as the world’s leading illicit producer of
opium once again.35 In 2017, Afghanistan’s opium poppy cultivation reached its peak at
328,000 tons, over four times what it was in 2002.
Weakened Governmental Institutions
As the UNODC’s 2018 report points out, rule of law-related challenges, corruption,
and political instability are among the main drivers of illicit cultivation.36 Knowing this,
contrasting the measures of these three indicators through the World Bank’s World
Governance Indicators project (WGI) and with Afghanistan’s cultivation figures will
determine if illicit opium poppy cultivation has an effect on Afghanistan’s governmental
institutions.37 This study’s utilization of the Afghanistan’s WGI from the year 2002 onward
35 UNODC and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Counter Narcotics. Afghanistan Opium
Survey 2018. Geneva: UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 2018.
36 Ibid.
37 While the WGI technically covers “governance” and not governmental institutions specifically,
rule of law, corruption control, and political instability are all
30
discovered an intriguing pattern. As the “Political Stability and Absence of
Violence/Terrorism” indicator’s percentile remained in a near constant state of nonexistence
(averaging at 1% out of 100% between the years 2002-2017) opium poppy cultivation figures
rose overall. Periods of fluctuation corresponded with the commencement of poppy
eradication efforts funded by the US and allied governments, 38 but as Bejelica notes, the
results from one year alone are not indicative of a trend.39 The Rule of Law indicator’s
percentile rankings correspond with that of the Control of Corruption indicator, which was
expected given that the two are interconnected. This study found that declines in the Control
of Corruption indicator’s percentile ranking generally corresponded in increased opium
poppy cultivation, with brief periods of fluctuation also corresponding to years of more
successful eradication efforts in Afghanistan’s major cultivation regions. This pattern
indicates that corruption is a contributing driver of poppy cultivation.
Limited Capacity of Anti-Corruption Institutions
With the intrinsic link between governmental corruption and cultivation established, it
is clear that the drug trade undermines the effectiveness of governmental institutions. With
this in mind, it is not a mistake to assume that the Afghan government has an active interest
in combatting illicit narcotics trafficking and re-establishing control over its own system.
Indeed, even though the drug trade may infiltrate and/or c-opt parts of a government, this is
not to say that the entire government is complicit. Many countries have counter-narcotics
institutions built into their judicial systems as federal law enforcement agencies, and
Afghanistan is no different: its Ministry of Counter Narcotics releases a joint executive
summary of the country’s opium survey with the UNODC every year.
The Afghan government’s need to re-establish control over corruption stems from its
need to reaffirm state sovereignty. Sovereignty gives states legitimacy in the international
38 UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). 2005 - 2017. Afghanistan: Annual Opium
Poppy Survey. Vienna: UNODC.
39 Bjelica, Jelena. 2015. ""One Year's Result Is Not A Trend": The 2015 Opium Cultivation
Decrease.” Afghanistan Analysts Network. Accessed June 23 2019. https://www.afghanistan-
analysts.org/one-years-result-is-not-a-trend-the-2015-opium-cultivation-decrease/.
31
system. When their ability to exercise that sovereignty is limited, they look to other ways of
maintaining it – or at the very least, the illusion of it. To accomplish this, many countries
ratify treaties and international agreements. In Afghanistan’s case, its decision to ratify the
UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), the only existing international, multilateral,
legal-binding anti-corruption treaty, proves to the international community that on paper,
their government is willing to take the necessary measures towards transparency and
accountability.
Afghanistan ratified the UNCAC on August 25, 2008. Its first review cycle concluded
in 2016, when a UNODC implementation review group submitted its executive summary of
findings on compliance and implementation. The review found that despite implementing
comprehensive legal regulation of freezing, seizure and confiscation of illicit assets and
successfully establishing a specialized anti-corruption unit and a specialized anti-corruption
court system, Afghanistan also exhibits no less than 31 challenges to implementation. These
include the following: inexplicit criminalization of active bribery of public and foreign
officials (also unclearly defined), extended liability for UNCAC offences to state institutions,
lacking criminalization of influence trading, and the lacking criminalization of the use of
physical force, threats, or intimidation, or the promise.40 In addition, the review group
documented 18 additional challenges to implementation of international cooperation
mechanisms relating to extradition and legal assistance, with one other success in inter-
agency coordination.
The fact that Afghanistan possesses a ratio of 49 challenges to three good practice is
indicative of a larger systematic problem with full-scale implementation. The Afghan
government has admitted to requiring technical assistance in improving awareness-raising,
training in investigations and detection of crime, legal advice and capacity-building, sharing
40 UNODC. 2019. "Afghanistan Country Profile". Accessed June 11 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/treaties/CAC/country-profile/CountryProfile.html?code=AFG.
32
of best practices, and inter-agency coordination – essentially every means necessary to begin
a transparency initiative. While Afghanistan does have anti-corruption institutions and
exhibits the capacity to establish comprehensive legal regulations, as evidenced in the nature
of those established institutions and regulations, it does not possess the capability of
enforcement. Creating specialized court systems and investigative units does nothing if they
cannot produce tangible results, and as seen in the technical challenges to implementation,
Afghanistan has no measures in place to insulate these courts and units from corruptive
influences that may deter their mandate.
The Afghan police, judiciary, and even its executive branch are prominent examples
of institutions riddled with drug corruption. A joint report by the UN and the World Bank
found that drug traffickers buy the loyalty of police chiefs and government officials across
the country, with one senior officer acknowledging that police chiefs who refused
involvement would be threatened with assassination and replacement.41 While former
President Hamid Karzai’s administration (2002-2014) established vetting systems for senior
governmental positions and publically encouraged reporting, Special Inspector General for
Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported that asset declaration forms submitted by
Karzai and senior members of his government had omissions and errors.42 Karzai’s chief of
General Independent Administration of Anti-Corruption, former governor of western Farah
province and childhood friend Izzatullah Wasifi made no real efforts to control Afghanistan's
poppy harvest in his province, which continues to remain a significant hub for heroin
smuggling into Iran and is now under the control of the Taliban. Prior to his political career,
he had spent almost 4 years in an American prison for drug trafficking.43
41 Walsh, Declan. 2007. "How Anti-Corruption Chief Once Sold Heroin In Las Vegas". The
Guardian. Accessed June 11 2019.
42 "U.S. Watchdog Slams Afghan Anti-Corruption Body And Former President". 2019. Reuters.
Accessed June 11 2019.
43 Walsh, Declan. 2007.
33
In 2019, alongside a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan
Reconstruction describing the lack of a comprehensive strategy for a competent civil police
force bac by the rule of law, Senior Deputy Minister of Security Khoshal Sadat
acknowledged pervasive corruption and “zero accountability” within the Interior Ministry. He
pointed to the stagnated cycle of inefficiency and waste that allowed officials to incorporate
black market influences into the Ministry’s operations.44 This sentiment echoed the U.S.
government’s situational analysis over the course of the Afghan war: the Bush, Obama, and
Trump administrations concluded all various stages of the conflict that neither military force
nor nation-building efforts could effectively suppress a spreading insurgency problem
financed by criminal networks and a corrupt Afghan government.45
Proximity to a Source State
Measuring Afghanistan’s proximity to a regional source state is contingent upon the
acknowledgement that in this particular case, proximity and existence are the same. Just as
Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer and supplier of opium products, it is the
dominating source state in the Central-West Asian region. Roughly 60% of its product is
trafficked through Iran to Syria and Lebanon,46 Tajikistan and Uzbekistan receive about
20%,47 with Tajikistan alone peddling an estimated 90 metric tons of Afghan opium and
heroin a year.48 Both Kan and Jordan rank Afghanistan as a level five – advanced narco-state
based upon its extremely high corruption levels and role as a prominent source state.
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
With huge civilian death tolls becoming commonplace headlines as the Taliban
continues its territorial expansion, Afghanistan is now more dangerous than ever. Al-Qaeda is
44 Shalizi, Hamid. 2019. “New commander takes on corruption “mess” in Afghan police.” Reuters.
Accessed June 11 2019.
45 Meyer, Josh. 2018. “The secret story of how America lost the drug war with the Taliban.”
Politico. Accessed June 11 2019.
46 "Afghanistan’s Role In Iran’S Drug Problem". 2019. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed June
11 2019.
47 "Why Afghanistan's Neighbours Fear Drugs Influx". 2019. BBC News. Accessed June 11 2019.
48 "Drug Trafficking In Tajikistan: A Very Deep But Not Incurable Evil". 2018. Georgetown
Journal of International Affairs. Accessed June 11 2019.
34
also active in Afghanistan’s southern provinces, seemingly having set aside their differences
with the Taliban to focus on combatting U.S-allied forces.49 While other smaller militant
organizations are active in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the dominating
hegemons capable of inflicting the most damage. Both are Sunni, and possess of a history in
drug trafficking. Following the Afghan regime change in 2001, the Taliban retracted its belief
that opium has ‘not Islamic’ and resumed its activities in the illicit drug trade. There are
reports claiming that they never stopped in the first place: the worldwide market price for
Afghan opium remained stable during the ban, a sign that supply had not completely dropped
off and the ban had only affected the regional market.50 This seemingly indicates that the
Taliban continued to exercise total control over the opium market. Piazza also points out that
between the years 1996 and 2008, al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan used drug
trafficking profits to recruit and pay militants, stock weapons and equipment, and bribe
government officials.51
In 2017, the Trump administration launched a counter-narcotics campaign against the
Taliban, code-named Iron Tempest. The operation targeted some 500 Taliban narcotics efforts
fueling their almost two-decade long insurgency in more than 200 strikes on labs and
transportation routes. The operation halted in 2019, as it did little to undercut the trade over
the course of two years and the administration had begun peace talks with Taliban leaders.52
While most governmental corruption by the drug trade in Afghanistan is extremely
clandestine, there are ways of deducing a relationship, like observing dramatically increased
spending by officials with skim salaries. One example includes that of Taliban shadow
governor Mullah Manan, who came from a poor family but was able to afford to pay an
49 Roggio, Bill. “US commander confirms: al Qaeda operating ‘across’ Afghanistan.” 2019. Long
War Journal, FDD. Accessed June 11, 2019.
50 “U.S.: Taliban continue to profit from drug trade.” 2019. CNN. Accessed June 11, 2019.
51 Piazza, James A. “The Opium Trade and Patterns of Terrorism in the Provinces of Afghanistan:
An Empirical Analysis.” 2012. Terrorism and Political Violence 24 (March): 213-234. Accessed June
11 2019.
52 Hennigan, W.J. “U.S. Military Ends Anti-Drug Campaign in Afghanistan.” 2019. Time. Accessed
June 11 2019.
35
expensive bride price for a fourth wife. Other officials either directly impose taxes upon
opium crops on top of Taliban-imposed fees or solicit bribes to look the other way.53 Even in
provinces where poppy fields have been eradicated, criminal networks comprised of
traffickers, terrorists, and officials continue to stockpile, refine, and transport product across
transnational borders.54
Islamic law-based Government
Afghanistan came under its official constitution in January 2004, after two years of
political upheaval following the fall of the Taliban regime. It is a unitary presidential Islamic
republic and adheres to the tenets of Sunni Islam. While the government shares religious
affiliation with many of the radical Islamist groups within its borders and has expressed
willingness to enter into peace talks with violent non-state actors over the years, it is virtually
unheard of for either to collaborate in any other public capacity. In many cases, the Taliban
and al-Qaeda have outright refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, primarily
because they view the government as a puppet of the United States.55
In an unofficial capacity, however, it is incredibly common for officials in the Afghan
government and militant groups to be involved in the drug trade together, as stated in
previous sections. US intelligence reports confirm that police chiefs commonly collude with
terrorism networks or even foreign agencies in the drug trade. A September 2007 NATO
report warned that a former police chief met a “prominent Taliban leader” in Parwan
province, south-east Afghanistan and instructed his officers to give the Taliban commander
“free passage” across the territory. A second report from that same month said that a police
53 Nordland, Rod. “Corrupt Combatants Fight for Control of Lucrative Afghan Drug Trade.” 2016.
Accessed June 11 2019.
54 Gavrilis, George. “The Good and Bad News about Afghan Opium.” 2010. Council on Foreign
Relations. Accessed June 11, 2019
55 "What's Next In Afghanistan? The Taliban Answer.". 2019. Public Radio International.
Accessed June 11 2019. https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-05-20/whats-next-afghanistan-
taliban-answer.
36
chief ordered his officers not to pursue the Taliban leader, merely described as a “suspected
leader of multiple fighters”.56
One log described how the Islamic Revolutionary Guard recruited a “notorious
[Afghan] criminal” as an intelligence asset. He then returned to the country's south-western
province of Farah and became a police chief, encouraging local farmers to begin cultivating
poppies and then collecting a percentage of their profits as protection fees. Not only did he
divide the province with another corrupt police chief, but he also ordered the killing of a
highway patrolman who opposed his illegal dealings as the patrolman tried to stop a convoy
of smugglers.57 While this particular arrangement between the Afghan citizen and the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard may seem peculiar, Jordan notes that foreign states may become
involved in a corrupt state’s internal affairs to help defend themselves against that state’s
protected criminal activities.58
2. Iran
Located in the center of Central-West Asia, the Islamic Republic of Iran is largely a
transshipment state for illicit narcotics trafficking from Afghanistan into Iraq and Turkey. Its
strategic location and relative isolation from the international community has enabled the
hardline conservative government to effectively dominate domestic politics, sidelining
reformists and suppressing pro-democracy groups.59 A conservative Muslim-majority country,
drug use is forbidden and completely taboo. However, out of a population of 81 million, over
3 million citizens are estimated to be addicts, making Iran home to the world’s highest
56 Norton-Taylor, Richard. 2010. "Leaked Afghanistan Files Reveal Corruption And Drug-
Dealing". The Guardian. Accessed June 11 2019.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/26/leaked-afghanistan-files-corruption-drug-
dealing.
57 Ibid.
58 David Jordan, 1999. p. 69.
59 Eltagouri, Marwa. “Iran protests: Why are people protesting in deadly anti-government unrest?”
2018. The Washington Post. Accessed June 11, 2019.
37
addiction rate at just over 3%.60 This statistic can be attributed to the fact that roughly 60% of
Afghanistan’s outgoing opium product is smuggled through Iran.61
Iran’s relative isolation from the international community means that accurate,
verified data is hard obtain.
Weakened Governmental Institutions
According to the WGI, Iran is the most stable out of the three Islamic Republics in
Central-West Asia, with an average overall percentile ranking between 25 and 50% through
the years 2002 to 2017.62 That being said, political stability, rule of law, and control over
corruption have generally deteriorated over the past decade. Even as rule of law improves, the
government’s control over corruption has steadily declined, dropping from the 32 percentile
to 20 in only two years (20015 to 2017). This figure complements the findings of
Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index, where Iran’s ranking fell
from 130 out of 180 surveyed countries to 130 in a single year.63 Primoz Manfreda, a former
policy analyst at International Council on Security and Development, notes that Iranians
perceive their government as a compromised system of institutions whose officials care more
about money and the perception of power than ideology.64 While continuing to project power
and authority to the international community, clearly Iran’s governmental institutions are
failing to do the same on the home front, as seen in its declining political stability.
Limited Capacity of Anti-Governmental Institutions
Iran ratified the UNCAC on 20 April 2009, and completed its first review process in
November 2016. Given the WGI corruption indicator’s lowering percentile rank, it is
surprising that Iran’s UNCAC implementation review reads as positively as it does. The
60 Porter, Vanda. 2019. "Out With The Old, In With The Old: Iran’S Revolution, Drug Policies, And
Global Drug Markets". Brookings. Accessed June 11 2019.
61 “Afghanistan’s Role In Iran’s Drug Problem”. 2019. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed June
11 2019.
62 2019. The World Bank. Accessed June 11 2019.
http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#home.
63 Transparency. 2019. "Corruption Perceptions Index 2018". Transparency International.
Accessed June 11 2019. https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018.
64 "Freedom Of The Press, And The Political And Economic Situation In Iran".
2019. Thought Co. Accessed June 11 2019.
38
review board’s executive summary cites 15 good practices and 20 implementation
challenges,65 highlighting the implementation of comprehensive measures and the creation of
anti-corruption institutions but pressing the need for additional hard legislation. While the
situation seems equally weighed, the lack of legislative measures and enforcement
mechanisms is a deeply concerning issue. Ultimately, Iran’s challenges outweigh its
successes in complying with the UNCAC. Compounded by the fact that the government has
identified the additional technical assistance need for model legislation on interstate and law
enforcement cooperation and the establishment of joint investigative bodies, Iran has
demonstrated that the capacity of its anti-corruption measures and institutions is still severely
limited, no doubt by its increasing levels of institutional corruption.
Proximity to a Source State
As stated previously, Iran’s location in the region is incredibly strategic, with a
majority of Afghanistan’s opium product is trafficked across its 1,923 km-long shared border.
To combat this, the country has built one of the strongest counter-narcotics enforcement
capabilities in the region. According to 2014’s UNODC World Drug Report, Iran accounted
for 74% of the world's opium seizures and 25% of the world's heroin and morphine seizures
in 2012.66 In spite of this, over 4,000 police and security officers to the anti-drug campaign,
which annually costs the country almost $1 billion and inflicts an annual damage of about
$8.5 billion on Iran's economy.67
While Kan’s assessment of Iran as narcostate is initially correct, his placement on the
narco-state spectrum is misguided. Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) effectively controls
the underground economy as Iran’s chief smuggler, operating as a legitimate mafia-like cartel
65 "Country Profile". 2019. UNODC. Accessed June 11 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/treaties/CAC/country-profile/CountryProfile.html?code=IRN.
66 "World Drug Report". 2019. UNODC. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/wdr2014/.
67 Porter, Vanda. 2019. "Out With The Old, In With The Old: Iran’S Revolution, Drug
Policies, And Global Drug Markets". Brookings. Accessed June 11 2019.
39
that solely regulates all ports, airports, and roads.68 Drug trafficking is a major sector of the
underground economy that the IRGC controls. Iran's interior minister recently declared that
the value of narcotic drug sales in Iran is annually $3 billion, not including commission from
transporting the drugs from Afghanistan to other transit points. The US Department of the
Treasury placed IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Baghbani on the US sanctions list for
drug trafficking.69 As Jordan maintains, narco-states reach the advanced level when their
ministries become complicit in the drug trade. In Iran’s case, its institutions are not merely
complicit – they are the drug trade.
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
While fringe Sunni militant groups like the Balochistan Peoples Front are active in
Iran, this study found no evidence to suggest that they are involved in the drug trade. The
IRGC has monopolized drug trafficking in the transshipment country. It maintains close ties
with the drug cartels in the South and Central America through its proxy Hezbollah, and has
collaborated with the Afghan Taliban to smuggle opium product into the country for years. 70
71 Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah is relatively straightforward: as a proxy, Hezbollah
advocates for the ideologies of Shia Islam and is a destabilizing force in non-Shia societies on
behalf of Iran, receiving funding through the Iranian government and also supplying its own
via drug cultivation and trafficking.72 Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban has had a working
relationship with the IRGC for over a decade, trafficking opium across the border and
utilizing the profit for the shared interest of keeping the Sunni Islamic Republic of
Afghanistan destabilized.
Islamic law-based Government
68 "How Iran's Mafia-Like Revolutionary Guard Rules The Country's Black Market".
2019. Business Insider. Accessed June 11 2019.
69 Ibid.
70 Ibid.
71 "In Afghanistan, U.S. Exits, And Iran Comes In". 2019. The New York Times. Accessed June 11
2019.
72 "DEA Targets Hezbollah's Cash Flow Link To Cartels". 2016. CBS News. Accessed June 11 2019.
40
Operating under the principles of Shia Islam, the Islamic Republic of Iran is interested
in promoting its religious ideology against that of Sunni Islam. This is one of the primary
justifications for wishing to see the two Islamic Republics of Afghanistan and Pakistan keep
in a constant state of stabilization, which contributed to Iran’s growing reputation as the
world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.73 In 2018, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s
Hezbollah urged supporters to support Iranian expansionism as new Western sanctions were
levied against the country.74 While Hezbollah denies any involvement in the drug trade, and
Iran has repeatedly denied its ties with both the drug trade and the Afghan Taliban,
Nasrallah’s comments point to the fact that Iran continues to maintain public relationships
with violent non-state actors.
Iran’s relationship with the Afghan Taliban is slightly more complex than its
relationship with Hezbollah. As a Sunni insurgent group and a Shiite military institution, the
Taliban and the IRGC should not be collaborating with each other on principle. However, it
appears that in this particular case, as factored into consideration by the Corruption
Perception Index, the Iranian government has consistently shown its people that it prioritizes
money and influence over ideology. Iranian-Taliban relations are based off the same desire –
to see the region destabilized – and are mutually reciprocal: the IRGC pays to traffic opium
through Iran and profit off of high demand in the Gulf states, and the Taliban uses that
payment to fund its terrorism operations. Although their ideologies differ, their motivations
are the same.
3. Lebanon
A narco-state situated in the Levant region of West Asia, Lebanon is considered a
gateway into much of southern Europe due to its border with the Mediterranean Sea. Kan
classifies it as a hybrid state due to its heavy trafficking flows, and while this paper concurs
with this assertion, this study’s observation of Lebanon’s increasing reputation as a producer
73 "State Sponsorship Of Terrorism". 2019. UANI. Accessed June 11 2019.
74 "Hezbollah Rallies Behind Iran Ahead Of New Sanctions, Boasts New Missiles".
2019. Kurdistan24. Accessed June 11 2019.
41
of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS)75 has led it to the conclusion that Lebanon ought to be
classified as a stage three – serious narco-state as opposed to just stage two – developing. A
parliamentary democracy with a de jure mix of religion and politics,76 Lebanon’s
governmental system is specifically designed to deter sectarian conflict. Certain high-ranking
offices are reserved for members of specific religious groups: Sunni Muslim, Shi’a Muslim,
Maronite Christian, and Eastern Orthodox. Although designated as only “Partly Free” by
Freedom House, the country is still widely considered the most democratic Arab state in West
Asia.77 Ratified international treaties are incorporated into Lebanon’s domestic legal system
and are given supremacy over domestic law.
Weakened Governmental Institutions
While Lebanon averaged in the WGI’s overall 25-50 percentile rank in 2002, of the
international military intervention against ISIL in the mid-2010s led to a steady decline in
absence of violence/terrorism, forcing the country into the lower 10-25 percentile.78 The rise
political instability contributed to declines in control over corruption and rule of law.
Limited Capacity of Anti-Corruption Institutions
Lebanon ratified the UNCAC on April 22, 2009 and completed its first round of
review in 2015. The review group found that although Lebanon criminalizes active and
passive bribery, indirect commission of acts of bribery are not addressed. Furthermore,
bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organizations is not
criminalized, and Lebanon does not criminalize active trading in influence. Interestingly, the
75 Kan 2016.
76 Also known as confessionalism.
[“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002: Lebanon”. Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor. 31 March 2003. Accessed June 11 2019.]
77 “Freedom in the World, Country Ratings by Region, 1972–2013”. Freedom House. Archived from
the original on 21 October 2013. Accessed June 11 2019.
78 2019. The World Bank. Accessed June 11 2019. http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#home.
42
law also does not criminalize preparation for offenses of corruption unless the preparation
itself includes criminal acts.79
While a public official’s immunity from prosecution appears limited in scope and
extent, possibilities to prosecute dependent upon approval. Disciplinary measures for civil
servants and judges are adequately regulated and include transfer, reassignment, and
suspension. Lebanon has fully implemented Law No. 318 of 20 April 2001 Fighting Money-
laundering and criminalizing the laundering of criminal proceeds, which includes the
growing, manufacturing, and trading of narcotics. Terrorism and drug trafficking convictions
are excluded from possibility of early release and sentence reduction. However, crimes
relevant to cultivation of drugs or drug trafficking are considered ‘shameful misdemeanors’.80
Lebanon has been successful in implementing systems of early release and parole, and
taking considerable effort to harmonize the domestic legal system with the international
Convention’s criminalization and law enforcement provisions. However, its legalization of
various forms of bribery, trading of influence, illicit enrichment, and intimidation of public
officials are all causes of concern. Overall, it appears than Lebanon’s criminal justice system
is more transparent than other Central-West Asian narco-states, but its banking system is still
a hub for money laundering. In 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on
money launderer Kassem Chams and his network for moving tens of millions of dollars a
month in illicit narcotics proceeds on behalf of drug traffickers to facilitate funding for
Hezbollah.81
Proximity to a Source State
Unlike most narco-states in the region, Lebanon does not share a border with
Afghanistan, separated by Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Though lower on the narco-state spectrum,82
79 UNODC. 2019. "Lebanon Country Profile". Accessed June 12 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/treaties/CAC/country-profile/CountryProfile.html?code=LBN.
80 Ibid.
81 "U.S. Sanctions Lebanese Network For Laundering Drug Money, Aiding Hezbollah". 2019. UPI.
Accessed June 12 2019.
82 Kan, 2016.
43
Lebanon is notorious not only for its historic position as a transit state, but also for supplying
a large portion the Levant region’s cannabis crop. Its Beqaa Valley region has stood as the
Levantine region’s primary drug cultivation source for decades.83 Lebanon emerged as a
primary producer of ATS in the 2010s, trafficking designer drugs like Captagon to a
demanding market in the Arabian Gulf states; in 2015, ATS abuse accounted for more than
62% of all admissions to Saudi rehab clinics.84 It also traffics fenethylene, hashish, and some
opium from Latin America and Southwest Asia.85
Because of its role as both a supplier and a trafficker, it is classified as a hybrid narco-
state,86 though since the United States began funding yearly crop eradication efforts in the
Beqaa Valley, its production rates remain a small fraction of its former total output.87 In 2018,
the Lebanese government considered a proposal to legalize cannabis cultivation as a means of
rescuing the ailing war-torn economy and stopping the continuation of violent confrontations
between cannabis farmers and the military in Beqaa, who have taken over a majority of the
crop burnings. However, an issue that arose from the proposal was amnesty from the 42,000
outstanding arrest warrants issues upon the citizens of Beqaa, who have once again been
driven to cannabis farming full-time because of conflict and governmental neglect in the
region.88
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
Islamic insurgency in Lebanon is a mixed bag, primarily because of the Lebanese
government’s complex relationship with Hezbollah. The Shiite group is both an Islamist
83 "Lebanese Find Troubles Fertile Ground For Cannabis". 2007. Reuters U.K. Accessed June 12
84 Barzoukas, Georgios. “Drug trafficking in the MENA: The economics and the politics.” 2017.
European Union Institute for Security Studies. Accessed June 12 2019.
85 2019. Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/print_2086.html.
86 Kan, 2016.
87 "Lebanese Find Troubles Fertile Ground For Cannabis". 2007. Reuters.
88 "Budding Business: How Cannabis Could Transform Lebanon". 2018. The Guardian. Accessed
June 12 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/18/budding-business-how-cannabis-
could-transform-lebanon.
44
political party and a radical militant faction in the country, and unlike in America, the Gulf
states, and Europe, it is not considered a terrorist organization, but rather a ‘resistance
group’.89 However, its guerilla campaigns in the southern regions against Israel and support
for the Bosnians during the Bosnian War and the Syrian regime during the Syrian Civil War
have had devastating consequences. While Hezbollah has condemned Islamist group attacks
on civilians in the past, such as al-Qaeda’s 2001 attack on the World Trade Center90 and ISIL
attacks in Paris,91 during Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield Hassan Nasrallah defend and
praised Palestinian suicide bombings targeting Israeli citizens.92
Hezbollah has maintained its underground trafficking network for years. In 2008,
German authorities at Frankfurt airport arrested two Lebanese men carrying over €8 million
earned in a cocaine smuggling ring. The two were trained at Hezbollah camps, and the
smuggling operation was Hezbollah-funded. In 2009, two more men from the same ring were
arrested while in the process of trafficking narcotics from Beirut into Europe. US
investigations into West African drug trade sources found that Hezbollah is a major player in
the transit of drugs and money from South America to Europe and the Middle East via West
Africa.93 As of 2019, Hezbollah maintains active cells in Venezuela’s Tri-Border region,
working to establish a vast infrastructure for drug trafficking, money laundering, and illicit
smuggling.94 Despite this, Lebanon still collaborates with Hezbollah as a political institution
89 "Lebanon's Hezbollah Rejects Britain's Move To Ban It". 2019. AP News. Accessed June 12 2019.
90 Co-Director Center for Contemporary Conflict James A Russell, PhD, James A. Russell, James J.
Wirtz, Professor of National Security Affairs James J Wirtz, eds. (2009). Globalization and WMD
Proliferation: Terrorism, Transnational Networks and International Security. Routledge. p. 86.
91 "Hezbollah Chief Condemns Paris Attacks". 2019. The New York Times - Video. Accessed June
12 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/video/multimedia/100000004038242/hezbollah-chief-condemns-
paris-attacks.html.
92 Adam Shatz (29 April 2004). "In Search of Hezbollah". The New York Review of Books.
Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Accessed June 12 2019.
93 "Hezbollah As A Criminal Organisation". 2019. The Washington Institute. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/hezbollah-as-a-criminal-organisation.
94 Clarke et al. 2019. "Hezbollah Is In Venezuela To Stay". Foreign Policy. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/02/09/hezbollah-is-in-venezuela-to-stay/.
45
and allows its paramilitary branch to continue to conduct operations. It also seeks to actively
protect Hezbollah’s cocaine trade in Latin America, a decision that speaks not only to
Hezbollah’s heavy penetration into Lebanon’s state institutions but also the government’s
dependency upon the organization.95 In May 2018, Hezbollah and affiliated groups and
individuals won 70 of Lebanese parliament’s 128 seats, over 54% majority.96
In 2014, the Sunni militant groups Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the
al-Nusra Front began capturing territory in Lebanon as part of spill-over conflict from the
Syrian Civil War. Clashes between themselves and with Hezbollah and the Lebanese military
occurred until the Qalamoun offensive put an end to most of the violent conflict in 2017. In
2015, ISIL merged with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to form a ‘worldwide caliphate’
under the inclusive title of the ‘Islamic State’. Al-Nusra similarly merged with other militant
groups into Tahrir al-Sham in 2017, which periodically continues smaller excursions in
Lebanon.97 Both have been implicated in drug trafficking operations over the past decade,
though not always in Lebanon.
Islamic law-based Government
Lebanon is a secular government in name and structure, but its system of
confessionism within its parliamentary democracy has given a voice to its numerous and
powerful religious institutions. Lebanon’s own legal system is a mixture of civil law, Islamic
law, and Ottoman law, with each major religion has its own family and religious court
system.98 At 58% of the population, Islam is the predominant religion in Lebanon: Sunni and
Ja’afari Shi’a Islamic law has governed the legal personal status of Lebanese Muslims since
95 Ottolenghi, Walt, Traub, and Walt. 2018. "Lebanon Is Protecting Hezbollah’S Cocaine Trade In
Latin America". Foreign Policy. Accessed June 12 2019.
96 "Factbox: Hezbollah And Allies Gain Sway In Lebanon Parliament". 2019. Reuters. Accessed June
12 2019.
97 Middle East Report. “The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Iblib.” 2019. Crisis Group. Accessed
June 12 2019.
98 “The Lebanese Constitution promulgated on May 23, 1926, with its Amendments”. World
Intellectual Property Organization. Archived from the original on 24 September 2017. Accessed June
12 2019.
46
1962.99 100 Of the total Muslim population, Sunni Islam is the most popular branch at roughly
29%.101
Drug trafficking is technically criminalized in Lebanon. Over 2 tons of ATS and 8
tons of hashish were seized across the country in 2016 alone,102 and the military continues its
crop eradication efforts in the Beqaa Valley annually. However, given that Hezbollah, which
took a majority of the seats in the country’s parliament during the 2018 election, effectively
controls the state and its legal institutions, it is more than likely that these numbers will
decrease in the coming years. This trend can already be seen in previous UNODC annual
seizure reports; as Hezbollah continued to gain seats in the parliament, ATS-Captagon
seizures dropped from over 6 tons to 2 between the years 2014 and 2016.103
4. Pakistan
A transshipment state located underneath Afghanistan with Iran to the west, Pakistan
is the third and final state to comprise the Golden Crescent. It faces significant issues with
combatting transnational organized crime, including illicit trafficking and border
management. Since 2001, Pakistan has followed a 'zero tolerance policy' towards poppy
cultivation.104 The country serves as a hotbed from Islamic extremism, with 61,000 people
killed in terrorist attacks associated with Taliban, separatists, and sectarian militants since
2003. Terrorist organizations, armed sectarian outfits, nationalist insurgents, armed drug
traffickers, and extortionists have consistently contested Pakistan’s sovereignty. Such groups
99 “Middle East :: Lebanon — The World Factbook”. Central Intelligence Agency, United States.
Accessed June 12 2019.
100 “Women In Personal Status Laws: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria.” (PDF). SHS Papers
in Women’s Studies/ Gender Research, No. 4. UNESCO. July 2005. Accessed June 12 2019.
101 “International Religious Freedom Report for 2017”. United States Department of State.
Accessed June 12 2019.
102 “Map Of Annual Seizures | Statistics And Data”. 2019. UNODC. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://dataunodc.un.org/drugs/seizures
103 Ibid.
104 "Country Profile". 2019. UNODC. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/pakistan/en/country-profile.html.
47
typically operate from the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) in South and North
Waziristan.105 Post 9/11, identity conflicts in Pakistan have dramatically increased, leading to
a rise in militant Islamic extremism.
Weakened Governmental Institutions
In comparison to the WGI indicators of the other two Islamic Republics in this study,
Pakistan’s overall capability of good governance appears to fall in between that of
Afghanistan and Iran. No doubt due to extremely close proximity, its political stability and
lack of violence/terrorism indicator mirrors Afghanistan’s, with both having stayed between
the 0 and 10 percentiles since 2002. However, despite experiencing these extremely high
levels of violent conflict, its rule of law and control over corruption indicator percentiles are
surprisingly high. Pakistan’s rule of law indicator is more or less on par with Iran’s, between
the 10 and 25 percentile range (Iran barely edged ahead into the 26th percentile in 2016), and
Limited Capacity of Anti-Corruption Institutions
It should be noted that like Lebanon, international treaties are incorporated into
domestic law in Pakistan. While the legal system is derived from an English framework, it
includes serious provisions for Shariah law.106 Pakistan ratified in August 2007, and
completed its review of implementation in 2016. Amongst its generally successes include the
extension of powers of the National Accountability Bureau, an autonomous and
constitutionally established federal institution responsible to build efforts against corruption,
and other like agencies.107 Data collection in corruption incidents are slim to none, and
Pakistan lacks both witness protection programs and a whistler-blower system, all challenges
to implementation that the review group stressed in its executive report.108 For the effective
105 "Detail". 2019. BTI Project. Accessed June 12 2019. https://www.bti-
project.org/en/reports/country-reports/detail/itc/PAK/.
106 "Country Profile". 2019. Unodc.Org. Accessed June 12 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/treaties/CAC/country-profile/CountryProfile.html?code=PAK.
107 Ibid.
108 Ibid.
48
enforcement on asset recovery, the group identified the need establish a clear guideline for
the handing of seized and confiscated assets along with a centralized asset management
office. Stronger international law enforcement, judicial cooperation, and the adoption of
mutual legal assistance law were also identified in the recommendations.109
The international community’s vehement support for the National Accountability
Bureau looks promising. The UNODC frequently collaborates with the Bureau on initiatives,
and in 2018, the World Economic Forum lauded its successes in corruption eradication.110 As
seen in the WGI, even as Pakistan’s political stability plummets through the floor, its efforts
to reduce corruption have not fallen by the wayside: its control over corruption indicator
bounced back from the 18 to the 23 percentile in 2017. Noting the fact that both Afghan
opium production and Pakistani drug addiction rates are on the rise,111 it is curious to see a
decline in Pakistan’s governmental corruption rating.112
It should be noted that Pakistan does possess an independent judicial system and a
sizeable press that have the capabilities to investigate and expose corrupt practices; its WGI
accountability indicator is the highest of the Golden Crescent states.113 Parliamentary
oversight committees and executive branch agencies also work against corruption, though
often with limited consequences. Pakistan’s vulnerability to drug trafficking is usually
exploited through bribes to border and local officials to allow the unchecked movement of
illicit substances, but this is not thought to have many major influences on senior-level
government policy or law enforcement.
109 "Pakistan Launches Its First Review Report In Compliance With The Implementation
Review Mechanism Of The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)".
2019. UNODC. Accessed June 12 2019.
110 "WEF Lauds NAB, Ranks Pakistan At 107 On New GCI Index". 2019. Pakistan Today.
Accessed June 12 2019.
111 P, Ghazal. "Rising Trend Of Substance Abuse In Pakistan: A Study Of Sociodemographic
Profiles Of Patients Admitted To Rehabilitation Centres.” 2019. National Center for
Biomedical Technology Information.
112 Transparency. 2019. "Corruption Perceptions Index 2018". Transparency International.
Accessed June 12 2019. https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018.
113 2019. The World Bank. Accessed June 13 2019.
http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#reports.
49
Proximity to a Source State
Pakistan is in a geographically vulnerable position. It shares a 2,2000 km-long border
called the Durand Line with Afghanistan, although the Afghan government does not
recognize it as a legitimate international boundary.114 Given its constant state of lawlessness
and Pakistan’s limited enforcement capabilities, it is considered the most dangerous border in
the world.115 The 2015 UNODC report concludes that 45 percent of Afghanistan’s opiates are
trafficked through Pakistan, perpetuating use and abuse amongst Pakistan’s 6.7 million drug
users. The rise in drug cultivation, trafficking, smuggling, and addiction signifies that the
narcotics problem in Pakistan is only worsening. In fact, Pakistan’s drug addiction death toll
was last estimated at 700 people a day, a far greater number than terrorism, which kills
roughly 39 people a day.116
Unlike neighboring Islamic republics, Pakistan does not meet the qualifications of a
stage five-advanced narco-state (Kan ranks it as stage four – critical). Although its close
proximity to Afghanistan makes this finding initially surprising, as stated previously, Pakistan
has doubled down on its mission to combat corruption over the recent years. The fact that
drug trade-related corruption also does not typically enter the upper echelons of this
government also contributes to the spectrum ranking.
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
Just like in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the predominant Islamist
militant organizations in Pakistan. Because the Taliban situates itself in the regions along the
Durand Line, it affects political stability in both states. When Pakistan decided to support
U.S. foreign policy post-9/11, it effectively declared war against the Taliban, which was
114 Siddiqui, Naveed (5 March 2017). "Afghanistan will never recognise the Durand Line: Hamid
Karzai". Dawn. Accessed June 12 2019.
115 Walker, Philip (24 June 2011). "The World's Most Dangerous Borders: Afghanistan and
Pakistan". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 31 December 2011. Accessed June 12 2019.
116 Ahmed, Walt, Traub, and Walt. 2015. "Heroin And Extremism In Pakistan". Foreign Policy.
Accessed June 12 2019.
50
harboring Osama bin Laden inside Pakistani territory.117 Pakistan’s initial goal through the
ongoing conflict was to see Afghanistan finally stabilized, which would have had a positive
ripple effect across Pakistan as well, but Afghanistan’s continued encroachment across the
Durand Line has made the Pakistani government reconsider its priorities in recent years.
Following bin Laden’s death in 2011, Pakistani intelligence forces began moving to shut
down the massive informant network to led the Americans to his compound in Abbottabad,
which included rooting out al Qaeda insurgents.118
Several high-ranking military and government officials have publically acknowledged
how instability has perpetuated Pakistan’s drug problem, but very few are willing to admit
just how serious the issue really is. Despite comments made in the past by the Chief of Army
Staff and the Interior Minister consistently recognizing the nexus between drugs and
terrorism in Pakistan and the need to eradicate drug-funded terrorism, many leaders continue
to deny any link.119 The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and other government ministries have
outright denied that the Afghan drug trade funds terrorism, stating that they could not find
any evidence of drug-funded terrorism. In 2014, a senior ANF official said that the militant
Taliban-affiliated group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was not receiving any financial
support from the Afghan Taliban, effectively denying that Afghan Taliban funnels drug
money into Pakistan.120 One senator blamed the CIA, accusing the American agency of using
drug money to finance TTP. Major General Zafar Iqbal, the Director of the ANF, claimed that
drug smuggling “could not be leveled” against al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any other specific
militant or terrorist group operating in Pakistani territory.121
Islamic law-based Government
117 Akhtar, Nasreen. "Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Taliban." International Journal on World
Peace 25, no. 4 (2008): 49-73.
118 “Pakistan Arrests C.I.A. Informants in Bin Laden Raid.” The New York Times, 14 June 2011.
119 Ahmed, Walt, Traub, and Walt. 2015. "Heroin And Extremism In Pakistan".
120 Ibid.
121 Ibid.
51
A parliamentary democratic republic, Pakistan has been under the same Constitution
that declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic and Islam the state religion since 1973.
Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the 6th President of Pakistan, established separate Shariat judicial
courts and court benches to judge legal cases utilizing Sunni Islamic doctrine. 122 Shi’a
Muslims are a minority in Pakistan.123 Like Afghanistan, the Pakistani government shares
religious affiliation with many of the radical Islamist groups within its borders. Unlike
Afghanistan, however, it publically denounced all involvement with them and outright
refused to negotiate with them on multiple occasions.
However, according to Schrinker (2017), major offensives by the Afghan Taliban in
northwest Pakistan coincide with a suspicious decrease in the number of Pakistani military
incursions into the region.124 Likewise, Rashid (2008) notes that Pakistan plays a ‘double-
game’ by covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban while outwardly projecting the appearance
of militant crackdowns. While Pakistan’s military incursions into tribal areas controlled by
Islamist militants bolster the government’s claims of going after the Taliban, closer analysis
suggests that elements within the Pakistani military dial back pressure on the tribal areas
when the Afghan Taliban is most vulnerable. “In this regard, it appears that a subset of
Pakistan’s military is careful to avoid jeopardizing their ties to the Afghan Taliban, which
they view as a strategic asset in Pakistan’s long-standing conflict with India.”125 This
connection explains why Pakistani authorities are so unwilling to acknowledge the Taliban’s
drug trafficking ventures, as government officials typically do not appreciate being
implicated in illicit dealings with terrorists or criminal syndicates.
122 Wynbrandt, James (2009). A Brief History of Pakistan. Facts on File. pp. 216–7. ISBN 978-0-
8160-6184-6.
123 “The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity”. Pew Research Center. 9 August 2012. Accessed
June 12 2019.
124 Schricker, Ezra. “The Search for Rebel Interdependence: A Study of the Afghan and Pakistani
Taliban.” Journal of Peace Research 54, no. 1 (January 2017): 16–30.
doi:10.1177/0022343316668570.
125 Rashid, Ahmed (2008) “Descent into Chaos: The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan,
and Central Asia.” New York: Viking.
52
5. Syrian Arab Republic
Another Levantine narco-state, Syria’s deteriorating condition and civil war has
fostered terrorism and transnational crime on a mass scale. In 2019, the Global Peace Index
ranked the country 162 out of 163 countries, making it the second least peaceful country in
the world after Afghanistan.126 Plagued by a collection of VNSAs, including Hezbollah and
the Islamic State, the Assad regime has also contributed to national insecurity through its use
of chemical attacks on civilians and continued alliance with the Russian Federation, which
has been accused to perpetuating human rights abuses in the region. Syria’s constant state of
conflict has enabled trafficking networks to flourish where the state’s judicial system and law
enforcement agencies have failed, thereby earning itself status as a stage three – serious
narco-state.
Weakened Governmental Institutions
In the midst of a violent civil war that has displaced roughly 13 million civilians,127
President Bashar al-Assad continues utilize Syria’s instability to consolidate his executive
authority into an authoritarian regime. It has declined to the first, second, and third
percentiles in every single WGI indicator, including political stability, rule of law, and control
over corruption.128 Political stability has been nearly non-existent since the start of the war in
2011, with rule of law continuing to drop at a slower but steady rate. Even though the WGI
shows that of the three indicators measured up until 2017 Syria’s control of corruption scored
the highest, this bears no effect on the general assessment due to the fact that as a whole
Syria’s capability of good governance in any indicator only reaches up into the 3rd percentile.
126 2019. "Global Peace Index 2019". Vision Of Humanity. Accessed June 13 2019.
http://visionofhumanity.org/reports/.
127 "Syrian Refugee Crisis: Facts, Faqs, And How To Help | World Vision". 2019. World Vision.
Accessed June 13 2019. https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-
facts.
128 2019. The World Bank. Accessed June 13 2019.
http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#reports.
53
The scoring of these indicators illustrate that Syria’s governmental institutions as they
exercise and enforce rule of law have completely failed.
Describing Syria’s institutional challenges, the Heritage Foundation in 2010 reported,
“The regulatory and legal frameworks are deficient, and persistent state influence in most
areas of the economy suppresses market competition. The judicial system is inefficient and
remains vulnerable to political influence and widespread corruption. Average tariffs are high,
keeping trade freedom far below the world average.”129 Nine years later, these problems have
continued to persist. As the Heritage Foundation noted in its most recent report, government
institutions continued to lack public accountability, facilitating corruption. “Rule of law is
weak, and the government occasionally has seized properties and businesses of political
opponents. Leaders of the regime’s constitutionally protected Baath Party dominate all
branches of government and act with impunity. Those who question or go against state policy
face harassment, imprisonment, or death.”130
Had Syria been a democracy, this assessment would prove that Syria a failed state, as
Syria is a unitary republic with a presidential-style government in name. However, Syria’s
ruling parties practice an extreme form of authoritarianism that has culminated in the
decades-long regime of the al-Assad family. With Bashar al-Assad in power and capable of
exercising absolute authority over a large amount of territory within Syria’s traditional
borders, the failure of all other institutions except the executive does not yet constitute Syria
as a failed state because the Assad regime still has an monopoly on the physical use of force
within the territories it still controls. This distinction is important because it separates the
classification of failed state from the narco-state paradigm, the latter of which this paper is
attempting to prove that Syria fits into.
Limited Capacity of Anti-Corruption Institutions
129 "2010 Index of Economic Freedom, Ten Economic Freedoms of Syria," Heritage Foundation,
Washington, D.C., accessed May 4, 2010.
130 "Syria Economy: Population, GDP, Inflation, Business, Trade, FDI, Corruption". 2019. Heritage
Foundation. Accessed June 16 2019. https://www.heritage.org/index/country/syria.
54
As the WGI indicator alludes to, Syria’s anti-corruption institutions possess extremely
limited capacity to enforce their mandates. Although the civil war has affected this capacity to
a large extent, it should be noted that even prior to the conflict, while Syria ratified the
UNTOC in 2009, it did not ratify the UNCAC. The U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre
points out that states often sign but do not ratify treaties because the legal basis for adoption
has not yet been prepared. Considering that the civil war broke out two years later, this reality
explains why Syria still has not adopted the binding agreement.
However, not being a signatory to the UNCAC does give the Syrian government
leeway to define and prosecute incidences of corruption as it deems necessary. Considering
the authoritarian nature of the al-Assad regime and its weak democratic foundations, it is
unsurprising that this combination is a recipe for disaster. Transparency International ranked
Syria at the tail end of its 2019 Global Transparency Index with a score of 13 out of 100, the
third most corrupt country in the world after Libya and Somalia.131
On Syria’s anti-drug institutions, the US State Department’s 2010 International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) states in the corruption section in its most recent
Syria country report that “The Syrian government has an Investigations Administration
(Internal Affairs Division) responsible for weeding out corrupt officers in the counter-
narcotics unit and the national police force. The Investigations Administration is independent
of both the counter-narcotics unit and the national police and reports directly to the Minister
of Interior.”132 However, the Syrian government does not release detailed reports on
corruption investigations. The report also notes that the government of Syria does not
officially encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotic or psychotropic
131 "Syria Ranked As One Of The Most Corrupt Countries In The World - The Syrian Observer".
2019. The Syrian Observer. Accessed June 16 2019. https://syrianobserver.com/EN/news/48313/syria-
ranked-as-one-of-the-most-corrupt-countries-in-the-world.html.
132 "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report". 2009-2017. US State Department. Accessed
June 16 2019. https://2009-2017.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2010/index.htm.
55
drugs or other controlled substances, or the laundering of proceeds from illegal
transactions.133
Proximity to a Source State
Located in the Levant region of West Asia, the Syrian Arab Republic shares a western
border with Lebanon and an eastern border with Iraq, through which it sees a portion of
Afghan opium products transshipped from Iran. Syria’s reputable place in geo-narcotics as a
transshipment state into Europe and the Gulf states is well-known, and less-so as a source
state in itself, although developments within recent years have since challenged that notion.
For reasons elaborated upon hereafter, Syria can best be described as a hybrid state. Its dual
nature as a source and transshipment country seemingly contradicts the
As discussed in Lebanon’s case study, the Beqaa Valley has stood as the Levantine
region’s primary drug cultivation source for decades.134 However, due to the rising demand
for amphetamine-type stimulants in Syria’s conflict zones, ATS production has shifted out of
the Beqaa Valley and into Syria. Also referred to as the “jihadi drug” due to its use as a battle
enhancement, the demand for Captagon skyrocketed with the start of the Syrian Civil War in
2011, with fighters from all affiliations appearing to be under its influence. The stimulant is
also in high demand in the Gulf States, where its reputation as a party drug led the Saudi
government to label it specifically as a “national shame.”
Kravitz and Nichols note that the stimulant Captagon has become especially prevalent
in Syria’s drug trade: “patterns of confiscations led many to conclude that Syria was the new
Captagon capital of the world. Because of this, many have associated the drug’s boom with
the conflict. Indeed, there has been a substantial decrease in Captagon confiscations in former
centers of production, such as Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. International counterdrug agencies
133 Ibid.
134 "Lebanese Find Troubles Fertile Ground For Cannabis". 2007. Reuters U.K. Accessed June 12,
2019.
56
have noticed these trends, identifying Syria as the major production point for this
substance.”135
Kravitz and Nichols also found evidence strongly indicating that Hezbollah and their
associated Syrian military connections are responsible for the increase in Syria’s Captagon
production and distribution. Sources connected to the closure of the production sites in the
Bekaa Valley state that the equipment for these operations were moved across the border into
Syria. Seeing as the Syrian economy is near collapse, leaving the Assad regime in desperate
need of income, it is more than likely that the Syrian government sees the production and
distribution of Captagon as a much more self-sustaining solution than hard-currency transfers
from allies in Russia and Iran. Furthermore, the Assad regime’s history of informal
involvement in drug smuggling throughout Syria makes this scenario even more likely,
especially since the Captagon trade profits immensely from high demand in Gulf, where an
image of piety and righteousness run counter to increasing problems with illicit drugs and
perpetuate public denial of the issue.
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
As mentioned previously, Hezbollah has been assisting the Assad regime within Syria
and trafficking Captagon across its borders since the start of the civil war. This bears no
further elaboration. Interestingly enough, however, the most famous insurgent presence in
Syria – the Islamic State – does not have a reputation as a trafficker of the illicit substance.
Kravitz and Nichols did not find that Salafist organizations like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS
were producing or trafficking Captagon, having previously demonstrated harsh intolerance
for substance abuse and having various other streams of income like oil smuggling,
kidnapping for ransom, and direct donations from supporters. However, Kravitz and Nichols
do note that should those cash flows be disrupted, the Islamic State may not be above
135 Kravitz and Nichols. 2016. “A Bitter Pill To Swallow: Connections Between Captagon, And The
Gulf.” JIA SIPA. Accessed June 17 2019.
57
changing its position and choosing to tax the drug in transit to make a profit,136 illustrated in
the organization’s implication in cigarette smuggling in 2014.137
The Jabhat al-Nusra (now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS) and the Islamic State’s
harsh stance on drugs is curious when compared to those of other Islamic extremist
organizations in Central-West Asia. The Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the IRGC all traffic narcotics
while emphasizing a return to strict adherence of Sharia law, which severely punishes drug
abuse. In contrast, the Islamic State heavily penalizes drug use of any kind and enforces it,
reportedly cutting off hands to punish those found in possession of cigarettes. Both Jabhat al-
Nusra and the Islamic State also demonstrated a pattern of intolerance and combativeness
towards other illicit industries like hashish.138 Because Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Islamic
State, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban all share ideologies rotted in Sunni Islam, one might be
forgiven for assuming that all of these organizations would approach drug trafficking with the
same distain. As seen with the histories of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the opium trade, this
does not appear to be the case.
Variations in goals and targets separate the VNSAs of the Levant region from the
VNSAs in the Golden Crescent. Byman states that while Al Qaeda’s ultimate goal is to
overthrow corrupt “apostate” regimes in the Middle East and replace them with “true”
Islamic governments, its main enemy and target is United States. Al Qaeda believes it will
eventually induce the United States to end support for these Muslim state regimes and
withdraw from the region altogether, thus leaving the regimes vulnerable to internal attack.
The Islamic State, meanwhile, targets “apostates’ like the Asad regime in Syria and the Abadi
regime in Iraq, favoring the purification of the Islamic community (ummah) by attacking
136 Ibid.
137 Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart. December 25, 2014. “Exclusive: Islamic
State
sanctioned organ harvesting in document taken in U.S. raid.” Accessed June 23, 2019.
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-islamic-state-documentsidUSKBN0U805R20151225.
138 Kravitz and Nichols. 2016.
58
Shi’a and other religious minorities as well as rival jihadist groups.139 The Islamic State
valuing of the purification of the ummah first explains why it is not as actively involved in
the trade of illicit narcotics.
Perhaps the most confusing differentiation is between Al-Qaeda and Hayat Tahrir al-
Sham, an Al-Qaeda splinter group and current affiliate. Despite HTS’s claims to the contrary,
the Combating Terrorism Center reported that the group is still largely the same al-Qaeda-
aligned group it was, back when it was al-Nusra.140 If this is true, then HTS in theory would
have little problem with trafficking drugs like Al-Qaeda does. However, like the Islamic
State, HTS does not appear to be heavily involved in the trade, instead targeting drug
trafficking networks. The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium reported that on June
12, 2019, HTS militants arrested drug traffickers and confiscated drugs near Idlib, Syria.141 It
could be that like the Islamic State, HTS also possesses enough revenue from oil smuggling,
ransom kidnappings, and direct donations to afford to prioritize ideology over any additional
profits that could be made from the haram drug trade.
Islamic law-based Government
Despite efforts by VNSAs within Syria and Shiite Hezbollah, the Syrian Arab
Republic under Bashar al-Assad remains a secular state. Assad has been able to resist
pressures from violent extremists in part because he has been able to retain the active or
implicit support of key segments of the Syrian population through the manipulation of
sectarian identities. As Phillips points out, both Hafez and Bashar al-Assad won support from
Alawis, Christians (8 percent of the population), and Druze (3 percent), as well as secularists
139 Byman, Daniel. 2019. "Comparing Al Qaeda And ISIS: Different Goals, Different Targets".
Brookings. Accessed June 23 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/comparing-al-qaeda-and-
isis-different-goals-different-targets/.
140 Combating Terrorism Center At West Point. 2017. "The Formation Of Hay’At Tahrir Al-Sham
And Wider Tensions In The Syrian Insurgency – Combating Terrorism Center At West Point".
141 Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium. 2019. "(Photo) Hayy'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS)
Detected Drug Traffickers - 12 June 2019 | Chatter Control | TRAC". Accessed June 23 2019.
https://www.trackingterrorism.org/chatter/photo-hayyat-tahrir-al-sham-hts-detected-drug-traffickers-
12-june-2019.
59
within the Sunni Arab population (65 percent).142 By presenting themselves as secular
defenders of religious pluralism and falsely characterizing protesters as violent Islamists, the
Assad regime has continued to garner enough support from the Syrian population to keep
itself in power.
While there is evidence that the Assad regime has contributed to the trafficking of
illicit narcotics, it has always been in an unofficial capacity. Likewise, the chaos of the Syrian
Civil War and less-than-transparent workings of the remaining sectors of the police and
judicial systems within the Syrian government make placing Syria’s exact location on the
narco-state spectrum extremely difficult. Any assumption on its status that cannot be backed
up by valid sources, no matter how concrete that assumption may be, cannot be documented
as valid information in this study. This case study has paid due consideration to Hezbollah’s
heavy involvement in the Captagon trade, its ties to the Syrian regime, and the potential for
the regime to be involved in the drug with Hezbollah. However, it cannot recommend in good
conscience Syria’s placement on the narco-state spectrum as anything higher than stage three
– serious, as to do so would be relying strictly upon hearsay.
6. Tajikistan
Like Afghanistan’s other neighboring narco-states, the Republic of Tajikistan is a
transshipment state. It faces issues with significant consumer of opiates linked to its location.
Between Afghan opiate production to the south and the illicit drug markets of Russia and
Eastern Europe to the north, it possesses one of the highest volume illicit drug trafficking
routes in the world. While existent, its illicit poppy cultivation is largely for domestic
consumption.143 The majority of Tajik domestic counterterrorism activities target
organizations and individuals allegedly linked to violent Islamist extremism in Tajikistan, but
142 Phillips, Christopher. 2018. "The World Abetted Assad's Victory In Syria". The Atlantic.
Accessed June 23 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/08/assad-victory-
syria/566522/.
60
because the government views northern Afghanistan as the primary source of terrorist
activity, continued steps to strengthen border defense capabilities have been taken.144
Paoli et al first explored Tajikistan’s rise as a narco-state in 2007, finding that in
Tajikistan the leaders “of the most powerful trafficking groups occupy high-ranking
government positions and misuse state structures for their own illicit businesses.”145 Kan cites
Paoli’s study as he classifies Tajikistan as a stage four – critical narco-state. This study found
that Tajikistan’s stage four classification remains valid. Unlike Lebanon, Syria, and
Uzbekistan, the Republic of Tajikistan places higher on the narco-state spectrum, making it
an outlier amongst the other three secular narco-states assessed in this paper.
Weakened Governmental Institutions
WGI trends over the past decade show that when political stability and rule of law
decreased in Tajikistan, control over corruption increased.146 This is certainly a peculiar
finding, because in theory an increase in political stability should result in the increase in
control over corruption. However, in Tajikistan’s case, this trend only illustrates the
relationship between government officials and drug traffickers. Because traffickers seek
government protection to minimize risks and officials are interested in accessing drug trade
profits, arrangements between the state and organized crime for the trafficking of narcotics
emerge.147 The paradoxical relationship between corruption and stability is accounted for in
the fact that outside efforts to improve interdiction have also increased the state’s ability to
143 Central Intelligence Agency. 2019. "Central Asia: Tajikistan — The World Factbook - Central
Intelligence Agency". Accessed June 23 2019. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-
factbook/geos/ti.html.
144 United States Department of State. 2017. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 - Tajikistan, 19
September 2018.” Accessed June 23 2019.
145 Letizia Paoli, Irina Rabkov, Victoria A. Greenfield, Peter Reuter, Tajikistan: The Rise Of A
Narco-State. (Journal Of Drug Issues, 2007. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10)
146 2019. World Bank. Accessed June 29 2019. http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#reports.
147 Bardia Rahmani, 2019. "How The War On Drugs Is Making Tajikistan More Authoritarian". The
Diplomat. Accessed June 29 2019. https://thediplomat.com/2018/07/how-the-war-on-drugs-is-
making-tajikistan-more-authoritarian/.
61
extract rents from the drug trade.148 For example, U.S. military assistance provided vehicles
and specialized equipment, the construction of border outposts, and the creation of special
anti-drug squads to secure the Tajik-Afghan border. However, the enhanced security measures
only served to increase “extraction opportunities” for government officials; the harder it
became to traffic goods across the border, the more border officials began accepting bribes to
look the other way.149 In this way, stability-enhancing opportunities in the form of
international aid have only gone to perpetuate the drug trade, illustrating the inverse
relationship between the political stability indicator and the control over corruption indicator
in this case study.
Limited Capacity of Anti-Corruption Institutions
Because Tajikistan has not published the executive summary of their 1st cycle review,
this study cannot factor the UNCAC executive summary findings into its report on the
capacity of Tajikistan’s anti-corruption institutions.150 Instead, it has factored in reports from
other anti-corruption organizations that account for similar successes and failures in the
implementation of anti-corruption policies.
Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report provides the most clear-cut account of
Tajikistan’s situation. On a scale of one to seven, with seven being the ‘least democratic’
score, Tajikistan scored a 6.79. It is classified as a consolidated authoritarian regime,
evidenced most clearly in the constitutional changes that made President Emomali Rahmon
“Leader of the Nation” and effectively allowed him to rule indefinitely.151 On a scale of one to
seven, with seven being the “most corrupt”, Tajikistan scored a perfect 7.0, with Freedom
House describing corruption as “part of everyday life in the country.” The report furthers that
148 Ibid.
149 Ibid.
150 Hechler et al. 2019. “U4 Guide 2019:2, UNCAC in a nutshell.” U4 Anti-Corruption Resource
Centre. https://www.u4.no/publications/uncac-in-a-nutshell-2019.pdf
151 "Nations In Transit 2018: Tajikistan Country Report". 2018. Freedom House. Accessed June 29
2019. https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2018/tajikistan.
62
revenues from the heroin trafficking were equivalent to roughly one-third of Tajikistan’s licit
GDP. Although traffickers moved 100 to 115 tons of heroin and opium across the border each
year, law enforcement officers seized just 3.43 tons of all illicit drug types in 2016, “a 27-
percent decline from 2015.”152 While the government claims to be reforming, corruption can
be found even in Tajikistan’s own State Agency for Financial Control and Measures against
Corruption. In 2018, police arrested and later convicted 17 State Agency employees,
including the deputy head. A senior official from the Ministry of Economic Development and
Trade was also detained on suspicion of taking a $490,000 bribe later that year.
Despite being a signatory to the UNCAC and possessing the legal framework,
Tajikistan’s implementation of anti-corruption legislation is ineffective. GAN Integrity
reports that government enforcement of anti-corruption measures is selective.153 The Criminal
Code and Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on Fighting Corruption criminalizes attempted
corruption, extortion, active and passive bribery, bribing a foreign official, embezzlement,
and money laundering, which are all successes under the UNCAC. However, the fact that
public officials are not subject to public financial disclosure laws renders these successes
almost entirely useless. Tajikistan also does not protect whistleblowers’ anonymity.154
Proximity to a Source State
With Afghanistan to the north, and Uzbekistan in the east, Tajikistan situates firmly in
Central Asia. It is the only secular narco-state in this study that places high on the narco-state
spectrum, largely due to its position between producers in Afghanistan and consumers in the
Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. Tajikistan’s case proves that geographic proximity to
a source state plays a huge role in narco-state development (and thus spectrum placement).
However, as seen in the next two sections, this does not ultimately contribute to whether or
not secular narco-states collaborate with VNSAs in drug trafficking.
152 Ibid.
153 "Tajikistan Corruption Report". 2019. GAN Integrity. Accessed June 29 2019.
https://www.ganintegrity.com/portal/country-profiles/tajikistan/.
154 Ibid.
63
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
Contrary to assumptions based upon geographic proximity to Afghanistan,
Tajikistan’s problem with Islamic insurgency is actually on the decline. Lemon notes that
“with the exception of a few isolated incidents such as the July [2018] attack, Tajikistan has
proved relatively immune to terrorist attacks within its borders.”155 Local violence linked to
corruption and state repression are usually backlash against authoritarian governance rather
than international terrorism, patterns that Lemon argues have greater potential to destabilize
the country than terrorism does.
However, it appears that Tajikistan’s rate of collaboration with violent extremist
groups is higher than its incident level of actual violence. According to the U.S. State
Department, approximately 1,300 Tajik citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS
since 2015,156 with other sources verifying that Islamic extremism is on the rise in Tajikistan.
The UNODC reports that while the Taliban and other anti-government VNSAs do not
regularly tax opium trade with in northern Afghanistan, there are specific locations on the
Afghan-Tajik border where VNSAs partially fund themselves through the drug economy,
“which they in turn protect from interdiction.”157 It furthers that one of two of northern
Afghanistan’s main areas of drug trafficking is around the provinces of Kunduz and Takhar
bordering Tajikistan, where a progressive infiltration by Taliban, Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and elements of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbudin (HIG) has been
reported since 2009. 158 Observers have noted that the IMU has been moving to re-assert
155 Lemon, Edward. "Extremism Trends In Tajikistan". 2018. European Eye On Radicalization.
Accessed June 29 2019. https://eeradicalization.com/extremism-trends-in-tajikistan/.
156 "Country Reports On Terrorism 2017 - United States Department Of State". 2019. United States
Department Of State. Accessed June 29 2019. https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-
terrorism-2017/.
157 UNODC, 2019. "UN Office On Drugs And Crime: “Opiate Flows Through Northern
Afghanistan And Central Asia; A Threat Assessment”, Document #1260690". European Country of
Origin Information Network. Accessed June 29 2019.
https://www.ecoi.net/en/document/1260690.html.
158 Ibid.
64
control over drug routes. Falkenburg notes in his analysis of terrorism and dug trafficking in
Tajikistan that “Most of the few remaining warlord politicians who financed themselves
through the drug trade during the war previously collaborated with militant Islamists, and
they have had few incentives to discontinue their profitable practices even though the war has
ceased.”159
Tajikistan’s government maintains its strong stance against violent extremism and
continues to prioritize anti-counterterrorism measures to combat spillover violence and
extremist influences from Afghanistan, which the government views as threats to regime
consolidation. According to the U.S. State Department, the majority of Tajik domestic
counterterrorism activities conducted in 2017 targeted organizations and individuals allegedly
linked to violent Islamist extremism in Tajikistan, and the government also arrested terrorist
suspects returning from Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, and Syria.160 However, this bears little
consequence on the practices of its border officials, who as previously stated, regularly accept
bribes. Falkenburg iterates that even if corrupt officials have taken over much of the Tajik
drug trade, the potential profit remains high enough that the IMU may actively participate in
regional trafficking operations. He highlights that militant extremists in the trade face little
resistance because of the Tajik government’s low incentive to combat the drug trade, since it
is engaged in trafficking opium itself.161
Islamic law-based Government
Tajikistan has a high Muslim population at 98%, but its government is not based upon
Islamic law. In fact, it appears to be slowly stretching into the opposite direction. Lemon
writes, “While certain forms of state-sanctioned Islam are promoted by the government, the
159 Luke Falkenburg, 2013. “Trafficking Terror through Tajikistan,” Military Review 93(4).
https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/military-
review/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20130831_art005.pdf
160 United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 - Tajikistan, 19
September 2018, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5bcf1f7da.html [accessed 30 June
2019]
161 Ibid.
65
regime has taken measures to curtail ‘foreign’ forms of worship, such as growing beards or
wearing hijabs.” 162 These policies illustrate a harsh crackdown on freedom of religious
expression that has taken place since President Rahmon’s regime came to power in 1992.
Rahmon banned the country’s leading opposition group, the Islamic Renaissance Party
(IRPT), in 2015, and hundreds of academics, journalists, human rights activists, and religious
believers either have been arrested or fled the country.163 Whether or not Rahmon’s
crackdown on religious freedoms as they pertain to Islamic tradition has anything to do with
his regime’s fear of the growing threat of Islamic extremism is unknown, but could be a
motivator.
7. Uzbekistan
Kan classifies the Republic of Uzbekistan as a transshipment state at stage three –
serious, placing it lower on the spectrum than Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Most of the product
trafficked across its borders goes primarily to Russia and Europe, and it is not a significant
producer of illicit product. As to be expected given its location, Uzbekistan faces issues with
opiates coming over the border from Tajikistan through road and railway system and has a
problem with police and security officials taking bribes. However, according to the UNODC,
the Uzbeks are deeply distrustful of their neighbors and have taken more efficient measures
to seal off their borders. These measures appear to be working, as Uzbekistan has been the
only country in the Central-West region where seizures rise on the consistent basis. In 2010,
seizures rose by 25 percent despite Afghan opium poppy cultivate remaining at steady
levels.164
Weakened Governmental Institutions
162 Lemon, Edward. "Transforming Tajikistan: How The Rahmon Regime Turned Religion Into A
Site Of Struggle ". 2019. Open Democracy. Accessed June 30 2019.
https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/transforming-tajikistan-islam/.
163 Ibid.
164 “Opiate Flows Through Northern Afghanistan and Central Asia”, United Nations Office on
Drugs and Crime Regional Office for Central Asia, May 2012.
66
Uzbekistan’s WGI is the only WGI of the narco-states in close proximity to
Afghanistan where both the rule of law and control over corruption indicator trends more or
less mirror its trends in political stability and absence of violence/terrorism, making it the
most politically stable narco-state in this case study.165 While its rule of law is considerably
lower than its political stability indicator, rule of law itself has seen a steady improvement
since 2012 to coincide with the overall increase in political stability. Likewise, Uzbekistan’s
control over corruption in the 2010s has also seen steady improvement, though it has not
always been that way. Similarly to Tajikistan’s WGI trends, in 2006 its control over
corruption was considerably higher than its political stability indicator. However, this
fluctuation can be attributed to several major incidents of political significance within
Uzbekistan’s system, such as Uzbekistan’s expulsion of UNHCR166 and a crackdown on civil
dissent following its refusal to allow independent investigation of the May 2005 Andijan
massacre.167 Freedom House ranked Uzbekistan seven out of seven as a “least free” state that
year, and though its score has slightly improved since then, its overall freedom ranking (nine
out of 100) still demonstrates inherent weakness in Uzbekistan’s governmental institutions.
Freedom House’s 2019 report states “While ongoing reforms under a new president, Shavkat
Mirziyoyev, have led to improvements on some issues, Uzbekistan remains a consolidated
authoritarian regime. No genuine opposition parties operate legally. The legislature and
judiciary effectively serve as instruments of the executive branch, which initiates reforms by
decree, and the media remains tightly controlled by the state.”168
Limited Capacity of Anti-Corruption Institutions
165 2019. World Bank. Accessed June 30 2019. http://info.worldbank.org/governance/wgi/#reports.
166 "UNHCR 'Expelled From Uzbekistan'". 2019. BBC News. Accessed June 30 2019.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4826278.stm.
167 "Uzbekistan". 2012. Freedom House. Accessed June 30 2019.
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2006/uzbekistan.
168 "Uzbekistan". 2019. Freedom House. Accessed June 30 2019.
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/uzbekistan.
67
Uzbekistan ratified the UNCAC in 2008, and completed its first review in 2016. The
review group noted that national anti-corruption legislation is in place, including the
Constitution, the Criminal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Administrative
Liability Code, and the Civil Code. Furthermore, Uzbekistan’s institutional framework for
combating corruption comprises the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the Ministry of the
Interior, the National Security Service, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance and
other public authorities, including specialized units. 169 Nonetheless, the review group cited
four good practices and 32 challenges to implementation in terms of adopting legislative and
enforcement measures and strengthening international cooperation. It also noted that
Uzbekistan identified the need for technical assistance in overcoming challenges in
implementation identified during the review process and a compilation of best practices and
lessons learned with respect to legislation on mutual legal assistance and with respect to the
legislation of other states.
It appears that while Uzbekistan possesses the framework necessary to implement the
UNCAC in its entirety, it has not done so. The executive summary specifically highlights
“The experts conducting the review welcome the bill containing amendments aimed at
improving the compliance of the legal system of Uzbekistan with the provisions of the
Convention, including for the purposes of the procedure for the transfer of prisoners (art. 46
(10)-(12)) and in relation to the content and manner of transmission of requests (art. 46
(13)).” 170 The 2019 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report states that despite being
a full member of the Central Asia Regional Information and Coordination Center (CARICC)
and participates in regional UNODC and European Union-sponsored drug demand reduction
and border control programs, Uzbekistan’s drug control cooperation with the United States
169 "Country Profile". 2019. UNODC. Accessed June 30 2019.
https://www.unodc.org/unodc/treaties/CAC/country-profile/CountryProfile.html?code=UZB.
170 Ibid.
68
and international partners is limited.171 The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
has joint investigations and intelligence exchange agreements in place with Uzbek law
enforcement agencies, but these have not led to significant operational cooperation.172
Proximity to a Source State
As stated previously, Uzbekistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Afghanistan are
incredibly problematic, although the country has taken significant and successful measures to
decrease drug trafficking. Uzbekistan borders every Central Asian state, sharing a 137 km
border with Afghanistan. However, the border appears to be well monitored. Uzbek staff at
the border are usually well-trained and salaries are relatively high, resulting in impressive
seizures. 173 The UNODC noted that it stretches to within 200 kilometres of both transhipment
ports on the Caspian Sea (via Kazakhstan) and western China’s Xinjiang province, the latter a
growing consumer market for Afghan heroin. It also identified three major drug routes across
Uzbekistan, with the common end destination being Russia.174
Presence of Islamic Insurgency
Islamic insurgency has been a concern in Uzbekistan since its founding in 1998. The
country’s most prominent group is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has
close ties with Al-Qaeda, TTP, and the Taliban.175 It historically received funding from bin
Laden and sources in Saudi Arabia, but has actively sustained itself through the years by its
heavy reliance on narcotics trafficking. Ongoing hostilities against secular government in the
southwest have enabled the IMU to gain influence with corrupt officials on all sides, and stir
171 "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report". 2018. US State Department. Accessed June
30 2019. https://2009-2017.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2010/index.htm.
172 Ibid.
173 “Illicit Drug Trends in Central Asia”, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional
Office for Central Asia, April 2008.
174 Ibid.
175 "ISLAMIC MOVEMENT OF UZBEKISTAN | United Nations Security Council". 2019. UN.
Accessed June 30 2019.
https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/islamic-
movement-of-uzbekistan.
69
antigovernment resistance among the regional populations.176 However, Falkenburg notes that
since the IMU was expelled from Uzbekistan in 2007, corrupt officials run most of the
interstate trafficking operations, and any IMU involvement would be immediately crushed by
the consolidated regime. Because of this and tighter state restrictions on customs and border
control, Uzbekistan is not a preferred route for traffickers and moves less Afghan opium than
neighboring Tajikistan, hence its status as a stage three – serious narco-state.177
While not involved with the IMu in any official capacity, the Uzbek government has
had public dealings with its affiliate, the Taliban. In March 2019, Uzbekistan's Foreign
Ministry reported that the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar expressed interest in
cooperating with the government of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in order to push Afghanistan's
peace process forward.178 In 2018, the Taliban confirms that a delegation met with Uzbek
officials to discuss issues including transport and power lines and peace in Afghanistan.179
While these official engagement have mostly had to do with the regional peace process and
borderland infrastructure concerns, Uzbekistan’s willingness to collaborate with the same
extremist movement that also funds both drug trafficking and the most-hated organization
IMU is both concerning and telling. Considering Uzbekistan’s continued emphasis on rising
stability, it appears that the federal government is willing to look to other way on the
Taliban’s drug trafficking operations (and thus its influences on lower-level corruption) in
order to further a political agenda.
Islamic law-based Government
Uzbekistan is a secular country. Article 61 of its constitution states that religious
organizations and associations are separate from the state and equal before law, meaning that
176 Ahmed Rashid. 2002. “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia.” New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, p. 130
177 Falkenburg 2013. “Trafficking Terror through Tajikistan.”
178 "Taliban Chief Welcomes Uzbek Peace Efforts, Infrastructure Work In Afghanistan". 2019.
Radio Free Europe. Accessed June 30 2019. https://www.rferl.org/a/taliban-chief-welcomes-uzbek-
peace-efforts-infrastructure-work-in-afghanistan/29804342.html.
179 "Afghan Taliban Delegation Visits Uzbekistan To Talk Security, Power...". 2019. U.S.. Accessed
June 30 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-taliban/afghan-taliban-delegation-visits-
uzbekistan-to-talk-security-power-lines-idUSKBN1KX056.
70
the state cannot interfere in religious activity.180 88 percent of the population are Muslim,
mostly Sunni,181 a surprisingly statistic given that Uzbekistan is a former Soviet state.
However, unlike other former Soviet states in Central Asia, Uzbekistan experienced a
religious revival in the post-Soviet era that did not result in an upsurge in Islamic
fundamentalism. This was in part due to then-President Karimov’s crackdown on radical
Islamic groups. Shortly after 1991, large groups of missionaries from Saudi Arabia and
Turkey began coming to Uzbekistan to propagate Sufi and Wahhabi interpretations of Islam.
In 1992, a group of radical Islamists educated at Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia took
control of an Uzbek government building and demanded that then-President Karimov declare
the country an Islamic state and introduce shari‛a as the only legal system. However,
Karimov’s government began combatting Islamic extremism instead, expelling both
missionaries and extremist sympathizers.182
Officially, the Uzbek government appears to celebrate Islam as a national heritage and
a moral guideline, with politicians are often seen in religious contexts. However, much like
Tajikistan, there are still restrictions on public religious expressions. Ohlsson notes, “The
situation in Uzbekistan appears in some ways as a one-sided entanglement rather than a
separation; the state controls religion but religion is not allowed to affect the laws or the
political structures of the country.”183 The situations in the secular states of Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan highlight a backlash against Islam as a legal instrument, no doubt influenced by
the political turmoil facing neighboring Islamic republics.
180 "Constitution of the Republic Of Uzbekistan". 2019. Accessed June 30 2019.
http://constitution.uz/en/clause/index#section7.
181 "Central Asia :: Uzbekistan — The World Factbook". 2019. Central Intelligence Agency.
Accessed June 30 2019. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uz.html.
182 Ohlsson, Henrik. 2011. "Islam And Secular State In Uzbekistan: State Control Of Religion And
Its Implications For The Understanding Of Secularity". Cahiers D’Asie Centrale, no. 19-20: 485-493.
https://journals.openedition.org/asiecentrale/1527.
183 Ibid.
71
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Reviewer’s Memo on adjustments made to address rough draft comments:
1. Page 4 - Theoretical Importance: I added discussion of what this study tells us about
neoliberalism, specifically in the Love paragraph addressing the issue of
functionalism and democratization.
2. Page 6 and 7– Policy Importance: I added a paragraph addressing the role of state
and non-state actors, which is the primary focus of this study as opposed to harm
reduction or consumption.
3. Page 12 – Literature Review: I added a wrap-up paragraph addressing the key take-
away from the review of extant literature presented here, including the note that
moving forward this study will have to factor in the nature of the narco-state’s
governing institutions, including religious affiliation.
4. Findings and Discussion: Reworked the structure of the section to lead with topline
results and systematically analyze the findings of the truth table. The actual case
studies were moved to the Appendix section on referral so that the main manuscript
could focus what the findings tell us and how this connects back to importance.
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