- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

The Dynamics of "Narco-Jihad" in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Region

Ehsan Ahrari


This essay explores the global dynamics surrounding narco-trafficking in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, and assesses the implications for U.S. security interests in the region.

Main Findings

  • A narco-jihad is being funded by the opium-related system of trade in narcotics in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan the narco-jihad has escalated to intense levels, while in Pakistan the strength of the narco-jihad is still growing.
  • Afghanistan is the predominant global supplier of opium, and Pakistan is becoming increasingly involved with opium processing. Narco-trade in both Afghanistan and Pakistan interfaces with actors in Iran, Turkey, and Central Asia, which serve as transit routes to the global market. Terrorist groups and transnational drug and crime syndicates are involved in protection, price control, and distribution of opium to regional and global markets.
  • In Afghanistan, narco-jihad is being sustained by the “iron triangle” of warlords, corrupt government officials, and the Taliban–al Qaeda nexus. In Pakistan, narco-trade is bringing in extensive amounts of laundered money. The Taliban in Pakistan are using these funds to carry out their own version of narco-jihad with an aim to weaken and eventually overthrow the civilian government in Islamabad.

Policy Implications

  • The opium narco-trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan strengthens the chances of the prolongation of insurgency, as such trade funds a growing narco-jihad in the region.
  • Narco-trade in Afghanistan functions through a variety of actors, each of whom is as important as the other. The physical removal or significant weakening of one of these actors will weaken the narco-trade, but only temporarily.
  • Given the regional dynamics of the drug trade, a comprehensive strategy that treats Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single theater of war holds the most promise for defeating the narco-jihad.