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Nacrotrafficking in Afghanistan and Mexico: Parallel Lessons?

Nacrotrafficking in Afghanistan and Mexico: Parallel Lessons?

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The following excerpt is from a recent article by John Sullivan and Adam Elkus in Small Wars Journal:

“[They address] entities with substantial firepower, intelligence, and political clout.  Reducing violence as a strategy in order to create a new equilibrium will not in itself resolve the basic political dispute between a state and substate actors looking to seize control or manipulate the state’s legitimate and illegitimate institutions… American involvement will not be ignored or regarded as neutral”

Does the quote narrow down the issue or geographic region they are focusing on? If you guessed Afghanistan, you are incorrect. Sullivan and Elkus are in fact addressing the deterioration of political legitimacy in Mexico through informal economic and political domination by drug cartels. However, if the excerpt from the article brought Afghanistan to mind, the overlapping framework is laid effectively. Though the political environments in Mexico and Afghanistan – and resulting American responses – differ significantly, there are some basic parallels U.S. policymakers should recognize. And perhaps the shortcomings of the Afghan occupation can offer some lessons for policy responses to narcotrafficking in our next-door neighbor, Mexico.


The “kickoff” of an independent Afghan government largely responsible for establishing its internal security, rule-of-law, and legitimate political institutions will officially commence upon the withdrawal of US troops in 2014. For better or worse, it will be left to the Afghans themselves to sort out political and sectarian disagreements and establish a stable and enduring state. A major obstacle they face is the lack of lucrative economic activity to drive growth. In many regions, opium farming is the only realistic source of profit. Resultantly, a self-perpetuating political-economic cycle has developed between poppy producers and their Taliban guardians.

By capitalizing on the relatively static global demand for opium (Afghanistan produces roughly 90% of the world’s supply), the perpetuators of civil conflict find an enduring economic foundation in illicit drug trafficking. The opium-funded insurgency has proven particularly effective in adapting asymmetric tactics to counter American technological dominance. The opportunity for said operations to undermine the central government’s legitimacy is likely to only worsen without strong democratic institutions and social norms to prevent it.

DEA Special Agents & ISAF soldiers in action during 2010 Afghan heroin lab crackdown Operation Tarpit


Though Mexico has an established federal government and a productive economy, severe challenges from nacrotrafficking organizations, especially against local and municipal governments in remote regions, have vastly undermined the rule-of-law. Critical attempts to label Mexico as a “failed state” are perhaps exaggerated rhetoric, but the prevalence of corruption and cartel influence through all levels of government are widely acknowledged.

As the vast majority of demand for Mexican-routed cocaine and marijuana is from the United States, U.S. policymakers have a direct, vested interest in the legitimacy of the Mexican government and its ability to combat narcotrafficking. The newly-elected Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has thus far willingly cooperated with American anti-trafficking operations and pledged its commitment to take cartels seriously by establishing a paramilitary police force with greater capacity to combat well-armed traffickers.

The tools to address the drug trade are more readily available in Mexico than Afghanistan. Shared geography and mutual trade arrangements with the U.S. drive the necessity for a stable and legitimate Mexican state. The failed American effort to set up de facto governance and mitigate instability in Afghanistan sets a precedent that should avoided at all costs.

1 Comment

  1. The Afgans do not produce 90% of the worlds opium/herion.
    That is a far guided attempt at American propaganda to distract you from the terrible prob that awaits at our borders. Mexicans produce many drugs such as meth, cocaine, MDMA, Marijuana, ketamine, and alot of herion AKA black tar herion. It comes from opitae feilds in mexico. In fact the opiate/ herion prob is so bad, that thousands of kids from southwest states such as, new mexico, south texas, arizona, and california have died because of herion. herion use is on the rise more than ever due to the mexican drug cartels. High school partys are no longer, pass the joint. its pass the herion. The use of herion also has no borders, its hitting all races, and teens, rich, or poor. Infact so many kids died in a rich white part of town in ABQ,NM that the drug czar from washington D.C. came down to investigate the area and the administration of that school. It was found that the school with the highest herion use and herion related death, (ie, sucide, overdose, and murder.) was also the school with the best education and sports programs. It was found that the administration refused drug a drug councerler for the school. It was found that the administrative ties in the the public school system had ties to organized crime. When drug use hits way above the local poverty lines, it shows how seriouse the problem is. More propaganda from the U.S. govt is the meth, is a American made drug, (home made). that is also the biggest lie, to distract the public from understanding the most of the meth comes from mexico.
    It must also be understood the amount of family and blood that the government of New Mexico shares with organized crime members in mexico.
    One day it will be understood that, the boogiemen terriost in the middle east were created by the U.S. but it will also be understood that the Narco cartels are also heavily influenced by the U.S. govt.
    One day the people of our beautiful country will realize that that tens of thousands of people that have died due to use of drugs, drug crime or any such in Mexico was due to the American people following the theatre act of a bi-partisan system.
    One day the people of this great nation will realize that all the kids, adults, and beautiful people who have died to drugs/ or drug related crime have died because, our U.S. govt is making a profit.
    One day we will realize that the same Narco mobs run sex/slave trade that makes the drug prob look invisible. One day we will wake up and realize that the tens of thousands who go missing in this country are not missing due to cerial killers, and pedophiles, but missing due to sex/slave trade. That is supported by our very own govt. One day we will realize this is all our fault, because we fell for the bi partisan system. We played on our iphones too long, our x boxes too long. We fell for materialism and because of that we have suffered. One day we will realize, but it will be to late.

    “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both” Benjamin Franklin

    excuse the the spelling, broken hand.

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