The 20-year old Afghan conflict has created an open war economy, affecting Afghanistan and surrounding areas. Not only has Afghanistan become the world’s largest opium producer and a center for arms dealing, but it supports a multi-billion dollar trade in goods smuggled from Dubai to Pakistan. This criminalized economy funds both the Taliban and their adversaries. It has transformed social relations and weakened states and legal economies throughout the region. Sustainable peace will require not just an end to fighting and a political agreement but a regional economic transformation that provides alternative forms of livelihood and promotes accountability.
The pursuit of politics through both peaceful and violent means requires money. Just as in many parts of the world political power is a principal means to the pursuit of wealth, war too may create conditions for economic activity, though often of a predatory nature. Political leaders speak in public about their ideas and goals, but much of their daily activity is devoted to raising the resources to exercise power and reward supporters or themselves. How political leaders raise and distribute these ideas often determines the outcome of their acts, as much as if not more than their goals and intentions. The current form of war is neither interstate war nor classic civil war, but transnational war involving a variety of official and unofficial actors often from several states. Such wars develop particular patterns of economic activity. The longer they persist, the more society and economy adapt to war, creating a relatively stable type of social formation, the civil or transnational war economy. A few profit, while most have no say in the development of their own society. Peacemaking requires not only political negotiations but transforming the war economy into a peace economy and creating institutions for accountability over economic and political decision making (Ignatieff, 1998; Wallensteen and Stollenberg, 1998; Holsti, 1995; Reno, 1998; Kaldor, 1999; Keen, 1998; Jean and Rufin, 1996). The war economy of Afghanistan, which exemplifies this type of system, is an open war economy affecting a broad region. Afghanistan, stateless and devastated has become both a source of the world’s most infamous opium transport and marketing center. The spread of means of transportation and communication, the development of cultural, similarity, and economic ties between Afghans and all the neighboring societies, the opening of borders and lack of customs enforcement in many areas, and the increase in opium production and other contraband activities, the Afghan war economy has given rise to a pattern of regional economic activity and associated social and political networks that compete with and at times undermine official economies and states.
Transformation of this criminalized war economy is thus essential not only to Afghanistan but to neighboring regions. The...