Afghanistan: 5 areas of concern after the US leaves

The withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan will have profound, direct effects on the country's security, economy, and society.  Here are five areas that are likely to see an impact.

Security and the opium trade

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters/File
Afghan boys stand in a poppy field in Golestan district of Farah province on May 5, 2009.

Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's opium, and draws roughly a third of its GDP from the drug trade. Some worry that the withdrawal of Western troops will lead to a boom in the heroin market – where the Taliban finds much of its funding.

Writing for George Mason University's Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, Nazia Hussain warns that in the wake of US troop withdrawal, "illicit trafficking... will skyrocket."  And Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan's former anti-narcotics chief, told the Daily Telegraph that "with the coming exit strategy for 2014, the whole [drug trade] will be completely out of control. All the provinces will go more and more back to poppy."

But the the drug problem may prove insolvable, as it's not only the Taliban that profits from opium. Government officials do as well. Brookings Institute Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown told PBS's Frontline that alleged pro-government drug traffickers include President Karzai's late brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq, and warlord Matiullah Khan. Even the Afghan Air Force is involved in drug smuggling.

As the Cato Institute's Ted Galen Carpenter says, "pro-government factions are in the trade up to their eyeballs. Indeed, it would be much easier to draw up a list of prominent Afghan political figures who are not involved in the drug trade than it would to draw up a list of the ones who are. And it would be a much shorter list to cite the ones who are not."

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