Moscow’s Afghan Worries Not Just About Geopolitics Or Terrorism – OpEd
By Paul Goble
In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government and its replacement by the Taliban, most commentaries in Moscow focused either on the ways in which this change will affect geopolitics in the region and more generally and on the possibility that this development will lead to a new terrorist threat.
But now, Russian writers are increasingly focusing less on those possibilities than on the likelihood the Taliban will finance itself by expanding its role in the international drug trade and go through Russian territory to do it and the possibility that if refugees from Afghanistan reach the Russian Federation, they will spark in criminal activity.
The Taliban has had a complicated history regarding heroine. Some of its most prominent leaders have denounced heroine, but many of its commanders have used it, along with Afghanistan’s other natural resources, as a source of money. At present, the Taliban needs money and it may turn to the drug trade to get it.
On the one hand, Afghan farmers make far more money from growing poppies than they do from growing grain even if one subtracts the amount they have to pay the Taliban or other rulers. Thus, the Taliban have a greater interest in using drugs as a source of income than many might think, some Russian commentators say.
And on the other, the drug trade is something the Taliban can promote on its own. Many of the projects including the development of Afghanistan’s natural resources will require both time and the presence of outsiders. With time at a premier, and the desire of the Taliban to expel rather than attract more outsiders, using the drug traffic for income is more attractive.
(For examples of the current Russian discussions on this point, discussions which implicitly highlight Russian concerns, see among others, fondsk.ru/news/2021/08/27/geroin-stal-krovju-talibana-i-afganistana-54327.html, secretmag.ru/news/reket-i-narkotiki-kakoi-budet-ekonomika-afganistana-pri-talibakh-i-chego-zhdat-rossii.htm and expert.ru/2021/08/25/u-nas-net-osnovaniy-polagat-chto-taliby-izmenilis/).
Also of growing Russian concern is the possibility that the arrival of large numbers of Afghan refugees first in Central Asia and ultimately in Russia itself will cause crime to rise. Among those making that point as an argument for imposing tighter controls is Yury Zhdanov, head of the Russian section of the International Police Association (newizv.ru/news/society/26-08-2021/ekspert-predrek-uhudshenie-kriminogennoy-situatsii-v-svyazi-s-situatsiey-s-afganistanom and tj.sputniknews.ru/20210826/russia-kriminal-bezhentsy-afganistan-1041891212.html).