Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy

By Jan Koehler, Ghulam Rasool, Azizullah Ibrahimkhel

In this paper we look at local effects of recent changes in how the international borders of two Afghan provinces, Nangarhar and Nimroz, are governed.

Over the past decade Pakistan and Iran introduced changes to border infrastructure and regulation in an attempt to increase state control over both official and informal flows of goods and people. We consider the political rationale behind these decisions, then look at the consequences these changes have had on licit as well as illicit economic activities in the border region.

The paper builds on field research conducted in Nangarhar and Nimroz from 2018 to 2020. We find that reducing the permeability of the border has affected life in the neighbouring Afghan borderlands in different ways.

In Nimroz, an informal local economy existing between historically interwoven Baluch communities on all sides of the border is being crowded out by boom-town dynamics, external land acquisition and selective control of the border by foreign states. The impact of border enforcement is direct and drastic, damaging the survival economy of border communities and accelerating demographic change.

In Nangarhar, we find a more diverse and adaptive local cross-border economy, with a history of utilising both official and informal border crossings for trade in licit and illicit commodities. However, measures taken on the Pakistani side have led to shifts in informal trade, and changes to patterns of competition and control over the most lucrative routes and hubs. In both cases, illicit cross-border flows did not cease, but they changed in character from more broadly accessible horizontal activities to professional and hierarchical activities using fewer trading hubs and corridors. The drug trade is not exceptionally violent or disruptive, but is part of a commodity market embedded in a wider, often violent, political economy dominated by local political entrepreneurs and their networks.