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December 17, 2010 / jeni

The Kosovo Trafficking Report

Corrupt politicians of the world, listen up: if you want everyone to keep turning a blind eye to your little hobbies, then for god’s sake stay away from the organ harvesting. When even the Daily Mail has something to say about your business, it’s going to be just a bit too awkward for the international community to pretend everything is fine, just fine thanks.

Yes, apparently the prime minister of Kosovo is head of a bunch of heroin-smuggling, rival-assassinating, organ-nicking thugs. It’s gotten a lot of press coverage (see Balkan Insight) but I’m not sure how many people are reading the full report that’s been submitted to the Council of Europe — the draft text can be found here. A few (less salacious) items jumped out at me as I skimmed it.

The report supports the argument that we and many others consistently promulgate regarding the motivations and strategies of non-state actors in conflict zones — namely, that it is misleading to try to separate actors into neat categories of ‘political vs criminal’ (or the outdated ‘greed vs grievance’).

31.       The evidence we have uncovered is perhaps most significant in that it often contradicts the much-touted image of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, as a guerrilla army that fought valiantly to defend the right of its people to inhabit the territory of Kosovo.

32.       While there were undoubtedly numerous brave soldiers who were willing to go to the warfront, in the face of considerable adversity, and if necessary die for the cause of an independent Kosovar Albanian motherland, these fighters were not necessarily in the majority.

33.       From the testimony we have managed to amass, the policy and strategy of some KLA leaders were much more complex than a simple agenda to overpower their Serb oppressors.

34.       On the one hand, the KLA leadership coveted recognition and support from foreign partners including, notably, the United States Government.  Towards this end the KLA’s internationally well-connected “spokesmen” had to fulfil certain promises to their partners and sponsors, and / or adhere to particular terms of engagement that were the de facto conditions of their receiving support from overseas.

35.       On the other hand, though, a number of the senior commanders of the KLA have reportedly not failed to profit from the war, including by securing material and personal benefits for themselves.  They wanted to secure access to resources for themselves and their family / clan members, notably through positions of power in political office, or in lucrative industries such as petroleum, construction and real estate.  They wanted to avenge what they perceived as historical injustices perpetrated against the Albanian population in the former Yugoslavia.  And many of them were seemingly bent on profiteering to the maximum of their potential while they had operational control of certain lawless territories (e.g. in parts of southern and western Kosovo), and leverage – especially in terms of financial resources – with which to negotiate footholds for themselves in other territories (e.g. in Albania).

Investigators also found that ‘the main KLA units and their respective zones of operational command corresponded in an almost perfect mirror image to the structures that controlled the various forms of organised crime in the territories in which the KLA was active’.

In discussing the criminality embedded in the KLA leadership, and detailing how violent factionalism within the KLA continued after the war and ‘shaped the post-conflict political landscape’, the report also provides a brief case study of the ‘criminalisation of politics’ in postwar societies. It is a phenomenon commonly seen throughout the world’s conflict zones and yet little leverage exists to combat it; often the worst purveyors of it are precisely those political actors who are seen as essential to any political settlement of the conflict. Hence the consternation of this report’s author at finding that knowledge of Prime Minister Thaci’s activities has been widespread within the international community for years, to no apparent effect.

So while it’s understandable that contraband kidneys are the particularly eye-catching detail here, hopefully it will bring increased attention to an enduring, systemic problem in the Balkans and beyond.

December 10, 2010 / jeni

Realities in Tajikistan

Choosing a relatively obscure former Soviet republic as the focus of one’s dissertation will have any number of ramifications, not the least of which is a certain sense of joy whenever anyone else in the world happens to write about it. Thus I was well pleased to see a bit on Tajikistan by Matthew DuPee in the new Asia Despatch. It’s a good summary of Tajikistan’s woeful interdiction efforts — although to be fair, given the nature of the Tajik-Afghan border (where in some places traffickers can simply toss their drugs over the border) and the extreme poverty and corruption gripping the country, I think we have to be realistic about how much Tajikistan can really contribute to international anti-trafficking efforts.

It’s an important factor to bear in mind when looking at Afghanistan, as any efforts to reduce the drugs trade there and restore security throughout the northern regions will in large part depend upon border conditions with Tajikistan and its neighbours.

But let’s try not to fall into the usual trap of seeing everything in Central Asia through the prism of Afghanistan. There are very real concerns about renewed conflict in Tajikistan and other Central Asian republics, and to the extent that the drugs trade encourages corruption, violence and the hollowing out of state capacity, it could be a contributory factor. While it’s true that the likelihood of conflict in the region can sometimes be overblown — hasn’t the Ferghana Valley been a ‘tinderbox’ for a couple decades now? — the recent violence and instability in Kyrgyzstan, and the prospects of regime change in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in coming years, point to a continued potential for conflict that must be managed cleverly if we are to avoid anything like the Tajik civil war of the 1990s.

So how does one brush up on events in Tajikistan? First, I recommend the online work of another crazy academic writing a dissertation on Tajikistan, Christian Bleuer — his Tajikistan Research site and the blogs Ghosts of Alexander and Registan. Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable about the country, he’s quite good at poking holes in overblown predictions and bad strategy.

I also like New Eurasia for on-the-ground coverage and debates about what’s really going on in the country, as well as the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and EurasiaNet. Of course there is always RFE/FL and the English-language Tajik news agency site Asia-Plus.

There’s a lot more out there, of course — just a bit to get you started. If you find yourself fascinated (it can happen!) please feel free to email me for more.

UPDATE: Wikileaks reveals that Tajikistan is a ‘corrupt, alcohol-sodden fiefdom‘. I think I’m going to nick that for my dissertation title.

September 24, 2010 / jeni

Reading List: Ending Wars, Consolidating Peace

Ending Wars, Consolidating Peace: Economic Perspectives

Eds. Mats Berdal & Achim Wennmann

International Institute for Strategic Studies

Adelphi Paper #412-13 (Athens log-in available)

This Adelphi offers a series of economic perspectives on conflict resolution, showing how the challenges of peacebuilding can be more effectively tackled. From the need to marry diplomatic peacemaking with development efforts,and activate the private sector in the service of peacebuilding aims, to the use of taxes and natural-resource revenues as a financial base for sustainable peace, this book considers how economic factors can positively shape and drive peace processes. It examines the complex ways in which power and order may be manifested in conflict zones, where unpalatable compromises with local warlords can often be the first step towards a more lasting settlement.

Be sure to check out Chapter 10 — Crime, Corruption and Violent Economies — by our new King’s confrere, James Cockayne.

Full chapter list:

Introduction:  Mats Berdal

Chapter One:  Peace Processes, Business and New Futures After War:  Achim Wennmann

Chapter Two:  Stabilising Fragile States and the Humanitarian Space:  Robert Muggah

Chapter Three:  Assessing Linkages Between Diplomatic Peacemaking and Developmental Peacebuilding Efforts:  Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart, Blair Glencorse

Chapter Four:  The Bretton Woods Institutions, Reconstruction and Peacebuilding:  Graciana del Castillo

Chapter Five:  Aid and Fiscal Capacity Building in Post-Conflict Countries:  James Boyce

Chapter Six:  Valuable Natural Resources in Conflict-Affected States:  Paivi Lujala, Siri Aas Rustad, Philippe Le Billon

Chapter Seven:  Foreign Direct Investors in Conflict Zones:  Andreea Mihalache-O’keef, Tatiana Vashchilko

Chapter Eight:  War Transitions and Armed Groups:  Jennifer Hazen

Chapter Nine:  State Failure and Ungoverned Space:  Ken Menkhaus

Chapter Ten:  Crime, Corruption and Violent Economies:  James Cockayne

Conclusion:  Achim Wennmann

September 17, 2010 / jeni

Clueless on Corruption in Afghanistan

The list of things we are still uncertain of, nearly nine years into the Afghan campaign, is depressingly long. What’s happened to bin Laden? Should we talk to the Taliban? What’s the best way to disrupt the drugs trade? And so on. So it is not all that surprising that there is no consistent and coherent strategy with respect to corruption in Afghanistan — or even, for that matter, consensus on how serious a problem it really is.

Two items related to this issue caught my eye this week. First, on Sunday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote in the Washington Post on the evolving view within American policy circles that a law enforcement approach to Afghan corruption is proving counterproductive. The new Afghan anti-corruption task force is seen as an American endeavour with an Afghan facade. High-profile raids have angered and embarrassed President Karzai (who, when one of his aides was arrested, simply ordered him released). A lack of transparency and coordination means that law enforcement agencies are targeting individuals on the CIA payroll or who are otherwise engaged in assisting coalition efforts.

In short, while there is general agreement on the need to uncover corruption networks and better understand the effects of corruption in Afghanistan, there is a growing divide over how such information should be acted upon. The problem with a law enforcement approach is that, if properly implemented, it is apolitical — lawbreakers are prosecuted regardless of their status or wealth. However, in a counterinsurgency or stabilisation environment, everything is political. Arresting and prosecuting corrupt officials may be highly satisfying to American observers, but if it alienates political allies, disrupts intel efforts, and is not seen as legitimate by local populations, then it may not be worth it. It appears General Petraeus is going to assert more control over anti-corruption efforts, and has even brought in H.R. McMaster to head up a new anti-corruption task force.

The problem with moving away from a law enforcement approach is the lack of a coherent alternative strategy. Alternative tactics — sure. Better inter-agency communication can avert the targeting of allies and informants, and there are lessons to be drawn from Iraq, where corruption has been addressed privately at the highest levels so as not to embarrass or disempower Prime Minister Maliki. But these are essentially tools to mitigate the political effects of corruption — they are unlikely to do anything to halt corruption itself, which is now so massively embedded in political and economic systems that it constitutes a strategic problem in Afghanistan.

Scaling back law enforcement efforts and resorting to informal methods also undercut efforts to promote the rule of law in Afghanistan — and yes, the rule of law may seem like a pipe dream at the moment, but it is precisely in the area of law and justice that the Taliban have found a measure of popular support in rural areas, by providing mechanisms for fair and swift judgment that the government cannot.

Finally, are we or are we not serious about lending some kind of legitimacy to the Karzai government? This is, in theory, a central aim of Coalition efforts and counterinsurgency strategy. Yet in speaking with Afghans over the past couple years, I have been struck by a common theme in their assessments of the current situation — namely, that everyone is a thief. The government steals, the police steal, the foreign armies steal, the NGOs and aid agencies steal — how else to explain a situation where billions of dollars have been dropped on the country and yet the average Afghan is no better off? Failing to prosecute government officials who are commonly known to be shipping shedloads of cash to the Emirates may be politically expedient, but no government can attain legitimacy under such circumstances.

Nevertheless, the problems with the law enforcement approach are obvious, and I am not trying to suggest unwavering adherence to it. But I worry that in trying on alternative practices, we may lose sight of the bigger strategic issues related to corruption in Afghanistan.

Which leads me to the other interesting item of the week, posted a few days ago by Abu Muqawama (otherwise known as Andrew Exum, a fellow War Studies doctoral candidate with a much better day job). On Corruption neatly counterposes those who think corruption is really the central issue in Afghanistan (a position I admit I mostly sympathise with) with those who believe addressing it in any substantial manner would be a classic example of mission creep.

But as I spent more time in Afghanistan last summer and talked to more people back in Washington, I starting wondering whether or not the United States had the time or committment necessary in Afghanistan to really tackle the issue properly. If Afghanistan was going to be our 51st state, then it makes sense to send Patrick Fitzgerald or whoever over to Kabul and let him do his thing. But the reality is that we are trying to leave Afghanistan. So the other school of thought on corruption argues that trying to target corruption in Afghanistan is, like counter-narcotics, the very definition of mission creep. Let’s just train up the Afghan National Security Forces and transition to a security force assistance-type mission as soon as is humanly possible.

Actually, if we are not going to do much of anything about corruption in our remaining time in the country, then we might as well leave right now. If we’re not going to target the massive infrastructure of graft and extortion within which the ANSF are embedded, then I’m not sure the Afghan people will actually appreciate us giving the security forces more training and guns with which to abuse and exploit them. And even if we scale back our overriding aims to not letting Afghanistan become a terrorist refuge again, do we really believe that a massively corrupt government — a government that essentially subsists on bribery, theft and the trafficking of illicit goods — that this kind of government would not turn a blind eye to an Al Qaeda presence for the right amount of cash?

To be fair, Exum acknowledges that ‘corruption might eventually undermine the very host nation government by, with and through which we plan on keeping al-Qaeda and its allies at bay’. But I don’t find his recommended means of addressing the problem — establishing a ‘relationship of trust’ with Karzai — especially convincing. For one thing, if we don’t have a relationship of trust with Karzai after nine years, I think we can say that ship has sailed. More important, Karzai is one man, with a questionable political lifespan. He cannot be the solution to this problem.

I agree with Exum — and the sceptics from the Post article — that as we are not planning a long-term presence, realistically there is not a lot we can do about entrenched corruption in Afghanistan. I suppose all I am asking for in the meantime is some effort to A) not make things worse, and B) at least try for some level of consistency in our aims and strategies. We can strive for better accountability in our own money flows and contracting. We can try to obtain as much intelligence on corruption networks as possible while we are still in a position to observe. Disrupting the production and trade of narcotics and promoting alternative livelihoods has been a contested process for years, but the potential payoffs are great. We can go after the assets that corrupt officials move through the global financial system.

Our options may be few, but pretending that corruption is not obstructing our strategic aims, and dealing with it only informally and covertly, is not going to burnish our credibility or enhance our limited chances of success.

September 11, 2010 / jeni

Cocaine: Who Profits?

Everyone knows there is serious money to be made in the cocaine trade. But the supply chain between coca farmers in the Andes and cocaine users in the US and Europe is long and contested — where do the profits lie?

According to the UNODC report The Globalization of Crime, the largest profits in the cocaine trade are found at the same level as in the trade of legitimate goods:  between wholesalers and consumers.

Some 196 tons of cocaine are needed to satisfy US demand, a flow valued at US$38 billion in 2008, but this money is not evenly distributed. The coca farmers in the three Andean countries earned about US$1.1 billion that year. The amounts generated from processing and trafficking activities within the Andean countries for cocaine destined to be shipped towards North America amounted to around US$400 million. The total gross profits accruing to those importing cocaine to Mexico can be estimated at around US$2.4 billion (excluding costs of shipping) and the Mexican cartels reaped US$2.9 billion that year moving the cocaine across the border into the USA. The largest profits, however, are generated within the USA: US$29.5 billion between the US wholesale level and US consumers. Out of these gross profits, the bulk is made between the mid-level dealers and the consumers, accounting for more than $24 billion or 70% of the total size of the US cocaine market.

A similar pattern is seen in the trade to Europe, although international traffickers claim a larger share of the market’s value.

[A]bout 124 tons of cocaine are distributed in Europe, worth some US$34 billion. It appears that less than 1% of the value of cocaine sales in Europe goes to the Andean coca farmers, and another 1% goes to traffickers within the Andean region. The international traffickers who ship the cocaine from the Andean region to the main entry points (notably Spain) obtain 25% of the final sales value. A further 17% is generated in shipping the cocaine from the entry points to the wholesalers in the final destination countries across Europe. The largest income is generated in the destination countries, between the wholesaler and the consumer, generating more than 56% of the total.

I’m highlighting this breakdown here primarily because it’s a question I’ve often been asked — what is the value of the drug trade in different segments of the supply chain? — and specific figures are hard to come by. Even in this report, UNODC does not attempt a similar breakdown for profits in the heroin trade, for example.

However, the implications of this assessment remain up for debate. An initial reading would tend to support the argument that the demand side of the cocaine trade — i.e., the US domestic market — should be the primary focus for counter-strategies, as it represents the largest share of the overall market. Yet the fact that per capita profits are highest on the supply side of the chain supports a strategy of targeting production and distribution in South and Central America.

In any event, it’s helpful to keep in mind the monetary resources available to the armed groups currently wreaking havoc in Mexico and elsewhere — the inability of the state to pacify the Mexican cartels becomes more understandable when one realises they have nearly $3 billion of annual income at their disposal.

September 2, 2010 / jeni

Now Hear This: Bandits of the Blitz

UK dwellers, there’s a great radio documentary on BBC Radio 4 (and online) next week: Bandits of the Blitz.

With Britain at war and London under siege from the Luftwaffe, everyone’s pulling together. Or are they? Whilst bombs rained down and long-suffering Brits helped each other, some people were simply helping themselves – stealing, looting, and making money on the black market.

World War II created vast opportunities for crime. Warehouses were robbed, army stores rifled and forgers kept busy providing false identity documents, ration books and clothing coupons. Looters, stealing anything of value, cleaned out blitzed houses…

Complex emergency rules left normally-law-abiding citizens facing the courts. Shopkeepers who fell foul of the tangle of red tape faced heavy fines. Even as the war ended, rationing continued, and the black market flourished.

One of the dangers of focusing on crime-conflict issues today is a natural inclination to speak of the same conflicts over and over — Afghanistan, Congo, Mexico, Colombia — conflicts that are intrastate, asymmetrical, buffeted by transnational dynamics, and fought in close proximity to civilian populations. These are important conflicts, ones that affect millions of people, and thus it is only right that they claim the lion’s share of our attention.

However, this makes it easy to forget sometimes about the extent to which crime is an inherent element of war generally — including inter-state and conventional wars. War profiteering, looting, theft — these are not new, and not confined to messy conflicts around the periphery of the developed world.

The heroic narrative of the Blitz sometimes confounds attempts to reveal human frailty, perfidy and exploitation. I’m quite interested to see what Radio 4 comes up with next week.

August 18, 2010 / jeni

Other Voices: Blog del Narco

[h/t Daniel Bennett]

More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexican drug violence since January 2007. Now the Chicago Tribune reports on a fascinating new Mexican blog that has become the go-to source for detailed information on new killings, gruesome photo and video evidence of crime scenes, and warnings from the killers themselves.

An anonymous, twentysomething blogger is giving Mexicans what they can’t get elsewhere — an inside view of their country’s raging drug war. Operating from behind a thick curtain of computer security, Blog del Narco in less than six months has become Mexico’s go-to Internet site at a time when mainstream media are feeling pressure and threats to stay away from the story.

Many postings, including warnings and a beheading, appear to come directly from drug traffickers. Others depict crime scenes accessible only to military or police. The undifferentiated content suggests that all sides are using the blog — drug gangs to project their power, law enforcement to show that it too can play rough, and the public to learn about incidents that the mainstream media are forced to ignore or play down.

The blog raises interesting ethical questions. On the one hand, it publishes useful information that the public cannot access from any other source (see the LA Times on narco-censorship). On the other hand, it facilitates the cartels’ use of media to intimidate and threaten both rivals and civilians.

Without a  doubt, however, it is an important source for anyone investigating the ongoing Mexican drug war.