Virtual launch of ‘Mules, Pick-ups and Container Traffic: Cross-Border Production and Trade and the Shaping of the Political Economy of Nangarhar’

Virtual launch of ‘Mules, Pick-ups and Container Traffic: Cross-Border Production and Trade and the Shaping of the Political Economy of Nangarhar’

On 9 July 2020, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) launched one of its recent paper, “Mules, Pick-ups and Container Traffic: Cross-Border Production and Trade and the Shaping of the Political Economy of Nangarhar” at a virtual event. Around 20 government officials, representatives of civil society organizations and national and international organisations attended the event and thoroughly discussed the paper’s findings.   

Dr David Mansfield, the AREU expert on opium and rural livelihoods has written this paper with financial support of Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) under the Drugs and (dis)order project. ‘Drugs and (dis)order: building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war’ is a four year GCRF project generating new evidence on how to transform illicit drug economies into peace economies in Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. 

At her welcoming remark at the event, Dr Orzala Nemat, AREU Director, said, “This is a very interesting report that we are launching today and it is very timely and relevant to the current situation.” She went on to add that we know that informal economic activities on the Afghan borderland make a significant contribution to the overall economic growth in the country, whether it is licit or illicit. 

Dr David Mansfield, author of the paper, presented the findings to the event participants and said: “This is a substantial piece of work involved more than 300 interviews in Nangarhar alongside the value chains and there are a lot of details, a lots of imageries and a lot of photos and details how things work.” He added that we have looked at diesel, drugs, transit tracks and people as well. We also looked at commodities as they move from the point of production to the points of exit and how they are channelled and who and what is shaping that movement.    

“When it comes to physical infrastructure investment this paper reveals just how investments in physical infrastructure have transformed the political economy of Nangarhar, especially since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001,” Dr Mansfiel added. 

One of the participants suggested that the paper’s findings should not only be shared with the Afghan government but also with the Pakistan government as well. 

The main intention of this working paper is that knowledge of where these chokepoints are, who they are controlled by, what commodities are transported through them, and the rules that govern the amount of rent paid, is critical to understanding the interests that underpin the political-economy of the province, particularly as the country tries to move towards peace. 

Furthermore, the paper charts the factors that determine where these different chokepoints are located along the supply chains for some of the most valuable commodities in Nangarhar, primarily, drugs, minerals, and the transit trade. It also documents why the importance of particular routes and chokepoints have changed over time, and details the means by which the amount and type of rents extracted are determined. The paper is based on over 300 in depth interviews conducted in the fall of 2019 with those directly involved in the transportation and trade of a number of key commodities, and who reside in strategic locations along supply chains in Nangarhar and on its borders. It combines these interviews with high-resolution imagery and geospatial analysis that covers some of the more remote and inaccessible parts of the province to identify and verify historical changes as well as examine issues of interest. 

The paper also draws on more than two decades of fieldwork in the province by the author and the research team, and a review of both historical and contemporary literature.

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