SOAS University of London

GCRF Drugs and (dis)order Research Project


This research project focuses on Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. These countries have been selected because they share important characteristics and demonstrate important differences:

Comparisons between the cases:

  • They all have a ‘drug problem’ and together account for the majority of the world’s illicit heroin and cocaine production.
  • They have experienced civil wars in which non-state and state actors have taxed or been directly involved in the drug trade, shaping the nature of the conflict and policies of international stakeholders.
  • They have undergone a notional ‘war to peace transition’, involving ceasefire agreements and in some cases the signing of peace settlements, but are all still affected by armed conflict.
  • Drug production and trafficking is centred in borderlands that have historically been weakly incorporated into the state. Some of these regions have violently resisted state-building efforts and post-war peacebuilding processes.
  • Significant rural populations are involved in drug cultivation and are heavily reliant upon the revenue this provides to alleviate food insecurity and pay for essential services, especially healthcare, whilst urban centres have been transformed by the revenues derived from drugs.

Contrasts between the cases:

  • The dynamics of borderland drug economies and their relation to violent conflict varies significantly across the three cases, as do the ways in which illicit drugs have become
    embedded in broader processes of social change.
  • The three countries represent different stages of war-to- peace transitions. Colombia has recently ratified a comprehensive peace settlement; in Myanmar most drug  production is taking place in regions where ceasefires are in place but efforts to secure a more comprehensive peace process have stalled; in Afghanistan counter narcotics policies and statebuilding occur against a backdrop of high-intensity conflict. The project provides a range of different scenarios and starting points for studying the transformation of drug-dependent war economies in ways that can reinforce both national peace and sustainable livelihoods locally.
  • The role of international actors varies across the cases. Afghanistan and Colombia have experienced highly internationalised (and militarised) counter-narcotics interventions. In contrast, Myanmar has experienced a much lower level of international involvement.
  • The three countries also represent very different levels of development, donor dependence and national capacities to address drugs issues: Colombia is defined by the OECD DAC as an ‘upper middle income country’, whereas Afghanistan and Myanmar are defined as two of the world’s ‘least developed countries’. Afghanistan is highly donor dependent, whereas Myanmar has historically received far smaller amounts of ODA in light of the sanctions imposed against the country.