Guns, Drugs, and Thugs: Smuggling in the Golden Crescent

By Michael Watson

The Golden Crescent, which includes Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, is one of the most important regions in the world for the global narcotics trade. Afghanistan’s poppy cultivation surged in the 1970s and it became a global supplier of opiates when other countries in the region banned poppies. Arms smuggling in Pakistan and Afghanistan traces back to resistance against British colonial rule, but the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan catalyzed the crossborder movement of weapons and narcotics in the region. Smugglers took advantage of preexisting routes and developed new ones during the 1980s to create the routes that are still in use today. Afghanistan’s prolific poppy fields now produce a massive outpouring of opiates that smugglers transport to European and other foreign markets. Traffickers use welldeveloped networks and techniques to convey narcotics from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Iran and precursor chemicals to heroin labs near the border through a combination of force, stealth, and corruption. Despite the Golden Crescent’s well-deserved reputation for narcotics, weapons trafficking predates the transnational drug trade, and entrepreneurial smugglers still provide the Taliban and other insurgent groups with firearms and heavier weapons. In many cases, the same smugglers who take drugs out of Afghanistan move weapons across the region’s borders too. In addition to their role in the arms trade, Baluch separatists, Quetta Shura Taliban, and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are dissipating the line between narcotrafficker and terrorist as they develop deeper connections to the drug trade and use it to fund their operations.

Download PDF: 

About Us

The International Affairs Review is a graduate student-run publication of the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Follow us on:

Submission Guidelines

The International Affairs Review is currently accepting article submissions. Submissions for the website are accepted on a weekly basis with a deadline of 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time each Thursday. Submissions for the print journal are accepted continuously, with article selection occurring at the beginning of each semester.

Click here for more information


Opinions expressed in International Affairs Review are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Affairs Review, The Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, or any other person or organization formally associated with International Affairs Review.

Click here for more information

Contact Us

Please feel free to contact our team with any questions or concerns.

Print Journal:

The Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
1957 E Street, NW
Room 303-K
Washington, DC 20052