Sean Etheridge PS472 Spring Term





"For centuries the Khyber Pass has been the gateway between Central and Southern Asia. Today it's a gateway for drugs, for Islamic radicals, for terrorism, and threatens to turn Afghanistan into the Lebanon of the 90's. As Lebanon was once center stage for Middle Eastern terror, now Afghanistan has emerged as the haven for Islamic militants from around the world." 1 With this CNN investigation, labeled "Terror Nation," and the numerous news stories during the 1990s linking Afghanistan to international terrorist organizations, drug trafficking, warring factions, and human rights abuses, one would think that this country would probably be toward the top of a list of countries that the United States does not approve of. The actions of the United States toward Afghanistan during this decade point to quite a different conclusion. It is puzzling for an actor to use double standards toward other actors that engage in similar practices as each other. This paper will use various theories relating to international policy-making to answer the more puzzle: Why does US policy treat Afghanistan differently than nations engaging in similar practices? Specifically, Afghanistan engages in drug trafficking and assists international terrorist organizations, but is treated differently than other nations that engage in drug trafficking and the sponsorship of international terrorism?


To assist in providing a solution to this puzzle, this paper will use various theories to provide a theoretical basis from which to examine the U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. In order to use them, a basic explication of each one and its components is first necessary.



Rational Choice Theory


Rational choice theory states that an actor will consider the possibilities of gains, losses, and the probability that each will occur before making a decision. The actor will then use these possible gains and losses to calculate which decisions will provide it with the highest expected gains. If a decision-maker follows this procedure and chooses the option that has the higher utility, that actor is considered to be acting rationally. 2 However, this theory fails to account for other factors that can limit an actor’s ability to make a rational decision each time a choice is made. The theory of bounded rationality considers cognitive factors that may limit the actors ability to make a rational choice. The actor could forget, misinterpret, discount, ignore, deny, or modify information that heightens value conflict. Also, an actor may possess a motivated or unmotivated bias toward another actor involved in a decision. A motivated bias occurs when an actor see what it wants to see and an unmotivated bias occurs when an actor views a situation based on what it expects to see from historical experience. As a result of this skewed information, the actor may make a choice that does not seem the to be the most efficient alternative according to rational choice theory. In the case of US policy toward Afghanistan, it may be the case that the United States has accurately calculated the highest expected utility and has made a rational choice not to intervene in Afghanistan. Evidence may also suggest that the United States misinterpreted its information about Afghanistan and that it may have not made the most logical choice.


Politics Theory


Bureaucratic politics theory and domestic politics theory are used to explain foreign policy decisions for actors making decisions within a political system. For example, in the United States, the President, Congress, and the State Department will "see different faces of issues, propose competing ways to resolve value conflicts, and have varying time horizons for action success."3 Differing views play a major role in bureaucratic politics, as many interpretations of a perceived threat or many positions on a giving threat can send mixed signals about those threats to the parties involved. Domestic politics are shaped by interest groups that make up the constituencies of the elected officials making the decisions. These theories are necessarily applied to scenarios that involve a number of actors in a decision-making process because the rationality of an actor cannot be applied as it can be if only a unitary actor is involved. The nature of a bureaucracy responsible to interested constituents requires the assumption that bargaining games are being performed throughout the decision-making process in order to please various actors in the political system. 4



Prospect Theory


Prospect theory attempts to explain an actor’s decision-making process by placing it in the domains of gains and losses. According to this theory, an actor is likely to be risk averse when operating in a domain of gains and risk acceptant when operating in a domain of losses. Prospect theory revolves around the principle that people view losses as more salient than gains and are more likely to avoid losses that they are to pursue gains. Unmotivated and motivated biases of an actor play a crucial role in prospect theory as well because the actor uses these preconceived notions as a reference tool in the decision-making process. For US policy toward Afghanistan, prospect theory would place the United States in the domain of gains since US policy has been very risk averse in regards to direct interaction with Afghanistan. Again, the history of Afghanistan from the period after the Soviet Union ceased its occupation of the country to its current state in 1998, as a nation engaged in a civil war between factions, will provide the necessary background information to apply these theories to US policy.


Afghanistan Background


From 1978, when Afghan Communist military officers took power in a coup, through 1979 when the Soviet Army invaded the country in an unsuccessful effort to eliminate a growing Islamic and nationalist resistance movement aided by Western and Muslim countries, and through the final withdrawal of those Soviet troops under a UN-mediated agreement in 1989, Afghanistan became the stage for the most violent civil war resulting from the Cold-War. For almost 20 years Afghanistan has existed at the very bottom of the world's poorest states. The figures for Afghanistan at the World Bank give it a bottom ranking alongside countries such as Somalia. While there are no entries for real Gross Domestic Product for Somalia in the war years of 1990 to the present day, for Afghanistan, there are figures for the same period, but most of them are negative numbers to represent a contraction. 5


A shortage of every basic modern infrastructural facility has resulted from years of civil war followed by Soviet occupation, a "liberation war" by Moslem Mujahideen holy warriors and factional fighting over the remaining nation. A Communist-led government remained in power with Soviet aid until early 1992, but collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union. The civil war continues and has led to the comeback of a more traditional Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan, that of the Taliban.


The Taliban captured Kabul on September 27, 1996 and extended their rule over two-thirds of Afghanistan--imposing their ultra-conservative form of Islamic rule, confining women to their homes, banning girls from schools, requiring men to grow beards, and outlawing soccer, volleyball, chess, and kites. The Taliban's Islamic courts and religious police, the Department to Propagate Virtue and Eliminate Vice, enforced their interpretation of Islamic punishments, such as public executions for adultery or murder and amputations of one hand and one foot for theft. For lesser crimes, Taliban often handed out verdicts and punishments such as beatings on the spot. Civil war conditions and competing factions effectively limited the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement.6


The United States has little, if any, leverage with the players involved in Afghanistan. It has no control over any of the current Afghan factions and its sway over Pakistan has been greatly reduced since Washington terminated all assistance to that country in 1990 as a response to its nuclear weapons program, as defined by the Pressler Amendment. The United States cannot pressure Saudi Arabia because the nation has its own sources of money and knows that it is central to the United States’ vital interests in the Gulf. Finally, it has little or no influence in the regional states opposing the Taliban, namely Iran, Russia, India, and the Central Asian states. This lack of regional allies makes it difficult for the United States to gain any bargaining tools with Afghanistan.



A) Drug Trafficking


Two decades of war have greatly benefited drug producers as well. United States Government (USG) figures indicated an estimated 3 percent increase in opium poppy cultivation from 37,950 hectares in 1996 to 39,150 hectares in 1997. Opium production increased by an estimated 2 percent, from 1,230 metric tons in 1996 to 1,265 metric tons in 1997. Afghanistan continued as the world's second largest producer of opium poppy, behind Burma, and it is ranked by the USG as "one of the world's least controlled narcotics trafficking area." 7 While the Taliban publicly condemned the use and production of opium after they after their rise to power, Narcotics remained Afghanistan's largest source of income in 1997, and Taliban authorities reportedly benefited financially from the trade and provided protection to heroin laboratories. 8 To explain the country's situation, the acting deputy foreign minister said: "The fighting we are faced with is fighting which has been imposed on us by Russia, Iran and India. Intervention by these countries has brought about misery for our people both inside our country and overseas. The poverty and misfortune stemming from the fighting has made our people grow plants from which narcotic substances can be produced. Rich countries' assistance to the peasants can enhance their financial situation and can help them refrain from growing plants which produce narcotic substances." 9


However, on June 1, 1998, the Taliban destroyed 1,893 kilograms of fresh opium because of a pledge they had made to the UNDCP. At this ceremony, the Taliban authorities called for the reduction of poppy production and pointed out that the Holy Koran forbids drug use. It asked for help in crop substitution and condemned the effects of opium on young people. 10 While this may serve as an initial step toward curbing the extreme nature of drug trafficking in Afghanistan, much more progress is required before the country is granted certification by the US President acknowledging that the nation is taking adequate steps to attempt to comply with the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. 11 Afghanistan has failed to achieve certification status for 1997 because of its lack of progress to limit the amount of drugs being produced in its borders. 12



B) Sponsorship/Assistance of International Terrorism


In addition to being condemned by the USG in the drug trafficking arena, Afghanistan also draws heavy criticism about the training camps within its borders that have trained both Afghan factions and international terrorist groups. According to the US Department of State’s report on Patterns of Global Terrorism in 1997: "Islamic extremists from around the world--including large numbers of Egyptians, Algerians, Palestinians, and Saudis--continued to use Afghanistan as a training ground and home base from which to operate in 1997. The Taliban, as well as many of the other combatants in the Afghan civil war, facilitated the operation of training and indoctrination facilities for non-Afghans in the territories they controlled. Several Afghani factions also provided logistic support, free passage, and sometimes passports to the members of various terrorist organizations. These individuals, in turn, were involved in fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Kashmir, the Philippines, and parts of the Middle East." 13


According to a report on assessed threats by Toby Gati before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1997, "the proliferation of new, more internationally active terrorist groups continues. Such groups typically enjoy several sources of support, allowing them greater flexibility and autonomy in their actions. The welfare of an American citizen kidnapped by one such group in Kashmir in 1995 remains unknown. Many of these emerging groups also benefit from experience in Afghanistan's terrorist training camps or from the largest of private patrons, such as Usama bin Laden." 14 Laden is reportedly worth over $300 million and is considered to be a major financier of international terrorism. Despite his call on Muslims to declare a jihad, or holy war, against American civilians and soldiers in the Middle East, and being quoted as warning the United States that if they attempted to capture him he would "teach them a lesson similar to the lesson they were taught in Somalia,"15 he denies any connection with international terrorism.16 While originally thought to have fled Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban’s rise to power, as of March, 1997, Taliban officials say that they will not ask Laden to leave Afghanistan and that they will allow him to remain there if he does not engage in any terrorist behavior. 17



International Response


The events in Afghanistan are unsettling for the international community, especially the UN and the bordering nations on the north of Afghanistan. In a UN Security Council Press Release, the President of Uzbekistan is quoted: "The continuing war in Afghanistan is beginning to threaten the peace and security of central Asia as well as of the whole world. It is becoming the source of international terrorism, narco-business and armaments proliferation. Uzbekistan again calls on the Security Council for an embargo on armaments to Afghanistan, irrespective of sources."18 But, international recognition of the problems in Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon. The President of the UN Security Council has been commenting on the situation in Afghanistan since 1994 in which he made a statement calling for the cease-fire between the warring factions.


The United States has also responded negatively to Afghanistan’s terrorist training camps and drug trafficking, but while US policy appears to count these strikes on the same board for such rogue nations as Iran, Libya, and Cuba, US policy fails to respond to Afghanistan in the same fashion. In Gati’s speech on current and projected threats to US assets in 1997, Afghanistan is listed under the heading: "Hot Spots and Uncertainties," alongside Bosnia, the Aegean, Pakistan, India, and Central Africa. While every other region or country listed in this category is involved in either a civil war or regional dispute, only Afghanistan is mentioned as "a focus for meddling by neighbor states, a narcotics trafficking center, a source for international terrorist training and equipment, and hence a major source of regional instability." 19 Only when the "rogue" nations of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, and Cuba are named does Gati mention the sponsorship of terrorism; even then he states that Syria has not engaged in a terrorist act since 1986 but they continue to harbor terrorist organizations. Similarly, Cuba is listed as no longer being a significant threat, but it continues to be thought of as a threat because "a period of instability may follow, leading to another mass migration and violence" once Castro no longer holds power. 20 The puzzle remains: why does the United States exhibit this double standard on nations despite the fact that Afghanistan engages in similar, or even worse, abuses of international law than some countries that the US State Department labels as problem states.



Theoretical Application


It is difficult to apply theory to cases in which there is little hard evidence, due to the fact that the USG does not generally inform the public on how it interprets the information it receives concerning Afghanistan. However, many inferences can be made by considering the similarities and differences of Afghanistan to other nations that engage in drug trafficking and the sponsorship of international terrorism.



A) Rational Choice Theory


According to rational choice theory, the United States would be acting rationally toward Afghanistan if the United States achieved the highest expected utility by not directly confronting Afghanistan about their policy of harboring terrorist organizations. If the United States has calculated that the possible loss of civilian and military lives as a result of terrorist attacks by those terrorists trained in Afghanistan would weigh result in a lower expected net utility than the net utility that would be expected by not directly punishing Afghanistan for these practices then the United States policy toward Afghanistan is rational. Because sanctions would only isolate Afghanistan to a greater degree than it already is by limiting its trade opportunities, the US policy would seem to be efficient according to rational choice theory if it acted in this fashion. However, this leads one to question why US policy does not adopt a similar policy toward nations, such as Iran and Libya, that also sponsor international terrorism. If they were using the same decision-making process to decide whether or not to directly confront Iran and Libya about their sponsorship of international terrorism, it would seem that the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act would not have been passed.


At this point, the differences that exist between Afghanistan and other nations sponsoring international terrorism that are being reprimanded by the US are useful to examine. For example, the history of animosity between Libya and Iran with the United States could lead the United States to hold an unmotivated bias for these countries and regard them as threats because they expect to see them as threats. The United States may also hold a motivated bias toward these countries because the United States wants to reprimand countries that have challenged US ideology and interests in the past. This would lead me to wonder why the United States does not have an unmotivated bias to see any country that harbors terrorist organizations to be a threat to US interests regardless of other factors.


In regards to their drug trafficking, US policy has apparently decided that non-certification of Afghanistan is the most efficient way to achieve a net gain out of the situation. As mentioned earlier, Afghanistan failed to receive narcotics certification from the US President in 1997. According to the 1997 Narcotics Strategy Report: "If the President denies certification to a country, there is a complete cut-off of sales or financing under the Arms Export Control Act, non-food assistance under Public Law 480, financing by the Export-Import Bank, and most assistance under the FAA with exception of specified types of humanitarian and counternarcotics assistance. In addition, the U.S. must vote against any loans from six multilateral development banks. The President also has the discretion during the year to impose trade and other economic sanctions under section 802 of the narcotics control trade act for countries that are not certified, under similar but not identical certification standards." 21 This decision by the USG to sanction Afghanistan because of drug trafficking and not sponsorship of international terrorism questions the extent of their rationality process and cannot be explained by rational choice theory given the evidence.



B)Domestic Politics


This apparent discrepancy can be explained by domestic politics. Both Iran and Libya have interest groups in the United States that favor imposed sanctions on the countries; American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the case of Iran and the families of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing in the case of Libya. The fact that there are no anti-Afghanistan groups organized in the United States, makes it much easier to leave Afghanistan off a list of sanctioned countries since there is no pressure from the constituents to add Afghanistan. In the case of the sanctions imposed on Afghanistan because of its failure to achieve certification off the majors list of drug producers, the US President has many more constituents concerned with illegal drug entering the United States than he has constituents worried about international terrorism. It would be much more difficult to convince his constituents that there was a justifiable reason not to punish Afghanistan for drug trafficking



C) Bureaucratic Politics


Bureaucratic politics theory offers a different spin on the issue. According to this theory, some actors in the US bureaucracy may consider it a more efficient choice to combat Afghanistan’s terrorist organizations but they gave up this choice in one of the bargaining games before the final decision was made. According to a statement made by the President in 1996, "counter-terrorism is a top priority for the Clinton Administration as it has sought aggressively to track down and punish terrorists world wide and to fight international crime to the fullest extent of the law"22 and also that "our responsibility is to do everything we can to prevent terrorist attacks, to bring to justice those who commit them, and above all, to never let terrorism stop us from moving forward with our lives."23 If the issue of combating international was as high of a priority as Clinton suggests in these quotes, bureaucratic politics theory concludes that he must have sacrificed the punishment of Afghanistan in a bargaining game to get something that was more important to him or he was simply outnumbered by too many other players in the bureaucracy.



D) Prospect Theory


The final theory to be used to explain US policy toward Afghanistan is prospect theory. In the 90s, US policy has had very little direct interaction with Afghanistan and had only verbally reprimanded the country for its involvement with terrorist organizations and human rights abuses. The decision to withhold aid from the country due to its non-certification for drug trafficking was also in the domain of gains and risk averse because the US had very little to lose by making an example of Afghanistan’s drug production. Afghanistan was aware if the certification process, but chose to profit from the drug production during the years of civil war. It would be much riskier to take the initiative to sanction Afghanistan based on the principle that terrorist organizations exist within the country’s borders because this principle is rarely acted upon. Also, when the United States has imposed sanctions on a country that engages in the sponsorship of international terrorism, these sanctions have been unilateral for the most part. The United States would be placing themselves at risk because the sanctions would isolate Afghanistan from the Washington to an even greater degree and US businesses would not be allowed to profit from the resources of Afghanistan that will become available if a stable government is established. According to prospect theory, the US policy has an unmotivated bias to see Afghanistan as a threat because of its participation in assisting international terrorist organizations and drug trafficking; since the United States is in a domain of gains and not losses, US policy will remain risk averse to Afghanistan.



Future Policy Packages


Based on the current civil war in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s practice of human rights abuses, and the level of poverty the country has existed in for nearly twenty years, the future US policy packages toward Afghanistan cannot be involve either retributive or rehabilitative punishment. Afghanistan already exists in a basement of poverty in which they have to resort to opium production as their principal agricultural product; any more sanctions imposed on the country will only push them closer to risk acceptant behavior. For the international community to ease the suffering of the Afghans, specific changes need to be implemented by the end of the century.


First, the UN must place an arms embargo on Afghanistan that will punish any country assisting the warring factions. The Afghan factions have repeatedly deplored international pressures in the war, but as long as other nations supply the factions with arms, they will be allowed to continue with their interference. If the factions do not have weapons to use against each other, the war will come to an end much more quickly than if the arms were allowed to flow freely into the country.


Second, the starving Afghans need to receive immediate help by more international actors than the UN, Amnesty International, and the Red Cross. In the past the United States has been reluctant to provide aid to Afghanistan because of the risks involved with entering a country engaged in civil war as well as the human rights abuses of the factions holding power in the country. How this humanitarian relief will proceed while the war continues will remain to be seen, but the international community must be ready to assist Afghanistan as soon as it possibly can when the war ends.


Third, the international community must provide the Afghan farmers with an alternative crop that can compete with the profit gained from opium production. Opium production will never be eliminated in Afghanistan if growing opium is the only way the farmers can make a living. Again, participation by numerous international actors is needed to achieve this goal because unitary actors such as the UN or the United States will be unable to achieve success on their own.


Finally, a stable government must be established in Afghanistan. This is by far the most difficult task to accomplish based on the will each faction has exhibited during the civil war. The UN and international community has to use carrots rather than sticks to entice the warring factions to come to the negotiating table. Once a government if firmly established and recognized, the international terrorist assistance, human rights abuses, and drug trafficking can all be remedied much more easily by the established government than by international actors.





Based on prospect theory, politics theory, and rational choice theory, the United States policy toward Afghanistan seems rather logical and rational despite the fact that the country is treated differently than other nations engaging in drug trafficking and international terrorism sponsorship. Rather than punishing Afghanistan for these practices, as would be the seemingly logical choice based on US policy toward other nations engaged in similar practices, the international community needs to end the civil war and assist the Afghans by embracing the nation instead. Only after conditions improve for the Afghans themselves can Afghanistan’s drug trafficking and assistance for terrorist organizations be eliminated.





1- Lexis-Nexis Search: General News, Asia/Pacific Papers, International Terror! W/20 Afghan!, All Available Dates






4- Ibid


5-Afghanistan’s Falling GDP


6- Afghanistan Country Report on Human Rights Practice 1997


7-International Narctoics Strategy Report 1997




9- Lexis-Nexis Search: General News, All Available Dates, International Terror! W/20 Afghan!, Asia/Pacific Papers


10-Afghanistan Weekly Update 266


11- The Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)




13- Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1997 Asia Overview




15- Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1997 Asia Overview



16- Lexis-Nexis Search: General News, Asia/Pacific Papers, All Available Dates, International Terror! W/20 Afghan!



17- Lexis-Nexis Search: General News, Asia/Pacific Papers, All Avialable Dates, International Terror! W/20 Afghan!



18- UN Security Council Press Release GA/8969





20- Ibid



21- The Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)


22-White House Publications


23-White House Publications