Preliminary investigations in Afghanistan conducted since the Taliban took control of the country suggest a highly disparate set of political, social, and commercial dynamics affecting arms smuggling and illicit arms availability. On the one hand, the Taliban’s efforts to tighten control over large stockpiles and small-scale smuggling have been successful to some degree in certain areas. After dropping sharply in markets following the fall of the Republic, weapons prices have rebounded, which also suggests a tightening of supplies.
On the other hand, arms smuggling, civilian arms sales, and even weapon registration continues where it suits local Taliban officials to collect taxes on these activities; unauthorized, clandestine arms trafficking is also taking place. Local dynamics in the region, especially the character of local leaders and their relations with the main power centres, significantly shape the extent to which smuggling is, or is not, authorized.
The situation in Nangarhar—given its long border with Pakistan, the presence of significant arms markets, and a history of cross-border illicit trafficking—is of particular concern. Field research conducted in the province in late 2022 suggests that cross-border trafficking is continuing, and that Afghan-sourced arms are both available in Pakistani markets and fuelling TTP violence against the Pakistani state.
The access of other non-state terrorist groups—especially ISKP—to Taliban-held arms currently remains unclear. If ISKP is successful in recruiting disenfranchised and marginalized fighters, this could not only put additional pressure on the Taliban, but also provide new avenues for ISKP to access military equipment. Investigations into the specific trafficking networks and intermediaries involved would help to better inform counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation interventions and outreach to regional states. The degree of overlap between smuggling and the drug trade would also benefit from further investigation.
Other non-state armed groups’ relations with the Taliban, and their possible access to Afghan-sourced arms, is one of several important questions that future research should address. The Small Arms Survey and others have previously used longitudinal pricing data to monitor illicit arms markets and serve as an early-warning mechanism, since sharp changes in prices may indicate a high risk of violent outbreaks. As the Taliban face complex internal security risks posed by emerging armed resistance and ISKP, it is increasingly important to fill in the significant knowledge gaps that exist, as well as to ensure adequate independent monitoring and reporting on weapons and terrorist group activity, in both Afghanistan and the wider region.
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