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Moscow's muddled objectives

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  • Moray Pickering
    Moscow s muddled objectives By B Raman http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/EA04Ag04.html Chechnya in Russia continues to bleed, with no respite from the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2003
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      Moscow's muddled objectives
      By B Raman


      Chechnya in Russia continues to bleed, with no respite from the scourge of
      pan-Islamic terrorism. At least 80 persons are reported to have died on or
      after December 27, 2002, when two vehicles filled with a large quantity of
      explosives rammed into a highly protected building in the Chechen capital of
      Grozny, which housed the headquarters of the provincial government.
      Chechnya's Moscow-nominated President, former mufti (Muslim scholar) Akhmed
      Kadyrov, and Prime Minister Mikhail Babyche were reportedly not in the
      building when the strike took place. The incident has been described as a
      case of suicide bombing.

      Coming as it does within two months of the October capture of a theater in
      Moscow with over 700 spectators inside by a group of about 50 Chechen
      terrorists, which was terminated by the Russian security agencies with heavy
      civilian casualties, the Grozny attack highlights the ground reality that
      the morale and motivation of the Chechen terrorists remain undiluted despite
      the disastrous failure of their Moscow operation of October, and that the
      Russian security agencies are nowhere near getting the better of the ground
      situation in Chechnya.

      Since July, 2002, there has been speculation in Grozny about the plans of
      the group of foreign mercenaries led by Abu al-Valid, who succeeded Samir
      Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem, alias Ibn-ul-Khattab (killed in April, 2002), as
      the head of the mercenary force, to carry out a major strike against the
      provincial government headquarters in Grozny and the local railway lines.
      Pravda, the Russian daily, referred to this in its online edition of July 8,
      2002. The fact that the terrorists were able to carry out the strike despite
      this indicates that either security outside the building was lax or that
      strict security could not prevent the terrorists from penetrating the
      protected area, possibly with the help of accomplices in the government
      security set-up. In the past, too, there have been instances of Chechen
      policemen, sympathetic to the terrorists, facilitating their operations.

      If it is finally established that this was a suicide strike, this is the
      most serious act of suicide terrorism since it made its appearance in
      Chechnya in June 2000 under the influence of Osama bin Laden's International
      Islamic Front, (IIF) formed in Kandahar in Afghanistan in 1998. It may be
      recalled that in India's Jammu and Kashmir, too, suicide terrorism made its
      appearance for the first time only in 1999 after the Pakistani pan-Islamic
      organizations joined the IIF in 1998.

      No organization has so far claimed responsibility for the Grozny incident.
      The pro-independence Chechen groups are reported to have denied any
      responsibility for it. The pan-Islamic elements have been silent. Unless
      some of those who participated in the conspiracy are arrested by the Russian
      authorities and interrogated, it is going to be difficult for them to
      determine which of the innumerable terrorist groups in Chechnya carried out
      the operation.

      A peculiar characteristic of the Chechen situation is that there is hardly
      any distinct, identifiable organization. There are many warlords heading
      groups of people owing allegiance to them, but hardly any organization with
      a personality, a clearly explained objective and typical modus operandi of
      its own. This renders an analysis of the situation quite difficult. The
      dramatis personae can be divided into the following two groups.

      Those fighting for national independence for Chechnya, who claim to have no
      affinity with the Islamic extremists and do not call for an Islamic state.
      Prominent in this category are Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected as the
      president of the Republic in February 1997, but was subsequently deposed by
      Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his closest supporters, like the
      former foreign minister Ilias Ahmadov, with suspected links to US
      intelligence, former vice premier Ahmed Zakayev, with suspected links to
      European intelligence, whom the Russians unsuccessfully tried to get
      extradited from Denmark after the October terrorist incident in Moscow, and
      Movladi Udugov, former Information Minister, who reportedly runs many of the
      anti-Moscow Chechen websites using US-based servers. All of them are
      generally critical of the Islamic terrorist groups, but consistent in their
      demand for an independent Chechen state. However, they are reportedly
      prepared to give another try to the agreement worked out in 1996 under
      former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, under which Moscow gave considerable
      autonomy for Chechnya, with a decision on its demand for independence
      deferred to a later date. This agreement collapsed in 1999 when the
      pan-Islamic terrorists based in Chechnya raided Dagestan and organized a
      series of terrorist strikes in Moscow and other non-Chechen cities.

      Those fighting for an independent Islamic state to be ruled under Sharia
      law, as the first step towards the formation of an Islamic caliphate
      consisting of Chechnya and Dagestan. Prominent in this category are Shamil
      Basayev (who recently died in Russian custody), a former Russian army and
      military intelligence (GRU) officer who projects himself as the "Islamic Che
      Guevara", Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who reportedly operates from Qatar, Salman
      Raduyev and Abu al-Valid.

      The various pan-Islamic terrorist groups are estimated to have a total
      strength of about 6,000, including a large number of foreign mercenaries.
      There are widely varying estimates of the strength of the foreign
      mercenaries, ranging between 200 (Western estimate) and 1,100 (Moscow's).
      The foreign mercenaries, many of them trained by the US Central Intelligence
      Agency (CIA) during the first Afghan war of the 1980s through Pakistan's
      Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for use against Soviet troops, come from
      countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates,
      Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, the Lebanon, Indonesia and China (Xinjiang).

      The largest and the most fiercely motivated components of the mercenary
      force come from the Chechen Diaspora in West Asia and Pakistan. The favored
      routes of the foreign mercenaries for infiltrating into Chechnya lie through
      Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Many thousands of Chechen
      mohajirs (refugees), whose ancestors left the Caucasus as a result of the
      1817-1864 Caucasian war, now live in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Lebanon,
      Turkey, Syria, Egypt and the Persian Gulf countries.

      Hundreds of Arab nationals of Chechen ancestry joined the 6,000 plus jihadi
      mercenary force raised by the CIA through the ISI in the 1980s to fight
      against Soviet troops, and they fought in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden.
      They maintained their links with bin Laden after the withdrawal of the
      Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988. Some of them were taken by bin Laden
      into his al-Qaeda and IIF, and they worked as instructors in the training
      camps in Afghan territory. They were also used by the ISI to train the
      Taliban army after 1994 and to assist the Taliban in its fight against the
      Northern Alliance. Many others were sent to Chechnya by bin Laden after 1994
      to assist the indigenous Chechen groups in their fight for an Islamic
      caliphate. They were initially led by Khattab, and after his assassination
      through a booby-trap by the Russian intelligence in April, 2002, they have
      been led by Abu al-Valid.

      The Russians do not identify these pro-bin Laden Chechen mercenaries from
      the Diaspora as Chechens. Instead, they identify them as Arabs. Khattab and
      Abu al-Valid are described by the Russians as Arabs, but they are believed
      to be of Chechen ancestry - Khattab from Saudi Arabia or Jordan and Abu
      al-Valid from Jordan. Russia itself has a large Chechen population outside
      Chechnya in Moscow and other cities. The total Chechen population of Russia
      is estimated at 1 million plus, most of whom used to live in Chechnya before
      1994. After the terrorist violence broke out in 1994, nearly a half of them
      migrated to other cities, either due to fear or due to the serious
      unemployment problem in Chechnya because of the set-back to the economy. The
      presence of a large Chechen population in Moscow and other cities enables
      the pan-Islamic terrorists to carry out terrorist strikes in those areas, as
      one saw in Moscow in October, 2002, and earlier in 1999.

      Next to the Chechen mohajirs, the second largest component in the foreign
      mercenary force consists of Pakistani nationals belonging to the Tablighi
      Jamaat (TJ), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the
      Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). The TJ is not a member of bin Laden's IIF,
      but the HUM and the HuJI are. It is not clear whether Abu al-Valid acts as
      the head of the Pakistani component too, or whether it acts autonomously.

      In an article in the prestigious weekly Friday Times of Lahore (October 4 to
      10, 2002), Khaled Ahmed, the well-known Pakistani columnist, wrote as
      follows on the role of the HuJI in the Central Asian Republics and the
      Caucasus: "Pakistan's jihadi penetration of Central Asia was conducted
      through Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami led by Qari Saufullah Akhtar of Pakistan
      and based in Kandahar [in Afghanistan]. The outfit with a wide network of
      seminaries and camps in Pakistan was close to Mullah Omar [Amir of the
      Taliban] because of its early allegiance to Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi, whose own
      Harkat activists formed the new Taliban cadres. These were the men often
      called 'Punjabi Taliban'. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami was the Taliban
      spearhead in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The leader of the
      Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami in Uzbekistan was Sheikh Muhammad Tahir al-Farooq.
      Twenty-seven of its fighters were killed in battle against Uzbek President
      Islam Karimov, as explained in the Islamabad-based journal Al Irshad. The
      war against Uzbekistan was bloody and was supported by the Taliban till in
      2001 the commander had to ask the Pakistanis in Uzbekistan to return to the

      He added, "In Chechnya, the war against the Russians was carried on under
      the leadership of commander Hidayatullah. Pakistan's embassy in Moscow once
      denied that there were any Pakistanis involved in the Chechen war, but the
      journal Al Irshad ( March, 2000) declared from Islamabad that the militia
      was deeply involved in the training of guerillas in Chechnya for which
      purpose commander Hidayatullah was stationed in the region. It is estimated
      that dozens of Pakistani fighters had been martyred fighting against Russian
      infidels. When the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami men were seen first in
      Tajikistan, they were mistaken by some observers as being fighters from
      Sipah Sahaba [the Sunni extremist organization of Pakistan], but in fact
      they were under the command of commander Khalid Irshad Tiwana, helping Juma
      Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev resist the Uzbek ruling class in the Ferghana

      There used to be seven training camps in the Serzhen-Yurt district of
      Chechnya. Of these, one was run by Khattab and another by Hidayatullah.
      Initially, these two camps of Khattab and Hidayatullah trained only those
      foreign mercenaries meant to fight against the Russians. After the US cruise
      missile attack on his training camps in Afghan territory in 1998, bin Laden
      started sending some of his own men to the Chechen training camps. In the
      past, sections of the Russian media have claimed that Georgian intelligence
      operatives suspected that the militants, who had tried to assassinate
      President Eduard Shevardnadze on February 9, 1998, were trained at camps in

      The pan-Islamic terrorists in Chechnya and the innumerable organized Chechen
      crime mafia groups operating in Chechnya and outside have never been short
      of funds. It is believed that their main sources of funding are:

      Narcotics (essentially heroin) smuggling: US$800 million per annum.

      Money diverted from banks controlled by Chechen businessmen in different
      parts of Russia: $600 million per annum.

      Illegal production and sale of oil: $36 million per annum.

      Hostage-taking for ransom: In 1997-1998, more than 60 Chechen groupings
      kidnapped a total of 1,094 people for ransom, and in 1999, 270. The number
      of hostages kidnapped for ransom still remaining in captivity is estimated
      to be more than 1,500. No estimate of the total ransom payments received is

      Money diverted from government funds: Moscow heavily subsidizes the Chechen
      state budget. A large portion of this money goes into the hands of various
      terrorist and mafia groups. (These estimates are by pro-government Russian
      analysts and could, therefore, be on the higher side.)

      The external sources of finance for the Chechen terrorists are as follows:

      Contributions from Saudi Arabia: Most of this amount is sent from Saudi
      Arabia to Pakistani fundamentalist organizations such as the Jamaat-i-Islami
      and the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Islam, which in turn have the money smuggled to the
      Chechen terrorists through the Tablighi Jamaat, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and
      the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. The six-party religious coalition called the
      Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which has come to power in Pakistan's North West
      Frontier Province and Balochistan after the elections held on October 10,
      2002, had promised in their election manifesto that they would step up
      assistance to the Chechen "freedom-fighters". Some of the Saudi funds also
      go through Islamist charities such as the Global Relief Foundation and
      Contributions from the Chechen Diaspora in West Asia. (Pro-government
      Russian analysts have estimated the fund flow from Saudi Arabia at $55
      million since 1994, and from the Diaspora at $20 million. These estimates,
      too, could be on the higher side.)

      Yeltsin followed a policy of distinguishing between those seeking
      independence and those with pan-Islamic objectives and reached accommodation
      with the former in 1996 to isolate the latter. Putin, on the other hand,
      does not make a distinction between indigenous and foreign terrorists and
      between those for independence and the pan-Islamists. He tends to treat all
      of them as one and the same, inspired and guided by bin Laden and his ilk
      from outside. This is making the problem intractable. However, in an attempt
      to appeal to the religious sentiments of the population and to project
      himself as not anti-Islam, he nominated after 1999 the Chechen mufti Akhmed
      Kadyrov as the head of the Chechen state, despite the fact that before the
      ceasefire of 1996 the mufti had supported the separatists, though he
      subsequently came over to the government side and condemned the pan-Islamic

      Putin's unqualified post-September 11 support to the US in the war against
      international terrorism had two objectives:

      To facilitate an active and pre-eminent role for the Northern Alliance in
      the post-Taliban government in Kabul.

      To have the scourge of terrorism in Chechnya acknowledged by the US and
      other Western countries as part of the international terrorism of the bin
      Laden and al-Qaeda kind.

      While he has achieved the first objective for the time being, his hopes in
      respect of the second remain belied to date. The US and the rest of the West
      have strongly condemned specific acts of terrorism, such as the Moscow
      theater seizure and attacks causing civilian casualties in Chechnya and
      extended moral support to Moscow in its fight against terrorism, but are
      still reluctant to accept the Russian argument that what has been happening
      in Chechnya is totally due to terrorism, inspired by bin Laden and company.
      Despite repeated Russian requests, Washington has desisted from designating
      any of the Chechen terrorist groups as foreign terrorist organizations.

      B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of
      India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai;
      member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India.
      He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research &
      Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August,

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