All Writings
October 3, 2004

Strategic Fault-Line In Combating Terrorism

Although terrorism is without exception reprehensible, as long as the United States and other powers, including Russia, continue to ignore its root causes, the prospects for diminishing and eventually eliminating it will remain practically nonexistent. Intelligence estimates originating in the United States, Israel, and Europe, as well as experiences on the ground have shown that in the past three years the ranks of terrorist organizations have dramatically swelled; that is, for every terrorist killed or captured, two or more are joining one terrorist group or another. The stubborn refusal by the U.S. government, and now Russia's, to acknowledge that the use of force to combat terrorism, albeit necessary at times, will neither reduce or eradicate the scourge of terrorism only adds to the problem. For anything real to be accomplished, far greater attention must be focused on the social, economic, political and ethnicreligious conflicts and grievances that create the environment for and the motivation to commit acts of terror.

The terrorism in Russia, the direct result of the Chechens' struggle, offers a stark example of how a terribly misguided policy leads to increasingly tragic consequences when the root causes of the struggle are ignored. Chechens, recognized as a distinct people since the seventeenth century, bitterly opposed Russia=s conquest of the Caucasus which began in 1818 and was completed in 1917. They were and are of an entirely different ethnicity than the rest of Russia, with a separate culture, religion, and historic background. After Soviet rule was reestablished in 1921, the autonomous region of Chechen was created in 1922. In 1934, it became part of the Chechen-Ingush region, and was made into a republic in 1936. The Chechen collaboration with the Germans in World War II. prompted the Soviets to deport many Chechens to Central Asia. After the war, most of the deportees were gradually repatriated, and in 1956, the republic of Chechnya was reestablished. During the Soviet regime, the Chechens suffered greatly from discrimination, cruelty, and institutionalized abuse. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chechen Parliament seized the opportunity and declared the republic's independence. The tensions between Russia and Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev escalated into warfare in 1994. Grozny, the capital was totally devastated by the Russian army and tens of thousands of Chechen killed. This national tragedy affected every man, woman, and child in Chechnya. For much of the past 10 years, Russian military and security forces have continued to persecute the Chechen. According to several major human rights watch groups, abuses in Chechnya are as rampant as they were under Stalin, with disappearances, rape, imprisonments, abductions, and other severe violations commonplace.

The terrorist attacks that recently indiscriminately killed innocent children at a Beslan school, and elsewhere in Russia, airplane passengers, subway commuters, and theater audiences are abhorrent acts that must be condemned in the strongest terms. But Chechen terrorism, however abhorrent, must be seen through the prism of what has befallen the Chechen people. Because to view them as pure wanton acts of terrorism rather than in their historical context defies logic and will only contribute to even greater tragedies in the future. It is true that Chechen militants are influenced by Wahabism, a strict form of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, and are aided by Islamists terrorist groups, especially el Qaida. This, however, should neither make the war against Chechnya a war against terrorism, nor blind the Russian government from their own role in what has happened and to accepting their responsibility to deal with the Chechens' legitimate grievances. Chechen terrorism will not end because of more repression and preemptive strikes against the Chechen people. It will end when the Russian government admits it made terrible mistakes in the past, rectifies these injustices by recognizing the rights of the Chechen people, and reaches a political settlement through negotiation. A settlement leading to Chechen self-rule while at the same time safeguarding Russia's national security and economic interests (oil and gas) is not impossible. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand, they can only be realized if the Russian government and the Chechens rebels recognize each other's legitimate requirements and national interests.

President Putin=s fears that allowing the Chechens self-rule will have a domino effect throughout the Caucasus, are legitimate only to the extent that Chechnya becomes completely independent and ceases to be a part of the Russian federation. As reported by the New York Times, the Chechen rebels presented extreme demands during their seizure of the school in Beslan, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, the inclusion of Chechnya as a separate state within the commonwealth of the former Soviet states, and the restoration of order in the region. But the Times also reported that these demands, according to Ruslan Aushev (president of Ingushetia from 1993 to 200), who was sent by the Kremlin to Beslan to negotiate with the rebels, could have formed the basis for a negotiated settlement. And only negotiations that address the Chechen grievances, he added, can prevent future war. President Putin does not have only two choices: that of giving Chechen complete independence or of permanently subjugating its people. (In fact, there is nothing in the history of this conflict which spans more than two centuries to indicate that the Chechens will ever submit to Russian domination.). Rather, given the historical reality and present situation, the only realistic solution is for Chechnya to remain part of the Russian Federation yet be permitted to run its own internal affairs as it sees fit. For President Putin to equate negotiating with the Chechen rebels to negotiating with el Qaida, as he did recently, is both disingenuous and dangerously misleading. He may wish to find a common cause with President Bush by looking at the terrorism phenomenon in black-and- white terms. That perspective, however, will not solve the problem of the terrorism he faces any more than it has solved it for the United States. Mr. Putin will sooner than later have to answer to the Russian people about how many more of them will die before he recognizes that his strategy has failed. He should learn from the Bush administration's failure in confusing Saddam Hussein with el Qaida and from the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts which have claimed the lives of many thousands with no end in sight, that root causes can not be ignored. By amassing more power under the pretext of fighting terrorism and trampling on democracy in Russia, Mr. Putin will not solve the Chechen problem or lessen the Russian people's pain over their terrible losses now or in the future.

Only a negotiated settlement with the Chechens will stop the vicious cycle and prevent this war from spreading into other republics in the region, a situation that could set the south of Russia and perhaps the entire Caucasus on fire.