The Republic of Daghestan leadership has launched a new initiative to weaken the Islamic insurgency by providing material benefits to residents of those rural districts where militants are most active in return for the withdrawal of popular support for the insurgents.
Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov signed an agreement to that effect
last week with the local government of the mountainous central district of Untsukul; and the municipal council and local community of the village of Gimri, which for years has been a key insurgency base and recruiting ground.
Whether that approach will prove more effective than previous efforts is questionable, however, especially in light of the repeated reprisals in recent years by police and security forces against Gimri's population of 5,000.
Gimri is the historic center of Islamic resistance to the Russian expansion into the Caucasus. It was the home of the legendary Imam Shamil, the Avar who spearheaded that resistance from 1834 until his capture by Tsarist Russian forces in 1859. (Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov, also an Avar, is seen here
with a portrait of Shamil.)
More recently, Gimri has served as a base for one of the most feared and ruthless insurgency wings, headed by Ibragim Gadzhidadayev
, who was born there.
Because of the high incidence of insurgency activity in the region, Gimri has been subjected in recent years to repeated "counterterror operations" entailing restrictions on villagers' freedom of movement, and during which police and security forces have reportedly engaged in the deliberate destruction and looting of homes, compounding the alienation of the long-suffering population.
Counterterror restrictions imposed in December 2007 following the killing of former Daghestan parliament deputy Gazimagomed Magomedov remained in force for eight months, during which traffic through the 4-kilometer-long Untsukul tunnel that links lowland Daghestan with Untsukul and five other mountain districts was suspended. But even after the counterterror regime was relaxed, the tunnel remained closed for several years for reconstruction, creating a serious logistical problem for residents of the mountain districts whose livelihood depended on transporting agricultural produce to Makhachkala for sale.
Ramazan Abdulatipov has changed things as head of Daghestan. But for the better?
In June 2011, Gimri residents launched a mass protest and hunger strike
to demand the tunnel be opened for motor traffic during the day, with repair work carried out at night. As a compromise measure, the authorities agreed to open the tunnel for several hours per day for a period of five weeks. The reconstructed tunnel was finally opened
in October 2012.
Meanwhile, tensions have escalated over the past two years after security forces surrounded the village and carried out security checks
in January and November 2012 and conducted a full-scale counterterror operation in April 2013. In January 2012, some 1,000 residents attended a protest meeting at which village administration head Aliaskhab Magomedov complained that "the authorities turned a deaf ear" to their appeals for help after security personnel inflicted "huge damage" to property during previous such punitive operations
That policy of willful neglect on the part of the republic's leadership ended, however, with the appointment in January 2013 of Abdulatipov to replace Magomedsalam Magomedov (no relation to Aliaskhab) as republic head. In April 2013, Gimri villagers were evacuated from their homes to facilitate a large-scale counterterror operation in which three militants were killed. Five houses were destroyed, and 12 more badly damaged; over 420 villagers lodged formal complaints of apparently wanton damage
to buildings or theft of property. Daghestan's Interior Ministry rejected as unwarranted
the allegations of looting.
In the wake of that operation, Abdulatipov met with Aliaskhab Magomedov and Untsukul local government head Shamil Magomedov and promised emergency assistance
for those villagers left homeless. Then in August, Abdulatipov met in Makhachkala with a delegation of villagers and effectively accused them of bringing their problems on themselves by failing to prevent local men from joining the insurgency. "People come to save you from the bandits and you shoot them in the back. And after that you come and complain that you're not being treated properly," Abdulatipov charged
It was at that meeting that Abdulatipov first floated the idea of the four-way agreement, which took a further six months to draft and finalize.
Under the terms of the "Gimri Agreement
," the republican government undertakes to build over the next three years a hospital and kindergarten, repair a water main, provide a bus for the local school, and set up small-scale enterprises in Untsukul district to process agricultural produce and local stone. The Untsukul local government, the Gimri municipal council, and the local community for their part pledge to form a volunteer militia to assist local police in locating militants and during special operations to disarm and apprehend them, and to seek to persuade young men from Gimri who are fighting among the insurgency ranks, whether in Daghestan, elsewhere in the North Caucasus, or abroad, to return home and surrender.
Such volunteer militias were established in most of Daghestan's municipalities to cooperate with police in maintaining public order following the high-profile assassination
by a woman suicide bomber in August 2012 of venerated Sufi Sheikh Said-Afandi Chirkeisky.
The Gimri population also undertakes to ensure that sermons evincing the "criminal nature of extremism and terrorism" are read at Friday Prayers, and to instill in schoolchildren and young people an understanding of the need to assist law enforcement agencies in combating those trends.
The Untsukul regional government is tasked with monitoring compliance by the villagers with the terms of the agreement; providing to the media updates on its implementation and lists of persons who sabotage it by abetting the insurgency; and drafting analogous agreements to be signed with the neighboring villages of Balakhany and Kharachi. Kharachi was cordoned off by security forces in mid-November and 15 residents apprehended, of whom five, including village imam Adam Abdurayev, were remanded in custody on charges of obstructing the police
Is Agreement Even Legal?
Speaking at the signing of the "Gimri Agreement," Abdulatipov advocated concluding comparable pacts
with the western districts of Tsumada and Tsunta, and with Tabasaran district in the extreme southeast. All three districts are likewise hotbeds of militant activity.
Abdulatipov further pledged that "the government and the regional leadership will fulfill 100 percent the obligations they have taken on themselves." But during the intense discussion of the agreement by Daghestan's blogosphere, it was pointed out that some of the obligations that the republic's government has shouldered, such as including development projects for Gimri in various federal programs, are the prerogative of the federal governmen
In addition, in order to allocate funding for construction work in 2014-16, Daghestan's budget for 2014 (which has a 4.7 percent deficit
) and the draft budgets for the following two years will need to be revised.
The question has also been raised whether the agreement is legally valid and binding, given that the members of the Gimri population who signed it had not been formally empowered by their fellow villagers to do so.
The agreement represents a new departure insofar as for the past three years Daghestan's anti-insurgency strategy has focused on persuading individual fighters to turn themselves in to a specially created government commission that guaranteed they would receive a fair trial and state assistance in finding employment. Abdulatipov's renaming and downgrading of that commission, the meetings of which are no longer given in-depth media coverage, has been construed by some analysts as heralding a tougher approach to the insurgency; the "Gimri Agreement" may have been conceived in part to negate that perception.
The "Gimri Agreement," in contrast, places the onus on militants' relatives by making provision of the basic amenities (education, health care, employment) that the government supplies unconditionally to residents of other districts contingent on the fighters' surrender. From that point of view, it could be argued that it is not only morally dubious, but discriminatory, and thus unconstitutional.