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Daghestan's President Suffers Further Rebuff

Daghestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov speaks to the media at a blast site in a military camp outside the town of Buynaksk in September.
Daghestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov speaks to the media at a blast site in a military camp outside the town of Buynaksk in September.
The Daghestan wing of the North Caucasus Islamic insurgency has rejected repeated calls by President Magomedsalam Magomedov to lay down its arms. That rejection calls into question the relevance of the government commission recently created to "help" repentant fighters readapt to civilian life and of the appeal to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev adopted last month at a Congress of Peoples of Daghestan to declare an amnesty for fighters who surrender.

The insurgents' position was outlined in a 15-minute video address by Abdulmumin Abdulmuminov, former imam of an unregistered mosque in the northern Kizlyar region, who joined the insurgency in August and was killed in a counterterror operation in Kizlyar on November 27. The clip was posted on, the main website of the Caucasus Emirate, only on December 29, one month after Abdulmuminov's death.

Abdulmuminov not only categorically rejects the idea of abjuring jihad. He also offers the Daghestani authorities, whom he brands "watchdogs" acting on orders from their masters in Moscow, three alternatives: lay down your arms, stop fighting the insurgency, and adopt Islam; preserve your faith, but agree to live by Shari'a law and pay tribute; or risk being destroyed.

That counteroffer is a slap in the face for Magomedov, who ever since his inauguration in February 2010 has singled out religious extremism as the most serious problem the republic faces and appealed to the insurgents to abandon their fight. Certainly the repeated attacks by Islamic militants on police and security forces generate extensive negative media coverage, and to that extent raise doubts both within Daghestan and in the Kremlin as to whether and for how long Magomedov can retain control of the situation. (When Magomedov complained to Medvedev in August that no businessman will risk investing in Daghestan as long as the insurgency remains active, he received the unsympathetic response: "You're the president, start acting like one.") It is therefore unsurprising that Magomedov should attach so much importance to trying to improve the single aspect of the overall situation that could cost him his job and his professional reputation.

But the vast majority of Daghestan's 3 million population considers religious extremism a lesser evil than either corruption or social and economic inequality. In a poll conducted last summer by the independent newspaper "Novoe delo," 91.4 percent of respondents said corruption inflicts more damage on the republic than extremism; only 8.6 percent argued the reverse.

While it could be argued that corruption, economic stagnation and massive unemployment are part of the legacy Magomedov inherited from his predecessor as president, Mukhu Aliyev, all those phenomena took root during the 14 years that Magomedov's father, Magomedali, was republic head. The failure of successive leaderships to launch a serious crackdown on corruption (of which many suspect them to be the primary beneficiaries) has given rise to a huge gulf between the authorities and the population at large. A second opinion poll undertaken by "Novoe delo" in November found that almost 79 percent of respondents do not approve of the republican leadership's policies. It is a measure of that disaffection that some Daghestanis expressed unqualified approval of the October 19 suicide attack by Chechen fighters on the parliament building in Grozny, which suggests that many Daghestanis may feel greater sympathy with the Islamic insurgency than with a government they regard as both venal and incompetent.

All this is not to say that Magomedov is unaware of the need at least to appear to take a tough stance on corruption. He warned in mid-August, one day after being told unceremoniously by Medvedev that "a genuine crackdown on corruption is needed, plus an end to the endless trade in senior posts," that "no one is untouchable" and that even the most senior officials will be brought to trial if evidence emerges that they have engaged in corrupt practices. But whether because the law enforcement agencies have made little effort to uncover incriminating evidence or because they have themselves been bought off, there has not been a single arrest of a high-profile official on corruption charges since Magomedov was sworn in as president.

Possibly in response to Medvedev's jibes, Magomedov proposed in September convening a republic-wide congress of peoples of Daghestan, specifically to discuss the threat posed by the insurgency and to mobilize public opinion to condemn.

Preparations for that one-day event were uncannily reminiscent of the rituals that preceded successive congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The population of individual towns and districts were called upon to express support for Magomedov's call to vanquish religious extremism and to formally endorse the delegates the local authorities had selected to represent them at the gathering.

After commentators questioned the point of focusing exclusively on the extremist threat, Magomedov agreed to broaden the congress agenda to encompass other pressing issues. Addressing a handful of selected NGO representatives on November 26, he conceded that "a certain distance exists" between society and the authorities. He said that problem should be discussed at the congress, together with corruption, with the aim of expediting a process of "spiritual and moral cleansing."

In the event, however, Magomedov chickened out. His 40-minute address to the 2,920 congress delegates on December 15 was devoted almost entirely to condemning terrorism and religious extremism and appealing for public support for his vision of how to fight them. True, he acknowledged the existence of "social injustice." But his only mention of corruption was the defensive and statistically untenable assertion -- one that many will have greeted with derision and that may come back to haunt him -- that "corruption and poverty are no worse in Daghestan than in any other federation subject."

It was left to other speakers to highlight the processes of moral and economic degradation that contribute in no small measure to the alienation of those young Daghestanis -- by no means all of them from disadvantaged backgrounds -- who "head for the forest" to join the insurgency. Ramazan Abdulatipov, an expert on interethnic relations and Islam in the North Caucasus who served as Russian minister for nationality relations from 1999-2000, spoke directly after Magomedov. He deplored the republican leadership's lack of initiative and reliance on constant subsidies from the federal budget and the perception, widespread in Moscow, that the lion's share of that money is embezzled.

Sulaiman Uladiev, the former director of Daghestan State TV and Radio, was even more explicit. He was applauded by fellow delegates for affirming that "the Daghestani authorities are the way they are because of our indifference, our inertia, our inability to make use of our constitutional rights, and our uncharacteristic subservience. It was we and you together who during democratic elections accepted [bribes in the form of] flour, sugar, dollars, rubles, and elected the givers of that largesse, rather than worthy, honest candidates...and then started complaining about how bad the leadership is and what a rotten life we have.... It is we and you together who bribe bureaucrats to employ our son, to allocate a plot of land, to drop a criminal case, and to give us a promotion."

Even some delegates who did address the problem of terrorism and religious extremism took advantage of the opportunity to embarrass Magomedov. His arch rival and fellow Dargin, Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, whom one Daghestan parliament faction had hoped to propose as Mukhu Aliyev's successor, complained that the republic's leadership (clearly meaning Magomedali Magomedov in the first instance) "have sat by for almost 20 years and watched" the emergence and radicalization of alien religious tendencies and consistently underestimated the seriousness of the threat they pose.)

As noted above, the congress delegates adopted a formal request to President Medvedev to declare an amnesty for those fighters in Daghestan who agree to surrender and return to civilian life. Medvedev has not commented publicly on that proposal, but Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma's Committee for Security, pronounced it "sensible."

The Russian State Duma enacted such amnesties in 2003 and 2006 for Chechen resistance fighters, several thousand of whom availed themselves of the offer of employment in the various security services subordinate to Ramzan Kadyrov, and Magomedov apparently hoped to replicate that success. But conditions in Chechnya at that juncture were fundamentally different from those in Daghestan today. First, Daghestan already has a serious unemployment problem and would be hard pressed to find jobs for former militants. And second, and more crucially, five years ago the "jihadization" of the North Caucasus, meaning the evolution of what was initially a national-liberation struggle by the Chechens into a pan-Caucasus campaign to establish an independent Islamic state under Shari'a law, had barely begun.

The rhetoric employed by Abdulmuminov and Israpil Velidjanov (Amir Khasan), who was named commander of the insurgency in Daghestan in September following the death of Magomed Vagapov (aka Seyfullakh Gubdensky), leaves no doubt as to their commitment to the cause of jihad. A few individual fighters may avail themselves of Magomedov's offer, although his claim at a meeting of senior law-enforcement and security personnel on December that 16 militants have "recently" done so is open to question. But the majority will continue to go down fighting: Magomedov claimed at the December 15 congress that the death toll over the preceding four months was 120. The security forces' estimate for the period from mid-August to early October was 60. How many were civilians arbitrarily apprehended and killed by police and security personnel to render the results of the "counterterror" campaign more impressive can only be guessed at.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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