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'We Won't Burn Down Their Homes Like They Do In Chechnya'

Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov (left) attends the funeral of republic mufti Anas Pshikhachev on December 16 in Nalchik.
Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov (left) attends the funeral of republic mufti Anas Pshikhachev on December 16 in Nalchik.
The Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai wing of the North Caucasus insurgency adopted a brazen new tactic this week, setting up road signs, some of them booby-trapped, indicating which sector of the "Caucasus Emirate" motorists were entering.

One local police chief was seriously injured on January 31 when an improvised explosive device blew up as he was inspecting one of those road signs.

On February 1, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov convened a press conference in Nalchik at which he outlined proposals for cracking down on the Islamic insurgents who since last May have killed dozens of police and local officials, including the republic's mufti, Anas Pshikhachev.

Kanokov admitted that the republic's police were hard-pressed to cope with the threat. For that reason, Kanokov advocated drawing on the experience of other North Caucasus republics to combat the insurgency.

Among the measures he listed were establishing special armed units to deploy against the insurgency similar to the Interior Ministry battalion currently being recruited in Daghestan, and mobilizing society at large to condemn the militants and exert pressure on their families. In that context, Kanokov stressed that "of course we shall not burn down the homes [of fighters' families] like they do in Chechnya."

Arsen Kanokov
Whether the measures Kanokov suggested will prove effective is questionable, however, as the insurgents, who in all likelihood number no more than a few dozen, continue to run rings around the police despite the recent installation of surveillance cameras along main highways and the sealing of all entrances to the abandoned Tyrnyyauz mine that was believed to serve as their refuge.

It is the police who have borne the brunt of the insurgents' attacks over the past year, but it remains unclear whether and how many of them took advantage of the pledge last fall by insurgency commander Abdullakh to spare the lives of police officers who resign and publicly announce at their local mosque that they have done so.

In the absence of alternative employment opportunities (official figures estimate unemployment at around 15 percent, the true figure is probably far higher), some police officers may simply choose to turn a blind eye to signs of militant activity.

Kanokov himself admitted that some police officers "betray us," possibly meaning that they tip off the insurgents to planned reprisals. (Some Chechen resistance fighters who turned themselves in during the amnesties of 2003 and 2006 and were drafted to serve in various local security forces reportedly do the same.)

In a comment posted in late January on the pro-Kanokov website, an anonymous Nalchik resident discussed how a handful of militants "have succeeded in taking the entire republic under their control."

He suggests that two factors above all -- endemic corruption and the absence of any ideology that could compete with Islam -- are behind young Circassians' espousal of a "Taliban-style Islamic dictatorship" that, he claims, is alien to the national mentality.

The commentator cites estimates that up to 10,000 people (of a total population of approximately 850,000) sympathize with the insurgents' aims. The dozens of exultant comments posted to the insurgency website following the killings of Pshikhachev and, more recently, of a district police chief ("Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds! What wonderful news! Brother mudjahedin, may you always continue to kill those who deserve to die and protect those upon whom the polytheists, unbelievers, apostates and hypocrites inflict harm") give some indication of the extent and intensity of that passive approval.

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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