Monday, 5 April 2010

Fight corruption to fight terrorism

Moscow and all of Russia continue to grieve over last week's metro bombings. One important lesson to be learned is that corruption is a cancer that contributes to such tragedies.

In many ways, acts of terrorism continue to happen in this country because of the lack of a modern, respected, and motivated police force, and not because of the lack of political reform.

With a Chechen terrorist group claiming to be behind the attacks, there is again an acute awareness that unrest in the Caucasus can be felt with devastating consequences on the streets (and in the tunnels) of Moscow. Although the police and the security forces acquitted themselves well when dealing with the metro bombings, there is a sentiment that these terrorist attacks could have been avoided if law enforcement were exclusively focused on protecting the public, and less focused on lining their own pockets.

Russia's political elite were aware of this sentiment even before the bombings. Over the past few months, new policing policies have been implemented in the Caucasus, particularly in Dagestan and Ingushetia. At the core of this agenda is the engagement of civil society by the political authorities.

There is an obvious lack of economic opportunity in Dagestan and Ingushetia, which the Kremlin has acknowledged and which has prompted new, long-term approaches; these republics aren't seeking independence from the Russian Federation. And the days of Chechen independence fighters are past. The vast majority of Chechens have no interest in an independent country, seeing their present and future with Russia. What both want (and Chechnya is slowly getting) is justice in every sense of the word.

There continues to be a tiny minority of people from these regions who have fought for an Islamic caliphate since the early 1990s. These are people who bastardize their own religion, kill their own people and are only able to act because of the aid of foreign donors. Confronting these types of individuals should be relatively easy - nothing they do has any political, moral or religious legitimacy within Russia and its Muslim community. Nonetheless, they have one advantage - the lack of highly professional policing and law enforcement on the part of Russia's authorities.

All Russians pay a high price for this state of affairs.
Given the American-sponsored wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - and a threatened one against Iran - Russia is situated in a dangerous geopolitical neighborhood. From a foreign policy stand point, Russia has to do more to demonstrate that its policies toward the Islamic world are acted out on the ground in its predominately Muslin republics.

It has already done this in Chechnya and it needs to do so elsewhere. Policing the police is the best start.

After the metro blasts, members of the western commentariat weighed in in their usual fashion, speculating that "the terrorist attacks at home could precipitate an attack on political freedoms as well." Those who conjecture that the current political regime may intend to "crack down" on civil liberties and future empowerment are only projecting their own prejudiced agenda onto Russia's recent political history and trajectory.

Russia is a frontline country fighting terrorism within and beyond its borders. This challenge has not and probably will not, however, determine its internal political development. The fact is that all political changes made over the past decade were made to strengthen the state and to protect Russia's sovereignty.

Russia's democratic and political institutions reflect present-day realities - but the reform process is far from over. At the same time, trained and brainwashed female suicide bombers will not dictate the pace of political reform in Russia. That is up to the Russian people and not to terrorists or Western pundits.

Meanwhile, a wholesale sacking and retraining of police and security forces would be Russia's greatest deterrent against terrorism.

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