Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 165

According to reports in the Russian press, the Islamic Shariat law is being increasingly enforced in Chechnya. Chechen resistance fighters are said to be raiding market stalls, smashing any liquor bottles they find and forcing guilty vendors to go before a court of ulems (experts on Islamic law). (Segodnya, September 4) Although the late Chechen leader Djohar Dudaev announced that he was forming an Islamic state well before Russian troops were sent to Chechnya, this was viewed as political hyperbole and the creation of an Islamic state began only after the Russian military intervention in December 1994. Then, all the territory under rebel control was gradually brought under the laws of the Shariat: councils of ulems became the only judicial organs, the sale of liquor was banned, and women were forbidden to appear in the streets with uncovered heads.

Afghanistan also experienced a religious resurgence following the Soviet invasion and, after the Soviet withdrawal, the various groups of Mujaheddin set up theocratic states. But while the Islamic model may have been acceptable in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, with its almost completely literate adult population, it could provoke unpredictable consequences: in the best case, it could lead to a mass exodus of the republic’s few remaining specialists and local Russians; in the worst — to civil war between theocrats and secularists.

But this does not exhaust the similarities between the Afghan and Chechen cases. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the war in Afghanistan not only continued, but reached a new high. Some think that this will not happen in monoethnic Chechnya, since the fighting in Afghanistan has been along ethnic lines. As the experience of Tajikistan shows, however, interethnic fighting can be successfully replaced by clan or religious conflict. Most of Dudaev’s supporters come from Chechnya’s mountain regions, while most of the supporters of the pro-Moscow government come from the lowlands. Finally, there is also the threat of a possible split in the resistance forces. In Aleksandr Lebed’s opinion, Aslan Maskhadov has complete control over only 60 percent of his formations. (Interfax, September 2.) The autonomy of influential field commanders, inevitably in a national-liberation war, could under new conditions turn into a serious problem and lead to an "Afghan" variant: armed struggle between field commanders.

Russian-Swedish Spy Wrangle.