Terrorism, say the Russians, justifies and even requires the brutal tactics employed in Chechnya. The fanatics, the “Wahbabis,” the militant Islamic fundamentalists, must be crushed completely.

Except sometimes. According to both Russian and Iranian reports, Russian forces (regular army and border troops) are providing protection to Islamist guerrillas as they shift their base of operations. The guerrillas, a detachment of about 400 men now in Tajikistan, are moving across the Afghan border to a camp in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, where they will join the main body of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), some 1,500 strong. Analysts say the move implies that the IMU will not renew its attack on Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region, which last spring failed to gain access to the Ferghana valley that leads to Uzbekistan, the IMU’s objective. From Kunduz, the IMU is more likely to attack Uzbekistan directly.

Russian forces in Tajikistan control the Tajik-Afghan border. By facilitating the shift of IMU guerrillas to Afghanistan, Russia strengthens its Tajikistan protectorate. If the move also puts Uzbekistan at risk, maybe independent-minded President Islam Karimov will have to re-think his pro-Western approach to regional security. Two good reasons for amending the proverb: the only good bandit is a useful bandit.