Brand Taliban attracting Russian Muslims
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Moscow has been treating the Afghan Islamists as reliable interlocutors for years. Compared to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Afghan Emirate offers a more acceptable and repeatable model: a mix of patriotism and Islamism. The Kremlin will struggle to contain any extremist regurgitation.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Taliban return to power in Afghanistan may give new life to a double myth in Russia: that of Islam conquering the world, and that of the fight against the oligarchs and the corrupt. This is the theme of the proceedings from an expert forum published by Kavkaz.Realii, recalling several historical situations in the intersections of the Russian state, Caucasus and Central Asia.

All radical Islamist movements are banned and condemned in Russia as extremists and terrorists, from Isis to the so-called Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasian Emirate). Yet for years, well before the recapture of Kabul, the Russian leadership has accepted the Taliban as reliable interlocutors close to the sensibilities of the peoples of the East.

Russian-Bashkian political scientist Abbas Galljamov notes that "the schadenfreude [malignant joy] caused by the fact that the Taliban humiliated the U.S. is pouring out from all Russian television channels, but this does not bother the Americans, who do not understand Russian patriotism." Galljamov notes that "malign satisfaction instead exalts the spirits of Russian Muslims, in the Caucasus and in the Oltre Volga, because it inserts the prestige of radical Islam into patriotism."

At a time when Putinism is mired in political and economic "stagnation," and the Caucasus countries are themselves locked in mutual hostility, Muslim youth in the former Soviet space look to the Taliban as a new hope for the future. If the myth of the "Islamic State" has now dissolved, the Afghan Emirate proposes a more acceptable and repeatable model, also in accordance with the history of all Islamic states, which have never been able to create an empire, except for the Ottoman one of Byzantine derivation.

Another Russian expert, Andrej Serenko, believes that "the victory of the Taliban helps the radicalization of young Muslims in our lands, where we are used to present a form of "moderate Islam". Now a jihadist model is back in vogue with the Taliban brand, which in Afghanistan works in its own way, also because of the tribal traditions of that country: "In other parts of the world - explains Serenko - it can take different forms, becoming overall a global myth". It will also be important to see how the new Afghanistan will be viewed among the Islamic nations of the Middle East, starting with Qatar, where the Taliban have had their headquarters abroad for years.

In this way, the "Taliban myth" may not have any direct relationship with the Afghans. Serenko adds that "it is not by chance that the sheikhs of al-Qaeda have always described the Taliban as a successful model of jihad, even before the conquest of Kabul. They are the ones who always fight even if they can't win, and in the end they won." Al Qaeda propagandists are always active, especially in Russian-speaking and former Soviet territories.

The greatest effect of this propaganda is achieved precisely in the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, the populations of the two regions have been living for decades in poor economic conditions, under the yoke of a few rapacious oligarchs who live in palaces "with golden baths"; they are forced to deal with widespread corruption at all levels of administration and government.

By showing videos of the lavish mansions of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan-Uzbek Marshal Rashid Dostum, the Taliban have become the standard bearers not only of jihadism, but also of social justice. By regaining power, they have chastised the oligarchs and driven out the corrupt, at least in appearance; their victory marks the redemption of the people against the thieves who robbed them and left them in misery, in line with a widespread populist trend worldwide.

The Russian political system is much more solid than the other ex-Soviet Republics, even if Putinism itself is beginning to waver, and it remains to be seen how much it will be able to contain the extremist regurgitation. An example could be Chechnya, ruled by the iron fist of the super-putin autocrat Ramzan Kadyrov, who has always fiercely repressed the most radical Islamists. Much will also depend on the behaviour of the many Caucasian and Asian migrants living in the Russian Federation, and it is not certain that strict police control will be sufficient to extinguish any outbreak of rebellion.