By Asker Sultanov
Tajik militants are shown in Syria on August 25. The EU is developing a dialogue with Central Asian countries to restrict the flow of militants to the Middle East. [Twitter photo obtained by Nadin Bahrom]
BISHKEK -- Fighting terrorism is going to require a joint effort of Central Asia and the EU, participants at a November forum in Bishkek concluded.
That was the consensus at the Regional Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism in Central Asia -- Challenges and Responses at Community Level, which drew government officials, diplomats, specialists on terrorism and NGO members from the region.
The EU is developing a dialogue with Central Asian countries to restrict the flow of militants to the Middle East and to prevent their activities in Central Asia, EU Special Representative for Central Asia and Ambassador Peter Burian told Caravanserai.
"The number of terrorist attacks in the region has increased, and it is an indicator that the region is exposed to dangerous activity," he said. "We and our partners want to take action in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia and to agree on ways to co-operate -- not only in fighting extremism but in preventing it."
"Prevention is much cheaper than handling the consequences," he said.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev's office possesses documents proving the activity of international terrorist groups meant to destabilise Central Asia, Damir Sagynbayev, chief of the government's Department of Defence, Law Enforcement and Emergency Situations, told Caravanserai.
"For safe and sustainable development of the countries involved, we need to steadily raise our level of co-operation," he said. "We need to step up the exchange of information."
It is essential "to determine on the international level a uniform procedure for removing extremist internet content", he said. "Kyrgyz authorities also suggest collectively studying Central Asian law and working out common guidelines for laws to fight radicalism."
Bishkek also suggests "sanctions on countries that facilitate terrorist groups", he said.
The EU has several priorities "for supporting Central Asian countries' efforts in the field of sustainable development and security", Burian said.
"Recently, we organised a conference in Bishkek on border security issues with BOMCA [Border Management Programme in Central Asia], which operates in five Central Asian countries," he said. "This phenomenon is not solely Kyrgyzstan's concern -- the number of militants [in Syria and Iraq] who come out of Central Asia is almost the same as the number of militants from Europe."
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) considers fighting terrorism and working with Central Asian youth high priorities, Pierre von Arx, head of the OSCE Centre in Bishkek, said at the conference.
"The OSCE supports the UN resolution to identify terrorists by strengthening border security," he said. "In 2015, the OSCE launched a campaign called 'Leaders against religious extremism' so that local community leaders can mobilise the public against radicalism."
The EU and UN co-operate effectively in preventing terrorism, Petko Draganov, special representative of the UN secretary-general and head of the Ashgabat-based UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, told Caravanserai.
"In early 2016, UN member-states adopted a plan for the prevention of violent extremism that the secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] introduced," he said. "This is a problem not just for Central Asia but for the whole world."
Fighting extremism on the local level matters, according to the officials and specialists who attended the seminar.
"We focus on the local level" to understand the roots of terrorism, Burian said at the seminar, adding, "Local authorities and civil society understand these phenomena more clearly."
Authorities need to establish a dialogue with militants in hopes of de-programming them, Laurent Vinatier, a staffer of the Geneva-based NGO Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, said at the forum.
"You can work with embittered city dwellers who have become extremists," he said. "You can work with them individually and de-radicalise them."
How much of a threat to Central Asian nations are extremists returning from the Middle East?