By Alexander Bogatik
Kazakhstani troops carry out counter-terrorism exercises in Zarechnyi village, Almaty Province, April 29, 2016. Kazakhstan is developing a 2017-2020 counter-terrorism programme. [Presidential Press Office]
ASTANA -- Kazakhstan is working out a long-term strategy to fight extremism and terrorism.
The effort comes as hundreds of Kazakhstanis fight in Syria and Iraq, even though the militants' fortunes have collapsed in recent months.
The 2017-2020 State Programme, which the National Security Committee (KNB) published on its website on February 8 before taking it down the same day, sets goals and outlines methods for fighting extremism and terrorism.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned of the extremist threat in his annual message to the people of Kazakhstan, published January 31.
"In modern-day conditions, humanity is confronted with the growth of terrorism," he said. "The key issues are fighting the financing of these destructive forces and their ties to foreign terrorist groups."
Nazarbayev also outlined the importance of rehabilitating and de-radicalising prisoners, saying prison wardens are planning to set up theology-based rehabilitation for inmates.
It is essential to work at preventing the spread of extremist propaganda and to "form a zero-tolerance attitude in society" toward "any manifestations of radicalism", he said.
These measures "have been considered in the 2017-2020 State Programme ... that is being developed on my instructions", he said.
The programme "will be developed by the Prosecutor General's Office," said Rauan Dautaliyev, a political scientist from Shymkent.
About 20 ministries and agencies share responsibility for implementing the programme, he told Caravanserai, citing the KNB, the Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption and other bodies.
Most likely the government will approve a final version of the programme in the first half of 2017, he said, adding that the cost will be comparable to that of the 2013-2017 counter-terrorism programme.
That programme cost 103 billion KZT ($40 million), according to information posted online by the government of Shu District, Zhambyl Province.
In 2016, Kazakhstani courts convicted 182 defendants on terrorism charges, according to the KNB.
Prison authorities face the challenge of keeping extremists from radicalising other inmates, Deputy Prosecutor General Andrey Kravchenko told Tengri News January 31.
International practice proves that it is best to segregate extremists from the general prison population, but solitary confinement "will not help rehabilitate them", he said.
"Creating a special theology service to rehabilitate and re-educate extremists and terrorists is an excellent initiative," Sanjar Suleymenov, a theologist from Taraz, told Caravanserai.
It is vital to minimise radicals' contact with other prisoners but at the same time to step up outreach and preventive work with them, he said.
"This work is necessary because these [convicted extremists and terrorists] are still citizens of our country," said Gulnaz Razdykova, director of the Centre for the Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations in Pavlodar Province.
"Their sentences will end. They need to return to society healthy, socialised and de-radicalised," she told Caravanserai.
One vivid illustration of rehabilitation success is the case of two convicted extremists from Ekibastuz, Pavlovdar Province, Razdykova said.
Azamat Kazbayev and Abdusalam Murzubayev, who were both 23 in 2013, became radicalised by watching banned videos on the internet.
The friends flew to Turkey in early 2013 and illegally crossed into Syria, where they settled down in a militant training camp. They summoned their wives and children, but Kazakhstani intelligence became aware of their plans and arranged for Turkish authorities to detain the women and children.
In October 2013, both men were captured and deported to Kazakhstan, where in March 2014 they received seven-year prison sentences for terrorism.
"During the investigation and after the trial, theologians, psychologists and religious scholars worked with them," Razdykova said. "This led to them renouncing their beliefs."
"At this time we can affirm without a shadow of a doubt that they have rejected their radical views, come to understand that there is no jihad in Syria, and that they were mistaken in their religious beliefs -- and sincerely believe that their trip to Syria and former radical views were huge mistakes," she said.
The Russian Ministry of Defence attempted to pass off images from a video game as 'proof' the US military was aiding militants. Social media users debunked Moscow's claims.
Popular support in Central Asia for Islamist insurgencies in the Middle East and beyond is waning.