Kazakhstan strengthens its military capabilities

By Ksenia Bondal

A Kazakhstani soldier in Almaty Province in June throws a grenade during a military exercise. [Defence Ministry photo obtained by Ksenia Bondal]

A Kazakhstani soldier in Almaty Province in June throws a grenade during a military exercise. [Defence Ministry photo obtained by Ksenia Bondal]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstan is continuing to hold training exercises to keep its reservists in fighting form.

Such measures have gained urgency as the country responds to the departure of hundreds of radicalised citizens to Syria and Iraq to join the militancy there.

Recent terrorist acts, such as the slaying of seven civilians and troops in Aktobe June 5 and of six Kazakhstanis in Almaty July 18, are raising the sense of alarm and concern as well nationwide.

Exercises nationwide

From June 18 to July 8, training camps for reservists took place nationwide. Kazakhstan is striving to raise the fighting skills of its reservists and to increase faith in the army.

About 2,000 troops participated in the training camps in army bases in Almaty, Zhambyl, South Kazakhstan and Kyzylorda provinces. The participants included platoon commanders, tank crews, machine gunners and others.

Those participants who complete training and receive favourable reviews will be promoted.

To offset the hardship to reservists who lose work time to participate in training, the government reimburses them for their wages while they are away, including travel time to and from camp. It also makes sure that their full-time jobs are held for them.

Vulnerable to extremist recruiting

Kazakhstan is still dealing with a surge of extremist proselytisation in the 1990s.

"In the 1990s ... many sectarian and extremist groups entered the country with forceful slogans," Yesenzhol Aliyarov, president of the Almaty-based Kazakhstan Centre of Humanitarian and Political Trends, told Central Asia Online.

"Those who write powerful words, something at which extremist recruiters excel, leave a very durable legacy," he said. "Today the state is fighting with the consequences."

"The [Defence] ministry is working with regular troops, reserve officers and youth," Aliyarov said. "Kazakhstan needs to publicise the successes of its troops. That will strengthen faith in the army."

A job for everyone

"It's not just the state that should be conducting educational work against extremism," Aliyarov said. "Civil society institutions need to be working harder than ever."

"Kazakhstanis, like the rest of the world, are running into new challenges," he said. "We need to make counter-terrorism laws stricter."

The appeal of the online world to youth exacerbates the threat of terrorism, Erlan Karin of Astana, a political analyst who specialises in extremism, told media recently.

"We've assigned computers, iPads and iPhones to raise our children," he said in Aktobe. "But nobody has any idea what they're getting into online."

"Can the authorities or the KNB [National Security Committee] really know what concerns children when the mother and father don't?" Karin continued. "That's why we need to start with the family."

Corrupted ideals and the influence of questionable idols on youth are the primary pre-conditions for terrorism in Kazakhstan, he said.

"At present, 30,000 radicals from 80 countries are fighting in Syria, according to official data," he said. "Kazakhstan hasn't been left untouched."

A traditional upbringing can help fight terrorism, he said.

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