DUSHANBE -- Tajikistan is strengthening co-operation with Interpol to fight trans-national crime and to bring back Tajik militants who had been fighting abroad.
In 2015 and the first eight months of 2016, Tajik police repatriated 151 Tajiks accused of terrorism and extremism.
The 151 Tajiks include 133 suspected members of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimzoda said in Dushanbe recently. Several other Tajiks are accused of belonging to Jamaat Ansarullah (five) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) (one), he added.
Rakhimzoda spoke at a September 19-20 Interpol conference that brought together law enforcement officials from 13 countries.
The conference is part of the on-going Interpol Project Kalkan, which fights extremism in Central and South Asia.
"One of the performance indicators for [Tajik-Interpol] co-operation is the arrest and extradition of dozens of Tajik citizens," Rakhimzoda said at the conference. "Interpol member states' law enforcement detained them ... for complicity in terrorist activities."
Tajikistan's top priorities include fighting threats like terrorism and the spread of WMDs, he said.
Rakhimzoda had ideas for more progress in Tajik-Interpol co-operation.
"We need to create the kind of mechanism ... that lets us efficiently track militants' movements," he said. "It's equally important to organise the rapid exchange of information ... to find and detain leaders and members of terrorist groups."
The main funding for terrorist groups comes from drugs, so shutting off drug transport routes can reduce terrorism, he said.
''We are co-operating with Afghanistan's leadership and security forces to neutralise existing threats and to act promptly ... in dousing extremist forces' hotbeds of activity," he said.
Dozens of returnees gain amnesty
While Tajikistan regards militancy as a serious threat to national security, it understands the dangers of harsh policies that foreclose the possibility of rehabilitation.
Those 151 returnees include 76 who came back voluntarily, acknowledged their crimes and received amnesty, Rakhimzoda said at the conference.
That said, the number of Tajik ex-militant returnees is greater than the number stated at the conference, a Tajik Interior Ministry (MVD) source who requested anonymity told Caravanserai.
Some of the ex-militants do not merit amnesty, the source said.
"Young people who went to Syria and Iraq ... realise they were duped," the MVD source added. "It has become impossible to live there, so that's why they came back ... We don't see this decision as remorse; it is just fear for one's life. That's why those people cannot be given amnesty."
Another element among the militants coming home wants to continue subversive activity in Tajikistan -- and the public should learn how to recognise such individuals, he said.
"ISIL ... is sending its supporters back to Tajikistan to destabilise the [country]," he said. "It also wants new supporters to spread ISIL propaganda inside Tajikistan."
"Now we check every [ex-militant] who comes back to Tajikistan to surrender," he said. "We do not automatically release them [which was the previous policy] until we have thoroughly checked them out."
Presently, "slightly more than 1,000 Tajiks are in Syria and Iraq", he said.
Successes in fighting terrorism
Tajik authorities are using their hard-won experience to keep the homeland safe.
In the first eight months of 2016, they prevented eight terrorist attacks by monitoring internet correspondence, Abdurakhim Abdulkhasanov, chief of the general prosecutor's department for oversight of law enforcement by security agencies, told Caravanserai.
"We comply with international privacy rules," he said. "However ... we monitor suspicious correspondence on social media."
Tajik intelligence works with border guards at airports and at other check-points to identify likely militants early on and to keep them from going to Syria and Iraq, Mukhammadrizo Khalifazoda, spokesman for the general prosecutor's office, told Caravanserai.
"We also work with community elders and district governors," he said. "If they know that someone is planning to work abroad, they talk to him ... about the pros and cons."
"If his answers suddenly raise any doubts, they work with him," he added. "They tell us simultaneously about any suspicious personalities."
Radicalisation occurs mostly after someone runs into a tough situation like struggling to work abroad or going to jail, Dushanbe-based security analyst Shukhrat Latifi told Caravanserai.
Investigators have learned that the majority of Tajik militants in Syria and Iraq realise that their recruiters exploited their vulnerabilities to deceive them, he added.
"When someone lands into a tough situation in life ... the first thing he remembers is God," Latifi said. "At that very moment, extremists show up ... That's why authorities need to work with those who don't have jobs, live abroad or are going through hard times."
Militants' defeat raises more dangers for Tajikistan
Ironically, the growing defeat of militants in Syria and Iraq, which began with coalition air strikes in 2015, is causing more danger for Tajikistan, Dushanbe-based security analyst Nuriddin Mavlonov told Caravanserai.
Militants fleeing the pressure are moving into Afghanistan, which borders Tajikistan, he said.
"Unfortunately, this region has become a transit destination for terrorists, and they can comfortably move around Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. "This concentration of foreign fighters is causing Tajikistan, which shares about 1,400km of border with Afghanistan, extreme concern."
Foreign militants, like Tajiks, have a main goal of founding an extremist "caliphate" in their homelands, he said.
"They go to other countries to gain the relevant training ... and put their skills in practise after coming home," Mavlonov said.
Tajikistan can stand up to any such dangers, another Dushanbe-based security analyst, Makhmadruzi Tilyayev, told Caravanserai.
"We should be confident that our army will not fail us," he said. "Together, we can resist any threats."