BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan is laying out the framework for its first-ever comprehensive counter-terrorism programme as the country comes to grips with the reality that hundreds of radicalised citizens have joined the militancy in Syria and Iraq since 2011.
Deputy Prime Minister Jenish Razakov is leading the inter-agency working group assigned to devise the programme. He has been in charge since the working group's inception in December and is slated to lead it through 2017.
The group is expected to announce a draft counter-terrorism programme in April, and if approved, it is scheduled to run through 2020.
The announcement of the programme came during a December 7 cabinet meeting in which leaders of the country's security agencies discussed the topics of extremism and terrorism nationwide.
Exact numbers are hard to come by, but more than 500 Kyrgyz insurgents are fighting for international terrorist groups somewhere abroad, according to the Kyrgyz government.
"The threat from extremism and terrorism has taken on a worldwide scope," Razakov said during the December 7 cabinet meeting, according to the government press office. "It's crucial to raise the level of communication among government agencies, particularly between law enforcement and local authorities ... We need to adopt long-term measures to strengthen our security system."
The cabinet reportedly considers it essential to prevent extremism among youth, who are subjected more than any other age cohort to the influence of extremist groups.
Razakov said there are various priorities of the coming government programme, but the main one should be preventing the emergence of any terrorism threat.
Prevention and co-operation
The programme should clearly spell out the goals, tasks and principles of the fight against extremism and should involve the main actors in the world of religion: muftiate officials, religious leaders, theologians and specialists in religious studies and security, Mametbek Myrzabayev, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies in Bishkek, told Caravanserai.
Myrzabayev urged the "development of mechanisms to prevent inter-faith and sectarian conflicts", as well as "continuous monitoring of print and electronic media" for extremist content.
The government should strengthen the financial foundation and training of personnel of the Spiritual Administration for Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK), "one of the key players in the fight against extremism", Myrzabyaev added.
Nazira Kurbanova of Bishkek, a scholar of the history of Islam in Kyrgyzstan, warned against reacting to extremism "only through force".
"It wouldn't be a bad idea to create an inter-agency commission for informational counter-measures against extremism," she told Caravanserai. "It's necessary to promote a positive image of Islam and Islamic intellectual thought."
In the past year, law enforcement held about 11,000 preventive and educational events nationwide to combat any spread of extremism.
Recent events took place on December 7 and 9 in Jalal-Abad Province, organised jointly by the State Commission on Religious Affairs (GKDR) and various local governments.
Also in early December, the Interior Ministry's (MVD) 10th Main Department, whose mission is to fight extremism, organised outreach events at various universities in Osh and Batken provinces.
At the Jalal-Abad meetings, officials from the district government, the muftiate and law enforcement discussed how the state and public can co-operate to fight extremism.
One of the main principles underpinning the fight against extremism is close co-operation between the government and civic and religious groups, MVD Col. Emil Jeenbekov, chief of the MVD 10th Main Department, told Caravanserai.
Such co-operation does not exist yet and will require "legitimisation through passage of new laws", he told Caravanserai, adding that the programme should emphasise the cultivation of such a relationship.
However, the muftiate already "works closely with law enforcement and other government agencies", Kyrgyz Deputy Mufti Ravshan Haji Eratov told Caravanserai. "We'll continue this work next year too."