BISHKEK -- Students at Bishkek universities are joining civil society and law enforcement in the fight against extremism in Kyrgyzstan.
The youth are working to provide healthy alternatives to radicalisation, and are turning to specialists and officials to discuss ways to counter the threat.
The effort comes as more than 600 Kyrgyz are said to be fighting alongside insurgents in Syria and Iraq.
Co-operating to counter extremism
The government and civil society should co-operate to step up the battle against extremism, said Elina Ikmatillayeva, a student at Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (KRSU) in Bishkek.
"The state must resolve socio-economic problems and conduct preventive work with imams," she told Caravanserai. "After all, many of them have no religious education and they are incapable ... of answering questions about religion."
"Failing to get good answers from them is exactly what causes youth to turn to radical recruiters," she said.
Kyrgyzstan monitors all mosques as a preventive measure, MVD 10th Main Administration official Maksat Moldobayev told Caravanserai.
"MVD officials attend Friday prayers and listen to imams' sermons," he said. "Not all mosques have undergone vetting, which is a problem."
Although the government has been conducting an intensive campaign to bring imams' knowledge of Islam up to adequate levels, more is needed.
"Unfortunately, not all imams are educated," Moldobayev said.
Students called on security agencies to crack down on extremists, while offering several examples of ways youth are contributing to countering terrorism.
The government should enact "tougher measures" against extremists, said Nursultan Mambetkalyyev, another KRSU student.
At the same time, he told Caravanserai, "The public needs more information about Islam -- it needs the true interpretation."
"How can you trust extremists if they infringe on the rights of all society?" he said.
"When radicalisation is running high, then you need to employ tough measures ... to ensure public safety," KRSU student Krill Nosov agreed. "Our country in particular needs such measures."
Ignorance among youth is a major stumbling block in the fight against extremism, said Aysulu Abdubachayeva, a student at Kyrgyz State Law Academy in Bishkek.
"We can organise youth clubs, raise awareness and create youth centres, which are lacking in the remote regions," she told Caravanserai. "Youth can also host events that expand the horizons of their peers and provide a vision of something beyond extremism."
Observers: engage youth in politics
Another remedy is to provide political engagement for youth.
Youth participation in Kyrgyz political life will help reduce radicalism, said Bermet Kanimetova of the Bishkek-based Foundation for Development of Youth Initiatives.
"It would be good to have our youth represented not just in small-town councils but also on public oversight boards for ministries and agencies and to have them help develop youth programmes," she told Caravanserai. "We need steps to make youth active and to keep them out of destructive situations."
"Preventive, anti-extremist measures taken by the state are effective when combined with efforts by civil society," she added.