BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz government-backed efforts by the clergy to prevent radicalisation among members of the military have been a success, as not even one member has been turned, according to a military officer based in Osh Province.
Authorities are aware of the high stakes, given the danger posed by a radicalised person with military training and access to weapons.
Radicalisation could affect anyone in society, including troops, said Borumukhammed Esenov, chairman of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR).
"It is very important to do awareness raising with [troops]," he told Caravanserai.
Another factor in preventing radicalisation is giving service members "the correct religious education" so they can recognise "distortions of Islamic canons", he added.
Such education can prevent extremists who post videos online from luring youth "to fight someone else's war in Syria and Iraq", he said.
Anti-extremism success so far
So far, not one member of the Kyrgyz military has joined the extremists, said Adyl Seidaliyev, chief of staff of military unit no. 2024, which is based in Osh Province.
"We maintain high discipline," he told Caravanserai. "Everyone in the service cherishes his [or her] honour, but we still co-operate with the local clergy for the sake of religious security."
Clerics inform military audiences by talking about Islam in detail and by giving examples of extremist recruitment of youth, he said.
One army draftee at unit no. 2024, Maksat Aitbaiyev, described his experience before conscription with fending off extremist recruitment.
More than once, extremists tried to lure him into the fold, he said.
"They told me and my friends tall tales about Islam," he told Caravanserai. "They brainwashed poorly educated guys ... and promised them 'paradise after death'."
Tragically, one of his peers did go to Syria and was killed, said Aitabayev.
"Every man should serve his homeland," he said. "The meetings between imams and military units raise our troops' morale. The clerics ... answer any question from the soldiers."
Guarding the border guards
Border troops who keep out external threats need to be aware of the dangers they are fighting, said Ubaidulla aji Sarybayev, the qazi (Islamic judge) for Osh city.
"They must, more than anyone else, know what radical movements are," he told Caravanserai. "Misinterpretations of Islam cause both religion and ordinary believers to suffer."
Those who do not understand Islam should avoid trying to interpret it on their own, he emphasised, urging them to turn to authoritative theologians and to study the Koran meticulously.
When distortions of Islam cause a schism among Muslims, those who take up arms without justification "inflict still more damage to themselves and to Islam as a whole", he said.