Kyrgyzstan achieves positive results in fight against extremism: observers

By Asker Sultanov

Kyrgyz Muslims pray in Bishkek last June 25 during celebrations of Eid ul Fitr. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

Kyrgyz Muslims pray in Bishkek last June 25 during celebrations of Eid ul Fitr. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz government agencies, NGOs and clergy have taken various measures that brought positive results in the fight against extremism last year, security analysts say.

"In 2017 ... not a single terrorist act in Kyrgyzstan was allowed to happen," said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Artur Medetbekov, a Bishkek-based security analyst and chairman of the Anti-Terror NGO.

"That was the result of intelligence work by law enforcement agencies and of activity by society," he told Caravanserai. "[Society] is prepared to fight this threat ... and has begun to understand that it's serious."

Making strides in countering terrorism

Kyrgyzstan introduced a government programme in 2017 to fight extremism and terrorism, said Ikbaljan Mirsaitov, a Bishkek-based security and religion analyst.

"This programme is the first attempt to co-ordinate the activity of all law enforcement agencies, civil society and other agencies involved in fighting extremism and terrorism," he told Caravanserai.

"Of course, [the programme] requires some adjustment, but most important, [those stakeholders] developed some tasks and policy measures," he said. "They're doable. They're not pie in the sky."

The State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR), with the help of law enforcement and local government agencies, held thousands of events last year nationwide to prevent radicalisation, said Zakir Chotayev, first deputy chief of the GKDR.

"We started systemic changes and developed a new bill on religion," he told Caravanserai. "In the international arena, we have raised the issue of promoting a model of a secular state that must promote freedom of religion."

In addition, the GKDR last year introduced religious studies as a subject in 56 schools, Chotayev said.

For example, Caravanserai earlier reported about a new "History of Religious Culture" course that became a part of the curriculum in some Kyrgyz schools.

"Starting in September 2018, we plan on introducing religious studies in all schools in Kyrgyzstan," Chotayev said. "The preventive work we do is starting to yield results, and many religious figures are starting to understand that we live in a secular state. This work must continue and intensify."

"Thanks to the efforts of civil society and law enforcement ... 2017 was distinguished by the absence of a single [known] trip [by a Kyrgyz to the Middle East to fight]," he added.

Threat of radicalisation remains

In spite of the achievements, the number of supporters in Kyrgyzstan of radical organisations has been increasing, Medetbekov warned.

"Young people who are unemployed and without schooling are susceptible and have been subjected to ideological manipulation with an extremist bent," he said.

"Often our youth, particularly in the last two to three years, have left to search for work in Commonwealth of Independent States countries [including] Kazakhstan, Turkey and the Middle East ... [where] many of them ... have been manipulated by extremists and wound up in various militant groups," he said.

About 700 Kyrgyz citizens are fighting as insurgents abroad, Medetbekov said, citing official data.

One vulnerability is that the government has no way of monitoring the activities of citizens who go to Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan or Egypt -- where many extremist madrassas and institutions are situated, he said.

Kyrgyzstan has no way of knowing how many citizens are "studying there and what they're studying", he said.

Another trend is the "export of extremist ideologies through websites to Central Asian countries, particularly to Kyrgyzstan", he said.

"Compared to other Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is the most democratic in [access to] internet traffic," he said. "Several thousand terrorist and extremist sites provide soil for ideological manipulation of the population."

Strengthening anti-extremist efforts

A number of NGOs claiming to fight extremism and radicalism "have no idea how to do so", said Mirsaitov.

"We must know whom we're dealing with and what we're involving the public in," he said.

Kyrgyzstan needs to develop a government programme to rehabilitate ex-insurgents coming back from Syria and Iraq, he said.

"We have to ... provide our citizens and their children with the opportunity to return to their homeland and undergo a course of social, political and religious rehabilitation," he said.

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