Kazakhstan’s government is launching an ambitious strategy to combat religious extremist movements that have posed an imminent threat to the national security and are aimed at radicalizing and recruiting Kazakhstani youth into the ranks of international terrorist groups.
Drafted by the Kazakhstan National Security Committee and endorsed by the government on February 10, the five-year national program is designed to counter religious extremism and terrorism, and covers the period 2018 through 2022. According to a statement by the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, 286.9 billion Kazakhstani tenge, or $897 million, has been budgeted for the effort.
Typical for all proposed state-sponsored projects, the government made available the plan via the Ministry of Information and Communications’ website for public discussion and debate, until February 6.
The plan calls for a both counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism initiatives, and uses a combination of reward and punishment mechanisms that are meant to root out extremism, by addressing and responding to root causes. Four core components to the strategy are the prevention of extremism, the reduction of radicalization, the crackdown on planned terrorist acts, and an appropriate response to any attacks that are carried out.
Astana considers Kazakhstani citizens who have studied at theological schools abroad, particularly those in the Middle East that promote fundamentalist ideologies, one of the biggest threats to Kazakhstan’s security. To cope with the problem, the government will encourage young people who choose to study theology to attend Kazakhstani universities.
As a means to minimize the impact of Internet-based propaganda that aims to recruit youth in particular, the government plans on using technologies that can identify sources of misinformation and radical ideology, to shield vulnerable segments in society.
"It's about monitoring the media, social networks and websites for the propaganda of extremism and terrorism," involving significant human resources and modern software, political expert Ruslan Seksenbayev said according to a report published by Central-AsiaNews.com.
"Everyone understands this threat," Leyla Baymanova from the non-government organization Altyn Karlygash said. "If militants return to Kazakhstan and remain out of sight of the security agencies, they will become a time bomb. Sooner or later they will embark on the path of terrorism."
Baymanova said the program will focus on Kazakhstanis returning from Syria and Iraq.
Kazakhstan’s security services plan on using profiling techniques to identify potential terrorists and prevent planned terrorist attacks, in order to better predict those that could be vulnerable to extremist recruitment. Tactics used hone in on a person's actions, based on the observation of appearance, speech, gestures and overall behavior.
A monetary rewards system will be put in place to encourage those who are aware, or suspicious of, persons plotting attacks to contact the police.
“I consider this measure effective. One cannot rely solely on the civil responsibility of people," Yevgeni Kryuchkov, a political analyst from Uralsk, said.
From 2014 to 2107, Kazakhstani security agencies prevented 440 citizens from travelling to war zones in the Middle East. Although the figures provided by the government document indicate a drop in the recruits, there are still reasons for concern as young people still remain vulnerable to extremist propaganda.
According to a report published by EuroNews in 2017, Kazakhstan has a record of success in counter-terrorist programs. While there was a five-fold increase in those who went abroad to participate in military operations between 2012 and 2016, from 98 to 536, in 2017 there was not a single case of a Kazakhstani attempting to travel to Syria.
But a problem still exists, and the government is staying vigilant. A total of 125 Kazakh citizens were brought back or returned on their own from terrorist camps, and authorities determined that 57 of them had taken part in terror operations, according to Tengrin news. Today, more than 600 Kazakhstanis are estimated to be participating in terrorist efforts.
Since 2015, Kazakhstan’s law enforcement agencies have thwarted over 90 violent terrorist acts.
High-profile acts, like that which took place in Aktobe and Almaty cities in 2016 and claimed 25 people, had demonstrated gaps in the national strategy to combat religious extremism and terrorism.
Leading experts in the field of international and regional security say its high time the government took a national approach to anti- and counter-terrorism efforts, study international experience to learn best practices, and involve the scientific community to help solve the problems of radicalization. Experts specializing in law, religion, social psychology, political science and sociology, and international relations are all being considered essential to solve the problem from an integrative perspective.
The most vulnerable in terms of radicalization to the level that generates terrorism and recruitment into the ranks of terrorists are the southern and western regions of Kazakhstan. The main target group for recruitment to the ranks of foreign terrorist militants is the youth that the age between 14 and 29.