Central Asia: Islamist mobilisation and regional security

Central Asia: Islamist mobilisation and regional security

Central Asian governments' repressive intolerance of religion is encouraging islamic militancy

This article deals with the issue of Islamic radical activity in Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The article stresses that although there is an increase in religious practices among the citizens of these countries, and an upsurge in religiously motivated radicalism and resistance to the governments of these states, only a small element of such activities represent a real threat to the governments. Indeed the report suggests that the governments are encouraging the resolve of islamic militants to organise and resist the government, as a consequence of repression and religious intolerance.

The article recommends Central Asian governments to:

  • reorient internal security policies to emphasise the positive values of civil society institutions, including a vigorous free press, and of religious toleration
  • restore regime credibility by clearly articulating and demonstrating commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens, including practising Muslims
  • transfer control of policy toward Islam and Islamic institutions from KGB-successor agencies to agencies whose expertise is in social and cultural matters
  • issue and monitor observance of clear, well-reasoned regulations on what constitutes anti-state Islamic activity
  • exercise oversight of how policy directives are implemented to ensure that local law enforcement officials do not target innocent people to fill a ‘quota’

The article recommends that external powers and international organisations:

  • treat religious freedom as a security issue, not just a human rights issue, and advocate unequivocally that regional security can only be assured if religious freedom is guaranteed and legitimate activities of groups and individuals are not suppressed
  • ensure that donor assistance is not misused to strengthen or legitimate suppression of religious observance or non-violent religion-based groups
  • coordinate and integrate security assistance among donor nations according to a comprehensive approach and ensure that such assistance is not represented by Central Asian governments as endorsing views that unofficial religious activities and organisations are security threats
  • review policy toward Afghanistan, working towards a more comprehensive, less single issue driven (e.g., drugs, terrorism) view of the security problems that takes account of efforts by the regional governments to reach an accommodation with the Taliban
  • (for Western states) consult more often with China and, especially, Russia, which have important security interests in and special knowledge of the region, when offering support to Central Asian states for countering violent manifestations of radical Islamist politics
  • (for China and Russia) Look more to economic and social than military measures to help Central Asian states reduce the appeal of radical Islamist groups

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