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Tajikistan Tries New Methods to Curb Islamism

Saturday 5 May 2012

KHUJAND (Central Asia Online, Negmatullo Mirsaidov) – Eighteen months after a major terror attack, Tajikistan has taken steps to fight extremism through programmes that aim to keep youth out of the hands of radicals. But the task is challenging, as officials have detected that extremism seems to be gaining a foothold in broader parts of the country.

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Tajik suicide bombers strike Khudzhand police station
An Islamist militant group calling itself Jamaat Ansarullah claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide car bombing of a police station in Tajikistan of September 3, 2010. The previously unknown group used the pro-militant website Kavkazcenter.com to make the statement, which also claimed the group had killed or wounded at least 50 people in the car bomb attack in the northern city of Khujand on Friday. On August of the same year, attacks were made on Defence Ministry outposts which permitted convicted of extremism prisoners to escape.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon’s secular government has led a long fight against militant Islam since he took leadership of the country in 1992. But, Western Countries, on the pretext of religious freedom, put pressure on Tajikistan to release islamists from prison.

The more active approach toward combating terrorism follows a September 2010 Khujand (خجند) car bombing that targeted the Sughd (سغد) Oblast police headquarters for fighting organised crime. That bombing “was an act of unprecedented cruelty; four people were killed and 31 were injured,” said Dodozhon Gadoyboyev, the Sughd Oblast Court judge who heard the case. “All of the victims, with the exception of the suicide bomber Akmal Karimov, were police officers. Among those wounded were 24 police officers.”

Sughd Oblast, in the conservative Fergana Valley, has been at the heart of most extremist problems for Tajikistan. The oblast was where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operated before that group was weakened by security services and relocated to Pakistan to take part in militant activities there.

In late September 2010, Tajik Special Forces killed three terrorists in a gun battle. Those three were linked to 14 people accused of membership in extremist organisations.

The Fergana Valley encompasses seven oblasts from three countries. The Tajik part of the valley includes a network of ancient towns and villages with strong Islamic traditions, analysts said. The Fergana Valley has also been mentioned in connection with the caliphate radicals want to establish.

Sughd Oblast Court Deputy Chairman Shodihon Nazarov told Central Asia Online he is concerned by indications that membership in extremist organisations may be spreading beyond the Fergana Valley. “It is important that, while earlier we were talking about people living near the Kyrgyz border, now we are talking about other parts of the country,” he said.

According to officials, the extremists are targeting young adults, trying to persuade them that their way is the right way. If before extremists would only commit acts of terror, now they focus on propagandising their ideas, on spreading them among the youth. This is why Tajikistan is trying to pay more attention to this age group, to make sure that youth recognise the difference between extremism and true religion and don’t choose the wrong way.

Protecting young people

The vast majority of suspected extremists are 18-35 years old, according to Sughd Oblast Court data, and Tajikistan is focusing its counter-extremism efforts on that age group. One factor behind youths turning to radicalism is that they have difficulty distinguishing real Islam from pseudo-Islam, said Mahkam Mirkamolov, deputy head of the Sughd Oblast government’s Department of Religious Affairs. To help them make the distinction, Kohir Rasulzoda, governor of Sughd Oblast, suggested that clerics be more active in educating the young. “Instead of sitting cross-legged in your offices, waiting for the end of the workday, you should visit businesses, schools and institutions, and meet regularly with the public to help solve their problems and gain their trust,” he said. “Then the public, including youth, will listen to what you say and will follow you.”

Outside of religious circles, Tajik communities are trying other ways to reach out to youth. Law enforcement officials in Chorkuh village, Isfara District, created a special regional police units with more than 50 police officers. Their focus is to make sure youth don’t take the wrong path, to monitor the situation in the region, and stay in touch with moderate mullahs and elders. Authorities are forming similar special police units in other regions too. Elsewhere, social work is under way, as part of an effort to give youngsters positive choices.

“Despite the financial difficulties, we are trying to revive the work of educational institutions,” said Abdukhalil Sharipov, deputy chairman of the Chorkuh Dzhamoat. “In 2011, we turned an abandoned club into a youth centre. We count on help from business and the government, who should support our efforts as it is in the national interest. We plan to build a stadium and a chess club, as well as rebuild school playgrounds.”

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