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Terrorism, Religion and State Policy in Central Asia


Publication date: 03/09/2017


The countries of Central Asia have not been immune to the global forces that have been stimulating religiously inspired violence, as some of its citizens participate in international jihadist groups while others have committed locally organised terrorist actions. But at the same time, none of these countries have demonstrated that they are at profound or disproportionate risk, one which well-trained national and local security forces would be incapable of countering. And this is true even of those Central Asian states that border on Afghanistan. The rise of religiously-inspired terrorism is an unfortunate fact of life for the international community today, but it shouldn’t be a source of intemperate decision-making on the part of governments, as efforts at prevention and ‘cure’ can create new risks and greater harm than the conditions that they are trying to address. So far, policy-makers in Central Asia have failed to find strategies that can both effectively identify and neutralise terrorists before they strike. One of the main reasons for this is that they are trying to do too much. They have not been content to merely identify, monitor, and arrest individuals who have had international terrorist training, and any other home grown groups who might have acquired the means to launch terrorist acts. Instead, they have ventured into the danger-fraught area of “prevention,” seeking to exert much greater control over religious activities within their countries, and have engaged in costly programs designed to “de-radicalise” at-risk populations. Such de-radicalisation programs, while a potential boon for the “specialists” employed by them, are of unproven benefit, while restrictions on religious practice may not only violate the international human rights of the citizens of these countries, but they can also serve as a source of radicalisation fostering various forms of political opposition that governments are seeking to reduce or eliminate.


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