On November 16 the Senate (upper) chamber of Kazakhstan’s parliament held a round-table debate that focused on the problems of terrorism and protecting human rights in conflict situations. Most of the participants said that Kazakhstan should wield a strong national ideology rather than military muscle to defeat terrorism effectively.
This view was expressed by Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbayev, who on many occasions has stressed Kazakhstan’s readiness to join forces with Russia, as well as with the West, in eradicating terrorism. He asked participants, “Is there any hope at all of winning a victory over terrorism?” and added that much depended on ideological work in this respect, which, in his words, was totally neglected in Kazakhstan. Referring to the massive propaganda campaign launched by the global network of terrorists, Altynbayev said: “What can we produce to counter this ideology? Unfortunately, nothing.” The Defense Minister deplored the lack of trained scholars who could be assigned to work out an ideological justification for fighting terrorism. He also noted that sporadic crackdowns on small extremist and terrorist groups only “swats the tails” of terrorists, leaving the roots of terrorism intact.
Senator Zhabaikhan Abdildin, head of the parliamentary Committee for Security and the Defense Industry, noted that anyone who launches a war against evil should target terrorists, not civilian populations (Kazakhstan TV, November 16). Although other round-table participants backed Altynbayev’s argument to emphasize ideology over military force, none specified what sort of ideology it should be.
Altynbayev and other prominent Kazakhstani citizens who advocate a non-military solution to terrorism reflect the prevalent gloom that has overtaken Kazakhstan’s Muslim society since 9/11. This group increasingly sees the American-lead global hunt for terrorists as a manifestation of an American drive for world dominance, which is accompanied by American “spiritual terrorism,” “cultural terrorism,” and “information terrorism” (Qazaq adebiyeti [Kazakh Literature], November 12).
On the other end of argument, Vladimir Bozhko, the first deputy director of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan, favors a tougher approach in dealing with terrorists. He believes that as long as Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, with their dramatically impoverished populations, remain economically and politically volatile, Kazakhstan will not be safe from terrorist attacks. “Gangs of armed bandits,” as he put it, were actively propagating their ideology in Kazakhstan, recruiting followers from the illiterate believers, and using people for their personal enrichment. According to Bozhko, although Kazakhstan banned al-Qaeda, the Islamic Party of East Turkestan, and the People’s Congress of Kurdistan, members of these organizations are likely to continue to infiltrate the country from abroad. Bozhko also named China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and the North Caucasus as potential sources of trouble for Kazakhstan. Over the last three or four years, Kazakhstan has arrested more than 10 paramilitaries from Chechnya who were wanted for numerous crimes. “All measures must be taken to prevent people of Caucasian origin from being used as human and material components of the war in Chechnya,” Bozhko said, noting that the main reason that drives people into the arms of terrorists is not the religious bigotry, but poverty and uncertainty (Ekspress-K, November 17).
Vladimir Karpovich, an expert on terrorism, maintains that the real threat to Kazakhstan’s national security comes from the uncontrolled stream of foreign missionaries, who often pose as humanitarian aid workers while propagating hostile ideology. Karpovich thinks that the 1999 law “On Combating Terrorism” needs to be updated to include new articles regulating the activities of foreign missionaries and humanitarian aid groups in Kazakhstan.
This interpretation of terrorism has come under fire from the International Human Rights Bureau in Kazakhstan, which pointed out that Kazakhstan does not differentiate between religious extremism and terrorism. Religious extremism, according to the Bureau, is relatively harmless because it does not seek to overthrow the government. Therefore religious organizations should be exempt from the ban.
Nevertheless, the National Security Committee recently made another appeal to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, demanding a ban on the newly discovered group Jamaat of Central Asian Mujahideen, recognizing it as a terrorist organization.
The confused debates around extremism and terrorism show that Kazakhstan has no clear-cut anti-terrorist strategy. Nor is there a ready-made strategy that can be imported from neighboring countries. The phenomena of extremism in Russia and extremism in Kazakhstan are not the same. The Russian variant has a clear fascist and nationalistic bent, while in Kazakhstan extremist feelings are increasingly directed against seemingly innocuous foreign missionaries (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, November 16). Most observers are inclined to believe that the impending threat to society, be it extremism or terrorism, cannot be averted simply by creating a new ideology.