Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 122

Vladimir Bozhko, first deputy chairman of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB), believes that the terrorist threat to Kazakhstan is real and growing. Highlighting the nature of that threat as it emerges within the country, he has called for a new approach to the whole issue of how the country can successfully counter terrorism. This would entail widening the present security-centered style to one that includes all sections of Kazakhstani society.

Bozhko’s remarks in Astana on June 17 confirm that the Kazakhstani security agencies are exploring ways to adapt current counter-terrorist policy in their cautiously crafted reaction to the May massacre in Andijan, Uzbekistan (Interfax, June 17). The KNB readily appreciates the fruits of Tashkent’s exclusively security forces-based response to the crisis in eastern Uzbekistan, provoking widespread condemnation and exposing the potential international isolation that could be faced by Kazakhstan in similar circumstances.

Bozhko’s assessment is based on information about the nature of terrorist or extremist recruitment of Kazakhstani citizens, until recently strongly denied within official circles in Kazakhstan, combined with the apparent growth in the threat from external groups seeking to destabilize Kazakhstan. He is convinced that terrorists are attempting to set up bases within the country and even evade justice by seeking to shelter in Kazakhstan. Moreover, the KNB’s careful watch on extremist religious groups alleges a numerical growth in the grassroots support for radical ideas and organizations. In these circumstances he is persuaded that force alone will render Kazakhstan safer from the terrorist threat, but other methods must be found. “The environment in which the fight against terrorism is proceeding today requires a new lifestyle that should involve all sectors of Kazakh society: people of various religions, business circles, the media, youth, and other organizations. Anti-terrorist operations should not be restricted to actions by special services and law-enforcement agencies,” confessed Bozhko.

The nature of Bozhko’s comments suggest that, inside the highest echelons of Kazakhstan’s intelligence services, there are doubts that a purely security-centered approach to countering terrorism can succeed. But his controversial views also bring into focus the existence of widely divergent views on how Kazakhstan should assimilate lessons from events in neighboring Uzbekistan and implement alterations to its existing counter-terrorist policy.

One clear illustration of such differences came recently from within the anti-terrorist structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). According to Vyacheslav Qosimov, Director of the SCO’s Regional Anti-terrorism Structure, the SCO gave tacit approval to the Uzbek government in its handling of the Andijan crisis: “All SCO members described the Uzbek government’s actions in Andijan Region as an appropriate localization of terrorist and extremist action,” said Qosimov (Interfax, June 16). Presumably such “support” also came from Kazakhstan, though its intelligence chief openly questions whether such an operation would be acceptable in Kazakhstan.

Finding supporters for change inside the power circles in Kazakhstan will present serious and lasting challenges for the current regime. Nevertheless, tangible signs are already appearing pointing to such changes. Counter proliferation initiatives spearheaded by the United States is one such area offering hope for Bozhko’s ideas.

U.S. agencies have trained Kazakhstani customs officials in methods to track and prevent the flow across Central Asia’s borders of dual-use materials that may fall into the hands of international terrorists. Such programs have helped Kazakhstani officials work with counterparts in the region in order to engender greater cooperation and maximize future border efficiency. This training was conducted by specialists from the U.S. Energy Department, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Kazakh State Atomic Energy Committee with key support from the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, June 9). What is new in this sphere is the potential training and cooperation of the customs and border officials in Kazakhstan in identifying and quelling the cross border transportation of such commodities. Extending such training opportunities to promote the development of interregional cooperation and enhancement of such agencies may well represent one aspect of Kazakhstan’s desire for new methods of improving its security environment.

The fear aroused within the KNB — that present methods of countering terrorism are not effective in stopping the growth of extremism and dealing adequately with the terrorist threat — now compels such agencies to examine other possible supporting structures or cooperation. Having moved away from the predicable denials that there is a terrorist threat or problem within the country, the leading figures in the security structures now face more practical tasks. President Nursultan Nazarbayev calls on the country’s youth to fight for the independence of Kazakhstan, though his brave face on security matters is contradicted by his fears relating to potential ethnic tensions erupting, perhaps fuelled by religious extremists or other radicals (Kazakh Television First Channel, June 20).

Kazakhstan’s Western orientation, owing to the development of the Caspian Sea, weighs heavily on its security calculations. Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev observed on June 15, “We are very grateful that 50% of the investment in Kazakhstan falls on the USA. On our part, we are ready to defend the USA’s economic interests in Kazakhstan by legal and other means. We are strongly convinced of the inviolability of the contracts with major companies and we will not change this position” (Interfax, June 15). Defending Western economic interests and protecting the future strength of Kazakhstan’s economy seem to pave the way for enacting security measures less in the style of Uzbekistan and more acceptable to international trading partners.