Kazakhstan’s leaders have sought Moscow’s help to reduce crimes with security implications, such as membership in extremist groups or drug trafficking. On July 30, for example, Kazakhstan’s Interior Ministry and the Russian Federal Service for Drug Control signed an agreement to cooperate in combating the trade in narcotics and psychotropic substances (see EDM, August 7). “The agreement stipulates the following forms of cooperation: exchange of information related to investigation, search, inquiries, forensic evidence as well as other information of mutual interest; [and] conducting joint operations on blocking drug trafficking channels,” Kazakh Interior Ministry’s committee for fighting drugs trade and controlling drug circulation confirmed.
Not only will local police departments share information across borders, but they will also share specific intelligence. They will also share information on money laundering related to the proceeds of drug trafficking. Moreover, Kazakhstan wants Russian help in carrying out investigations in criminal cases (Interfax-Kazakhstan, July 30).
Kazakhstan’s government is also pursuing security cooperation with other countries experienced in dealing with terrorism, utilizing their legal expertise to strengthen the state’s use of legal measures to combat terrorism. For example, Kazakhstan has fostered new security cooperation with Egypt. On August 1 Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov received a delegation from the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, led by its chairman, Mahir Sa’id Ibrahim Abd-al-Wahid. Both sides explored ways to build on the bilateral agreement reached in March 2007, which will develop cooperation against terrorism, organized crime, drug smuggling, and other criminal activities. Reportedly, Astana is looking for legal assistance and expertise from Cairo, as both sides “stressed their readiness for active cooperation and exchange of expertise in the legal sphere,” between the two countries (Interfax-Kazakhstan, August 1).
In particular, the Kazakh security agencies are increasing their scrutiny of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, although the organization is not widely classified as a terrorist group in Western countries; it has been banned in Germany. On August 1, a closed trial of 30 alleged members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir began in Karaganda with prosecutors reading a 100-page indictment. The suspects are charged with establishing an organized gang in Kazakhstan, inciting ethnic and religious hatred, and participating in the activities of a banned extremist organization.
Regarding the defendants, Kazakhstan’s intelligence service (KNB) issued a press release noting, “among them are a leader of the organization for Kazakhstan, regional leaders of party cells, and people responsible for underground printing activities and financial issues and also a number of other active members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir” (Interfax-Kazakhstan, August 1). According to the KNB, approximately 167 members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Kazakhstan have quit the organization. However, the KNB pointed out that one member of the group linked to those appearing in court had been exempt from prosecution after cooperating with the authorities. This disclosure suggests that the KNB attaches so much significance to Hizb-ut-Tahrir as a potential security threat, that its members have infiltrated the organization; it certainly wants to bring high-profile cases to court, and thus damage the public image of this banned group.
Kazakh police officers are becoming more direct in their efforts to stamp out any appearance of extremist groups within the country. Recently leaders of Kazakhstan’s police in southern Zambyl region confirmed the arrests of eight Kazakh citizens allegedly linked to Tablighi Jamaat, an unregistered movement. Tablighi Jamaat is already known for propagating an extreme version of Islam internationally; police in Zambyl immediately contacted other local police departments, seeking any evidence of the groups operating in their areas. A separate arrest was made in Almaty of “a 33-year-old missionary — a Kyrgyz national — who has been propagating the ideas of the unregistered Tablighi Jamaat movement,” according a press release (Interfax-Kazakhstan, July 27).
Astana is also monitoring policing methods elsewhere in the region. Kyrgyz police operating in Bishkek enjoy close cooperation with the local imams as they conduct sweeps of the mosques in the capital, a security precaution ahead of the August 16 SCO summit. Officers from the ninth department of the capital’s police directorate conducted checks on the mosques, searching in particular for banned literature related to religious extremism. Police officials have painstakingly explained what they are doing, and they check documents in the mosques with the full assistance of the imams.
This has become the norm in Bishkek, as the local authorities have built good relations with imams, who in turn remain vigilant in terms of the appearance of any extremist literature. “We usually carry out checks together with the ninth department of the Bishkek police directorate. We do that every three months, and sometimes every month. During the inspections, we thoroughly check all religious books,” explained Shakir Mamatov, imam of the central mosque in Bishkek (Channel 5 TV, July 26). This will intensify as the SCO summit draws nearer, with police watching for the sale of any extremist literature in the vicinity of the mosques.
Although keen to cooperate with Russia and the region’s powerful neighbors, Central Asia’s Interior Ministries have not sought cooperation with other Central Asian countries. But, as the Kyrgyz example shows, there is much to learn from sharing experience and methods in dealing with security concerns that are not limited by borders. It is a strategy that Interior Ministries across Central Asia would do well to replicate with consistency.