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Pros and Cons of the Tajik Strategy Against Extremism and Terrorism

Tajikistan’s strategy to counter extremism and terrorism recognizes the importance of attracting civil society institutions and every citizen, Tajik political analyst Sherali Rizoyon notes in his article written specifically for CABAR.asia.


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Short overview of the article

  • In the 2000s, there was a process of moving away from secular values among young people in Tajikistan; 
  • In 2014-2016 there was an increase in the involvement of citizens in the organization of the Islamic State (IS). Recruitment mainly occurred among labor migrants. Recruiters also used social media;
  • In the same years, a need arose for the development of a comprehensive state policy to counter extremism and terrorism;
  • The National Strategy for Combating Extremism and Terrorism for 2016-2020 adopted by Tajikistan recognizes extremism and terrorism as a complex problem;

Identity crisis: “Soviet” tools no longer work

The country’s experience in the prevention of extremism can be divided into several stages, which reflect the current internal socio-political processes, as well as international trends in the light of the activation of terrorist groups and the actualization of extremism as a negative phenomenon.[1]

Today, Tajikistan and other countries of the region have entered the post-radicalization stage, and therefore the problems of extremism and terrorism absorb a new content. In this vein, a media report on the liquidation of the leader of the Islamic State (IS) organization Al-Baghdadi can lead to diametrically opposite consequences. It can be assumed that the same structure will appear on the basis of the IS, but it will already be more stable and organized. The IS phenomenon showed that extremists, speculating on problems in the communities where Muslims live, can relatively easily recruit supporters there.

In this light, the main challenge is to design a policy for the re-socialization and rehabilitation of individuals (as well as members of their families, primarily wives and children who have experience of living in territories controlled by IS and other terrorist organizations). Given this factor, an analysis of the “National Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan on Countering Extremism and Terrorism for 2016-2020”[2] (hereinafter referred to as the “National Strategy-NS”) can show how timely the adoption of this document was, and what additional mechanisms should be developed for the new iteration.

Tajikistan has been among the first states in the post-Soviet space, which faced with a surge of extremist ideology, and it has been the first to develop and adopt a document in the form of a National Strategy. Thus, a brief analysis of the national experience of Tajikistan is of both theoretical and methodological and practical importance.

List of wanted Tajikistanis participating in armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Spitamen district of Sughd region, 2017. Photo: Negmatullo Mirsaidov / orien.info

Analysis of the situation on countering and preventing extremism and terrorism (before the adoption of the National Strategy)

An essential element of the radicalization of citizens, primarily youth in the 2000s, is that there was a process of moving away from secular values. This process can be explained by the phenomena associated with the search for identity: more precisely, with the identity crisis that was observed during this period.

The highlight was that the tools developed during the Soviet period and at the dawn of independence which can influence the formation of the youth worldview no longer worked. Existing traditions have less and less influence on the beliefs of young people. This process was accompanied by an external ideological onslaught. Young people who received religious education abroad began to impose the “right” Islam. When existing values ​​were largely discredited, and new ones were not yet formed, an ideological gap arose that was actively filled by adherents of radical organizations, recruiting young people into their ranks.

These processes began in the 2000s in cities where active “Hizb-ut-Tahrir” cells were identified, with the participation, of educated youth from wealthy families. After the 2005s, Salafism gained popularity as a youth subculture. The analysis of media materials and the results of field studies show that in those years, active Salafi cells formed in the cities. At the same time, during the 2000s, in the rural areas, primarily in the north of Tajikistan, the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and others intensified. Already after 2010, recruitment of citizens intensified in both cities and rural areas to Ansarulloh, Dzhundulloh, and etc.

To date, 20 organizations and groups in Tajikistan have been declared terrorist and extremist by decision of the Supreme Court and their activities are banned in the republic.[3] Most of the ban decisions were made in the 2000s.

To understand the characteristics of the growth of extremist ideas, it is important to consider the following points:

Location factor. The first cells of extremist organizations appeared in the early 2000s in cross-border regions. This is, first of all, the north of Tajikistan – the Ferghana Valley, where society is more conservative. The Ferghana Valley itself is located at the junction of three states, where urban centers maintain economic and cultural ties. Therefore, the trends that were observed in the Ferghana Valley essentially influenced the religious environment of all states (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Another important influential factor can be called the situation in Afghanistan, where a civil war has taken place for 40 years, and the opposing parties of Islamic persuasion are the active parties.

The factor of religious identity. After the 2000s, the whole process of changing the religious identity of citizens was observed in the country. It was especially pronounced among residents of cities and labor  migrants. During the same period, the process of growth of religious self-awareness among labor migrants, who increasingly practiced Islam different from traditional, began. During this period, there was also a process of alienation from national and “post-Soviet” traditions and customs, the question was raised how much it is acceptable for Muslims to celebrate Navruz, New Year, and etc.   

Trends in radicalization before the adoption of the National Strategy. 

For the first time in the modern history of Tajikistan, a suicide attack took place. The incident happened in Khujand, in September 2010, in front of the building of the Regional Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (RDCOC/ РУБОП) of the Administration of Ministry of Internal Affairs (УМВД) of the Sughd Region. A terrorist from the extremist organization “Jamoati Ansorulloh” crashed into the RDCOC building in a car filled with explosives during a morning meeting. This fact shows the growing threat of extremist ideology, since, for 5 years of the civil war of 1992-1997. warring parties did not use suicide bombers.

In September 2010, for the first time in the history of Tajikistan, a suicide attack took place near the RDCOC building in Khujand. Photo: ozodi.org

In 2014-2016 there was an increase in the involvement of citizens into the IS organization. According to field studies, recruitment mainly occurred among labor migrants. Recruiters also used social networks.

According to the State National Security Committee of the Republic of Tajikistan on November 19, 2018, a total number of 1,899 Tajik citizens joined the IS terrorists.[4] A significant part of them was recruited precisely in 2014-2016, and this happened in conditions of labor migration.

Thus, in the same years, a need arose for the development of a comprehensive state policy to counter extremism and terrorism, as well as for the rehabilitation of civilian members of terrorist groups who realized the harmfulness of their actions.

Structure analysis of the National Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan on countering extremism and terrorism for 2016-2020

By a decree of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, dated November 12, 2016, the special “National Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan to Combat Extremism and Terrorism for 2016-2020” and the “Action Plan for the Implementation of the National Strategy” were approved. Tajikistan was the first Central Asian country to adopt such documents.

It was planned that the National Strategy (NS) will be implemented in three stages:

The first phase covers 2016. This is creating favorable conditions for the implementation of the Strategy, drawing the attention of state bodies, the public and international organizations to this problem, developing plans and projects for the implementation of specific points of the Action Plan for the Strategy implementation.

The second stage of the Strategy is 2017-2018, which was about the creation and implementation of mechanisms to prevent and combat extremism and radicalization leading to terrorism.

The third phase covers the years 2019-2020. At this stage, the implementation of the mechanisms for preventing and combating extremism and terrorism and their improvement depending on the monitoring results are ensured. At the end of the third stage, it is planned to generalize the results of the Strategy implementation and, if necessary, formulate proposals for the development of new strategic planning documents in this area.

The National Strategy reflects the main actions of state bodies and civil society institutions, as well as a new interpretation of the problems of extremism and terrorism, which is reflected in the following senses:

– recognition of extremism and terrorism as a complex problem. Therefore, the development and implementation of “a set of measures aimed at neutralizing the ideological, socio-economic, legal and institutional factors of their activation is needed”.[5]

– the importance of increasing the level of political culture and legal literacy of the population as factors in the stable development of society, the need for their protection and compliance by state bodies;

– recognition of the factor of corruption as an obstacle to the realization of the rights and freedoms of citizens, the development and implementation of state programs to combat it with the involvement of the public;

– recognition of the factor of adverse socio-economic conditions. The recognition that the lack of the possibility of personal self-realization and a sense of hopelessness can serve as the basis for the formation of extremist sentiments and increase the level of radicalization of society. In this vein, a part of the population dissatisfied with the intermediate results of socio-economic reforms can easily succumb to extremist calls;

– recognition that a drop in the level of socio-economic well-being and marginalization of the population can create threats of radicalization. It is necessary to increase the welfare and culture of the population, create motivation for a constructive, healthy lifestyle, provide opportunities for adaptation and participation in the life of the socially vulnerable segments of the population, etc .;

– recognition of the importance of having a national idea as a barrier to the penetration and dissemination of radical ideas. The activities of radical religious organizations at the global level pose a serious challenge to such an idea, as they strive to create a single theocratic state. Therefore, it is necessary to develop and implement a national idea, combining the principles of an open civil society and the spiritual and moral traditions of the Tajik people;

– the importance of ensuring freedom of conscience and belief, the right to independently determine the attitude to religion; assist in obtaining religious education;

– the importance of providing quality education, leisure activities and solving socio-economic problems of youth;

– the importance of ensuring gender equality, increasing social activity and the role of women in society, as well as ensuring the equal rights of men and women in family relations;

– the importance of counter-propaganda activities using modern information technologies, as terrorist organizations widely use the capabilities and potential of the Internet;

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General (2007-2016)

 “The Internet is a prime example of how terrorists can behave in a truly transnational way; in response, States need to think and function in an equally transnational manner.” 

– The importance of providing labor resources with jobs in the country, since labor migrants in their countries of residence are at great risk of radicalization and involvement in extremist and terrorist organizations;

 – The importance of preventing the spread of extremist views in prisons. Since, due to their specificity, they are subject to the risks of the spread of extremism and radicalization. The sources of the spread of radical views are persons convicted of such activities, who often continue to carry out propaganda activities and recruit prisoners;

– Recognition of the vulnerability of law enforcement officers and military personnel to extremist propaganda by virtue of communicating on service with extremist elements, studying extremist literature or direct recruitment, etc.;

– Recognition of the importance of involving civil society institutions, the media, the private sector and each member of the society in the prevention of extremism and terrorism as a condition for achieving success;

– The importance of international and regional cooperation in countering extremism and terrorism.

Implementations of the document: practical achievements and shortcomings

The fact of the adoption of this document in the conditions of Tajikistan is certainly a great achievement. This can be indicated in the following points:

Firstly, representatives of competent state bodies, civil society, experts and religious leaders took part in the development of the document. To create the National Strategy, international experience was studied, a national study was conducted in all regions of the country (in which broad sections of Tajik society were represented). This positive experience shows that the involvement of various groups of society can guarantee the development of an effective document and can play a positive role in building a secular and democratic state.

Secondly, in the text of the National Strategy and in the Implementation Plan of the National Strategy, the importance of the participation of civil society, the private sector and each individual citizen in the prevention and counteraction of extremism and terrorism is noted. In the implementation plan of the National Strategy, it is said that competent state bodies should promote the emergence of public organizations involved in the prevention of extremism and terrorism. This, of course, is a step forward in the development of civil society.

Thirdly, carrying out research within the framework of the National Strategy implementation on monitoring the situation, on the part of state and public organizations, provided to the study of the causes and factors contributing to radicalization. In the 2000s and early 2010, it was difficult to conduct large-scale research. However, with the adoption of the document, today we have a number of analytical reports on the results of sociological and qualitative studies that explain the causes and consequences of radicalization from various perspectives.

Fourthly, over the past few years, a number of doctoral and master’s theses on extremism in political science, philosophy, and jurisprudence have been defended. These works analyze the relevant national experience of Tajikistan. In other words, due to the relevance of this problem, a significant number of applicants have chosen various aspects of the topics of extremism and terrorism as the theme of their dissertations and in the next 3-5 years we will witness the defense of new scientific papers.

Fifthly, as part of the implementation of the National Strategy Implementation Plan, the central and local executive bodies developed their own action plans to prevent extremism and radicalism. Large-scale preventive work was carried out in all regions of the country, as a result of which the importance of countering extremism and terrorism was brought to a large number of citizens.

Sixthly, over the period of the National Strategy implementation, the access of youth to sports and cultural institutions has noticeably improved. In all regions of the country, especially in Dushanbe, sports grounds were built for football and volleyball, etc. Today in all regions of the country there are educational centers for the study of languages, several new community centers and theaters have been built. The created infrastructure in the medium term will play a significant role in the positive development of youth.  

Read more: What Do Children Returned from Iraq Need?

Shortcomings and Lowlights of the Strategy

The following points can be mentioned as shortcomings and lowlights in the implementation of the National Strategy, which concern all sectors of Tajik society:

The text and the implementation plan of the National Strategy form broad public expectations of possible results. For objective reasons, a number of provisions of the implementation plan have not been translated into reality.

Firstly, the text and the implementation plan of the National Strategy form broad public expectations of possible results. For objective reasons, a number of provisions of the implementation plan have not been translated into reality. Primarily, this is due to the financing of individual measures and activities.

Secondly, the country has not formed a community of NGOs that work at the proper level to prevent extremism. Many NGOs working in this direction began to deal with this because of the urgency of the problem, and also due to the possibility of obtaining grants. Therefore, the sustainability of many NGO projects is difficult to assess.

Thirdly, in the coverage of the problems of extremism and terrorism, “mythical” and constructed “realities” were observed. A pool of journalists has not formed yet in the country that could professionally cover this topic. The use of hate speech and the demonization of extremists must be particularly emphasized.

According to Tajik expert Rustam Azizi, citizens involved in extremist groups can be divided into two groups: active or ideological radicals who are difficult to rehabilitate and those who can be convinced, i.e. passive radicals or concomitant victims of radicalization.[6] 

In the media, both groups were issued as a single entity. The use of inappropriate terms “justifying” the actions of extremists is also observed. Work with journalists on the coverage of issues related to extremism and terrorism will remain particularly relevant.

Fourth, the ongoing preventive work in the regions needs major changes. There is a need in new social constructs and social engineering, by considering the specifics of the regions and their needs.

Fifth, Tajik experts and analysts were not able to present the experience of Tajikistan in the prevention of extremism and terrorism to the regional and international community. Law enforcement agencies carried out extensive work on: 1) the return of persons from the territories of the “terrorist organization of the Islamic State (banned in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries, –  Ed. note )”; 2) the return of children from Iraq; 3) the return of persons suspected of and members of extremist organizations, etc. Undoubtedly, the priority work in this direction will be the implementation of measures with the consequences of radicalization, since after 2017 there has been a decrease in the involvement of citizens in extremist and terrorist organizations.

The actual direction of work can be called rehabilitation and resocialization of returnees. In this direction, Tajikistan has had unique experience since the 1990s, when more than a million citizens (refugees) from Afghanistan and other countries were returned to the country. In the post-conflict peace-building phase, not only civilians were rehabilitated and integrated into peaceful life, but also the military formations of the former UTO (United Tajik Opposition), some of which are still serving in the country’s law enforcement agencies.

The conceptualization of this experience and its use for the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees, of course, can serve as a successful example not only for Tajikistan, but also for other states of the post-Soviet space.

It is necessary to strengthen the potential of civil society, including the media, in the process of preventing extremism. In general, it is necessary to continue to develop partnerships between government bodies and civil society institutions.

Sixth, it is necessary to strengthen the potential of civil society, including the media, in the process of preventing extremism. In general, it is necessary to continue to develop partnerships between government bodies and civil society institutions.

Seventh, the development and implementation of soft tools, i.e. approaches not of a forceful nature, but more aimed at designing intelligent products that can act as an alternative to a radical worldview in the prevention of extremism and terrorism. Studies show that extremist groups attach great importance to intellectual products and form a positive and attractive background for their ideas. Therefore, the development of intelligent products can also play a significant role in the prevention and counteraction of extremism in the medium term.  

All these shortcomings have various reasons, including a lack of finance or lack of necessary expert support. These proposals can be used in the process of preparing a new edition of the National Strategy for the coming years.


This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».


[1] About the stages of the prevention of extremism in Tajikistan, see the author’s article: Rizoyon Sh.Sh. Tajikistan’s experience in the prevention of extremism: problems and prospects  // Collection “Countering the ideology of terrorism: concepts and targeted prevention” (Materials of the All-Russian Scientific and Practical Conference). Ufa, 2019 .– pp. 15-24.

[2] National Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan on countering extremism and terrorism for 2016-2020 (approved by Decree of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan dated November 12, 2016, No. 776);

[3] See: List of organizations recognized by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Tatarstan as terrorist and extremist (date of appeal March 15, 2017). –C.1-2. URL: http://nbt.tj/upload/iblock/ede/sp_ter_org.pdf

[4] Preventing youth involvement in a terrorist organization is also the responsibility of civil society / 15.11.2018. URL: sadoimardum.tj/ma-lisi-ol/peshgirii-albi-avonon-ba-tashkiloti-terrorist-vazifai-omeai-sha-rvand-niz-ast/

[5] National Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan on countering extremism and terrorism for 2016-2020 (text). –Dushanbe: 2016. –С.3.

[6] Speech at the international scientific and practical conference “Secularism, secularism, religiosity in the post-Soviet space: historical, legal, philosophical and philosophical aspects” (October 23-25, 2019), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan