On the same day, an Astana court sentenced a group of five persons accused of terrorism to different prison terms ranging from five to ten years. As the prosecution reported, they had planned to stage bomb attacks directed against the country’s key political figures at the inauguration of Astana’s new Opera and Ballet Theater which opened its doors to the public in late June. Furthermore, the Palace of Peace and Concord and the headquarters of the National Security Committee (NSC) in the capital could also have become possible targets. The final goal of the terrorist group was the destruction of the current political system and the establishment of an Islamic state in Kazakhstan.
Earlier in August, Kazakhstan’s Prosecutor General’s Office reported that at least 75 members of the extremist organization Tablighi Jamaat had been identified in the country since the start of the year. While the list of terrorist organizations forbidden by Kazakhstani authorities includes 15 structures, Tablighi Jamaat has been mostly absent from the criminal records in recent years but remains a serious challenge to the stability of Kazakhstan’s southern neighbors, including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Despite repeated attempts to set up regular security cooperation among the Central Asian republics, each of the five states mostly prefer to stick to national measures. While the forthcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization scheduled for mid-September is expected to further boost the regional dimension, Kazakhstan is already close to finalizing its national antiterrorist strategy up to 2017.
According to the preliminary version of this strategic document presented in May 2013 by the General Prosecutor’s Office, over US$ 1.3 billion would be spent from both national and regional budgets for the financing of antiterrorist policies including measures aimed to prevent the spread of religious radicalism. This strategy is in response to the worsening statistics in recent years in terms of combating terrorism and extremist ideologies. Thus, the number of persons sentenced to prison terms for their participation in clandestine terrorist organizations increased from 27 in 2008 to 171 last year, whereas those preaching religious extremism were only 56 in 2008 and almost 170 in 2012. The government also plans to modernize the equipment used by law enforcement officers, spending over 30 percent of the allotted funds on the purchase of new technological and physical protection solutions.
Furthermore, Nazarbayev decreed on June 24 the establishment of a new antiterrorist center which thus replaced a similar structure created back in 1999 for the purpose of coordinating Kazakhstan’s response to terrorism under the authority of the NSC. Henceforth, the antiterrorist center will conduct its working meetings on a regular basis with the participation of the heads of 23 ministries and agencies as well as regional governors and the mayors of Astana and Almaty. The first such meeting already took place on July 10 and was chaired by the NSC head, Nurtay Abykayev. The operation of this refurbished coordination body will also be complemented by regional antiterrorist commissions accountable to the governors and tasked with the implementation of the national strategy and its specific action plans.
While the Kazakhstani government is increasingly focused on hard security measures, the eradication of radicalism also requires a strong social component in order to tackle the very sources of insecurity, such as chronic unemployment or everyday injustices. The Ministry of Regional Development established in September 2012 is officially in charge of spreading the benefits of Kazakhstan’s economic growth powered by oil and gas exports across the country. However, the recent economic troubles caused by the decreasing global demand for some of the raw materials and diminished tax revenues have only aggravated wealth disparities among Kazakhstani provinces. Likewise, President Nazarbayev’s succession remains a major source of uncertainty as far as Kazakhstan’s short- and medium-term political prospects are concerned. The potential loss of control by the center over the regions dominated by local elites and interest groups could thus lead to more instability, since the state’s capacity to cope effectively with terrorist risks necessitates a strong vertical of power and centralized governance.