Communities and authorities in Tajikistan worry that young people are vulnerable to recruitment into violent groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS). Saferworld is bringing police and youth together to collaboratively find peaceful solutions to problems faced by young people. But what are the factors behind the draw of violent groups and what can the police do to address people’s concerns peacefully?
According to official data, over a thousand Tajik citizens have joined ISIS as of June 2016. The government, anxious about these numbers, has taken a visible yet counter-productive approach to prevent people joining these groups. Reports of police forcibly shaving men’s beards, arresting people who look ‘too Muslim’, or banning hijabs in public spaces demonstrate how the strategy focuses on superficial aspects of religiosity rather than getting at the heart of what drives people toward violent groups.
When recalling government interventions on violent groups, any positive efforts – such as using information campaigns, television programmes and meetings that bring together religious leaders and police to counter narratives of violent groups – are trumped by the hard security measures employed by the police in the minds of the citizens. In one particularly shocking example last year, police in Khatlon Region forcibly took around 13,000 men to barber shops to have their beards shaved because they were seen as “alien to Tajik culture.” There is no legal basis for such activities and officially the police do not condone these forcible shavings. Such actions entrench grievances against the state and can make the appeal of violent groups stronger for those who have been abused or marginalised by the authorities. According to the Khatlon police, there have been seven young men from Shohin and 12 young men from Hamadoni who joined such groups to fight in Syria in 2016.
"This year drastically changed my understanding of communities’ role and my own approach to solving problems faced by young people" - Tohir Robiev, a policeman
The partnership teams identified several factors that are major concerns for young people, including high school drop-out rates, unemployment and poverty, limited time and space for leisure activities, and hard-handed tactics employed by authorities. To address some of these issues, the teams developed action plans that included activities such as vocational trainings and dialogue workshops that bring young people together and help them gain skills and knowledge that help them tackle some of their concerns. Saferworld and partners Zarshedabonu and Khayrikhohi Zamon are working to address this problem in Khatlon by bringing together police and communities to discuss their concerns and to come up with collaborative solutions. We have established community policing partnership teams made up of religious and informal leaders, women and youth, local authorities and police. Having identified informal leaders and representatives from marginalised groups, we led dialogue workshops to help them prepare for some of the issues that could be raised in the discussions. By sitting together and talking about problems that affect them all, local experiences can be taken into account and trust built on both sides. It also helped police to understand the reasons people are drawn to violent groups, and how their own actions might affect these decisions.
Police officers who participate in the discussions with communities acknowledged that their approach can have an adverse effect on people. By working with communities directly, many have changed their views on what causes conflict and recruitment into violent groups and how to better serve their communities.
Tohir Robiev, a 40-year-old policeman, has been part of a team based in Hamadoni since it was created a year ago. It is the first time he has been able to work together with local administrators and communities on security concerns. “I have never thought of communities as having an active role in problem-solving”, he said. “That is why I was surprised when I was invited to become a member of the partnership team. By working with people who are motivated, and who are willing to work on a voluntary basis and with a strong desire to build a safer society, I have seen the potential of communities to work on security issues.” He mentioned that they had also worked together on issues affecting youth. “This year drastically changed my understanding of communities’ role and my own approach to solving problems faced by young people. Before, I always thought that we need to gather people and to talk to them about the negative consequences of joining the violent movements, but we have never thought of triggers and causes, and motives of why young people join these groups.”
“We know that our action plan will not change things overnight”, said a police officer in Hamadoni. “But working on it has helped us to understand that there are alternative approaches to addressing recruitment into violent groups, and that all cases are different and require their own strategy.” Together with communities and police, Saferworld will continue to support the teams to carry out and monitor the progress of their action plans and to help ensure that discussions include a range of views.