DUSHANBE -- Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has called on prominent citizens in the Central Asian nation to outline a long-term "national development concept" that would establish a "democratic and secular country based on the rule of law."
Speaking at an annual meeting with leading scholars, writers, artists and other figures on March 19, the long-ruling Rahmon said the development concept would guide the Central Asian country through the year 2050 and must be based firmly on its national interests.
He said it must "be mainly focused on the development of secularism and national and secular thinking."
The emphasis on secularism follows an upsurge in arrests of alleged Islamist extremists and an election that pushed the poor, predominantly Muslim country's only registered religious party out of parliament for the first time since the 1990s.
The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) had come under increasing pressure from the authorities before failing to win enough votes to secure a place in parliament in a March 1 election marred by fraud allegations and criticized by international observers.
Rahmon's speech coincided with a report that the trial of five alleged members of a banned Islamic group, Jamaat Ansarullah, had started in Tajikistan's northern Sughd region on March 19.
The trial is the latest of several court proceedings across the poor, predominantly Muslim, country targeting alleged members of banned Islamic groups in recent months.
Tajik officials have also said recently that hundreds of Tajik citizens are fighting alongside Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq.
In December, Rahmon publicly branded the Islamic State militant group in the Middle East a "modern plague" that poses a "threat to global security."
Rahmon has called young Tajiks who have left to fight in the Middle East "a potential threat to Tajikistan," saying they could spread radical Islam in the country after returning home from Syria and Iraq.
Last month, Tajikistan's newly appointed prosecutor-general, Yusuf Rahmonov, said that 41 criminal cases, mainly in absentia, had been launched against 85 Tajik nationals suspected of fighting or having fought in the Middle East.
Rahmonov also said that a special center tasked with investigating recruitment cases would begin operating soon.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said on March 5 that Moscow plans to bolster Russia's military bases in Tajikistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan due to an increase of activity by what he called "units" of the militant group Islamic State in Central Asia.