The U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Susan M. Elliott, has called for a greater role for civil-society groups in helping to combat the fight against radicalization in Central Asia, according to reports in regional Russian-language media.
Speaking in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on February 24 at the opening of a three-day conference for regional experts on regional cooperation and effective measures to combat the phenomenon of foreign militants, Elliott said that civil-society groups should be involved in "countering [militant] groups and the propaganda that they disseminate via the Internet."
Elliott added that the United States is working with religious leaders to help them oppose the spread of extremism and radicalism.
"We want to develop projects to promote peace through dialogue," Elliott was quoted by local media as saying.
Russia's Ambassador to Tajikistan, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, also spoke at the conference and was quoted in the pro-Kremlin news outlet RIA Novosti as having "expressed an interest and willingness to restore cooperation" with the West regarding efforts to combat the growth in radicalization and extremism. However, the Russian envoy to Dushanbe insisted that such cooperation could only take place if Western countries undertook such measures "on an equal basis without excessive politicization and without double standards."
Moscow, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has frequently accused the United States and its allies of double standards in Syria because of Western support for moderate Syrian rebel groups.
Lyakin-Frolov blamed the "escalation of the Syrian conflict" for the rise in international terrorist activity and said that despite efforts by the international community, it had not been possible to stem the flow of foreign militants to Syria, including from Central Asia, Russia, and the Caucasus.
The Dushanbe conference comes amid escalating concern about the Islamic State group's influence in Central Asia, including in Tajikistan, the region's poorest country.
According to official figures, there are around 300 Tajiks fighting in Syria and Iraq, many with the Islamic State group. Edward Lemon, who is based at the University of Exeter in the U.K. and who tracks Tajik fighters in Syria, says there is online evidence of just 67 fighters, though there are likely to be more unreported Tajiks in Syria and Iraq.
Authorities in Tajikistan's southwestern Bokhtar District in Khatlon Province reported on February 25 that three residents of the district had been killed fighting in Syria.
Bokhtar District Chairman Jabbori Ghaffor told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi, that five more residents of the district remain in Syria where they are fighting alongside militants.
Last week, Khatlon Province's Committee for Youth, Sport, and Tourism said that 45 residents of the province are fighting with militant groups in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Four of the residents have been killed in Syria, committee member Shahzod Rakhimov told Radio Ozodi.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk