키르기스 무비자 입국, 관광객·투자자 대신 IS 몰려

* ‘아시아엔’ 해외필진 기고문의 한글요약본과 원문을 함께 게재합니다.

[쿠반 압디멘 키르기기스탄 국영통신사 KABAR 디렉터·번역 최정아 기자] 중앙아시아에 위치한 키르기스스탄은 이슬람국가(IS)와 같은 테러리스트 조직의 위협에 노출돼있다. 미군이 아프가니스탄에서 철수한 이후 상황은 더욱 악화일로를 걷고 있다. 탈레반뿐만 아니라 중앙아 지역 내 IS의 영향력도 더욱 커지고 있기 때문이다.

카자흐스탄은 해와투자자와 관광객을 끌어 들이기 위해 60개국에 무비자 입국을 허용했다. 문제는 테러리스트들이 무비자 입국 정책을 악용해 키르기스스탄으로 유입되고 있다는 것이다. 하지만 키르기스스탄 안보국은 사태의 심각성을 인지하지 못하고 있다. 당국은 “테러리스트들이 키르기스스탄보단 타국을 겨냥하고 있다”고 믿고 있다.

사태의 심각함을 이해하고 있는 이들은 테러위협에 대해 공개적으로 논의해야한다고 주장한다. 위험성이 높은 제3세계 국가에 대해선 무비자 정책을 철회해야 한다는 것이 이들의 주장이다. 또한 이들은 테러위협을 공론화해 사태해결의 실마리를 찾아야 한다고 말한다.

물론 키르기스스탄 의회에서 ‘무비자 문제’가 논의되지 않은 것은 아니다. 비자 없이 입국이 가능한 국가 중 테러위험국가로 분류되는 곳이 많기에 ‘무비자 정책’은 국가안보를 위해 우선적으로 논의해야할 사안이였지만, 시기를 놓친 셈이다.

키르기스스탄을 찾는 관광객은 매년 증가하고 있다. 한 해 최소 2백만명이 키르기스스탄을 방문하고 있기 때문에 무비자 정책 철회를 반대하는 목소리도 상당하다. 하지만 국제적 안보상황은 더욱 복잡해지고 있으며 테러위험도 날이 갈수록 높아지기 때문에, 종합적인 조치가 필요하다.

지금 이 시간에도 IS는 온라인 프로파간다를 이용해 키르기스스탄 젊은이들에게 검은 손을 뻗고 있다. 최근 IS가 재정적 어려움을 겪고 있다는 점도 테러조직의 키르기스스탄 진출을 가속화할 요인이다. 당국의 시의적절한 조치가 필요한 시점이다.

Tourists enjoy themselves at the Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan, Aug. The Lake Issyk Kul, with a surface area of about 6,300 square kilometers, is a famous tourism destination in Kyrgyzstan.

Tourists enjoy themselves at the Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan, Aug. The Lake Issyk Kul, with a surface area of about 6,300 square kilometers, is a famous tourism destination in Kyrgyzstan.

Threat of the ISIL and Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a country where the level of democracy and freedom of speech is significantly different from the neighboring countries. The gradually growing economy already requires an increase in electricity generation. For further development of the economy, Kyrgyzstan needs to attract foreign investment. The state’s attempts to attract investors from Russia for the construction of hydropower plants were disrupted by the difficulties faced by Russia in itself, which is why now the country is looking for new potential investors. However, limited capacity and the volatility of stability in the country prevent investors from being interested in Kyrgyzstan’s offers. On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan is part of the Central Asian region, which has an increased risk of being targeted by international terrorist and reactionary Islamist groups.

After the withdrawal of the armed forces of the United States and the anti-terrorist coalition, the situation in Afghanistan has been increasingly heating. Besides the Taliban movement, dissemination of ideas of jihadism, led by ISIL, has been becoming increasingly more relevant in Afghanistan. ISIL activists have already infiltrated Central Asian countries. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, there were cases of open demonstration of ISIL’s flags on the main streets of Dushanbe and Tashkent. These cases confirm the increase in ISIL’s spread in other countries of the region.

Open bordery and security concern
Meanwhile, in order to attract tourists and potential investors, Kyrgyzstan has opened its borders for visa-free entry for citizens of 60 countries. Such regulations create good conditions for foreign citizens, however members of terrorist groups can use these conditions to enter the country more easily. Local media has been regularly voicing such concerns and informing the public about the possible dangers of these regulations. Public authorities now have to carry intensive work to identify possible agents. The media claims there is already a number of fighters who are waiting for the right time to strike.

The National Security Service of Kyrgyzstan believes that the terrorist threats come primarily from outside. The head of the National Security Service informed the media that only 2.5% of foreigners who entered in Kyrgyzstan for the first ten months of 2015 were registered. Inspections identified the perpetrators of the stay, and 265 foreigners were deported from Kyrgyzstan in 2016.

However, it is not possible to say exactly how many foreigners were not identified, especially in the areas of the country bordering with Tajikistan. With respect to the identified 265 people, it was decided to not allow them into Kyrgyzstan in the future. Those who understand the complexity of the current situation raise the question about publicizing this problem, as well as support the notion of cancelling the visa-free regime for many of the third-world countries. This way society can protect themselves from potential danger. This question has been raised in the parliament, who must decide what is more important to the country – visa-free regime with dozens of countries or careful study of potential tourists with the aim of securing the country. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan as a tourist attraction has been growing year by year. Every year the number of foreigners visiting Kyrgyzstan reaches 2 million or more, and they come during both winter and summer. Thus, the economy receives a certain stimulus for development.

Education and religious conflict
Because of these complexities, as well as due to the fact that the international situation is becoming increasingly complicated, comprehensive measures to counter the extremist threats have not yet been taken. Attempts to introduce controls at strategic sites will not solve the problem, because there is no concept of ‘state’ and ‘borders’ for the modern terrorist organizations and only joint efforts of the state and society could stop them. The situation is further complicated by the fact that, along with the strengthening of propaganda by extremist groups online, physical agitation among the population ready to deny such activities is absent. Against the backdrop of economic difficulties, the majority of young people are not completely aware of the concepts and realities of religion and extremism. This results in more ‘believers’ in the country, while the general level of education decreases.

Kyrgyz people hold national flags during a rally marking the “National Flag Day” in Victory Square of Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on March 3, 2015.

Kyrgyz people hold national flags during a rally marking the “National Flag Day” in Victory Square of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on March 3, 2015.

The threat of extremist propaganda
Over the past twenty years, the number of mosques in Kyrgyzstan has increased by 10 times, while the number of schools has remained almost unchanged. They are now almost equal in Kyrgyzstan – some 2,300 mosques and 2,400 schools. And now, an active part of society and the media is debating the restraining the construction of mosques. Some of the religious people can easily become the victim of propaganda and they are more likely to go to the place where the religious wars are waged. Most of them are leaving for Syria. Ministry of Internal Affairs has recently published that 508 Kyrgyz citizens went to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIL. Some of them return and pose a potential threat to society.

In 2015, two operations on neutralization of terrorist groups and criminal elements have been successfully carried out in Bishkek. Almost all returning jihadists from Syria are under the supervision of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. More than 1,000 criminal cases related to the campaigning and recruitment into extremist organizations and dissemination of relevant literature were opened in the state. Kyrgyz media actively covers any events associated with the departure of its citizens to Syria, thus trying to attract the attention of society and authorities to this problem. In general, society has a negative attitude to such phenomena.

However, departure of such people does not depend solely on their religious beliefs, but mostly takes place due to the fact that the economic situation is forcing them to seek a better life abroad. Extremist agitators then use this to lure them in with easy money, subsequently, naive and poorly educated people fall for the bait. In such circumstances, the state has only one way: to improve the living standards of the population as soon as possible, and that can only be done with improvement of the state economy. And to implement that, the state needs to attract investors.

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