In exploring the landscape of border management in Central Asia, there is a need to look beyond the challenges associated with the physical control over external borders and the flow of goods and persons through ports of entry, and also examine the mitigation of cross-border threats including criminal activity and terrorism.
Central Asia and the wider region continues to face a number of ongoing security threats. The security threats within the region emanate from political and economic instability, ongoing conflicts in neighbouring States, the trafficking of illicit drugs and small arms and light weapons (SALW) through the region, illicit financial flows linked with large-scale labour migration abroad and widespread money remittances, and the establishment of networks of criminals, clans and militant extremists competing for economic advantage. Located between the markets of Europe and Asia, another critical concern within the region is the potential inter-connections and linkages between terrorism and organized crime.
In recent years, most States in the region have been affected by an increase in radicalization to violent extremism. Two Central Asian regional terrorist organizations are listed by the United Nations as being affiliated with Al-Qaida: the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU, also known as the Islamic Movement of Turkestan) and the Islamic Jihad Group (or Union). Notably, the IMU embodies a good example of a hybrid organization, involved in both terrorist activities and utilizing the funding methods of organized crime, particularly cross-border smuggling of Afghan opiates.
Central Asia has also been heavily impacted by the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), both as States of origin and as transit. As per a 2018 open briefing of the Counter- Terrorism Committee on Central Asia, it is estimated that between 2,000 - 3,000 individuals left the region to fight in conflict zones, including in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. Thus, the region now faces potential challenges relating to the management of FTFs returning or relocating to third countries.
Both the Security Council and the General Assembly have encouraged States to promote and strengthen cross-border cooperation and regional and subregional coordination, through effective measures and enhanced exchange of information between law enforcement agencies, customs, and
export and import licensing authorities, with a view to eradicating and combating the illicit activities across borders2. In particular, both bodies have stressed the need to stem the illicit trafficking of SALW to terrorist groups. However, unresolved border disputes and conflict over natural resources has undermined regional cooperation and the capacity of States to cooperate in countering transnational organized crime and terrorism. Remote control points, difficult terrain and a lack of technical capacity and resources further undermine States’ capacity to secure and manage their borders. As a result, Central Asia continues to face challenges regarding cross-border cooperation and information sharing, including between Central Asia and Afghanistan, strengthening enforcement and interdiction capacities, and developing effective and comprehensive national and regional border management strategies that fully address these complex gaps and threats.
Recognizing the importance of cooperation in addressing regional challenges to peace, security, and development, Central Asia has benefited from mechanisms such as the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) and The Central Asia Joint Plan of Action, the first regional framework designed to address the threat of terrorism through a common approach. Furthermore, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) within the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), under the framework of its global Border Security Management (BSM) Programme, supports Member States in strengthening border security and management capacities to counter terrorism, by stemming the flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) across land, air, and maritime borders, as well as preventing the cross-border movement of illicit cargo and related transnational crimes, including through enhanced inter-agency and international cooperation. Concurrently, the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions repeatedly emphasize that the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law and effectively countering terrorism are not conflicting goals, but rather are complementary and mutually reinforcing objectives.
This webinar, focusing on ‘Border Challenges in Central Asia in the Context of Counter-Terrorism and Related Transnational Organized Crime’, aims to virtually delve into the region-specific context and explore threat landscapes, border security and management challenges and successes, and discuss response measures and mechanisms related to countering terrorism and transnational organized crime. The virtual discussions will touch on current threats and the evolving terrorism landscape, the nexus between transnational organized crime and terrorism, main gaps and challenges for border management, and the need for border security strategies, plans of action, and processes that incorporate counter-terrorism components as well as crisis and risk management mechanisms within the current pandemic context.
The webinar will bring together counter-terrorism coordinators, border and law enforcement experts and practitioners, as well as experts from relevant international, regional and sub-regional organizations to share their experience and ideas for addressing the existing challenges.