Central Asian Security Assessment: Regional Cooperation Against Cyber-Based Radicalisation

Central Asia Map and Security
The Map of Central Asia and Afghanistan (Credits: Cacahuate, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 42 Issue 13
SpecialEurasia OSINT Unit

In response to a recent terrorist attack in Moscow and a shifting threat landscape, Central Asian security leaders met to prioritise countering online radicalisation.

The region faces a growing risk from cyber-based extremism, dormant extremist cells, and an unstable Afghanistan.  Resource scarcity because of climate change and potential exploitation by external actors further complicate regional security.  Central Asian states must cooperate to address these converging threats before they precipitate a wider crisis.

This report assesses the current security environment in Central Asia, highlighting emergent threats and critical areas requiring regional cooperation.

Background Information

In the wake of the Crocus City Hall attack that left 144 dead, Central Asian security chiefs convened for an unannounced meeting in Astana on May 14th-15th, 2024. Held under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the discussions prioritised tackling the evolving threat of extremism.

Notably, the focus has shifted towards countering cyber-based radicalisation efforts, reflecting the growing concern over online extremism as a breeding ground for violence, particularly amongst vulnerable youth populations. This high-level meeting comes amidst a complex regional security landscape, where traditional extremist groups persist alongside the emergence of new threats.

Central Asia Security’s Key Threats

1) Shifting Threat Landscape. Central Asian states confront a rapidly evolving security landscape. While traditional extremist groups remain a concern, the focus has shifted towards cyber-based radicalisation. Social media platforms serve as breeding grounds for extremist ideologies, potentially radicalising vulnerable populations, particularly youth in remote areas. This necessitates immediate and coordinated action from regional governments, including:

  • Enhanced Cyber Defences. The aim is to build robust national cyber defence capabilities and facilitate information sharing to effectively counter online radicalisation efforts.
  • Counter-Radicalisation Messaging. Disseminating effective messaging campaigns that counter extremist narratives and promote tolerance and social cohesion.

2) Fragile Stability and the Sleeper Cell Threat. The presence of dormant extremist networks across Central Asia shows a significant internal security risk. These networks, which have affiliations with various extremist groups, have the potential to become a focal point for violence if they are activated by external forces or regional instability. Disrupting these networks requires:

  • Intelligence Sharing and Cooperation. Establishing a robust intelligence-sharing framework to facilitate joint counter-terrorism operations and dismantle sleeper cells.
  • Addressing Root Causes. Implementing social and economic development initiatives can effectively address issues such as poverty, limited opportunity, and social alienation, which contribute to the growth of radicalisation.

3) The Afghan Quagmire. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan presents a complex challenge. While the Taliban officially distances itself from extremist groups, its actions on the ground raise concerns. The concentration of Taliban forces near the border and the lack of action against the Islamic State Wilayat Khurasan suggest a more nuanced picture. The Taliban’s refusal to engage in regional water management discussions exacerbates existing tensions over this vital resource. Central Asian states must:

  • Maintain Cautious Engagement. Maintain diplomatic channels with Afghanistan while pressuring them to cooperate on water management and counter-terrorism efforts.
  • Contingency Planning. Develop contingency plans to address potential security threats emanating from Afghanistan.

4) Resource Scarcity: A Looming Crisis. The long-term stability of Central Asia is at risk because of climate change and the depletion of water resources. Water scarcity, driven by glacier melt and erratic precipitation patterns, threatens agricultural production and livelihoods across the region. This, coupled with a growing population, creates a recipe for social unrest and potential conflict. Resolving this crisis necessitates:

  • Regional Water Management Framework. Developing a unified approach to water management, including infrastructure projects and water-sharing agreements with the Taliban.
  • Sustainable Development Initiatives. Implementing sustainable development initiatives to improve water conservation practices and agricultural efficiency.

5) External Influences and the Exploitation of Vulnerabilities. The susceptibility of the region to external manipulation results from the complex security landscape in Central Asia. Regional rivals or ideological extremists may exploit existing social and economic disparities to sow discord and undermine fragile governments. Central Asian states must be vigilant against foreign interference by:

  • Strengthening Border Security. Bolstering border security measures to deter infiltration by extremist groups or foreign agents.
  • Promoting Regional Stability. Promoting regional dialogue and cooperation to address common security challenges and prevent external actors from exploiting vulnerabilities.


Central Asia faces a complex and rapidly deteriorating security environment. The window for addressing these converging challenges is narrowing.

By prioritising regional cooperation, addressing resource scarcity, and mitigating the threat posed by Afghanistan, Central Asian states can avert a security crisis. However, failure to act decisively could cause a perfect storm of extremism, social unrest, and potential conflict, with far-reaching consequences for the region and beyond.

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For further information, reports, and risk assessments about security threats in Central Asia, contact us at info@specialeurasia.com.

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