An article entitled “Life after Islamic State: Pardoned Tajik Militants Navigate Road to Reintegration” posted on Radio Liberty’s website, citing Tajik officials, notes that more than half of Tajiks who returned home from Syria and Iraq in the past two years have been pardoned, while others were convicted of being mercenaries.

The confessed former Islamic State (IS) recruit from Dushanbe, Furgat Vatanov, last month celebrated his wedding.  

Just over a year ago, Vatanov, 24, was reportedly arrested in Turkey as he prepared to cross the Syrian border to fight alongside the notorious militant group.

It was Vatanov's father who alerted Tajik and Turkish authorities after his son sent a message in mid-2016 asking for his “blessing to take part in the jihad in Syria.”

The father, Amriddin Vatanov, rushed to Turkey, where with the help of the Tajik Embassy and Turkish police he located his Syria-bound son.

Within days, Vatanov, who says he had been brainwashed by IS “through the Internet,” was taken into custody, extradited to Tajikistan, and charged with being a mercenary for a foreign militant group.

“When I was arrested in Syria, I thought my life was over, I thought I was going to spend the rest of my days in prison,” Vatanov says, according to the article.

But he was given a second chance, for which Vatanov says he is grateful to the Tajik authorities.

Tajikistan amended its criminal laws in 2015, allowing authorities to pardon Tajik fighters who voluntarily return home and repent joining foreign militant groups.  The government insists that it's not a blanket amnesty and applies only to those who have not taken part in violence.

Some 100 Tajik nationals have since returned from Syria and Iraq, according to the Tajik Interior Ministry, which says a total of 1,141 of its nationals have gone to Syria and Iraq.  Nearly 300 of them have been killed in conflicts there, the ministry says.

According to the article, Tajik officials say that more than half of those who returned home in the past two years have been pardoned, while others were convicted of being mercenaries.

Those pardoned remain on a government watch list but are not legally prevented from applying normally for jobs, enrolling in universities, or traveling abroad.

Many of the former fighters are enlisted to appear in government-sponsored campaigns to counter extremism, giving speeches and TV interviews on IS atrocities they say they've witnessed in Iraq and Syria.

The article notes that extensive RFE/RL’s Tajik Service interviews with the returnees -- frequently in the presence of government minders associated with official deradicalization efforts -- and with family and friends suggest that, while the former IS sympathizers acknowledge having succumbed to radicalism, they now reject the group's ideology and its violent jihadist methods.

However, Tajik society remains deeply suspicious of the returnees and their intentions, according to one man who acknowledged spending eight months in Syria and was "forced to fight" alongside the militants in 2015.

Echoing the stories of many of the returnees, Bobojon Qaraboyev, a 30-year-old former taxi driver from Vahdat Township, says he realized his “grave mistake” when he witnessed IS's brutalities.

Since his voluntary return early in 2016, and after several months of arrest and interrogation, Qaraboyev was cleared of criminal charges and set free to rebuild his life, according to the article.

He has since found a job at a local factory and renovated his family home in the hope of opening a new chapter in his life as a family man.  But no one wants to marry me, Qaraboyev laments.

Qaraboyev says he has had several marriage proposals turned down because, as he puts it, "families don't want their daughters to marry a guy who has been to Syria."

24-four-year-old Alisher Qodirqulov returned with his wife and two small children to their home in the northern Tajik district of Asht in February.  After a year and a half in IS-controlled territories in Iraq and deeply traumatized by the experience, according to his account, Qodirqulov says he now appreciates living in security, away from war and killings.

Qodirqulov says he went to the Middle East in search of the better life promised by a "Chechen man" he met while working as a migrant laborer in Russia.

Tajik officials say they expect more former militants to return home as IS loses ground in Iraq and Syria.  And while the returnees themselves and their families welcome the government's amnesty policy, others express concern.

They argue that there is a difference between someone who voluntarily escaped IS in the past and someone who returns home because they and their fellow militants have been driven out of Iraq and Syria.  They warn against potential threats posed by the return of indoctrinated fighters with combat experience.