An expert on Kashmir and an erudite scholar-soldier of eminence, Maj. Gen. AFSIR KARIM (retd) has written several books offering soldierly analyses of complex security issues.
Maj. Gen. AFSIR KARIM (retd)
has written several books offering soldierly analyses of complex security issues. He spoke to
SANJIB K. BARUAH
on a range of subjects. Excerpts from the interview
There is this charge that the Indian Army is biased against recruiting Muslims How true or untrue is this allegation How big is the Muslim representation in the Army There is no institutional bias, however an odd individual may show bias, but that too is not easy because the parameters laid down are precise and strict. The combat arms of the Army are still largely based on traditional fixed class composition of the British Army so, the Sikh regiment for example, will recruit Sikhs or Garhwali regiment mainly Garhwalis, however, other arms and services have no class, cast or community quotas. When the country was portioned, the Army too was partitioned on communal lines, Muslim battalions and regiments which were mostly composed of Punjabi Muslims/Baluchis and Pathans all went to Pakistan. Many armoured and infantry regiments have fixed quotas for Muslims based on old traditions, it varies from company strength onwards. The largest quota is in Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, where Muslims are in majority. In other arms and services where there is no quota, recruitment is open to all, for this country is divided in various zones, each state is represented in this system, but intake is based on age and other factors, that determines the recruitable male population. The percentage of Muslims recruited will depend on the response of the community in each recruiting zone, so it is clear that the Army recruiting system is by and large fair to all castes and communities and scope for bias against any cast or community is very limited. There is concern in the establishment over the deteriorating situation in Kashmir. You have also served in Kashmir. How different is the situation now from the Army point of view The situation in Kashmir has not deteriorated from the security point of view. In fact, infiltration and attacks are lesser now, but it fluctuates depending on seasons and the capability of Pakistan. For example, this year, Kashmir witnessed a very large number of attacks in June and in certain areas. Alienation and resentment against the Army and other security forces has, however, increased manifold, reaching alarming proportions in certain areas, borders on the other hand are quieter this year.
Alienation has to be tackled at the national level, new policies and political initiatives are urgently needed for this. Religious radicalisation is a new phenomenon in Kashmir that must be tackled at war footing. Soldiers or other security forces have no effective means to counter it. This year, Kashmir has produced a much larger crop of local terrorists than ever, because of greater alienation and Pakistani policy of gradually handing the fight to local groups, which is a part of their long-term plans. The average Kashmiri wants peace but complains of the oppressive nature of Army operations that affects the entire population. The growing sophistication of the techniques of attacks, better equipment and technology used lately by infiltrating columns and indigenous terrorist groups spell danger to the stability of the state.
Another development is that Pakistan has been inducting a large number of Wahhabi preachers in the Valley, who are exhorting Kashmiri Muslims to give up their moderate Sufi culture and fight to establish Sharia laws. This movement is the vanguard of a new phase of war sought to be waged by the people.
This poses a new long-term threat to peace in Kashmir; Islamic radicalism is bound to increase sectarian divides and increase internal strife. Moderate Kashmiris cannot fight this Wahhabi onslaught without a vigorous counter-movement led by the government of J&K. If Pakistan gains greater support of the people it will be able to infiltrate larger and better-armed groups who will find help and shelter of common people in thickly-populated and heavily-forested areas.
Are Indian Muslims feeling increasingly alienated Are Muslim youth being lured by Al Qaeda and ISIS There is no marked rise in alienation among Indian Muslims. They have several grievances like other communities, but there is a certain degree of apprehension about personal safety, discrimination and lack of jobs. The attraction to ISIS or Al Qaeda is minimal but certain class of Muslims with serious grievances finds them to be an escape route. There is also a new tendency to flaunt their conservative Muslim identity: flowing beards, skull caps, use of more Arabic words signify this phenomenon. Alienation or apprehension about personal safety is not a uniform phenomenon, it differs from state to state, even parts of states, but they are widespread.
Majority of Muslims are still free of such practices, but middle-class Muslims find themselves at a disadvantage in open competition. The answer lies in providing better job opportunities to them and radical reform of madrassas education and system. Polarisation by certain political groups for electoral gains leads to greater alienation.
Engineers, doctors, educated youth are increasingly being found to be involved in such activities. How do you read the situation This is because of their exposure to ISIS propaganda through the internet, but the percentage of such youth is not as large as it is displayed in the media, this is also related to lack of job opportunities and high expectations which are unfulfilled. Much can be done by the community itself by pointing out the fate of those who have joined terrorist organisation and ruinous affect on the immediate families who become suspects. Moreover, various social organisations can help the drive for de-radicalisation.
Religious radicalism is spreading in our immediate vicinity with Pakistan and Bangladesh having serious problems to content with. How do you see it impacting us and what can and should be done I do not find any direct impact of Pakistan or Bangladesh radicalism on Indian Muslims, Religious radicalisation is not actually widespread among Indian Muslims but rising conservatism among educated classes is, this is related to ghetto mentality created by certain socio-economic conditions prevailing in some parts of the country. Pakistan is making greater efforts now to attract Indian youth towards Wahhabism with a view to turn them into terrorists, this, however, has little impact so far.