By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net
News of Syed Asif Ibrahim’s appointment to the post of Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has come as a surprise. There are reasons for the eyebrows to be raised- he is the first Muslim to head the Bureau in 125 years of the organization’s history and he is being made the chief by moving four senior officers out of IB.
Syed Asif Ibrahim will be the IB chief from Jan 2013 to Dec 2014.
Born on September 28, 1953 in Kanpur, Ibrahim belongs to 1977 batch of Indian Police Service (IPS). He was assigned to Madhya Pradesh where among other postings he also served in Chambal as SP Gwalior. A journalist of the state tells me that Ibrahim has “reputation of being honest with high integrity.”
He went to Delhi on central deputation in late 1980s and has remained outside his parent state ever since. It is not clear whether he moved to Delhi to join IB or he joined it later.
IB and RAW have been notorious for not hiring Muslims and Sikhs. Late Dr. Omar Khalidi in his famous book “Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India” quoted journalists and government officials that suggested that there has been a deliberate policy to exclude Muslims from “sensitive and strategic services.”
“Most of the intelligence agencies do not mirror the diversity of the national population,” Dr. Khalidi wrote in his book whose second edition was published in 2010.
He also cited a Communalism Combat report of September 1993 that quoted the Union Minister of State for Home confirming that there has not been a single Muslim in the RAW and IB personnel. But Former CBI director R. K. Raghavan in an email to Dr. Omar Khalidi confessed that “there are a handful of Muslim officers working for CBI and there are some Muslims in the IB as well.”
Asif Ibrahim is one of those few Muslim officers in the IB. In fact Dr. Khalidi lists Asif Ibrahim along with Javed Gilani as the two Muslims in IB.
What is not clear is exactly when Ibrahim joined IB. Ajit Doval, IB chief from 2004 to 2005 was quoted by the Guardian, “I worked with [Ibrahim] for 20 years.” Which will put the date of his IB induction to 1992. Saikat Datta, who has written on the topic of IB recruitment of Muslim writes in the DNA that “in the early 1990s the IB decided to move away from this unwritten code and brought in Ibrahim as one of its first Muslim officers.” The two statements together will point to 1992-3 as the date when Ibrahim joined IB, it could also be in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition.
According to media reports, Ibrahim was at the Kashmir Operations Desk of the IB during the height of the militancy in the state. He is also reported to have handled Maoists, security and cyber security.
From 2007 to 2011 Ibrahim was posted at Indian High Commission in London as Minister (Coordination). Munaf Zeena, Chairman of Council of Indian Muslims (UK)- CIM ,described his relationship with Ibrahim as “luke warm” but that turned to “strong mutual respect for each other” before the end of Ibrahim’s UK posting.
Asif Ibrahim (second from left) and Munaf Zeena (second from right) at a function in March 2011
The Hindu curiously called Ibrahim’s posting in UK as being the “IB station chief in London.” As IB is “internal intelligence agency” why would it have a station outside India but if it was not intelligence posting why would he come back to IB? There seems to be some truth to The Hindu’s claim as present Minister (Coordination) at Indian High Commission, Sukhdev Singh Sidhu also comes to this position from the IB.
In an email to TwoCircles.net Zeena recalled Ibrahim being helpful by facilitating meetings at short notice and listening and finding ways to solve problems in the matters that Zeena represented.
Asif Ibrahim in his capacity introduced CIM to number of influential people and also to the Indian High Commissioner which resulted in the High Commissioner visiting North London Muslim Community Centre which showcased achievements of the Indian Muslim community. Zeena described Ibrahim as a “lateral thinker” who is “aware of different interest groups and dangers it poses to fairness and justice.”
The Hindu report also credits Ibrahim for being “ the first one to have a clear sense of the whole Indian Mujahideen movement within the organisation.”
This is another interesting comment, rise and fall of “Indian Mujahideen” which many consider to be a figment of imagination of the IB, happened from 2007 to 2011 which coincides with Ibrahim’s stay in the UK. Was Ibrahim serving the High Commission in UK or working on Indian Mujahideen Desk for IB? May be we will never know.
The manner of Ibrahim’s rise to the organization’s top has also raised quite a few eyebrows. Indian bureaucracy is a big believer in the idea of seniority, the date of joining is more important than the merit. To make Ibrahim the chief, four IPS officers senior to him in IB were transferred out of the organization.
Indian Muslims that see IB and police harassing the community in the name of terrorism will not find it reassuring that a Muslim have been made the IB chief. When we have living breathing examples of innocent people who have been acquitted after spending as much as 14 years in jail on the false charges of terrorism, nothing less than a complete overhaul of intelligence and anti-terrorism institutions will be sufficient.
Will the presence of Syed Asif Ibrahim at the helm of affairs of India’s premier intelligence agency make any difference for the Muslims of India? Dr. Omar Khalidi wrote in his book, “a handful of Muslims here and there could hardly prevent the IB’s raid on renowned seminary, the Nadwa in Lucknow in 1994.” Still I believe, a representation should be made to the new IB chief, not just by Muslim but all those who are concerned about IB functioning, raising the concerns about pattern of illegal detention on false evidence that do not stand a chance in the court of law but still able to destroy the lives of hundreds and keep millions in an environment of fear. Also, congratulate Ibrahim for breaking a glass ceiling for indian Muslims that was in force for over 125 years.