The Raisina Dialogue has a series of luminaries speaking on their areas of expertise. Much of what they speak is considered a part of policy of the governments they represent; facts mentioned by them are often quoted by the media to add authenticity in analyses and assessments.
So when the newly-appointed Indian Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) spoke about the challenges faced in Kashmir, there was immense interest with a sizeable number of people straining not to miss a word. The CDS spoke at length about the security threats in Kashmir, but two issues he elaborated upon have come into focus.
- Many felt the CDS was overstepping his brief by delving into the field of radicalisation – a sphere they feel has more social overtones that have nothing to do with the Armed Forces.
- Others were shocked by the revelation that de-radicalisation camps existed in India because that threw up a perception that India seemed to have facilities akin to those set up by the Chinese government for the Uyghur Muslims.
- There appears no information in the public domain about any such ‘de-radicalisation camps’ mentioned by the CDS.
- Counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation are two terms extremely well known and spoken about loosely, without much idea about how these are to be conceptualised and executed.
First was the threat from religious radicalism which is driving terror in Kashmir. He spoke about how youth as young as 12-years-old have been radicalised and are forming a part of the system that drives terror in Kashmir. Second was the mention that the ‘best method’ of de-radicalisation is “to isolate them from radicalisation in a gradual way… those completely radicalised need to be taken out separately and possibly taken into some de-radicalisation camps”.
He added that “we have de-radicalisation camps going on in our country”.
Senior Armed Forces Officers Must Be Conversant on Radicalisation
The comments by the CDS created a bit of a flux in the strategic community, media and the public, who read or heard these remarks, for two reasons. First, many felt the CDS was overstepping his brief by delving into the field of radicalisation – a sphere they feel has more social overtones that have nothing to do with the Armed Forces. Second, others were a little shocked by the revelation that de-radicalisation camps existed in India because that threw up a perception that India seemed to have facilities akin to those set up by the Chinese government in Xinjiang for the Uyghur Muslims. The hangover of the CAA and NRC agitation which revealed information about detention centres for ‘aliens’, something denied by the Indian government, has obviously had a psychological effect too; hence, the high level of sensitivity at the mention of ‘de-radicalisation camps’.
By dwelling very largely on terrorism and speaking about the linkage of radicalisation with international terror, and then focusing upon the Kashmir example and how radicalisation has taken shape there, is well within the beat of the CDS.
It is a subject about which all senior officers of the armed forces should be capable of speaking, since it has a deep connect with national security.
Counter-Radicalisation and De-Radicalisation
It’s the second issue which is a tricky one. Religious radicalisation has been troubling us for long ever since it took on the form of violent extremism. In Kashmir, it happened under the nose of all security practitioners primarily because none had an idea of faith being used as a system of hybrid war. By the time its ugly head manifested it was too late. We were left fighting the symptoms and not the causes of radicalisation.
To defeat radicalisation, strong counter narratives are needed which are never easy to evolve without the assistance of informed academia and clerics.
Counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation are two terms extremely well known and spoken about loosely, without much idea about how these are to be conceptualised and executed. It has taken much research – even within India – to get these instituted as policy in some form, yet without too much success. As such, use of incorrect terminologies is rife in connection with them.
What I envisage is that the CDS was actually referring to de-radicalisation centres which it is hazily known are being worked upon as institutions, where advice and education can be imparted to parents and their wards who have probably been led astray by less educated clerics. There appears no information in the public domain about any such ‘de-radicalisation camps’ mentioned by the CDS.
Attempts to Create Counter Narratives to Extremist Narratives
What is known is that in 2017, a Counter Terrorism and Counter Radicalisation Division (CT-CR) was set up under the Home Ministry to help state governments, security agencies and communities in preventing youth from embracing extremist ideologies. The most important part of this initiative is to create counter narratives against the extremist narratives that are constantly fed online and institutionally through some seminaries to vulnerable youth. The essence of this is to ensure that no misinterpretations of religious texts are fed to youth, and the same is done through the services of some clerics to add authenticity to the campaign. Much of this has been adopted from the Singapore model which Indian authorities have studied and imbibed in considerable detail.
This model presumes that young male populations are vulnerable at their workplaces and particularly where they remain in clusters for most of the time.
The places identified to have such vulnerability are prisons and jails, labour camps, schools, universities and seminaries. Singapore’s vulnerability is also enhanced by the mobile population which enters for work and exits every day from Malaysia. It set up a programme which now has almost 75 clerics assisting it for online monitoring and education and delivery of lectures to clusters; some good counter narratives have been formulated in an on-going process. India adopted some of these measures and is in the process of refining its program.
‘De-Radicalisation Camps’: Are India & China in the Same Boat?
The effort in Kashmir is still only marginal, and online counter narratives have yet to really take off. The CDS correctly identified Pakistan as one nation where radicalisation has been extensive, and probably camps have been set up to incarcerate youth or others under ideologically sanitised conditions to overcome the challenge. India’s problem is not as extensive and is limited to some identified clusters. There is no doubt that in Kashmir in particular the programs need to be energised in a much more extensive way.
Senior government officials cannot usually afford to make mistakes in factual information they give on public platforms.
The idea of ‘de-radicalisation camps’ existing in India appeared to give a perception that India and China were in the same boat in handling ideology.
Unless the government reveals that there is more to this, the temporary controversy which has been created, needs to be closed.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now the Chancellor of Kashmir University. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)