Training of Foreign Gentlemen Cadets at the Indian Military Academy

"I was wondering of the possibility of approaching ‘Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai’, one of the Taliban's seven most powerful figures, who was a GC at IMA in 1982."

Training of Foreign Gentlemen Cadets at the Indian Military Academy

The Indian Military Academy prides itself as one of the finest ‘Officer training Academies’ in the world where students are enrolled as Gentlemen cadets (GCs) and graduate as Young officers. These young men come from different backgrounds, cultures and geographies to include from ‘Friendly foreign countries’ and together they go through the rigors of training, creating bonds of a life time.

My reason for emphasizing on the words ‘Friendly foreign countries’ must be understood in its entirety, because some countries from where the GCs come to the IMA may not remain friendly during the course of the training and hence the requirement to appreciate what will happen to such GCs. The case in point is Afghanistan.

What is going to be the future of such GCs in their country after completion of their training at IMA and will they be even allowed to return to their own country? What will be their psychological condition as they continue their training, quite unsure of their future, limited if any information about their families and friends back home? What is India’s response to such questions and what are the next steps to be taken by the authorities at IMA?

While some steps may have been initiated to address these issues yet I was wondering of the possibility of approaching ‘Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai’, one of the Taliban's seven most powerful figures, who was a GC at IMA in 1982.

Is there a possibility of some of his course mates of 71 IMA Regular course, who may have kept in touch with him could well be contacted to facilitate in solving this imbroglio? Is there a possibility for India to use such a channel of communication with the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan?

These are some tough questions to answer, considering that as of date there is absolutely no dialogue between India and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which has not even been recognized by the Union of India.

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Another related issue is whether India will continue with its ‘Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation’ (ITEC) programs with Afghanistan and some other countries? It must be appreciated that ITEC programs were predicated on the underlying belief that the programs were initiated under the premise of establishing good relations of mutual concern and inter-dependence based on ideals, aspirations and of course on the solid foundation of economic stability.

This leads me to my next observation on the not too long ago incident, when GCs from another so called ‘Friendly foreign country’ got into a serious brawl with their own Indian colleagues. This brawl was certainly beyond the acceptable levels of playful fist fights as in the scuffle, three Indian GCs were roughed up and had to be hospitalized in the ICU. This is serious business and the authorities’ right from the bottom to the highest level need to take action and earlier the better.

I am reminded of an incident, which took place at the IMA in 1989, when I was the Adjutant of the training Academy. The maximum number of foreign GC trained at the IMA, at the time, were from Sri Lanka as the Government of India had allocated additional vacancies to its neighbor combating the LTTE.

During the course of their training, I observed that maximum indiscipline cases amongst the foreign GCs were from Sri Lanka. After repeated counseling them individually and collectively, most GCs followed orders and took keen interest in the training, as I saw a marked change in their overall attitude. However there was a small segment of Sri Lankan GCs who remained defiant.

Hence after cautioning them, I took up the matter with the Commandant, IMA for their withdrawal. This was a major challenge both for the Army as also for the Government of India because of its close relations with the country.  However, with the support of all up the chain, the ill-disciplined GCs were withdrawn from the Academy and that action had a very positive impact on all foreign cadets.

In fact the Deputy Chief of the Sri Lankan Army, General D’Silva, or someone with a similar name, visited the IMA to take stock of the situation and to understand why such indiscipline. His visit was a game changer and all Sri Lankan GCs thereafter were achievers.

The above illustration merits attention of all responsible for training at the IMA. We should never delay an action, which will lead to greater ill-discipline of GC as that percolates down to other trainees and becomes a bad precedent for the future.

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The case of the Afghan cadets and other cadets from other friendly foreign countries need to be watched and periodically counseled. Such a watchful eye will ensure the incidents like the one mentioned regarding the the brawl between foreign and Indian cadets is never repeated.

In conclusion, I would like to surmise the importance of training at the IMA and the need to keep connected with foreign GCs who graduated from the portals of the Chetwode building and see how that bond established remains relevant many years later. To again illustrate the point on bonding, I would like to mention that our 48 IMA Regular course, visited IMA in January 2020, with the sole purpose of welcoming GCs of 148 IMA Regular course.

After the formal welcome to the new GC at the Khetarpal Auditorium in IMA, we interacted with all GC over tea and were actually surprised to find a large number of GCs from Afghanistan. Although a bit quizzical on seeing such numbers, yet in retrospect, I am reminded of the time when Sri Lanka sent their GCs to become Young officers and hence perhaps IMA was in a similar situation giving additional vacancies to Afghanistan.

With the poor performance of the Afghan Army, raises the question on ‘The who’ and ‘The which’ country should be included under the ITEC programs becomes more relevant. It must also be ensured that proper due diligence process on candidates must be carried out before they are sent to the IMA to become ‘Officers and gentlemen’.

About the Author

Brig. Rajiv Williams, YSM took premature retirement from the Indian Army in 2005 and has since been engaged in CSR. A Postgraduate from Madras University in International Relations, he is a member of several strategic security related institutions and think tanks. He is presently Corporate Head – CSR with Jindal Stainless Limited, which is part of the OP Jindal Group and is responsible for planning and executing all Group CSR projects across the country.

As a member of the Governing Council of the Global Compact Network, Brig Williams has championed the initiative – ‘The India CEO Forum on Business and Human Rights’.  He is a regular speaker/panelist at various forums and seminars and has been invited as a speaker to the United Nations offices in USA and Geneva. He also spoken at the Danish Institute of Human Rights, at Wilton Park, The UK and at seminars organized by Indian Industry Associations, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, GIZ, etc.

He is also a regular invitee to various discussions and consultations organized both by the Government as also by private bodies. A prolific writer, Brig Williams has written several articles on varied topics from conflict prevention & security to matters relating to Responsible Business & Corporate Citizenship. He has co-authored books on IMA and on Siachen, the latter one titled ‘The Long Road to Siachen the Question Why’ having been published by Rupa & Co. in 2011.

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