As soon as he was back from a posting in London, Syed Asif Ibrahim was slated to be the next director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). While he was junior in the list of probables, with three senior officers who were eligible, the government finally went with him and appointed him. A critical element in the appointment was the general elections which will come up in 2014.
The government needed an IB chief they could trust implicitly and would also have a sharp political sense. The appointment of Ibrahim is also as symbolic as the appointment of General JJ Singh as the first Sikh army chief. Ibrahim is the first Muslim to head the IB, but what is significant is the fact that Muslims have had a chequered career in the Indian Intelligence community.
Till date, there exists an unwritten rule not to allow any Muslims into India’s external intelligence agency. This was the rule in 1968 when R&AW was carved out of the IB and it continues to be in place. However, 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. A 1977-batch IPS officer from the Madhya Pradesh cadre, he is known as an officer who was considered close to Congress leader from Gwalior Madhavrao Scindia. Ibrahim would first serve with the Kashmir Operations desk of the IB and work towards getting the separatists to toe New Delhi’s line.
Those were early days of the conflict and the Kashmir Operations Desk would usually house the best officers from the Bureau. Ibrahim would become a key member. So when the race for the IB chief began, three officers – RN Gupta, V Rajgopal and Yashovardhan Azad were senior to him. At first the government toyed with the idea of extending the services of current director, IB, Nehchal Sandhu. However, with opposition from the bureaucracy, they decided to simply side-step the senior officers and bring in Ibrahim.