Training the Afghan army has been described as a tough job, and India experienced it first hand last month. The Indian Army, which takes pride in its secular credentials, found itself facing a peculiar situation when Afghan cadets at the Officer's Training Academy in Chennai complained about their "religious sentiments being hurt" by an officer-instructor there.
There were tense moments after an Afghan cadet was asked to remove a piece of paper on which he had scribbled some religious verses and pasted it in his cabin. A top general was visiting the academy and the cabins were being inspected ahead of his visit. Army officials said cadets are discouraged from displaying religious symbols as it clashes with army's secular outlook.
The cadet was asked to remove the paper from the wall. He, however, confronted the authorities. The paper was torn when the authorities were removing it. This enraged the cadet, leading to a virtual breakdown in discipline at the academy, army sources said.
Around 15 Afghan cadets locked horns with the major-rank instructor, blaming him for hurting their religious sentiments. More than 40 Afghans are currently training there. Some of the cadets refused to carry out the orders given to them, the sources said.
The matter could well have turned out to be a diplomatic row, had the Afghan embassy here not been informed in time. The Afghan defence attache immediately flew to Chennai to defuse the crisis.
"The defence attache apologised to the commandant on behalf of the cadets. There was a misunderstanding over some religious matter. The cadets expressed remorse over their behaviour," a senior officer said.
The incident comes at a time when Kabul is expecting India to expand its mentoring role ahead of the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Also, Afghan cadets are not well-versed in English and this may have led to some miscommunication.
Apart from cadets undergoing training at the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla and the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, small batches of Afghan army officers are buffing up their English language skills at an army facility in Madhya Pradesh .