As the dust around South Mumbai settles, the world beings to hear of the chilling sequence of events of November 25, 2008, and the days ensuing, as narrated by survivors and investigators. The lone surviving terrorist apprehended by law enforcement agents has implicated Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) as the attacks primary sponsor. Pakistan has asked for evidence on these charges, and it is India’s responsibility, to its own citizens and the victims of the attack, to construct a case so water tight, that it would force Pakistan to act.
If there is a lesson that India should have learned from the December 13, 2001 Indian Parliament attack, it is that in emotionally charged times such as these, rhetoric and demagoguery emanating from India will provide enough room for Pakistan to wiggle out of any squeeze that India or the United States can effectively put on it to act on terror groups within its borders.
It is in India’s best interests therefore, to tone down the rhetoric, and work towards gathering incriminating evidence, provide it not only to Pakistan but also to the international community, and work with the United States in ensuring that pressure is put on Pakistan to take tangible steps to eradicate the LeT and other groups from operating in their country. In this two-part article, I will recap the inept governance (which continues to linger) that lead to this tragedy, highlight challenges that India’s internal security apparatus faces, summarize steps that the government plans to take (or has taken) to address security flaws, and point out areas that India should focus on going forward if we are serious about protecting the lives of our citizens.
India’s failures to act on intelligence inputs have already been well documented. The Coast Guard and the Navy failed to act on inputs from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW; India’s spy agency) that an LeT ship, laden with dangerous cargo had set sail from Karachi, Pakistan, and could be on its way to the northwest coast of Gujarat. The head of Maharashtra’s fishermen’s union stated that he tipped off the government four months ago that militants were using sea routes to transport RDX shipments to Mumbai. Further, United States intelligence informed India of possible maritime-based attacks on Mumbai, more than a month before the incident. These inputs fell on deaf ears.
And then there was the government’s embarrassingly lax preparedness in deploying of the National Security Guard (NSG), the country’s premier counter-terrorism unit. Mumbai, the largest city in India, has no NSG contingent. A contingent from NSG’s main base in Haryana, nearly 700 miles away from Mumbai was called in by the Home Ministry, 1½ hours after the assault on Mumbai had started. Only, there was no aircraft available to airlift NSG’s Black Cat Commandos to Mumbai.
It took 2½ hours before the Black Cats were able to board an IL-76 transporter to Mumbai. Once in Mumbai, there were no helicopters available to transport them to the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The Black Cats were sent by bus to South Mumbai where they were eventually briefed before they took their positions. It took over nine hours to deploy a “rapid response team” to the scene of the crime. In the interim, city police and the Army, the latter completely unsuited for hostage situations and inexperienced in urban warfare, were engaging the terrorists. One shudders to think of what would have happened if the terrorists had hit metros like Bangalore or Hyderabad, where counter-terrorism resources are significantly weaker than Mumbai’s.
Politics as Usual
The political fallout has been unfolding in the hours and days since the end of the siege. Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who has demonstrated an inability to address the multiple terror attacks against India in the past seven months alone, has resigned. Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister, RR Patil resigned on December 1, and Chief Minister (CM) Vilasrao Deshmukh is expected to be resigning soon. But politicians in India appear to not want to change. Divisive politics, at this perilous time in our nation’s history, does not seem to be going away.
The BJP CM of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje-Scindia, spurned the Congress for inaction. BJP leader LK Advani echoed her thoughts, as he canvassed for her in Rajasthan. The nauseating pompousness of RR Patil, in trying to apparently play down the macabre attack on Mumbai, and the loathsome virulence unleashed by Kerala CM VS Achuthanandan on the refusal of the father of the martyred Black Cat commando Maj. Unnikrishnan to meet him, is sickening. One wonders where Raj Thackeray, the very man whose hoodlums claimed Mumbai for their own, is at this time of despair.
The Government conducted an all-party meet on November 30, to articulate a response to the attacks. The attendees included Congress President Sonia Gandhi; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; former Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh; and Communist Party of India (CPI) President, Prakash Karat. BJP’s apparent Prime Minister-elect, LK Advani was missing in action, having chosen instead to address campaigning rallies in Rajasthan, where he attacked the Congress for being “soft on terror”. As a result of the meet, the following was decided:
- The setting up of National Security Guard bases in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, and equipping them with three air transport vehicles. The distribution of the transport vehicles to the four NSG centers wasn’t communicated to the media, but one doesn’t have to be a math genius to deduce that one of these centers will not be equipped with a transporter. This is a harebrained scheme, but it’s better than nothing.
- The establishment of a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), first proposed seven years ago, and recommended by the Second Administration and Reforms Commission in a report published over six months ago, appears to have been accepted. The responsibilities of the proposed agency were never clearly discussed, either in the published report, or by the Prime Minister, but some speculate that the body would be along the lines of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
- The drafting of an anti-terror bill that is some sort of a hybrid of the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA), and the sterile Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (1967) that would allow both the Congress and the BJP to appease their respective vote backs.
- The strengthening of maritime and air security, involving the Coast Guard, Navy and Civil Aviation. Specific steps that will be taken haven’t been outlined, and since this act of terrorism was made possible because of a failure to act on intelligence, this proposal, prima facie, is a bag of hot air.
In addition, the government has sought the help of the FBI’s forensic analysis expertise in trying to piece together the evidence. Teams from the FBI and Scotland Yard are on the ground in Mumbai. America’s involvement from this stage onward is critical, especially vis-a-vis managing Pakistan. No doubt on the urging of the US, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani, requested the presence of the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to aid in India’s investigation. The ISI has basically bankrolled and sponsored terrorism in India since the early 1990s, so the notion that they can “help with the investigation” is ludicrous and about as useful as asking Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of the LeT, to lend his expertise in investigating last week’s massacre.
However, this is a publicity stunt, and an essential one at that. With this, India can hope to keep Pakistan focused on the incident at hand. Had this not happened, Pakistan would have been able to use any Indian belligerence as an indication of an impending attack with nuclear ramifications, thereby shifting the focus of world leaders from that heinous attack in Mumbai, to preventing an all out war between India and Pakistan. It is therefore critical to keep Pakistan engaged and focused on this incident.
(Also see: Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part II)