Another day and another terror attack in another Indian city has left almost 100 people dead and hundreds injured. The scale of the attack — spread across two five-star hotels, a hospital, the Victoria Terminus, and other parts of South Mumbai — is stunning. Quite obviously, this can’t be the work of an impromptu assemblage of disgruntled extremists. The planning, the weaponry used, and the coordinated execution points to a very well planned attack, executed by very well trained, possibly even professionally trained, attackers. A group that I’ve never heard of before, the Deccan Mujaheddin, claimed responsibility for the attack. It would be premature to dismiss this as an attempt to divert attention from the real terrorist group, just because this is a name that we’re not familiar with. This group, if in fact it exists, could be an alliance of sorts between foreign terror groups and intelligence services, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which provided the ammunition and/or the money, and Indian terror groups and their backers such as the Indian Mujaheddin (IM) and SIMI, which provided the logistics and the plan. That the terrorists were apparently looking for civilians with American or British passports leads me to believe that this couldn’t entirely be the handiwork of Indian terror groups, if at all they were involved at any level. Terrorism in India is very localized and it isn’t the M.O. of local terror groups to target foreigners. The objectives of terror groups in India fall into two broad categories — (a) to seek retribution (against Hindus, law enforcement agencies, the State, etc.) for what they see as injustices, or (b) to inflict damages so unbearable that it would demoralize India into conceding independence to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
While it’s quite clear that these local terror groups wouldn’t’ be fans of the United States or of the United Kingdom, I don’t believe that their objectives would be pan-Islamic. If it does turn out to be true that they were targeting Western interest in the city, then this would be the first such incident, and one that adds a dimension that draws India into the fold of “mainstream” terrorism.
The Indian Government and law enforcement agencies have once again been caught with their pants down. The response to this attack (on-going, at the time I’m composing this) has been discombobulated and lacking in any strategy. Any and all agencies whose personnel brandish weapons have been roped in and let loose at the scene of the attacks. There are reports that some terrorists hijacked a police vehicle and opened fire on the journalists gathered around the area. Clearly, there is no coordination or communication between the several security agencies on the scene. This is the first time since Golden Temple (1984) that I remember the Army being deployed to address a terror incident. There are reports that at least two contingents of “Black Cat” National Security Guard (NSG) commandos are en route to Mumbai from New Delhi. What were they doing in Delhi? Wouldn’t conventional logic demand that NSG personnel be situated in strategic cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, etc.)? What in recent history in Mumbai has given the government the confidence that a trained counter terrorism unit isn’t required to be situated in Mumbai at all times? At the time that I write this, a good 12 hours has passed since we were made aware of this situation, and we are yet to hear from the Prime Minister. Now would be a good time for him to get on TV and talk to the nation.
The larger issue here is what is the Government’s strategy to counter terrorism in India? There has been a spate of attacks in India, and we are yet to be made aware of any concrete steps the government plans to take to address this scourge. Or perhaps they think that terrorism will just go away and that there isn’t any real need to do anything about it? Articles will be written and speeches will be made about national solidarity. Accusations will be leveled against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Naive questions will be raised about the audacity of terrorists to launch an attack of this magnitude. Pressure will be put on Pakistan (with America’s help, of course) to “reign in” terror groups or to “do more”. Pakistan itself as a nation is coming apart at the seams. Between a clueless Prime Minister and a President who spends most of his time in Dubai, no one, least of all the civilian leadership, has any control over Pakistan. So asking them to do anything is meaningless. Really, the question that needs to be asked is, given the current state of security in India, why would any terrorist be concerned about brazenly launching attacks? Our intelligence gathering is a joke, our response to terrorism and hostage situations is haphazard and our leadership is benign. If India doesn’t recognize that internal security is the single largest threat facing the nation and doesn’t take very concrete steps to address it, terrorists will continue to kill our citizens with breathtaking impunity.
I have been crying hoarse about the need for a credible counter terrorism unit, sanctioned at the central level. Does India have the ability to implement a credible internal security organization? If it doesn’t, they need to be seeking assistance from the United States and other nations in developing such a organization in the country. Historically, any suggestion that we get outside help in dealing with internal security has been brushed off with the ruse that Indian security forces are more than capable of dealing with security incidents in the country. No they are not! There is nothing wrong in seeking help when it is required. Please, Mr. Prime Minister, you are not going to hurt our national pride in admitting that we face a challenge that we are ill-equipped to handle, and that we need to leverage the expertise of other countries to deal with the issue. If it comes to that, I would rather lose national pride, than any more Indian lives. The United States commissioned the Homeland Security department in response to 9/11, and in the seven years following that incident there have been no attacks on US soil. They must be doing something right. Now is the time for Manmohan Singh to show some leadership. If he can’t he needs to step aside and let some that can take over the reigns of this wounded and bloodied nation.