The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

26/11 and India’s response

It’s politics as usual in New Delhi, and no one seems to care

A year has gone by after the carnage in Mumbai that left over 190 people dead and hundreds injured.  In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, articles were written about the gaping holes in India’s internal security preparedness.

Recommendations put forth to the Indian government are all in public domain —  a tougher anti-terrorism law, a separate ministry for internal security, police reform, increasing NSG headcount and footprint, and enhancing India’s covert ops capabilityThe Filter Coffee also presented recommendations in the wake of the 26/11 attacks.

Of the recommendations made, Manmohan Singh’s government chose to make the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) central to its response to the holes in India’s internal security preparedness.  To be sure, the establishment of the NIA was an important move, because it addressed Centre-State jurisdiction issues that hitherto plagued the CBI.

However, the NIA’s mandate notwithstanding, nothing in public domain indicates any significant activity in the NIA, until 11 months and two weeks after November 26, 2008, when the NIA belatedly sprung into action, based on inputs from the FBI on David Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

In addition, by virtue of design, the NIA mostly addresses post-incident investigation and forensics.  Manmohan Singh’s government articulated little by way of detective and preventive enhancements to India’s internal security preparedness.

The bigger picture that needs to be examined on the first anniversary of 26/11 isn’t necessarily about specific structural and organizational changes, but about the government’s willingness (confidence?) to make public aberrations in its response to the terror attacks and how these can be addressed.

In the year following the World Trade Center attacks in the US, the Bush Administration constituted the 9/11 Commission to examine aspects of US’s response to the attacks as they unfolded, and make recommendations on how the US should proceed, going forward.  The US Department of Homeland Security was born out of these recommendations.

India deserved its 26/11 commission with a limitless mandate to examine our response to the attacks in Mumbai. Key aspects of the events of 26/11 require independent review.

These include incident-specific issues relating to governance and leadership such as  (a) How long it took to notify key stakeholders, such as the Prime Minister, NSA, intelligence services and ministers of Home Affairs and Defense, (b) The time it took for the relevant stakeholders to coordinate and assess the situation, (c) How long it took to authorize deployment of anti-terror units to the scene, and (d) Crisis management — who was coordinating what aspect of India’s responses.

The second aspect of the commission’s review should have entailed structural and organizational changes and enhancements, including those previously discussed.  Sadly, this government does not have the gumption to constitute such a comprehensive review of its responses to the 26/11 attacks.  This isn’t an assailment of the the UPA administration, it is an indictment of India’s petty political environment.

There are critical aspects of the attack that require further analysis — aspects that India is still uncovering, including the roles of Headley and Rana — and questions that no one seems to be able to answer, such as how a bunch of semi-literate people alien to Mumbai, were able to negotiate their way through the city’s conspicuous and inconspicuous landmarks, without local assistance.

This cannot be accomplished by adhocism or through token responses, such as establishing the NIA and deploying the NSG in some cities. One would have thought that the time was ripe for such a bold response, faced as the UPA is, with an ineffectual, embattled Opposition. Sadly, barring a few cosmetic rearrangements, not much has changed in India, and no one, least of all Mumbaikars seem to care.

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Filed under: 26/11, commandos, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, National Security Advisor, National Security Guard, NIA, Politics, POTA, south mumbai, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Lashkar threat and soft targets

A society with low levels of security consciousness contributes to threat potentiality

The arrests of David Coleman Headley aka Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana by the FBI in Chicago last week have led to revelations of threats against India.  David Headley is a US citizen of Pakistani origin, while Rana is a Canadian citizen, again of Pakistani extraction.

Both LeT operatives were arrested after an email exchange between Headley and an unnamed senior operative in which Headley suggested traveling to India, possibly either for recon or actual action. There is speculation that this unnamed operative is Pakistani SSG turned senior al-Qaeda operative Illyas Kashmiri.

The interrogations, in which both the IB and RAW participated, have brought to light specific threats against the National Defence College, New Delhi, two boarding schools in North India and a few five-star hotels.  According to Rediff‘s report:

Two leading boarding schools located in prominent hill stations in a north Indian state and a few five star hotels in popular tourist spots are targets of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a senior Home Ministry official said on Wednesday. According to intelligence inputs, the terrorist group was planning to attack the two schools and the hotels, which are regularly frequented by foreign tourists, he said.

The information came in the wake of reports that David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US for plotting a major terror attack in India at the behest of LeT, have revealed that they were also planning to attack the National Defence College in New Delhi.

The official said the intelligence agencies gathered information about the possibility of LeT attacks a few weeks ago and forwarded it to the concerned state governments for providing adequate security at the schools and the hotels.

It is encouraging to note the level of information sharing between the FBI and intelligence counterparts in India, and the participation of contingents from RAW and IB in the Headley-Rana interrogations in the US.  The level of cooperation will likely increase with greater convergence of Indian and American threat perceptions.  Such information sharing and indeed participation would not have occurred seven years ago.

The other side of the equation for India is security consciousness.  Indian attempts to beef up its internal security must factor in security consciousness at Central, State and personal levels.  Our schools, universities, hospitals, marketplaces and centers of faith are all soft targets which unsurprisingly find their way into terror plots.  Ours is not a security conscious culture; indeed those who flaunt rules and bypass security protocol are greatly admired.

There is a systemic problem in India where appreciation for security has historically been lacking at personal, state and central levels.  While it took humiliation at the hands of a larger adversary in 1962 to shakeup the armed forces and a pacifist government forged from the idealism of the ahimsa movement, no such shake up has occurred in the case of local law enforcement.

Most state governments are happy to let their dilapidated law and enforcement apparatus rot away.  Low budget allocation, no training, no equipment and resources and poor pay.

I’ve never heard of an unmotivated terrorist.  But unmotivated police personnel, there are plenty. Nowhere is the urgency for police reform more apparent than when the physically unfit, unmotivated police constable armed only with a laathi (or a World War II era .303 rifle, if he’s lucky) comes face to face with a terrorist armed with an AK-47, several rounds of ammo and schooled in commando action in the finest jihadi tradition from across the border.

India has battled insurgencies galore, from Kashmir to Khalistan, is in the middle of a Maoist perversion in seven states, and experienced its annus horribilis last year when terrorism against soft targets claimed the lives of 400 Indians. One would have hoped that the impetus for a shakeup in mindset had been provided.  Almost a year after 26/11, nothing seems to have changed.

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Filed under: 26/11, Al Qaeda, homeland security, Illyas Kashmiri, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pakistan Roundup

Even amidst the flurry of political activity in New Delhi, the media has had a field day (or two) with a couple of news reports from Pakistan. The first being the apparent successful military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley, and the second being the release of Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, from house arrest.  As is the case with anything related to Pakistan, there is always more than meets the eye.

The United States and the international community have been hailing Pakistan army’s successes in the Valley.  Even The Wall Street Journal joined the chorus, in a very gung-ho editorial that put its weight behind Pakistan and asked the US Congress to approve the military and economic aid package to their “allies in Islamabad”.  A couple of days ago, Ahmed Quraishi was on BBC, claiming that the $11 billion military aid doled out by the US to his country was pittance, but couldn’t answer why Pakistan was unable to account for funds provided to them for a specific purpose.

The problem that Pakistan faces is an old one.  The British tried, with carrot and stick, to bring the Pashtun in line and failed. The Soviets launched a war — and even declared victory — but eventually had to retreat in the face of ceaseless guerrilla assaults.  The Americans have experienced this first hand.  The Taliban are not going to fight a conventional military battle against anyone.  They will not have war imposed upon them.  They fight at a time and place of their choosing.

Despite the apparent losses, the Taliban leadership is still intact.  The Radio Mullah and Baitullah Mehsud are still alive, and the Pakistani army faces the unenviable task of asserting itself in territory it hasn’t ever fully controlled.  Anyone believing that a military “victory” is the only solution is living in a fool’s paradise.  Pakistan will eventually realize that it needs to take a page out of Gen. Petreaus’ book and bribe/appease/cajole/entice their way into some sort of political compromise with the Swati tribes.  The question is whether the Pakistani government has the will to sustain a military/political campaign against the Taliban.

Which brings me right along to Hafiz Saeed.  His release, after nearly five months of house arrest, is only to be expected.  India’s huffing and puffing is as utterly meaningless as its decision to outsource the redressal of its grievances vis-a-vis Pakistan to the US.  This blogger has opined previously that Pakistan sees no benefit in abandoning its use of unconventional warfare  against India; and why should it? India has no antidote to counter state-sponsored terrorism, and the United States is unfalteringly vague on the matter, for fear of offending its friends in Islamabad.   And if this extraordinary report in The Times of India is to be believed, India is working through diplomatic channels to rekindle the “peace process” with Pakistan, a month before Secretary Clinton’s scheduled visit.

Given the lack of will or ability to affect a credible response from Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, the stagnation of the peace process, and diplomatic inertia of the past six months on account of the general elections, the Indian government now sees no way out but to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan.  Stagnation, or indeed, further deterioration of Indo-Pak relations is not acceptable.  At least, not to the United States.

Therefore, with the continuation of the charade that is Hafiz Saeed’s trial, and the soon-to-be-broadcast vague, ambivanet utterances against terrorism by Islamabad, readers  should fully expect the commencement of  the second edition of the India-Pakistan Peace process (IPP-2), which will be dramatically heralded by a series of Twenty20 Indo-Pak cricket matches, and the establishment of a cross-border laddoo exchange mechanism.  Meanwhile,  the 200 civilians who died in Mumbai will be as purged from our memories as were their lives at the hands of terrorists from Pakistan on 26/11.  So much for candlelight vigils and “Never Forget” banners.

Filed under: 26/11, Foreign Policy, India, indo-pak peace, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Maulana Fazlullah, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, Pakistan, pakistan army, Politics, Swat, Terrorism, TSNM, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)