Saturday, November 29, 2008




    Quite expectedly, the president and prime minister of Pakistan have condemned in the strongest words possible the most brutal, murderous, barbaric terrorist strike on high-profile targets in Mumbai. Almost on cue, the defence minister of Pakistan, Ahmed Mukhtar, has denied any Pakistani involvement in these attacks. No one ever expected anyone from Pakistan to actually admit a Pakistani involvement or link to the heinous massacre of innocent civilians. So much so that even the spokesman of the terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the prime suspect in this attack, too has had the temerity to deny any role in this attack. But this time around, it is highly unlikely that Pakistani disavowals will find any takers in India.

Unless Pakistan now backs its denials with action and cooperation on ground against organisations involved in terrorist activities in India, all bets are off as far as the peace process between the two countries is concerned. So much for the irreversibility of the peace process! Pakistan shouldn't take lightly the outrage in India over this attack which has the fingerprints of terrorist organisations based in Pakistan all over it. For the first time one is thankful that Pakistani news channels and newspapers are not widely available in India. The spin that Pakistani news anchors and columnists are trying to put on this attack – that it could be Maoists, it could be right-wing Hindu groups, it could be disgruntled Indian Muslims – would have added fuel to the fury raging in the minds of Indians.

    The nature of the attack bears remarkable resemblance to fidayeen attacks that are mounted by terrorist of the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Jammu and Kashmir. The level of training, the arms, ammunition and explosives, the motivational levels, the display or barbarity and remorseless massacre of innocents, the deliberate targeting of American, British, Israeli citizens, the resources and preparation that went into the attack (including perfect knowledge of the area) and most of all, military nature of strike all point towards organisations operating with relative impunity in Pakistan and enjoying very close links with the Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Despite this, if India is making a distinction between state actors and non-state actors in Pakistan, then it is a benefit of doubt (if not a fig-leaf) being given to Pakistan so that it can demonstrate its commitment to not allow its territory to be sed in any sort of terrorism against India. The decision of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to send the ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha to India (some reports suggest that he might accompany the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani) to share information and assist in investigations is an extremely important and positive step, one that will go a long way in assuaging Indian sentiments. At the same time, if this visit is used for grand-standing and winning diplomatic brownie points then it will only worsen matters.

    The Mumbai strike is nothing if it is not a micro-invasion by a highly trained commando unit. Even if this unit comprises non-state actors, the training given to them was almost certainly by military – serving or retired – personnel. These are the kind of operations that are normally launched by mercenaries against very small and vulnerable states – for example, Seychelles, Maldives, Comoro Islands – to effect a regime change in these countries. That such an operation was mounted against India's Maximum City, Mumbai, shows that it was intended to damage India economically, but even more psychologically. It was an attempt to not only injure India, but also insult it. While it is easy, even if correct, to point the finger at Pakistan, India would, at its own peril, ignore its own failings in both preventing these attacks and in having in place the systems to counter such attacks if they take place.

    The tragedy is not that such an attack has taken place. The tragedy lies in the frequency with which India is being violated by terrorists. New York, London, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Bali have all suffered devastating terrorist attacks. But the crisis management systems, security structures, legal framework that these countries put in place have to a large extent ensured that such attacks don't happen ever again. In the last couple of years India has suffered horrific terrorism ever other months, and yet rather than respond in a Churchillian manner, India's political leadership has reacted like a Church mouse.

    Indian security agencies, including the intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies, are under-staffed, under-equipped, under-trained. The shocking spectacle of policemen equipped with 19th Century rifles trying to combat terrorists armed with the latest weapons tells a sorry story of India's lack of preparedness in fighting the menace of terrorism. There is probably not a single police force in India that is equipped with night-vision goggles, so important in urban warfare. Most of the flak-jackets with the police officers are so heavy that movement becomes painfully slow. Hand-guns which cannot fire more than 50 or 60 feet are normally given to officers who are supposed to fight terrorists. The training and tactics, not to mention procedures, of police forces are ancient.

    Even more scandalous is the border management of the country. India learned no lesson from the audacious arms-drop that took place in Purulia some 20 years back. Worse, the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, for which the explosives were smuggled in by sea, did not lead to any improvement of coastal security. Not surprisingly then, the large gaps in the land and sea borders are being exploited by terrorists who are constantly looking for loop-holes in the security systems. The manner in which the terrorists involved in the Mumbai invasion sailed right up to the Gateway of India and then walked in with bags loaded with merchandise of death is shocking but hardly surprising.

    Equipment and systems are only part of the problem. More serious is the cavalier attitude and lack of seriousness with which Indian authorities and people deal with the menace of terrorism. Unless authorities develop a policy based on paranoia, the eternal vigilance that is required to pre-empt and defeat terrorists is not possible. But in a country where exemption from frisking at airports is worn as a badge of honour and equated with the dignity of institutions, there can never be an uncompromising approach to security issues.

Cynical though it may appear, the only silver lining of this latest attack is that it has hit the elite of the society, who until now were relatively insulated from terrorism. Maybe because this attack has hit so close to home, it might do some good as far as making policy, equipping the security agencies, making changes in laws to combat terrorism is concerned. But it is entirely possible that like in the past, Indian might once again forget this incident and slip back into its somnolence in taking the steps that are so desperately required to secure the life, liberty and property of its citizens from wanton acts of terrorism.

If India does not want to be described as a Banana republic or a 'failed state' then it is imperative that all necessary steps needed to defeat terrorism be taken. If another such spectacular attack takes place, it will make a complete mockery of India's claims and aspirations to be counted as an emerging economic and military power and an island of stability in a very volatile region.


    <1230 Words>                    28th November, 2008



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