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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 capability

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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Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part II

(Also see: Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part I)

In the first part of this two-series article, I reviewed the government’s response to the November 25, 2008 Mumbai Terror Attacks, specific intelligence and coordination failures between State and Central agencies and armed forces, the political fallout in the aftermath of the attack, and the government’s responses to addressing an impotent internal security apparatus. In this article, I will examine what needs to be done by the government of India if it wants to demonstrate that it is committed to securing the lives of its citizens.

In response to the terror attacks, the Indian government is planning to increase the headcount of the National Security Guard (NSG) and establish centers in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.  The second item on the government’s plan of action involves establishing a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) along the lines of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Based on the “Combating Terrorism” report issued by the Second Administrative Reforms Committee, the FIA will be established as an agency of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and will be responsible for investigating federal crimes, including organized crime, terrorism, sedition, trafficking in arms and human beings, etc.

What else can India do? The past couple of days have made it particularly painful to watch Indian news channels or read Indian newspapers. Uninformed jingoism, poor grammar and unhinged newscasters have made following the coverage of the aftermath truly agonizing. On Times Now, for example, I was never quite sure if I was watching news coverage of the terror attacks or a trailer for Mission Impossible IV. If the media is to be believed, the Indian army is about to launch punitive assaults on Pakistan any time now. I hate to break this to them, but their mouths are writing checks their government can’t cash. India will not fight Pakistan, because to do so would be to write your own death certificate, along with that of Pakistan’s. Does this mean we lie down and take a kicking? Not necessarily. If India is serious about the security of its people, here are things that it should do:

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Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part I

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.

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November 25th Mumbai Terror Attacks

The Taj Hotel in South Mumbai was the scene of the attack

The Taj Hotel in South Mumbai was the scene of the attack

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.

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