Dialogue  October-December, 2008 , Volume 10 No. 2

Mumbai Terror attack in Retrospect


J.N. Roy*



From several angles the terror attack at a number of high profile targets in Mumbai on the night of Nov 26 is a defining event for its daring, organization and capability projection. In these aspects it can be compared only with the 11 Sept. 2001 terror attacks in the USA. The number of casualties may be far less (185 dead, and 300 injured), but the message is as devastating and defiant by any calculus. Its an attack on Indian nation and its institutions; from sources abroad who are engaged in war world over. Alas, our response is not likely to measure up to that of USA for a number reasons. These are mainly rooted in India’s inability to have a clear perception of the threat and a bipartisan and rational approach to it. An environment of self-serving political and social divisiveness has sapped the national will in various ways to respond effectively to an existential threat to country’s stability and progress.                                                                                                            The anger in Mumbai and elsewhere in the country is palpable. The public sentiment wants visible action and accountability. Customary platitudes like complimenting Mumbaikars and Delhites for calm and bouncing back, zero tolerance for terrorism; resolve to fight it, etc will not do this time. It’s the duty of citizens and the media to force the hands of the govt. and opposition to join hands and act resolutely. It is the popular anger which has resulted in the ouster of Union Home Minister and the Chief Minister and Dy. Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

       In popular perception the real heroes of the fight against the terrorists from Nov 26 to 28 in Mumbai are the ATS/Mumbai police, and the NSG who lost lives fighting valiantly. And the villians are the politicians. This was brought out as a searing reality in a live TV segment at the funeral of Hemant Karkare the slain ATS chief. Infront of his lighted funeral pyre three young men were standing with hand-written placard hailing the martyrs and demanding accountability from the politicians. When asked they identified themselves as  IT professionals, two Muslims and one Hindu, and said that their action is spontaneous and they want answers from govt. for the attacks. One of them pointed at the funeral pyre and said that that fire is not burning there, but in our hearts. They held politicians responsible for playing games. It typifies the general mood and it has to be sustained if this country has to fight the scourge of terror effectively. No country has suffered more than us at the hand of terror and done least about it. We have politicized even anti-terror effort.

   The fact is that both the ruling party and the opposition are compromised on the issue of responding effectively on terror front and are engaged in misleading the people to serve their narrow political interests. Neither the record of NDA nor UPA inspires confidence. The lack of political will and unity is reflected in BJP President and L.K. Advani avoiding to attend the all party meeting convened by PM on Nov 30 and failure of the meeting to reach a consensus on actions. It is well understood that it is not possible to prevent each and every terror strike but its possible, with determined effort to contain it and over period eliminate it. To do so a demonstrable national will and unity of purpose is the first sine qua non.                                                                          At the conceptual level the anti-terror philosophy addresses two basic principles. Firstly, it ensures safety and security of its citizens, their property and the national institutions, all within the democratic norms, as far as possible. Secondly, it endeavours aggressively to neutralise the root and branches of the terror apparatus both within the country and abroad where necessary. Both the actions are interlinked and cannot be prioritised or tackled  one by one. The message in this regard has to be unambiguous, action oriented and without any compromise.                                                                                                           Prime examples of the effective response are the USA after 9/11 and UK and other Western Countries. We never tire of quoting USA where no terrorist incident has taken place since 9/11 but are unable to practice it despite suffering heavily at the hands of terrorists. Following are the key elements of the US and Western response mechanism:

(a)   Absolute non-partisan approach towards the menace. There is no public dissonance between the Republicans and Democrats in USA and the Labour and Conservatives in UK on anti-terrorist security measures. Only difference in the UK is over the period of detention without trial and not on the principle of detention.

(b)   Soon after the 9/11 in USA a non-partisan Congressional Inquiry Committee went in the matter of internal security and the reasons of failure to protect the nation. Its findings and recommendations (including of another committee) led to the formation of Deptt. of Homeland Security to which all the security and intelligence agencies were subordinated including the venerable CIA and the FBI (Counter espionage functions), as both had failed to protect the country from the terror attack. This ensured focused attention, accountability and eliminated the turf-warfare among the security and intelligence agencies. The results are there for everyone to see.

(c)   In the external aspects, the USA attacked Afghanistan to get rid of the AL Qaeda and Taliban, the source of attack on the USA. It later (2003) also attacked Iraq and  occupied it, mixing up its strategic goals of dominance of the energy sources and the world, with that of combating terror at its source. In the process the US actions, particularly the use of gunships and Aerial bombings have resulted in large civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan further deepening the anger in Muslims countries against the west. The US non-challantly explains it as collateral damage and has made mockery of the Human Rights protocols and conventions. Amidst all these excesses, what many experts miss is that it has shifted the locus and focus of the Islamic terror from mainland US to its home turf in West Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, promoting internecine warfares, with mostly Muslim extremists killing, attacking and destroying each other, with minimal US and Western Casualties. Of course, the USA is generously funding this mayhem in its own interest. Still the US and the West keep agonising about possible terror attacks but are prepared for it, with the laws and means at their disposal.

(d)   Lastly, considering their relative social stability in terms of religion, language and ethnicity etc. the US and the Western Countries, in their fight against Islamic terror have not been unduly sensitive to the grievances of the minorities and Muslims in their Countries. Root cause theory does not influence their anti-terror philosophy, even while respecting democratic rights of its citizens. Guantnamo Bay detentions, methodology of interrogations, and treating terrorists as war prisoners are some of the examples.                                                                                                      Coming back to India, one question which is, and which onght to be of foremost  concern to the citizens is whether the govt. in the face of  “war like” attack on the Indian state on Nov 26, will galvanise itself or revert to its earlier attitude of hiding helplessness as tolerance and the stereotyped rhetoric. There are by now clear indications that though under intense public and media pressure the state and the politicians are not ready to act decisively. Resignation of the Home Minister S.R. Patil and Maharashtra  CM and Dy. C.M. had become inevitable, but what is required is a fundamental change in security philosophy. It does not seem to be forthcoming. Firstly the Prime Minister’s address to the Nation on Nov 27, seemed to neither respect the anger of the people of the country nor delineate a clear course of action. The BJP and Modi, also failed the country by stooping to the lowest depths by trying to cash on the tragic sacrifices of the NSG and policemen; while mouthing need for unity. The failure of the all party meeting (Nov 30) to reach a consensus is pathetic. 

     It is clear that country’s politicians have failed to comprehend the gravity of the event and are evading accountability which is the first requirement. For them psephology  is more important than national interest, and that of its citizens. There is genuine apprehension that these wily politicians will once again divert attention from the main issue by fronting apologists for terrorists on communal and social grounds pleading for the root cause for their grievances. No one opposes, fairness, transparency and justice, but the question is for whom and in whose interest. Respective stands taken by these apologists over Batla House raid and arrests of Sadhvi Prayga and Lt. Col. Purohit in Malegoan case brings out in broad relief the self –serving unprincipled character of these protagonists. Those who were demonising ATS Mumbai and others for unfairly harassing the Muslims, had no word of appreciation when it dealt with the Hindu fringe extremists in Malegaon case. The saffron brigade got after late Hemant Karkare, the ATS chief for motivated harassment of Sadhvi etc. After his tragic death at the hands of terrorists, Modi who was an ardent critic, lost no time in barging uninvited in his house to condole and offer help and getting interviewed in front of Taj Hotel highlighting his visits to houses of Karkare and others and criticizing PM’s address to the nation. Shiv Sena leaders were also seen noticing virtue in Hemant Karkare. What can one expect from such leaders and politicians?

      A cynic can even question if this country deserves the sacrifices of Karkare, Maj Sandip UnniKrishnan, Kamte and thirteen others? I have no doubt that the country and its people are proud of them and deserve them. I cannot say with any conviction about our current crop of political leadership. We as a country definitely deserve better politicians.

       However, I am an optimist and feel that if “Nov 26” is treated as war against the country, a lot can be achieved. If its an attack on the country then every citizen of, every religion and region has to stand together and fight it. The govt. and opposition must unite and lead. The inertia and turf-warfare on security front will have to go and the process of accountability for Nov 26and for the future should be the starting point. The situation calls for fundamental changes at the institutional and approach levels. The threat is existential and so should be the response. Some steps which can start the process of ensuring nations security and its preparedness to fight terrorism should include the following.

(1)   setting up of a non-partisan committee of eminent citizens to go into: 

(a)   The current status of security preparedness vis-ą-vis terrorism including, what needs to be done to transform it?

(b)   Examine the feasibility of setting up a separate Ministry/Deptt headed by professionals or eminent persons to handle internal security on lines of the Deptt of Homeland Security in the US. It may be called Ministry of National Security, as the term Internal Security is a limiting one. 

(c)   Examine the role and effectiveness of security organizations like, IB, R&AW, NSG, Central and State para-military and state police forces, Disaster Management and means to ensure absolute (not better) Coordination among them, and advisability of placing them under the new dispensation for national security matters.

(d)   Examine the need of special law/laws to counter terrorism and trial of cases.

(e)   Processes to ensure a bipartisan approach towards terrorism.

(f)    To devise measures where national security needs are liberated from bureaucratic procedures and strangle-hold.

(g)   Such a committee should have no member from among the politicians, bureaucrats and security experts. They can be called as witnesses or experts to assist it. It should be a time bound project in its finding/recommendations and implementation.

      Such an immediate step would reflect the seriousness of the govt. about terrorism and its intent to defeat it. Such a committee should not take much time, as most of the issues have already been studied. The need is to give the problem, an unbiased look without turf-warfare considerations, and fix responsibilities and accountability. Terrorism is one-issue where we have no choice but to be bipartisan and ruthless. If not, even after Nov 26, then sooner than later, we will be protecting our air space after a 9/11 like attacks on our important installations and institutions. It is a natural progression after, land, train, sea route attacks. Terrorists know we are a soft target without a resolve to fight back.  

      It must be understood that India has no choice but to prepare and fight back as it is in the cross-hair of international Islamic terrorism like the USA, Western nations and Israel. Meghnad Desai has aptly remarked “it is a war with the West; and like it or not India is a part of the West. Who says so? Osama Bin Laden “(Indian Express – Nov 28, 2008). There will be no dearth of suggestions for preparing against terror. But these should be rooted in following formulations:

a)     It is not possible to prevent all terrorist actions.

b)    India must not spare any cost to prepare and professionalise and equip its forces to react in good time and effectively ,

c)     Country must be prepared for necessary sacrifices,

d)    When an objective analysis of Mumbai attack will be made the most significant lapse will be the failure to react effectively and promptly. Local police which reacted first was too ill equipped and paid price for it with their lives. NSG rached after nine hours when almost all the mayhem had ended and only mopping up remained. A professional response engaging the terrorists immediately would have saved large number of lives. Delays; cost considerations and lack of understanding critical issues are common to all the police forces in the country. This should be overcome without delay on priority basis.

e)     Lastly, no half-measures will do. It is a war and no less.   

       Another aspect, no less important, is the external roots of the terror threat in Pakistan and Bangladesh who are by and large non-cooperative. A friend asked me what can we do about Pakistan, a nuclear state. Yes it a difficult proposition as we are not a super power like USA which can brow-beat Pakistan. We are also not a weak state whom Pakistan can deny indefinitely. Its possible to deal with Pakistan on realistic terms; without any unusual expectations and an open stand that a stable Pakistan is in our interest.

      But the fact is that Pakistan is neither stable nor can be so in a short run. Nor can it be fully democratic in near future. Therefore, we cannot depend on the sweet nothings of smiling Asif Zardari. Some of us are taken in by his overt sincerety and seriousness of improving relations with India. Zardari is in no position to deliver on substantive issues connected with terrorism in which we have interest. The Zardari govt. cannot act against LET, Jamiat Ul-Dawa and Jaish Mohammed, or Dawood Ibrahim. All are under various degrees of protection and control of the ISI/Army. They alongwith Taliban are the foreign police options for Pakistan. We may thus approve of a civilian govt. in Pakistan and widen our trade relations etc., but on the security front its toothless. Hence we should not delude ourselves that Pakistan is going to leash in LET, JEM etc. or for that matter even the Kashmiri militant groups in PoK. All of them are to be used and subdued as occasion requires.

     In all this, Pakistan is confident that being a nuclear state and with the US dependence in Afghanistan, it has nothing to fear from India. Similarly the US pressure on Pakistan to improve relations with India is limited to its own interests in Afghanistan, to relieve Pak troops from the Eastern front for operations in FATA/Afghan border. Pak army will not mind tension on eastern front, as it will give it an excuse to withdraw troops from unpopular and sapping engagement on Afghan border under US pressure. We have to play our cards within these constraints. The first priority should be strong internal measures against terrorism. Internal strength and determination will also reflect on our dealings with Pakistan.

      With the Pak civilian govt’s inability to deliver on Terrorism due to fragmented power structure, it has no choice but to take shelter behind denials and usual pleas of lack of evidence of involvement of its groups. It is evident in statements of Pak foreign Minister and media blitz despite the fact that the Indian govt. has only blamed some groups in Pakistan, which is clear by facts available sofar. Besides, as in Kargil, India must demonstrate in subtle ways that when it comes to the security of the country., its willing to risk or call the nuclear bluff of Pakistan.

      On terror front India is guilty of a major blunder in accepting in 2006 Havana Declaration that Pakistan is also a victim to terrorism. It was perhaps done as a part of improving relations with it, which was unwarranted and is now quoted everytime we protest about involvement of its groups. This certificate has now become an alibi for Pak for doing nothing. In effect we are collaborating in wounding ourselves. In view of Mumbai incident the terror victim tag to Pak should be withdrawn The fact is that having created and sustained these groups, Pakistan, if at all, is victim of its own devices. If the progeny is hurting the parent it has no right to sympathy and support or can deny responsibility for actions of its own creations and protectees. Our main problem is that in our desirable quest for normalized relations with Pak to ease pressure on Kashmir etc. we have neglected our internal defences against terror and violence. It is not appreciated that Pakistan will cooperate when faced by strength and not by platitudes of understanding. India and international community should hold Pak responsible for actions of its terror groups.

       In brief our difficulties with Pakistan are going to increase, with Pak army interested in tensions to abdicate its US induced commitments on Afghan border and against the Taliban. The USA is also going to pressure India not to escalate tension with Pak to subserve its own interests. But we should give priority to our interests by asking Pakistan to deliver on it’s a assurance to not allow its territory to be used against us or else we reserve right to act on our own choosing of time and place. If US wants us to moderate then its must ensure visible action against Let etc. This should be our bottom line whether it suits our relationships with Pak or US or not.  


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati