Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No Time to waste

Mumbai has been cleared of terrorists. And things will gradually return to normal. But let us face facts. The terrorists achieved their objective. Mumbai was held to ransom for three days, fear spread among the city's residents, the economy was given a jolt, symbolic targets were damaged, tourist traffic was given a crippling blow and heavy casualties were inflicted. Around 195 people are estimated to have been killed and about 300 injured. Those felled included security personnel and 26 foreigners, including Israelis, Americans, French, Australians and Canadians. The killings of foreigners demonstrated that the attack on Mumbai was part of the global jihad that the Islamists are waging. The terrorists were well-trained, equipped with the most sophisticated weapons and highly motivated. Their modus operandi showed a qualitative leap. There was no 'hit and run'. The terrorists perpetrated one incident after another, taking on the district and the railway police and later even engaged the NSG and the Army for several hours. The evidence available so far points to the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist outfit which had earlier carried out an attack on the Parliament. Its leader, Hafiz Saed, is on record as having said that their objective is to liberate the Muslims of India and that they shall not rest until the green flag was hoisted on the Red Fort in Delhi. The prime minister, responding to the Mumbai carnage, said that the neighbouring countries' territories were being used as launching pads. He was careful not to blame either Pakistan in the context of Mumbai incidents or Bangladesh in the context of Assam incidents. However, the hint is obvious. It is very unlikely that operations of such magnitude could be carried out without at least the knowledge, if not approval, of the security agencies of those countries. In any case, it is high time India withdrew from the fraudulent joint anti-terror mechanism. It was a mistake to have become part of such a body in the first instance. Bangladesh also requires a tougher approach; we have mollycoddled that country long enough. The use of the sea route by terrorists was nothing new. This was done in 1993 also by Dawood Ibrahim's henchmen. What is distressing is that no lessons were learnt after the last tragedy. The ease with which the terrorists disembarked and launched the attacks was, to say the least, shocking. A coastal security scheme formulated in 2005-06 to strengthen the infrastructure for patrolling and surveillance of coastal areas in all the nine coastal states and four Union territories, it seems, remained only on paper. No wonder, the terrorists exploited this chink in our armour.

Was our operational response appropriate? Did we over-react? How many security personnel are needed to deal with a situation of this kind, considering that the total number of terrorists was not estimated to be more than 25 at any stage? The home ministry sent 200 NSG commandos in the first lot. That was more than enough. There was no need to call the army or naval commandos. Problems of command and control are ticklish in such situations. Besides, we give undue importance to the terrorists by an exaggerated response. It is sensible that NSG detachments are going to be stationed at strategic locations. But it is time this force is totally withdrawn from the protection of so-called VIPs.

Where do we go from here? Wait for another incident? It is a shame being bracketed with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as being terror targets. The prime minister has said that the existing laws would be tightened to plug the loopholes and that a federal investigating agency would be set up. Any halfway house measures would not work. We need to build an environment where the terrorists feel deterred. Laws will have to be tough. State laws on the lines of MCOCA must be approved, detection must inspire confidence, trials will have to be swift and the punishments must be executed. The police will have to be motivated, better equipped, its manpower shortages met and it must have specially trained units to deal with such situations in all the states. A little-appreciated fact of the macabre proceedings is that the only terrorist apprehended alive was the handiwork of the Mumbai police. The Supreme Court's directions on police reforms must be carried out.

Intelligence agencies would have to be revamped. The state special branches need to be reinforced. These agencies also require political insulation. An unfortunate fallout of the NSA being a former intelligence chief has meant that there has been a erosion in the authority of the IB director and the secretary, RAW. Their status must be restored. Besides, RAW needs a shake up; it has been in the news for wrong reasons only. RAW could, in fact, be merged into the IB for a more integrated approach to intelligence gathering and dissemination.

Time is running out fast. The terrorists must be planning their next strike. The challenges are menacing. All sections of people need to join hands in this hour of crisis. Some hopeful signs are already there. Our politicians seem to have realised the magnitude of the problem. Mumbai could be the turning point towards reconstruction and consolidation if we place national security above partisan considerations. If we don't, the country could sink into an abyss of violence and disorder.


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