Mumbai Massacre - some reasons and remedies
by Hari Kak on 13 Dec 2008 0 Comment

Reactions to the Mumbai carnage have been varied - from extreme indifference to complacence, deep anguish to anger, defensiveness, putting CBMs on hold or curtailing trade and other relations with Pakistan, building internal pressure on Pakistan and even the extreme of going to war against Pakistan. The war option should be rejected outright. Indifference aggravates the problem. Other options have their own reasons and should be explored.

After every terrorist attack in Mumbai, the leaders and the press praise the fortitude and resilience of Mumbaikars. They are exhorted to return to normal life and thus frustrate the terrorist's designs to create panic and fear. Mumbaikars proudly return to daily routines, work as usual, open shops and so on. This is a compulsion of livelihood. Once in Mumbai, you have to earn a living, better your lot.

This attitude however makes them immune to terrorism, resulting in greater tragedies. Protests, demonstrations and a plethora of articles have shown countrywide solidarity cutting across religions. Islamic Organisations have unhesitatingly condemned the attacks as un-Islamic and called for subdued Id celebrations.

Though united in our agony and condemnation, we are groping for reasons and solutions. Some points worth considering may be:

1] The government’s reactions and assurances were hackneyed and infuriated the people. The condemnation of politicians has been vociferous. But they have been elected by us and will again be elected. So we have to consider not only the promises but the action taken and results thereof.

2] The purpose and the timing of the blasts. Were the attacks a retribution for the Malegaon blasts by an alleged 'Hindu Terrorist Group,' a reaction to the successful J&K elections, to spoil improving Indo-Pak relations, redress perceived injustices to Indian Muslims, or a more sinister and sophisticated effort of the continuing jihadi  commitment of bleeding India ?

Timing > the date pattern is intriguing  
? May - Jaipur      
? June - Nil
? 26 July - Ahmedabad 
? August – Nil
? 13 September – Delhi
? October - Nil   
? 26 November – Mumbai
? December - hope the month passes peacefully 

3] Is India, as is generally believed, a soft State which makes us vulnerable to repeated terrorist strikes? How have Israel, US, and UK controlled terrorist strikes? A prominent English daily recently used the word 'assailants' for the 'alleged accused,' as our crime reporters invariably mention. Be a bleeding heart and partisan, with an eye on votebanks, or be unsparing in dealing with a ruthless enemy.

When asked whether those who engineered September 11, 2001 attacks on America could be forgiven, US. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, a devout Christian, retorted - "It is God's job to forgive, it is our job to arrange the meeting."

4] Intelligence failure. It is not possible to give the exact date, time, and place of a strike, but we can and do get information or intelligence about plans to strike in certain vulnerable areas. The failures to utilise the information is due to neglect, poor assessment or timely dissemination to concerned authorities who must react promptly with preventive measures. Often efforts are wasted as the threat does not materialize, but action taken does convey to the terrorists that the Police are alert.

The non-availability of sophisticated equipment, multiplicity of State and Central agencies, lack of coordination between them and preoccupation  in gathering political intelligence, particularly in pre-election days, are handicaps faced by the intelligence agencies.

5] ATS and other anti-Terror operatives: selection, training, equipment (compared to terrorists), commitment and motivation, salaries and perks, all add up to important human factors that are not attended to. A policeman on duty 24 hours continuously, in hazardous jobs, gets the same salary as a peon sitting under a fan outside an administrative office room. The morale of the force is also adversely effected by threats and demands for judicial enquiries for political considerations.

6] The role of Media: Indian TV channels gave a live minute-to-minute account (interrupted only by advertisements!) of the movements of commandos, the sound of gunfire and grenade blasts, the areas on fire, and later, the name and details of the terrorist captured alive in an encounter in another area. Their running  commentary provided useful information to the holed-up terrorists on the TV sets in the hotel rooms and their own sophisticated cell phones.

All this helped the terrorists to plan their defense, prolong the resistance over 3 days, and kill more civilians and security personnel. It alerted their cohorts outside the besieged buildings. Such premature publicity adversely effects the administration, and does not help the morale of the security personnel. Besides, the coverage gave the desired wide publicity to the terrorists and boosted their egos.

In a democracy the fourth estate certainly has a right to expression, but needs also to judge the repercussions of their 'breaking news.' The I&B Ministry reportedly served notice to some TV channels for airing a conversation between two terrorists. Now it is planning to form a Standing Media Consultative Committee to frame guidelines for the coverage of emergency situations. What does not expect too much from such a committee; the Prime Minister has so far already formed over 50 committees; evidently this government believes that committees are a remedy in themselves.

The USA after 11 September 2001, and Russia after the siege by Chechen rebels of a Moscow theatre, passed orders restricting reporting on sensitive disturbances. The tendency of   security officers on the spot to disclose operational details exposes commandos to grave risks and hampers investigations.

7] Centralised Agency for Anti Terror: America has several Federal agencies dealing with different aspects of national intelligence collection. Post 9/11, a new post of Director of National Intelligence was created to coordinate and supervise the work of different agencies.  A new department of homeland security was created. The persistent demand for such a setup has been resisted by the Central and State Governments, who pass the buck back and forth, as neither wants to hold the baby.

For the past two years, the Ministry of Home Affairs has been sitting over a reply to a notice by the Supreme Court  (in  the Police Reforms case) calling for the Government of India’s views on a Federal agency to deal with terrorism crimes! So far, the apex court has been helpless in extracting a reply, though things are now moving after the nightmare at Mumbai.

Yet the GoI is still blocking a MCOCA-type legislation proposed by Gujarat for over three years, while the government in Mumbai uses it freely. The UPA is opposing POTA because it is allegedly used for harassing innocent members of the minority community. 

8] Disaster management: The Government of India has set up a Disaster Management Group headed by a Secretary, but this seems more concerned about natural disasters. The States should also have detailed plans [Gujarat reportedly does have such a Plan].

9] Special Security Measures for vulnerable targets: these are needed for hotels, airports, railway stations, crowded market places, nuclear and sensitive installations. According to some reports, two of the Mumbai assailants were fully aware of the hotels’ plans and had even stayed there. Unknown persons are seen swaggering in and out of hotels with large bags.

The daring and magnitude of the Mumbai Massacre should remind us that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Hari Kak, IPS (retd.) is former Addl. Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

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