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Mainstream Vol XLVI, No 51

Voice of a Responsible Citizen

Friday 12 December 2008, by Reshmi Kazi

Yet another terrorist attack on November 26 has rocked the entire nation. The country’s economic hub—Mumbai—was held hostage for over 62 hours leaving 195 dead and counting and injuring over 300 innocent people. Preliminary investigations reveal involvement of about 10-odd well-trained and well-equipped terrorists from across the western border in the blasts. The post-blast investigations will reveal several conspiracy theories. Some will be politically motivated while some might be hypothetical queries left to further investigations. However, as a responsible citizen, it is imperative that I raise certain questions that have been plaguing me.

Reports indicate that the terrorists crossed 13 miles across the sea after being dropped by a mother ship, Kuber. The terrorists were carrying heavy weaponry like Kalashnikov assault rifles, AK-47, AK-56 principally, hand grenades and other ammunition. In addition, the terrorists were carrying other sophisticated equipments that helped them to set up a control room within the Taj and Trident hotels complete with communication facilities to coordinate the attacks. What intrigues one is this: how was it possible for these terrorists (who were very young people) to carry all these ammunitions, explosives and communication equipments safely in a small inflatable boat? These terrorists actually sneaked from the Arabian Sea and sailed past the naval headquarters and bombed the economic epicentre of India. This highly risky and perilous task was successfully accomplished by the terrorists without being detected by the coast guards and naval commandos. A terrible intelligence failure!

However, there could not have been greater intelligence failure than the fact that Mumbai’s shores remain inadequately protected. The retired Vice Admiral, Arun Kumar Singh, writing in The Asian Age about six months ago, had warned that the next major terror attack within India “might come from the sea”. The commercial epicentre of India has been subjected to several blasts in the past. Mumbai’s economic importance only makes it more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In addition, there have been serial blasts ravaging the entire country of late. When such is the state of affairs, it is unpardonable to have lax security measures in place leading to the irreparable loss of innocent lives.

Reports indicate that the terrorists carrying ruck-sacks (full of ammunitions and explosives) on reaching the Mumbai shores late at night on November 25 were asked by the assistant supervisor at the Taj (going for his night-shift) who they were. The terrorists were at first belligerent, shouting back: “Tussle mut le.” Later one of them said: “Student hai.” To an unsuspecting person, the whole incident would appear to be a passing affair. After all, a group of eight young men carrying ruck-sacks would least appear to be dreaded terrorists with the potential to kill over 195 people and maiming several hundreds more. But these are dangerous times. It is important for everyone to contribute substantially to prevent any ill befalling upon the nation.

For the citizens to be more cautious and alert, the government of the day must adopt a pragmatic approach. Before enacting a certain play, the actors rehearse themselves again and again to deliver their roles perfectly on the final day. Similarly, it is also important that the government must generate awareness programmes among the common public so that they can be more sensitive and alert to anything that is worth suspecting. In the long run, it is the responsibility of both the government and the people to be more responsive and cautious in the prevailing troubled times.

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Voicing out my concerns as a responsible citizen would remain unsatisfactory if a reference is not made to the politicians of the day. In the immediate aftermath of the traumatic loss to the Mumbaikers and other foreign nationals who had come to visit India, the least that the politicians could have done is to make a united appearance (both the PM and Leader of the Opposition) in Mumbai. It was a sorry sight to see only the Leader of the Opposition visiting Mumbai at this hour of grief. What was more appalling was that immediately after the arrival of some of the members of the Opposition party in Mumbai on November 27, they started playing the blame game against the UPA Government. The Manmohan Singh Government on its part entrusted the crucial responsibility of internal security to a Home Minister who has proved his incompetence in dealing with internal security several times in the recent past. It is high time that politicians rise above their petty political interests and their penchant for sacrificing innocent human lives at the altar of terror.

The media played a commendable role in presenting graphic details of the nation-seizing act of November 26. However, the media should be prudent while telecasting deatils. The comments made by actress Simi Garewal on a TV show that the “slums in Mumbai were seen sporting Pakistani flags” while the mayhem was continuing in the city and aired by a popular TV news channel were unfortunate. Airing such irresponsible comments could have only implied that residents of slums (primarily populated by Muslims) are supportive of terror tactics allegedly emanating from Pakistan. At a time when the entire nation is gripped by trauma and fierce anger, such comments could have driven the nation towards communal violence. That this did not happen is a reflection of the maturity of the public at large. Concurrently it was not proper on the part of the media not to acknowlege the journalist who got injured while covering the operation to free the Taj Hotel from terrorists. The media must be more ethical and responsible in its approach.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts there has been a series of resignations—Union Home Minister, Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra and the National Security Advisor (the last one not being accepted). However, resignations in the aftermath of a disaster (especially when fresh elections are around the corner) are not the accepted solution to fight terrorism. They are an insufficient response to a political crisis of such great magnitude. Alternatively, what need to be addressed are the deficiencies within India’s security and enforcement capabilities. In addition, political promises made by politicians must be implemented in letter and spirit to avoid future comprehensive failure as in the case of the November 26 Mumbai blasts.

Much can be said about the intelligence agencies in the country. However, what is most important for the intelligence to note at this critical juncture is that the war on terror is ravaging the Pakistani sanctuaries housing terrorists. It is therefore quite rational a choice for militants to shift base to India which has notoriously porous borders. Further, the ongoing Mumbai terror attacks clearly demonstrate months of planning put in by the terrorists to hold the entire nation hostage psychologically. The intelligence must exercise extreme caution and gather critical inputs timely to prevent another major disaster. To strengthen the security establishment what is required is a homeland security agency with the most efficient combat team to fight a common threat. The existing security agency also needs to be overhauled to effectively neutralise any terror attempts.

In the recent Mumbai terror attacks, the terrorists have successfully accomplished their goal. A group of 10 young men have psychologically shattered the nerves of India by holding on for over 62 hours and soiling the image of a democratic India as an emerging economic power. Whether these terrorists are from Pakistan or terror elements from within the country is a matter that can be decided later. The need of the hour is to shrug off complacency and get united to combat terrorism.

Dr Reshmi Kazi is an Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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