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Mainstream Vol XLVI, No 51

Mumbai 11/26 and Our Response


Friday 12 December 2008, by SC


It is more than a week since the monumental tragedy unfolded on the night of November 26 with the terrorists striking high-profile targets in South Mumbai. The people of Mumbai have once again been compelled to bear the brunt of yet another massive terror assault, the major past attacks in the city having been the serial explosions on symbols of its commercial foundation in March 1993 and the serial train blasts in July 2006. The residents of the metropolis have yet to overcome the trauma they had to live through for more than 60 hours on November 26-29—there is no gainsaying the happenings in Mumbai shook the country to its roots and left a deep impress on the international community as well even if the political class in the city and the State remained by and large indifferent (which is why they generated allround resentment bordering on revulsion among all sections of the citizens of our business capital).

To be fair, it must be pointed out that the leadership of the principal ruling party at the Centre acted with promptitude and the Union Home Minister was forced to quit. But then there have been a series of terror attacks in different parts of the country (including the Capital) in recent times and the passivity and inactivity of Shivraj Patil was so glaring throughout that his departure was overdue. Despite all the foot-dragging the Maharashtra CM too had to eventually resign and, along with him, the Deputy CM. However, even if the politicians’ accountability was fixed, there was no such accountability in the case of the administrators connected with the country’s security. One heard the National Security Advisor had offered to step down but ultimately he did not (because of the reluctance of both the PM and UPA chairperson to remove him). This is unfortunate for the failure of the country’s security and intelligence (whose overall supervision is the NSA’s respohisibility) has become so obvious in the wake of 11/26 that there is no plausible reason for M.K. Narayanan’s continuance as the NSA.

The terror assault in Mumbai carried the footprints of not just the Lashkar-e-Taiba but the Al-Qaeda as well. On November 24, that is, two days before the Mumbai terror assault, there appeared a report in a major daily quoting Indian security officials that now that the US missile strikes on Pakistani territory “have succeeded in cracking the networking capabilities of Al-Qaeda” and since Pakistan’s ISI is the primary sponsor of both the Al-Qaeda and Taliban, the ISI could well “re-deploy” these jihadi fighters from the FATA areas into the Kashmir zone or in other parts of India for surgical suicide strikes.

So such an attack that began on 11/26 in Mumbai was not entirely unexpected. And then there were significant intelligence inputs as well that were callously ignored by persons in the higher echelons.

The Mumbai terror operation had several features. Perhaps the most striking of these was what has been mentioned in Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report—the focus on killing or capturing foreign business people, specially US and UK nationals (and also Jews as was seen in Nariman House, a building owned by the Jewish ‘Chabad’ movement, in Colaba), something that has never happened earlier, suggesting thereby a “wider global anti-Western agenda”. However, one is unable to understand why the large amount of RDX smuggled into the country—persumably to pull down the entire structure of the landmark Taj Hotel or a part of it on the lines of what was done in the case of the WTC on 9/11 in New York—was not utilised even when the terrorists had ample time for that (given the delay in effectively responding to the attack with the help of NSGs).

The hand of the Pakistani ISI behind the operation is, however, unmistakable. But how does one deal with this phenomenon? Knee-jerk reactions don’t lead us anywhere, such a response is counterproductive. This is where the decision to call off all steps to strengthen the peace process is regrettable, to say the least. The jingoistic outbursts too only serve the purpose of those hellbent on once again vitiating the relations between the peoples of the two countries that have registered a marked improvement of late. No doubt pressure must be mounted on the Pakistani authorities to close down the terror training camps operating on Pakistani soil and take adequate action against those running the terror networks. But this should not be done such as to stifle people-to-people contacts which have a positive role in fostering India-Pakistan amity whose contribution to South Asian cohesion cannot be overestimated.

At one level our security and intelligence set-up needs to be toned up and strengthened so that incidents like the ones in 1993, 2006 and 2008 are not repeated in Mumbai. At another level joint India-Pakistan efforts at the popular level to fight the menace of terrorism must be undertaken so as to foil the machinations of all those (forces of terrorism, extremism and religious fundamen-talism), in both countries, seeking to reverse the process of peace, democracy and friendship in our region in their bid to heighten tensions and suspicions thus leading us into the blind alley.

Jingoism is certainly not the answer to Mumbai 11/26.

December 4 S.C.

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