Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Mumbai attacks - what happens next ?

Ever since the spate of bomb attacks in the last couple of years, leading to the extraordinary spectacle of bombs across Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, and Surat, there has been an element of insecurity building up. One would never be sure of where the next attack would come from, and any place or mode of transport was considered insecure. There was a lot of public anger, but the Congress Government had the policy of try to calm things down, promise that this would never happen again, and then wait for people to forget the enormity of these attacks, and continue with their normal politics. Taking a stricter action against politics was fraught with risks, since a number of terrorists doing these bomb blasts were driven by a radical Islamist agenda, where these attacks were a way of retaliation, a way of terrorising the country. And making stricter laws or digging much deeper into the roots of these conspiracies could expose the Congress to the charge of "being against the Muslim community", something that causes jitters to the top leadership of the Congress, including the Madam at the head. Or maybe, the Ministers and the Cabinet were not upto the job of taking steps to make the country secure. So, when the bomb blasts in the BJP ruled states, and then Delhi took place, there was massive pressure, but quickly died away, since "the resilient country absorbed these attacks and moved on, showing their spirit".
And now this unprecedented disaster that was the terror attacks in Mumbai take place. First there were cries of intelligence failure, and then it slowly emerged that the intelligence agencies were apparently doing their job, and were reporting signs from all over about something going to happen. It was not apparently a real failure of intelligence, but a failure of the intelligence analysis system, which is commanded by the Home Ministry, and supposed to be supervised by the National Security Advisor. Both have failed beyond the wildest nightmares that anybody could have. It now turns out, as reports have started coming out, that inspite of so many reports, the Government did not take any action. It is quite obvious that no Government in the world will ever really get to know that terrorists are coming to the beach at this time, on this day - you need to be prepared to handle such an eventuality; this is not a banana republic, this is a massive economy undergoing huge development, a potential super-power.
And what was this super-power incapable of doing ? One does not fault the police or the commandos who did a great job in actually going in and fighting the terrorists, and took casualties themselves, including the head of the ATS, Hemant Karkare. However, one cannot get around the problems that are being reported, and which will dog us the next time something like this happens:
- The NSG, because of logistical reasons, took 9 hours to reach. 9 hours in a terrorist situation allows the terrorist to setup a solid base, harass the hostages, and overall make the job much more difficult. With 9 hours, the NSG cannot be called a Rapid Reaction Force. They need to be spread out over the country, and if politicians can command their own planes, surely the NSG can also have a couple for these needs.
- It has been reported again and again that the NSG and Marine commandos did not know the layout of the buildings. This is inexcusable. Before going in, commandos need to know the layout of the building they are attacking, otherwise you end up giving the terrorists a huge advantage. Given that it took the commandos some time to reach, the plans for the buildings should already have been arranged for them when they were to reach.
- It is reported from time to time that the media reported on the times of attacks, from where the commandos were going to attack, and so on. If the attackers indeed did have satellite phones (or even simple mobile phones), it would have been simple for them to get information about the goings-on from their associates watching on television. Typically a media blackout with a perimeter cordon should have been in place (with one person being the overall spokesperson for the various Government agencies, to avoid confusion). News now available seems to indicate that they used this mechanism, and used satellite phones for this purpose and normal cell phones that they took from hostages. Why are there no jammers (I am not real technical on this, but it seems logical) employed at such times ?
- There are negative reports already on the level of communication between different intelligence agencies and the armed forces, with finger-pointing and blame-evading happening at a high speed. After the Kargil War, one of the major recommendations of the post-war report was that intelligence sharing was flawed, and needs much better coordination.
- Reports from Maharashtra state that the state of police training and equipment is abysmal. They don't have modern weapons, no training, no firing range to practise, so it is hard to believe that even when motivated, they would be able to take a stand against Ak-47 armed dedicated and well trained terrorists.
So what is the way ahead ? This act of terrorism has exposed the inability of the country to have a unified security mechanism that can effectively handle such incidents. You cannot prevent terrorism, but the problem in this case is that the lack of security (and consciousness regarding security) is such that terrorists in this case felt that they could easily commit all these tasks, and even go away. There is a lot of skepticism about whether, besides changing some people, there will be any action taken. The fight against terror, as seen by policies of the US, Britain, etc, can be messy, and needs to happen on a continuous basis.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:57 AM