SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The Uneducable Indian
A long derided Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil has been forced out; Maharashtra State Home Minister, R.R. Patil has succumbed to public and media pressure and resigned after a crass comment that "such things keep happening in big cities"; the Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, is tottering on the verge of resignation after engaging in some heedless ‘disaster tourism’ at the devastated Taj Mahal Hotel; other heads are poised to roll. Has the latest Mumbai carnage pushed India beyond the ‘tipping point’ in its responses to terrorism? Is it now possible to expect a radical break with past patterns, where each major incident has been followed – to borrow a phrase applied to the Left parties during the nuclear debate, but which accurately describes the entire political class in this country – by some "running around like headless chickens", to lapse quickly into a habitual torpor? And can India’s polarized and unprincipled political parties come to a consensual understanding and strategy on counter-terrorism, instead of subordinating the national interest to partisan electoral calculations and the politics of ‘vote banks’?
Regrettably, there are already too many signs that it is going to be ‘business as usual’ in India.
At the height of the confrontation in Mumbai, L.K. Advani, the Leader of the Opposition and the man projected as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate in the coming elections next year, kindled a spark of hope, calling for an all-party consensus on counter-terrorism, and declaring, "at this juncture, the country needs to fight the terrorist menace resolutely and stand together". However, even before the fighting had ended, partisan political sniping had commenced on the round-the-clock television coverage and debates, and this has escalated to a point of viciousness even while the debris of the attacks is being cleared out. Crucially, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened an all-party meeting at Delhi on December 1, 2008, Advani and BJP President, Rajnath Singh, chose to absent themselves, though V.K. Malhotra, Deputy Leader of the BJP Parliamentary Party, did attend.
Governmental responses, moreover, show little sign of coming to terms with the enormity of the issue. The Prime Minister has chosen to emphasise amendments to the prevailing laws on terrorism – currently a set of toothless provisions inserted in 2005 into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 – and the mirage of a Federal Investigation Agency that is intended to make all terrorism in the country miraculously vanish, simply because it pretends to imitate the American Federal Bureau of Investigation in nomenclature and intent. Neither of these initiatives, however, has any potential whatsoever to contain the rampage of terrorism across a country that remains pitifully under-policed, with a paper thin intelligence cover concentrated in a few urban centres and strategic locations. There has also been a reiteration of assurances that ‘maritime security’ will be beefed up, with more power and resources to the Coast Guard and Coastal Police Stations, and better coordination between these Forces, and with the Navy. But this is all tired old stuff and has been articulated ad nauseum, since 2001, with little evidence of change in capacities on the ground. Indeed, the critical capacities – those for policing – are actually undergoing continuing erosion, with the latest National Crime Records Bureau Report indicating that the police – population ratio for the country at large actually declined from an abysmal 126/100,000 in 2006 to 125/100,000 in 2007.
Of course, a few random sanctions for augmentation of capacities have been announced in the wake of past attacks – including the sanction of 6,000 additional personnel for the Intelligence Bureau (IB), immediately after the serial blasts in Delhi on September 13, 2008. Given the country’s turgid and obstructive bureaucracy, however, there are no signs of these sanctions resulting in an augmentation of capacities on the ground any time soon. The very idea of responding on a war footing, cutting through red tape and existing institutional limitations, does not appear to exist in any aspect of the country’s counter-terrorism responses.
And then, of course, there is a question of response to the very obvious role of Pakistan – and this is a palpable dead end. Even preliminary investigations have thrown up overwhelming evidence that every string of control in the multiple terrorist strikes in Mumbai leads back to Pakistan and to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) – an organization that, under its new identity as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa continues to enjoy direct state support in Pakistan. In a rare outburst, Prime Minister Singh warned unnamed "neighbours" that "the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them." His Government is now reportedly "under pressure" to act against Pakistan, and a range of hair-brained responses are doing the rounds in official circles, including massive troop mobilization along the border, mimicking the purposeless massing of troops under Operation Parakram, launched on December 16, 2001, after the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament. 680 soldiers were killed, without a single shot being fired, by the time Operation Parakram was, inexplicably, called off on October 16, 2002, with the unsupported claim that its undefined "objectives" had been achieved. If this worthless and counter-productive exercise is the model to be replicated in the present case, it would be no less than tragic. If, on the other hand, it is not, then there is little capacity – at this juncture – to design effective alternatives, in the foreseeable future, to impose any "cost" on Pakistan, and such capacities can only be constructed, gradually and systematically, over time, and with a clear strategy in mind – and there is little evidence of the latter at this juncture.
Indeed, the overwhelming focus of the Indian response to Pakistan’s role – either as the source of these attacks, or more direct involvement of the state’s agencies in engineering or facilitating them – appears to be concentrated on diplomatic efforts to bring international pressure to bear on Pakistan. This has been an apparently successful initiative, with world leaders coming out with some of the most unambiguous condemnations of the incident and commitments to support India’s efforts to address the problem in all its dimensions. Crucially, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to arrive at Delhi on December 3, on a visit that many expect (or, more likely, hope) will produce more than just a very strong ‘message’ to Islamabad. While all this will certainly make the powers that be in Pakistan squirm a bit, there is little reason to believe that the dynamic that has protected them in past and even greater transgressions, both in the region and well beyond, will not, once again, reassert itself. The truth is, it is not just India that is powerless to impose any unbearable pain on the basket case that is Pakistan – the ‘international community’, particularly including USA – are no better positioned. It is useful to recall, here, that US intelligence agencies concurred with Afghan and Indian agencies, that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had engineered the terrorist bombing of the Indian Embassy on July 7, 2008, and there had been great expectations, at that juncture as well, that this would result in stronger action against Islamabad. Pakistan, however, has weathered many such storms and its diplomats and proxies are quick to range across the world peddling their theories of root causes and Muslim grievance to ever-willing audiences in the West and, indeed, even in victim countries such as India.
In the meanwhile, the attack in Mumbai has done what may well be irreparable damage to the "shining" image of the "emerging global power". The utter incapacity and incompetence of India’s security apparatus has been incontrovertibly demonstrated in what may be an audacious attack by as few as 10 terrorists (nine have been confirmed killed and one is currently in custody, singing like a canary). It is crucial, here, to notice the exemplary courage, exemplary leadership and exemplary dedication to duty, among those who responded from the security forces, who were given virtually nothing to fight with, and who still put everything they had into the fight, with many losing their lives. Their personal commitment and attainment notwithstanding, the reality of the institutional and structural responses is disgraceful. While a detailed analysis of the counter-terrorism (CT) operation must wait till far more information is available, a few aspects are already evident.
The most significant of these is the sheer tardiness and inadequacy of response. The first shots in the multiple attacks in Mumbai were fired at about 21:40 in the evening of November 26, and the incident was already on national television by 22:00 (all timings are approximate and based on available open source reportage). Local Police contingents – including the Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) headed by Hemant Karkare, who lost his life in the encounter – responded fairly quickly, but, lacking protective equipment, firepower and even the most rudimentary CT training, with tragic consequences, losing top line Police leaders in the very first engagements. After that, the world witnessed the most astonishing paralysis, as the locations of attack were loosely cordoned off by variously armed Police contingents, but no forces appeared equipped or willing to enter and engage for hours following. It was evident that even the most basic of response protocols had not been established, and the word repeatedly occurring in every live report in these long initial hours was "chaotic". As one commentator in the New York Times noted, "The grainy television imagery suggested not so much a terrorist attack as the shapeless, omnidirectional chaos of Iraq." Local contingents of the Army – arriving at about 02:50, more than five hours after the incident commenced – brought some semblance of order to the incident environments, but still did not enter the major sites of ongoing terrorist carnage. The first ‘special response team’ to arrive was a small group of Marine Commandos (Marcos), who actually sought engagement with the terrorists – but their own accounts suggest that they were not able to neutralize a singly terrorist before they were pulled out. Eventually, a 200-strong contingent of the ‘elite’ National Security Guard (NSG) was deployed at 08:05, in the morning of November 27, and this is the point at which the terrorists can seriously be considered to have been engaged. But the NSG went into the locations blind – with no maps of the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Oberoi-Trident complex initially available – and were extraordinarily tentative, unsure weather they were dealing with a hostage situation, and transfixed by their fear of inflicting civilian casualties – the reality eventually disclosed was that the massacres in the three principal sites, the two hotels and Nariman House, where a Jewish family was trapped, were over long before the NSG engaged. The result was a stand-off that lasted all of 62 hours.
There is also, of course, the long succession of intelligence warnings that were given to the State Government, and that were also passed on to the security establishments of the hotels under threat, but even the limited security measures that were implemented by both local Police and the hotel security apparatus were, as Praveen Swami notes, "lifted a week before the attacks, after businesses and residents complained of inconvenience." Swami, quotes an unnamed Police source, further, as stating, "We also removed additional security… because our manpower was stretched to the limit and the personnel we had did not, in any case, have the specially-trained personnel needed to avert a suicide-squad attack."
The Maharashtra State Government has tried to package this operation as a grand success, arguing that the terrorists had "come to kill 5,000 people" and to "blow up the Taj" (both pieces of unmitigated nonsense), and that, consequently, the eventual loss of life and damage to various structure, was not ‘as high as it could have been’. The reality, however, is that the multiple attacks – at 11 different locations – by a tiny contingent of terrorists, inflicting 195 fatalities (the figure is tentative, with numbers still rising, and pending official confirmation) and leaving over 300 injured, and virtually devastating two major locations (the Taj and the Oberoi-Trident), fully achieved their attainable potential and were complete successes from the point of view of their planners. They cannot, consequently, be thought of as anything but comprehensive failures from the point of view of India’s security establishment. Indeed, the Mumbai carnage shows every mark of a botched operation from the security point of view. If anything, security forces’ (SF) action appears to have trapped the terrorists in the locations, blocking off their avenues of planned escape – even as it gave them significant freedom of operation within them – instead of quickly neutralizing them, and protracting the carnage for an incredible 62 hours.
Despite the extraordinary courage and evident commitment of SF personnel and leaders, the reality is that there was a comprehensive structural failure in Mumbai. Any terrorist operation can only be contained, in terms of its potential, in the first few minutes. Which means that the "first responders" – invariably the local Police – have to be equipped, trained and capable of, if not neutralising, then, at least, containing the terrorists. If the first batches of Police personnel had arrived in sufficient strength at each of the locations of terrorist attack in Mumbai, with appropriate weaponry, communications, transport and other technological force multipliers (such as, for instance, night vision goggles and thermal imaging systems for the major standoffs in the Taj, Oberoi-Trident and Nariman House) and immediately engaged with the terrorists, they probably would have been able, in at least these three locations, to isolate the terrorists in small corners of the target structures and would have been able to minimise the loss of life, the material damage, and the operational time.
Many journalists ask the routine question after each of the increasingly frequent major terrorist strikes across India: why did this happen again? The more rational question, given India’s capacities for intelligence, enforcement and CT response, is: why does this not happen more often?
Imitative mantras, such as "strong laws" and "federal agency" will not diminish the threat of terrorism that confronts India. It is only the hard slog of building effective capacities – not incrementally, in terms of what we already have, but radically, in terms of what we need – on a war footing, that will help diminish the enveloping and, progressively, crippling, threat of terrorism confronting India. Only this can help the Government recover from the loss of public confidence and of international prestige that this devastating attack has inflicted on the nation. Regrettably, a national leadership – across party lines – that has repeatedly betrayed the national security interest for partisan political gains, does not demonstrate the necessary capacities for learning that can create defences within any time frame that could be immediately relevant to the trajectory of terrorism in the country.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
November 24-30, 2007
Home Minister Shivraj Patil quits owning moral responsibility for failure to prevent Mumbai attacks: The Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, resigned on November 30, 2008 owning moral responsibility for failure to prevent the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram was named as his replacement. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh entrusted Chidambaram with the responsibility of overhauling the country's internal security set-up in the wake of increasing terrorist attacks in the recent past. The Hindu, December 1, 2008.
195 persons killed in multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai: 166 civilians, including at least 22 foreigners, 20 security force (SF) personnel and nine terrorists were killed and more than 300 persons sustained injuries in multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai which began on November 26-night and concluded on November 29-morning. Among the slain SF personnel were chief of the Anti Terrorist Squad, Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police (east Mumbai), Ashok Kamte, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a commando of the National Security Guards (NSG), NSG commando Gajendra Singh and Police Inspector of the Anti Extortion Cell in Mumbai Police, Vijay Salaskar.
The terrorists, who apparently came in by boats, struck at 10 places in south Mumbai including five-star hotels, hospitals and railway stations. Among the locations attacked were: Oberoi-Trident Hotel, Taj Mahal Hotel, Nariman House, Vile Parle, Cama hospital, GT hospital, VT station, Leopold Cafe, Girgaum and Metro cinema. Out of ten terrorists holed up in the three buildings – Taj Mahal Hotel, Oberoi-Trident hotel and Nariman House - nine of them were killed while the other, identified as Ajmal Amir Kamal, a Pakistani national from Faridkot in Punjab province, is under arrest. Ajmal has confessed that the group was trained in marine warfare along with the special course Daura-e-Shifa conducted by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). According to him, on their way from Karachi they killed five fishermen and forcefully captured the trawler Kuber. After reaching Mumbai coast, they split up into five batches. Two of them, Abu Akasha Ismailand Ajmal, took a taxi to Victoria Terminus. Three other batches of two each headed for Oberoi Hotel, Cafe Leopold and Nariman House. The remaining went to Taj Mahal Hotel.
An unknown outfit, Deccan Mujahideen, sent an email to news organizations claiming that it carried out the Mumbai attacks. Forensic experts have determined that an e-mail claim of responsibility for November 26 Mumbai terror attacks issued by the unknown terror group Deccan Mujahideen was first generated on a computer located in Pakistan. Based on studies of the internet protocol addresses used to send the mail, computer specialists at India's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing found that the Russia-based e-mail address account was opened by a computer user based in Pakistan. On November 28, India's foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said in New Delhi that initial evidence indicated the terrorists had links with Pakistan. "Preliminary evidence, prima facie evidence, indicates elements with links to Pakistan are involved," Mukherjee told a news conference. Times of India; Indian Express; NDTV; Hindustan Times; Rediff; The Hindu, November 27-30, 2008.
97 persons killed in NWFP: At least 97 persons were killed in separate incidents in the NWFP during the week. Three security force (SF) personnel and eight militants were killed and 17 SF personnel sustained injuries in a gun-battle which followed a Taliban attack on a police checkpoint on the Bannu-Miranshah road in Bannu district on late November 29-night. Police said the militants attacked the Baranpul checkpoint with rockets and mortars, killing three SF personnel and injuring 17 others. Bannu District Police Officer Mohammad Alam Khan Shinwari said the Taliban escaped with the bodies of seven militants, leaving one body behind. Further, three policemen were killed and five others were injured on November 30 when the Taliban militants fired rockets at a police vehicle near Lakki Marwat.
At least seven people, including a policeman, were killed and 16 others, including four policemen, sustained injuries when a suicide bomber targeted a police patrol vehicle in Bannu district on November 28. A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a police car patrolling the streets near Tarezi Chowk on the main Bannu-Kohat road. Separately, seven persons, including six of a family, were killed in incidents of violence in the Swat Valley on November 28. Earlier, six persons, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), were killed in separate incidents in Swat on November 27. DSP Abdul Wadud had come to see his family in Mingora where he was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Green Square.
Five persons, including three Taliban militants, were killed on November 26 in two separate clashes between the Taliban and police in Peshawar, capital of the NWFP. On November 25, three persons, including the deputy chief of the Matta sub-division, Liaqat Ali Khan, were killed in Swat Valley. Earlier on November 24, SFs claimed to have killed 25 hardcore militants during a military operation in the Michini area of Peshawar district. They also claimed arresting 40 militants and seizing a huge quantity of arms and ammunition. NWFP Inspector General of Police, Malik Naveed, said a police constable and two Frontier Constabulary personnel were also killed in the operation. In addition, 17 persons, including 15 militants, were killed in a military operation against the militants and fresh incidents of violence in Swat on November 24. SFs reportedly used helicopters and artillery to shell militant positions in various towns and villages of Swat. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, November 25-30, 2008.
45 persons killed during the week in FATA: Approximately 45 persons, including 32 militants, were killed in separate militancy-related incidents in the FATA. Security forces (SFs) claimed killing nine militants in artillery and air attacks on their hideouts in the Mamond tehsil (revenue division) of Bajaur Agency on November 30. A 40-year old woman was killed when artillery shells reportedly hit a civilian area. Air attacks were carried out in Kharkay, Damadola, Gatkai, Irab, Gat Agra, Tarkho and Kass areas. At least three people were killed in a missile attack by a suspected United States drone in the Chashma village of North Waziristan, local sources said on November 29. There was no immediate information about the identity of those killed. Meanwhile, two civilians were killed in a bomb blast in the Landikotal area on November 29.
Five militants were killed when a roadside explosion destroyed their vehicle in the Tiarza area of South Waziristan on November 27-evening. Locals claimed suspected militants belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Baitullah Mehsud were travelling in a vehicle when it hit a roadside landmine at Tiarza. Further, three militants were killed on November 28 when the SFs attacked militant hideouts with gunship helicopters in different areas of Bajaur Agency. Sources said SFs targeted hideouts in the Charmang, Chamarkand and Chinar areas of Nawagai and Momand sub-divisions. Five people were killed in a bomb blast in South Waziristan on November 27. Official sources said a jeep carrying seven people was blown up in the Khaisor area of Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan.
Helicopter gunships shelled various areas in the Safi tehsil in Mohmand Agency on November 26 killing two Taliban militants and a civilian and injuring 12 others. Elsewhere in FATA on the same day, two Taliban militants were killed and several injured in Bajaur Agency. At least six Taliban militants were killed on November 25 as the Pakistani Army moved in on their hideouts in the Bajaur Agency. "Pakistani artillery pounded Taliban hideouts and underground bunkers, killing six and injuring four others," local administration official Mohammad Jamil told AFP. Earlier on November 24, SFs targeted suspected hideouts of militants in different areas of Pandyalai tehsil in the Mohmand Agency with artillery killing five militants and injuring an equal number of them. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, November 25-30, 2008.
Political wing of ISI disbanded, confirms Prime Minister: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani confirmed late on November 26, 2008 his Government had disbanded the political wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the external intelligence service. Gilani's statement confirmed an announcement by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on November 23 that the ISI's political wing dealing with domestic politics had been disbanded. "The political wing of ISI has been closed," said a brief statement from Gilani's media office. It also said "The Prime Minister hoped that it would further improve the effectiveness of ISI as one of the premier institutions of the national security apparatus of the country." Dawn, November 27, 2008.
164 LTTE militants and 105 soldiers among 279 persons killed during the week: At least 164 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 105 soldiers and 10 civilians were killed in separate incidents between November 24 and November 30, 2008. 120 LTTE militants and 27 soldiers were killed during clashes between the two sides during two days of fighting starting since November 23. 70 soldiers were injured while a few others went missing. Troops captured Olumaduwai, a major LTTE base four kilometres northeast of Mankulam along the Mankulam-Mullaitivu (A-34) road in the Mullaitivu district on November 25. The Task Force-3 entered the Olumaduwai area on November 25-afternoon after a fierce battle that lasted several days, military sources said. An unspecified number of militants were killed in the operation. At least 75 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers were confirmed dead and more than 160 injured during fighting in the Kunchankulam area of Kilinochchi district, sources revealed on November 28, according to pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net. Several decomposed bodies of SLA soldiers were still lying within the no-man area. The SLA soldiers had manoeuvred deep into LTTE trap, according to the source, which said it was the first debacle of the SLA in the battle for Kilinochchi. The troops advancing in the northeast entered Otiyamale town located southwest of Tannimurippukulam in the Mullaitivu district on November 29-afternoon, the military said. An unspecified number of LTTE militants were killed and injured in the operation. During subsequent search operations, the troops recovered dead bodies of four militants and a cache of weapons. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, November 25-December 1, 2008.