Institutional responses utterly inadequate
Once again, an astonishing and lethal
terrorist attack in Mumbai has underlined the enveloping vulnerabilities
of the Indian state. The nation has witnessed India’s security apparatus
in action over a counter-terrorism operation that has been carried out
in full view of the electronic media for well over 60 hours.
Despite tremendous courage, exemplary
leadership and unqualified dedication of the security forces involved,
the sad truth is that the institutional responses have proven utterly
inadequate. The first to reach the incident locations were, of course,
the local police, including members and leaders of Maharashtra’s Anti-terrorism
Squad (ATS) and it was abundantly clear that this was no more than a
small handful of ill-equipped, ill-protected and poorly armed men, driven
only by their extraordinary sense of duty to fight an enemy who vastly
better prepared and equipped.
It is clear that these men had been
given little or nothing by the state to confront the challenge of terrorism,
but that they gave everything they had – including their lives – to
protect this dysfunctional state and its hapless citizens.
As for the National Security Guard (NSG)
– once again, their courage, and in this case even their training and
equipment, cannot be faulted – their structural failures neutralized
any possibility of their being able to prevent the fullest potential
of the terrorists from being realized.
The stupidity, no less, of having the
NSG located at its headquarters at Manesar in Harayana, has once again
been demonstrated. After the Centre took well over three hours after
the commencement of the terrorist attack to arrive at the decision to
deploy 200 NSG commandos in the operations in Mumbai, it took these
men another four hours to reach the incident location – driving to the
Airport at Delhi, being flown to Mumbai, and then being transported
by bus to the sites.
Thereafter, they were ordered to enter
the major locations virtually blind, without any maps of the hotels
or of the areas in which they were required to operate. Inevitably,
their responses have been improvised and invented, virtually from moment
to moment and from location to location. Some foreign observers have
already described the operations as ‘poorly planned’ and their can be
no gainsaying this assessment.
It is abundantly clear that the most
basic of response protocols have not yet been established in India for
counter-terrorism (CT) operations, despite decades of deadly terrorism
in the country. Nor, indeed, have sufficient
capacities of response been created.
Crucially, it is at the level of the
‘first responders’ that these capacities are most necessary. It is only
in the first few minutes of a terrorist attack that its potential can
be neutralised – consequently, the first forces to arrive at the incident
site have to be fully equipped, trained and capable of response. If
terrorist have time – in this case, hours – to commit mayhem, to take
hostages and to entrench themselves in the target locations, before
effective security force operations commence, they are obviously going
to be able to inflict maximal damage, and will only be neutralised at
great cost in lives and materials.
It is clear that CT capacities, consequently,
must be located at the level of the thana, the primary node of response
to any major crime. Unless police capacities at this level are sufficient
augmented, our CT responses will remain inadequate. The problem, however,
is that no political party in this country – at the Centre or in the
States – wants a professional and efficient police force. Till this
changes, India’s citizens will continue to be subjected to assault after
bloody assault, with near impunity, by Pakistan backed Islamist terrorists.
(Published in Economic Times,
New Delhi, November 30, 2008)