Systemic ineptitude led to the Mumbai terror strikes. The weapons of the war we need to wage.
There is only one decisive victory: the last —Karl von Clausewitz
As long as India exists as a nation, the terrorists have won nothing. But as long as we continue to delude ourselves to their true purpose, we are hastening our own end. The men who attacked Mumbai did not come merely looking to kill, or to garner the publicity they undoubtedly obtained. They came here to strike against an idea.
On November 27, a man with a Punjabi accent rang up a tv channel from a number traced to Nariman House. He identified himself as Imran Babar. Objecting to Israeli presence on Indian soil, he said, “This is a matter between us and Hindus… the Hindu government.’’ The reduction of a complex reality to this simplicity was the terrorist’s aim. This is the India the terrorists want, reduced to the same simplicity that drives them.
But India is an idea that includes not just Hindus but also the very Jews who were targeted. It includes Muslims and Sikhs, Dalits and Brahmins, the rss, the Akali Dal and the Muslim League. And every aspect of this diversity was targeted when Mumbai was hit.
Unfortunately, this very diversity makes it difficult to come up with a comprehensive response to the terror. But the same terrorists who sought to attack this diversity may have given us a reason for unity. As never before, we are all agreed that we need to fight back. But this agreement must translate itself into effective action. We need the decisive victory, the last. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat —Sun Tzu
We need to be forewarned. In case of the Mumbai attacks, various agencies had enough leads to preempt the attacks, but none were passed on to the State in a comprehensive manner. Though the decisions to ensure this were taken seven years earlier, they were never implemented. The blame lies with the entire political class, from the Congress to the bjp.
After the Kargil fiasco, a panel led by former raw chief Girish Saxena, including National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, called for a systemic reform of human-intelligence gathering. According to the Institute of Conflict Management, the Intelligence Bureau’s field strength is under 3,500, with many focussing on political parties. The panel advised increasing it by 3,000. The government accepted this in 2001. Seven years on, only 1,400 posts have been added.
The committee also called for an upgrade in technical, imaging, signal, electronic counter-intelligence and economic intelligence capabilities. A multi-agency centre was prescribed to collate and analyse data—in effect, a national intelligence database. The idea never took off because the finance ministry turned down a demand for trained computer personnel!
The proposed joint task force on intelligence, meant to coordinate with state intelligence departments, envisaged five training institutes across the country. The finance ministry turned this down too.
Consider what could have been prevented. In March 2007, J&K police caught two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants who claimed they had paid huge bribes to reach Mumbai after their private boat was intercepted by the coast guard (See ‘Why the Coast was Clear’). This was still not enough for us to shore up coastal security. Therefore, he who wishes peace, should prepare war; he who desires victory, should carefully train his soldiers; he who wants favourable results, should fight relying on skill, not on chance —Publius Falvius Vegtius Renatus
What was true of the Rome of 390 ad still remains true. The best intelligence will not prevent all attacks. We need to have the ability to resist an attack. We clearly do not.
The PM has already cleared an investment in special squads. The nsg reached Mumbai nine hours after the attacks began. This is not the first time there’s been a delay. When IC-814 was hijacked, the plane left Amritsar airport even before the nsg took off from Delhi. With better aircraft and regional units equipped with helicopters, response time can easily be cut down.
Even so, the first line of defence will always be the police. We have just 126 policemen per 100,000 of our population, as compared to over 250 in the U.S. and the U.K. And they are paid next to nothing. The monthly salary of a majority of the 16 policemen who died combating the terrorists could not have bought them a meal at the hotels they died defending. Worse, apart from the three officers killed, we still cannot put a face to the other policemen who died.
The Sixth Pay Commission recommended a hike of between Rs 150 to Rs 310 in a constable’s pay, allowing him to earn Rs 3,200 to Rs 4,900 a month. If he is feeds a family of five on Rs 5,000 a month, the amount per member of the family comes to Rs 33 a day, substantially less than the World Bank’s poverty limit of Rs 50 a day. And we expect him to be ready to lay down his life.
Most policemen carry no weapons. Those who do mostly wield a lathi or a .303 rifle. According to Ajai Sahni, Director of the Institute of Conflict Management, the average policeman fires just ten rounds of ammunition during the course of his entire training. Even the Mumbai anti-terror squad that first rushed to combat the terrorists were armed with just pistols. Many were not even wearing bullet-proof vests.
We need to prioritise. A tough terror law is no preventive. The Federal Investigative Agency touted by the PM comes into action after a terrorist strike—this is exactly what we seek to prevent or contain. Policemen do not need more powers. What they need is better training and equipment. And the support of special units tailored to the task. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, every city or house divided against itself shall not stand —The Bible
In the wake of the attack, we have had the strange spectacle of our PM giving the cold shoulder to Narayanan. Our weakness starts from the top. The PM was running the country with a home minister and an NSA not of his choice. The confusion runs through the entire intelligence apparatus. Shivraj Patil’s removal is just the first step. What is required is a radical change in command. This government may have only a few months to go, but we do not have time to spare. The Congress must realise that it is as culpable in our weaknesses.
It does not seem much to ask for: reforms in the intelligence apparatus that have already been approved, special counter-terrorism units, a better trained and better equipped police force and political unity in the face of a national crisis. For, make no mistake this is what it is. Once war has been undertaken, no peace is made by pretending there is no war —Mahabharata
Hartosh Singh Bal turned from the difficulty of doing mathematics to the ease of writing on politics. Unlike mathematics all this requires is being less wrong than most others who dwell on the subject.