26/11 attacks: What have we learnt

26/11 attacks established before the world, India’s oft-repeated claims that it has for long been the worst victim of Pak-sponsored terrorism.

Ritesh K Srivastava

On the first anniversary of Mumbai terror attacks, as I traverse back through memory lanes, many gory visuals of the burning Hotel Taj with thick clouds of billowing smoke and blood-stained bodies of victims come alive in my head.

Last year’s terror attacks in the country’s economic capital were not just another terror-related incident that took place on a particular day. After 9/11 attacks in the US, the bloodshed in Mumbai actually compelled the world to sit up and take notice. India, which has not been particularly fast in going after nefarious elements, has had to devise strategies to uproot terrorism, which poses the biggest threat to humanity and peace.

It also established before the world, India’s oft-repeated claims that it has for long been the worst victim of Pakistan sponsored extremism.

The incident had a much larger impact on the minds of billions of Indians, who rightfully thought that it was time that the country stepped up its defence & intelligence mechanism to dismantle terror networks in the country.

An ordinary Indian probably thought that the country must give a tit-for-tat reply to those responsible for Mumbai carnage. The government was expected to take up measures so that no one suffers as a consequence of a misguided jihad and no one is allowed to test our tolerance.

Responding to people’s sentiments, the government then pledged to put behind bars the perpetrators of the heinous crime and a comprehensive revamp of the country`s defence mechanism, coastal security, intelligence and surveillance architecture was promised.
The government did change the Home Minister, spent millions on improving the security apparatus, by creating a National Investigation Agency, establishing commando hubs in various cities to increased Navy patrols and enhanced intelligence gathering, but the chances of another terrorist attack have still not diminished.

On the diplomatic front, New Delhi cut off ties with Islamabad and managed to expose and isolate it from the international community for not doing enough to contain terrorism emanating from its soil.

Over the past one year, Pakistan’s security situation has deteriorated rapidly and various non-state actors have succeeded in hitting important Pakistani establishment targets including its Army; and spreading havoc by killing innocent people.

Pakistan’s ability to rein in the extreme-Islamist outfits is itself under question, as Islamists have regrouped and unleashed a fresh wave of attacks in various parts of the neighbouring country.

We ought to have taken several tough lessons from the Mumbai bloodshed, but it seems, we have once again failed to learn from our past mistakes. One year after the deadly terror attacks, the questions which still loom large are – Is India prepared to successfully avert another 26/11 type attack in future? Have we learnt from our past mistakes? Have we succeeded in putting more international pressure on Pakistan and getting the real culprits punished for their cowardly acts? Or whether India needs to be more aggressive on foreign policy and adopt Israel-like retaliation techniques while dealing with militancy?
All this assumes significance when the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram himself concedes that the prospects of terrorist attacks have not diminished and India still remains vulnerable to terror strikes.

Political posturing and the blame game still rages between India and Pakistan, and the consequent investigations and trials have not yielded any results.

Islamabad, though partially agreeing that Mumbai attackers were from Pakistan, has time and again rejected as many as six dossiers provided by New Delhi consisting of concrete evidence about the involvement of Pakistani nationals in the 26/11 attacks.

At this juncture, it would be inappropriate to blame the ruling UPA government for not handling the terror attacks adequately as it had indeed taken several measures aimed at improving the security apparatus and intelligence gathering, and its sharing among various agencies.

Although our capacity to deal with a terrorist threat has certainly increased, as we are now capable of giving a "swift and decisive" response to any new attack, there still remain some loopholes which needed to be plugged in soon.

For example, in a dramatic turn of events, the Pakistani authorities arrested, freed and virtually put under house arrest Lashakar-e-Toiba(LeT) founder and the alleged mastermind of 26/11 attacks Hafiz Saeed for the want of evidence.

Changing political situation in Pakistan and the inability of its law enforcement agencies, combined with ISI’s hate-India policy, has given rogue elements a free hand in planning more strikes in India.

What’s disappointing still is the US Senate’s approval to triple non-military aid to Pakistan, which could be diverted by Islamabad to support hostile operations against India. It needs be noted though that a condition included in the Kerry-Lugar bill puts the onus on Pakistan to ensure that the country stops radical elements from launching terror attacks in the neighbourhood.

Apart from dealing with home-grown Islamist militants, Pakistan also needs to tackle cross-border infiltration.

The Centre also needs to give concrete shape to the country`s maritime and coastal security architecture. The static coastal radar chain network and comprehensive chain of AIS (automatic identification system) stations along the coast and island territories to dynamically locate and track vessels in and around Indian waters have still not been installed.

We also need to learn from the US and Indonesia, how they managed to prevent a second 9/11or terrorist bombings in Bali.

Apart from better intelligence gathering and sharing, a swift flow of processed information for apt decisions based on the geographical location, coupled with prompt action by nearest security agencies is needed to prevent terror attacks in India.

Considering the "fragile internal security scenario", we need new centres to facilitate rapid action across the country, and better coordination among intelligence agencies and security forces, if we are truly serious about dealing with the menace of terrorism.

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