Hits & Misses post 26/11
Much water has flown at the shores of Mumbai in this one year. But the vital question remains – can we today successfully avert another 26/11?
Akrita Reyar It has been nearly a year since Mumbai was held under siege for three days, from the 26th of November 2008. Undoubtedly, 26/11, as it has come to be known, was the most daring and dreadful terror attack on India, and was in all its meaning what 9/11 was to the United States - an open challenge to the Indian entity and identity! Much water has flown at the shores of Mumbai in this one year. But the vital question remains – have we risen to the challenge. Can we today successfully avert another 26/11? The answer is both a yes and a no. The Positives first…. Going back ….our first success came in the form of a local police constable Tukaram Omble, who with just a baton in his hand, detained one of the terrorists Ajmal Kasab alive. This was an unprecedented success as, most often, terrorists, the most vital sources of information, are killed in operations. The government also finally woke up. First it changed the Home Minister and brought in the dynamic P Chidambaram and then gave him an absolute free hand to ‘fix it’. The new Home Minister, to his credit, has been very quick off his feet. He at once realized that more resources, proper utilization of current workforce and better co-ordination of information were keys to a better security carapace. Among what has been done is clear from the foiling of the Headley-Rana plot. Obviously the credit for this, to a large extent, goes to the FBI of the US. But the follow up has been remarkable. Indian authorities have been quick to unravel the several layers of the conspiracy, as well as gather the several loose strings in terms of both people and contacts, some even pointing directly to the Pakistan High Commission. There have been other successes, though not so well-publicized, as well. According to reports, 13 terror plots have been foiled and neutralized in this one year. This gives a clear idea as to the extent and lethality of the danger that is faced by us. So what have been these ‘fix it’ solutions… First, the National Investigation Agency has been created and Unlawful Activities Act strengthened. The NIA is the nodal around which all agencies have begun working, specifically in terror related cases. Second, and perhaps the most important has been the improved information sharing between intelligence agencies at the HQ level. Chidambaram has put a daily joint meeting with intelligence chiefs as a mandatory fixture in his schedule. There is also a better middle-level contact between spy units, so that a lead gathered by one is followed by another. “Real time links have been established between the Multi-Agency Centre (in Delhi), the SMACs (State Multi-Agency Centres) and the intelligence bureaus of the state police forces to improve connectivity for intelligence sharing,” according to P Chidambaram. Third, the government is attempting to build “capacity, competence and confidence” of the police forces. New inputs have been added to training for counter terror operations and guirella warfare to tackle Naxals. The Centre has also granted Rs 30 crore for improvement of police infrastructure. Fourth, there are newspaper reports about how Chidamabarm does not allow a file to sit on his desk for more than two days. He has also restructured the method for awarding good work by easing the promotion system, especially in intelligence organisations. Fifth, Chidambaram has his ear to the ground. Each month he also holds a meeting with any one organization reporting to the Home Ministry and twice a month he visits various states and UTs to gather direct feedback from them. Sixth, more money has been pumped in for security. The budget allocation has gone up from Rs 24000 crore to Rs 36000 crore. Seventh, four new NSG hubs, manned by 241 commandos each, have been set up. The drawback of having to move Black Cats from Delhi and thus losing precious time has been resolved. In a recent interview the NSG Chief NPS Aulakh appeared confident about responding at any major location India within a time frame of just 30 minutes, a far cry from the time of the Mumbai siege, when critical hours were lost in just arranging a transport aircraft! Eighth, security models of US, Britain, Germany and Israel are also being studied. An agreement has been reached with Germany wherein our NSG commandos will be trained by the elite GSG 9. There is also close interaction and information exchange with these countries. Ninth, border roads are better guarded and more telecommunication towers are to be set up in these areas. Coastline security is being revamped and at least 70 additional high speed boats have been deployed. There is also better coordination between Coast Guard and the Navy. Tenth, on the diplomatic front too, India has successfully exposed Pakistan to be a terror hub responsible for the Mumbai attacks. Last, but not the least, Home Minister Chidambaram has begun a monthly exercise of holding a press conference for better communication with the media and the people. This has undoubtedly lent a greater sense of reassurance among the masses, about the way they feel about the security system. What remains to be done… Despite all these measures, there are still some chinks in our security armour, a fact which even Chidambaram admits to. First, while most Indians feel that there have been no terror strikes since November last year, what we forget is that there were blasts in Assam, which also took a major toll. Something evanescing from our memory does not mean its absence. Second, it is unfortunate other pressing issues have come up. Organisations like the ULFA and the treacherous Naxals are both consuming our energy and resources, while diverting our attention from terrorism, which should have been our focal point. Third, other areas that remain unattended are the tardy police forces, which don’t even have basic guns leave alone automated weaponry, which they have to face in case of a terror attack. They also require some serious professional training to deal with terror situations besides the basic maintenance of general law and order. Fourth, police forces and security agencies are also handicapped due of outdated infrastructure. We are unable to acquire sophisticated weapons, new vehicles and other equipment, as procurement is terribly slow and continues to be tied down in red tape. Fifth, we are still woefully short of foot soldiers for information gathering with huge number of vacancies in intelligence agencies unfilled. It has been proven without doubt that human intelligence gathering is the most successful mode of getting sensitive information and while technology does aid the process, it is really no replacement. Sixth, despite all his merit, Chidamabaram has been unable to bring about a change in the political culture, wherein Netas would willingly give up their excessive security staff for the nation. So, a lot of security personnel is not effectively utilized. Seventh, our borders are still very porous and a very very large illegal immigrant population, especially from Bangladesh, poses a grave security threat. Eight, our coasts remain highly exposed to risk. The late detection of the North Koran ship carrying sugar and more recently a French vessel roaming in Indian waters, are two such examples of what is possible, incase these were not just innocuous ships, but terrorist vehicles. A 7600 km border is a huge asset, but an equally big challenge. Ninth, is the unchecked threat to our economy through the flood of fake currency in circulation. Moreover, individual banks need to improve their check systems and be alert about transactions that are out of the routine and raise suspicions. For example, there are allegations that a front for Madhu Koda made a deposit of over Rs 640 crore in Union Bank of India in Mumbai, and this went unnoticed despite clear RBI guidelines to cross-check such an enormous deal. Tenth, our policy for visa dispensation needs to be made fool-proof. The notorious Tawwahur Rana, a Pakistan born Canadian was granted permission to visit India with no background check, even though this is supposed to be a mandatory practice related with all people of Pakistan origin. Instead the Chicago Council General gave him a visa from his ‘discretionary quota’!! Last but not the least, in dealing with Pakistan, we have been able to make very little headway in getting concrete leads and arresting rogue elements. The Most Wanted list in India continues to find safe haven in our neighbour’s territory, whether it is Dawood Ibrahim or the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed. And despite the seven dossiers of evidence we have handed to them related to 26/11, Pakistan has been of little help. Pakistan, thus, remains a problem that refuses to go.