26/11: Five years of delays

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 26, 2013 02:04 hrs

Five years after the traumatic attack on Mumbai by heavily armed terrorist squads in November 2008, a lot has changed - but too much has remained the same.

As a recent book on the attacks written by two foreign journalists, The Siege, pointed out - and as was reported in the media extensively at the time - a series of structural deficiencies in India's security architecture was part of the reason that 26/11 could happen.

Here is a partial list:

Security regulations in Mumbai were not fully enforced in several of the targeted landmarks, even after credible threats were received.

The Mumbai police force was outgunned and poorly armoured.

The under-resourced coast guard's patrols and surveillance did not pick up the boat bringing the terrorists in to Mumbai.

The Pakistani-American spy David Headley, suspected of being part of the planning process, came and went from Mumbai eight times, apparently taking detailed notes of possible targets, without setting off any red flags.

The writers of The Siege claim the planners received information from an agent within the Indian security establishment.

The National Security Guard was based in Delhi, and even though they were ready to fly to Mumbai 45 minutes after the news of the attacks came, there was no plane to take them there.

Media reporting, aided and abetted by headline-hungry leaks from some in the security establishment, revealed specific details of the counter-terrorist operations in progress to the terrorists' minders.

Some of these have now been addressed, but not enough.

It is certainly true that much effort has been put into designing a nationwide intelligence architecture that will help prevent crucial data about possible attacks from falling through the cracks in the system. The National Intelligence Grid and the National Counter Terrorism Centre are two parts of this architecture.

Unfortunately, thanks to the political gridlock of the past few years, and the Centre's failure to take state's concerns about federal powers into account, these have not come into being fully.

But here, at least, there is some sense of a timeline, and some notable progress has been made. The coast guard has tried to update its surveillance, and there are reports that its human intelligence sources - India's ubiquitous fishing boats - have been given walkie-talkies and been told to say something if they notice something.

More radar units are also expected. But the final responsibility for securing the last nautical mile of coast belongs to state governments, and there holes continue to be a problem. The dysfunction of states exists also in their inability to provide for enough heavily armed and armoured counter-assault teams.

Some metropolitan cities now have, according to former home secretary G K Pillai, a platoon of 36 policemen with submachine guns and armour. It is far from certain this will be enough, or if readiness is being maintained.

The post-26/11 effort to repair the security structure is, thus, still a work in progress. But, sadly, the root problem remains unchanged: the military-intelligence-militant nexus in Pakistan that may have wished to provoke India into war through 26/11 remains in place.

Hafiz Saeed, accused of planning the attacks, addresses vast rallies in Pakistan, and consistently pushes the politics of Pakistan's mainstream parties to the right. It is difficult to dismantle the support structure for men like Hafiz Saeed without reducing the role of the Pakistani army in that country's society.

India should have worked harder, whatever the provocation, to strengthen the civilian, anti-Islamist section of Pakistan's establishment.

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