Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mumbai attack - the flip side

The carnage in Mumbai on 26th November 2008 caused senseless loss of scores of lives and damage of millions to public and private property. In its flip side, however, it triggered certain positivities, which if sustained and taken to their logical conclusion, could make India strong and capable of facing such eventualities in future with strength and fortitude. Signs of some of these positivities became evident as the stunned nation gradually recovered from the traumatic event.

The attack exposed the inadequacies of the internal security establishments, including those of the Mumbai Police. Devoid of appropriate weapons and training in countering terror the policemen became mere fodder for the terrorists’ Kalashnikovs. Despite some extraordinary instances of bravery, many, including police officers, stood no chance and were shot down. As the event unfolded over the 24-hour news channels, the saga of failure of the central and state establishments acquired classic proportions. The inaction of the state authorities, the Navy and the Coast Guard in the face of specific intelligence inputs, the avoidable deaths of the police personnel, delay in getting the National Security Guards (NSG) into the act for want of a dedicated aircraft when all the while death and destruction was being caused by the fidayeens, all incensed the stunned people.

Tempers running high, the generally apathetic people’s ire was directed first against the perpetrators of the heinous attacks and then, justifiably, at the political class. Mumbai has, over the years, suffered a series of bomb attacks in which numerous innocents were either killed, maimed for life or severely wounded and traumatised. And yet it was business-as-usual for the “establishment” – relaxed, lackadaisical and apathetic to peoples’ concerns and their safety. While the politicians had appropriated for themselves the cream of the security establishments – the well-trained and well-armed NSG – common people were left exposed and unprotected with a police force inadequate in their numbers and equipped with lathies (staffs) or with the antique 303 rifles.

Aroused passions led to candlelight vigils, mourning the avoidable loss of lives. Massive rallies held in urban India expressed solidarity with the distressed in Mumbai, asking for the heads of those who were at the helm. In their resentment people came together like never before. Religious divides disappeared, as did the differences of class and caste. From all walks of life, they, together, demanded security for their life and property.

Sensing the charged atmosphere, the chastened political class showed, in the ensuing Parliament session, a rare sense of responsibility. Deciding to shun their unruly behaviour causing frequent interruptions of the House proceedings, they – the government and the Opposition – showed unity of purpose seldom seen before. The usual mutual acrimony was, by and large, avoided and the members settled down to the sombre business of adopting measures to secure the country from similar attacks and enabling it to effectively counter them in the future.

Arming itself legally by enacting tougher amendments to the existing Unlawful Activities Prevention Act – a watered down version of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which it had earlier repealed in pursuit of minority votes – the ruling combine pushed through creation of a Federal Investigative Agency. The new Home Minister, who replaced his axed effete predecessor, set about the onerous task of revamping the internal security establishments. Striving to achieve better coordination and sharing of information among the various intelligence outfits at the Centre and in the states, he initiated steps to reinforce the elite NSG, de-centralise them and ensure their quicker deployment. The Navy and the Coastguard are also in for reinforcement and upgradation. The maritime borders are being brought under radar cover and the porous land frontiers are now going to be fenced.

Perhaps for the first time the inadequate numbers of our policemen and their want of preparedness became subjects of public discourse. Lack of leave and training-reserves and diversion of unduly large numbers for VIP security have rendered the force in every state overworked and ill-trained. Their archaic and obsolete arms –mostly ornamental –came in for scathing comments. The citizens of Mumbai were so outraged by the deaths of senior police officers because of their sub-standard bullet-proof vests that they raised funds for provision of proper protective gear for the city’s policemen. Many states now plan to fill the gaps in numbers and their weaponry.

Shaken out of its wits by “26/11” and the public anger that followed it the government, discarding its lethargy and general unconcern, has pulled up its socks and rolled up its sleeves. While some plan or the other is being announced everyday to strengthen internal security, the rumblings of strikes at terrorist camps across the borders are becoming louder by the hour. One can only wish that need for invasive action is obviated. What, however, would be needed is sustaining the tempo of preparedness to preserve the security of the country with internal unity, economic and military muscle coupled with an unwavering political will.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mumbai attack: the way ahead

It took more than 60 hours to get over the mayhem caused by fidayeen attack in Mumbai on 26th November, popularly termed as India’s “9/11”. Nearly two hundred innocents lost their lives, two luxury hotels, including the iconic Taj Mahal Palace, identified by many as the very essence of India, have suffered such destruction that it will take billions of dollars to restore them.

The wanton killing and destruction, from all available evidences exported from Pakistan, the universally acknowledged “epicentre of terror”, had no credible cause. Yet none, including even the United States, has been able to stop the periodical carnage inflicted from there. Quite beyond its capability to stop them, India has to treat such attacks as something which it has to live with. The country had set much store by Pakistan’s democratically elected government. Predictably, however, it has drawn a blank. No help will ever be forthcoming from it as the formidable terror outfits in Pakistan are, virtually, integral to its polity. Even the US acknowledges them. CIA, reportedly, channellises funds to them through the ISI.

Hence, the talk of having a resolution passed by the Security Council against Pakistan for harbouring terror outfits along with their training camps is futile. The same would seem to be true of a proposal to bring collective pressure of the international community on Pakistan. Terror attacks on India are India’s problems. No country is going to come to its help. It is a jungle out there in the arena of international politics where everyone looks after one’s own interests. It is, therefore, the government and the people of the country who will have to rise as one man to forestall such attacks in the future.
The country has to put its act together, which, unfortunately, it has failed to do during the past sixty years. Its land borders continue to remain porous. The government has failed to seal them to make them impenetrable. The maritime security around the extensive coastline has gaping holes. Over the years the land and sea borders have been facilely breached and yet no lessons were learnt. In 1993 RDX was landed via the sea route as a prelude to the serial blasts in Mumbai. And, yet, in 2006 the investigative staff of an English language news channel, out to test the route the terrorists had taken in 1993, came across none of the checks and controls that were claimed to have been installed. In the pervasive indifference “26/11” was just waiting to happen.

Besides, percolating from the top, the endemic corruption has made the administration moth-eaten and listless. People in the government and its agencies suffer from a severe lack of commitment to the country and its interests. While the primary goal of politicians is capturing and retaining power, generally, to plunder public resources, the huge creaky and corrupt bureaucracy, collectively and individually, is committed to none but itself. Public institutions are politicised vitiating the entire administrative machinery. There is hardly any governance and the elaborate systems designed for delivery of public good have been oriented mostly to benefit the politicians, their lackeys and hangers-on. The anger that “26/11” has aroused among the people against the politicians is, therefore, nothing but welling up of their long-simmering discontent.

In such a situation the need is not of new institutions which the government is thinking of establishing. The country is already suffering from surfeit of them – mostly politicised and rendered ineffective. The need, apparently, is of giving a new direction to the existing ones and to make them functional for public good and not for the good of the politicians and political parties in power. The need is also of infusing into them a sense of purpose and commitment and of achieving among them an ambience of harmony with the singular objective of jointly making the country strong, secure and prosperous. It is needless to emphasise the imperative to develop economic and military muscles.
For all this to happen, however, the initiative has to come from the very top – the politicians at various levels, who are the rulers in our kind of democracy. Shunning political chicanery, corruption and nepotism, it is they who will have to be seen to be working for the country. Giving up the politics of “vote banks”, they will have to work up to the slogan of “Country first” that was so prominently visible during the recent American Presidential primaries. They will have to rework the approach to their job and devote themselves, as during the freedom struggle, to the good of the country and its people. With enemies lurking in the neighbourhood, they will have to inspire the security and other establishments as also the people to eternal vigilance against saboteurs within and marauders from abroad. Only then, perhaps, an impression will filter out that the country cannot be messed around with.