Tuesday, December 02, 2008

In the Aftermath of the Mumbai Attacks

The mind-numbing carnage has finally ended. Heads have begun to roll. But little else has changed and how much the few things the government has promised actually mean is uncertain at best. It is by now a cliche to say that the great tragedy of our time remains the stupendous failure of the present government to take the threat to India's very existence seriously. Will anything change now following this so-called mumbai's 9/11? So far, the signs have not been very encouraging to say the least. As Jaitirth Rao mentioned in the Indian Express a couple of days ago, we all know in our hearts that this will not be the last of the attacks we face. Now that they have, by gaining global attention, spectacularly succeeded in their objectives, rest assured that there will be attempts to replicate them in myriad forms in mumbai and other cities in the country. None of them has anything more than the most rudimentary security infrastructure which means future carnages are likely to occur on a matching scale even if the number of foreigners killed is fewer.

In fairness, few modern day socities can completely preempt attacks of this sort especially after fully prepared terrorists have arrived at their doorstep. Many of us work not in fields but in institutions housed in concrete buildings - hospitals, schools, colleges, companies, hotels, shops, restaurants, theatres etc. - few of which have either the means or the ability to protect themselves from such fidayeen strikes. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to protect all of these places and in any case, neither the government nor civil society is even looking at this prospect let alone comprehend the humongous nature of such a task. That means we remain at the mercy of these organizations which remain fully at liberty to choose their targets and to kill at will living in the fond hope that they will not choose us simply for self-serving tactical or strategic reasons, i.e., the cost of preparation and attack is not justified by the impact that the panic and fear the expected publicity will generate.

As for internal security, the few measures the government has announced seem to be hardly measure up to our needs. The country needs both a short term and a long term plan with the former aimed at mitigating risk of future attacks and the latter aimed at formulating an more enduring solution to this problem. What we have instead seen is simply a patchwork of proposals whose efficacy is unclear. The coast guard and navy have been put on alert but since we do not know how the hijacked fishing trawler evaded detection in the first place, what exactly will have to change to prevent this is not known. Four NSG units stationed in different cities have been promised by the PM to ensure timely intervention. For one thing, India now has six major cities - not just four. So, are Bangalore and Hyderabad to be left to their own devices then? We do not know yet but I would not be surprised if that is the case. Secondly, this will take many months if not years to execute which means this will be of little help in the immediate future when given the current trend over the last year, additional attacks may be expected. Thirdly, one of the major criticisms has been the delayed arrival of the NSG at the scene of all the action because of difficulties in finding transportation. There is no word on whether anything if any will be done to fix this before the next attack.

Local police have not only been woefully inadequate in numbers but poorly equipped or trained to handle situations of this kind. At the railway station (VT/CST), they have been alleged to have run away from the scene when the shooting began. There has so far been no mention of what if anything is to be done to train these first responders to deal with a situation of this kind. As Ajay Sahni points out in Outlook today, they are the ones who can make a real difference to outcome by limiting the initial damage but there is no word of how their capabilities will be augmented in light of this threat. The Karnataka government has announced that it will set up a commando force of 30 people to respond to such an attack. If it took 200 NSG commandos three days for their operation, one is left to wonder what a small force of 30 can do in response to a multipoint attack of this kind.

As for going after those responsible for these attacks, there are few good options and the GoI will have to review the very same ones that the NDA government looked at in 2001 following the parliamentary attacks. Our own diplomacy is a joke and the latest demarche to hand over the 20 most wanted men suggests exactly that. The Pakistani government will surely not hand over those who are likely to expose the ISI's culpability in all the past attacks which means that absolutely nothing will come out of it (I cannot believe that the GoI even seriously expects this). India may score a few political points in the diplomatic world but it will effectively change nothing on the ground. The LeT will continue to go about its murderous business as usual with at best a few token arrests and detention of their top leadership for a few days till the storm abates. As Ajai Sahni again points out, Pakistan has weathered many a storm of this kind and there is absolutely no reason to think that the current round will be any different from the past ones.

The only other option to this utterly ineffective and useless line of action is war. Apart from the huge cost and the dangerous consequences of a war between two nuclear powers, the consequence might turn out to be a weakening of the civilian dispensation in Pakistan which is still finding its feet. But is our inaction going to strengthen the civilian leadership there? There is little reason to believe so. Is it not going to embolden the intelligence and military elements who aided and abetted this attack not to mention the LeT itself? Very likely. Needless to say, India's inability to impose any cost for these ever more provocative attacks is simply to invite more of them. However, war cannot be an immediate step. India would have to first complete the investigation and lay out the evidence all the while pursuing diplomacy. When the time comes, we would have built up international opinion sufficiently in our favor to justify the action we take.

Pranab Mukherjee appears to have already ruled out war which in effect is telling Pakistan that there will be no punishment for its inaction. This is not surprising given that he similarly counseled against war even in 2001 following the attack on parliament. But by boxing itself into such a position, the GoI has left itself with little wiggle room if the diplomatic offensive goes nowhere (as everyone expects).

There is some reason to think that this attack may have been orchestrated by those in the Pakistani agencies who are opposed to the ongoing war against the Taliban so as to divert attention and to end the effort which their government is half-heartedly pursuing under intense American pressure. This report shows how early efforts are being made at a rapproachment between the Army and the Taliban in the name of fighting the common enemy India. The GoI might be calculating that a military attack on Pakistan will be playing right into their hands. Even if that is so, the question is whether not playing into their hands entails any real benefit to us. The benefits of such restraint are clearly becoming less and less tangible as the cost mounts.

Despite the scale of these attacks and the affront to the Indian state (as The Hindu called it), India's day of reckoning has not arrived. That means more attacks, more killings and more destruction........all in the near future. Till our leadership accords security the primacy it presently requires and summons the courage to take daring and bold action, blood and gore will remain an integral part of front page reporting.And if not acted upon quickly, the very idea of India, as Chidambaram called it, will soon come to evoke ridicule and contempt, not pride.


reason said...

amazing that you close with the comments from such worthies as Chidambaram and Hindu, and also manage to say 'Till our leadership accords security the primacy it presently requires and summons the courage to take daring and bold action'

I must give it to you - you are funny.

Anonymous said...

Chindu carefully edited VS Achuthananthan's insensitive remarks and reported like a insignificant news. When media was following up with commies, all top brass were avoiding any reply stating that they were not aware of the details. Had same comment made by anyone who is even remotely connected with BJP, Chindu and LiC would be smashing BJP and would have even recommended to dismiss the entire government for this.

Anonymous said...

Well Chindu has commented that everything is in order as far as Kerala CM's comment goes. We will therefore turn the other side and start criticizing Sandeep's parents for being offensive with Cadre politicians

Anonymous said...

What comment did Achuthanandan make which caused such a furore and for which he has now apologized?

Anyone reading only Chindu would be wondering what the commotion is all about!

Shows whose 'Patti' LiC really is!

Dhiraj said...

What is this idiot trying to say??
He is more concerned about the imagined terrorism of hindu fundamentalists but blind to in your face dastardly acts of the islamic terrorists.
Outlook seems to surpass Chindu in defending terror attacks. Vinod Mehta is all over the TV asking us to keep restraint do nothing while we are bombed and shot.


Anonymous said...

Bengalis feel holier than thou with their twisted ideologies. along with the islamists, bengalis too should be taught a lesson. already they are ruining theor state with illegal immegrants . instead of trying to stop this menace, they want it to spread all ove the country

Pilid said...

Sorry all for my delayed response.

Reason, I think those quotes do make sense even though they come from Chidambaram and Hindu.

Anons, this Achuthanandan's remark was a storm in a teacup. He should have sent someone of higher rank to the funeral if he did not go himself but that remark of his was unnecessary. But I would not make too much of it beyond that.

Dhiraj, I too am amazed by the number of writers asking us to do nothing in light of these attacks. Why they are so anxious to keep our nation pacifist even in the midst of such an attack is beyond me.