A hundred 9/11s

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The nightmare has finally come to an end. 60 hours, almost 200 casualties, 500 odd injured, millions of dollars lost, a city wounded, a nation shaken and a world shocked. The terrorists are all dead, the drama on TV is over and Mumbai is limping back to normalcy. What caught my attention is how the media (both Indian and Intl) is dubbing this India's 9/11. But then India did have many more terrorist attacks, so why point this out as our 9/11. The international media can be forgiven for not taking note (or not giving as much importance) of these other acts of terrorism, but surely the Indian media should know better. The argument goes that while we had other acts of terrorism, only this one caught the imagination of the world for its barbarity, cold bloodedness and ingenuity. The response this time has been of even more anger, pain, accusations and demand for answers. But the fact is that each one of those acts of terror over the past 15 years (and more so over the course of 2008) hurt! The fact is that we had a hundred 9/11s. And we were hurt and angry for each one of those! And we demanded answers and action from the Govt for each one of those! But precious little was done or learnt from the terror strikes, apart from the fact that we learnt we are a weak state and a soft target.

The post-mortem has now begun for this 9/11, by the Govt, the opposition, the media and the people. Heads have rolled, the much reviled Shivraj Patil has finally resigned, and so did the chief of IB and the Home Secretary. Chidambaram is the new Home Minister and I am sure the other posts would be filled soon. As many would argue these are mere symbolic gestures and unless we see more systemic changes there is every chance that we will keep having these 9/11s. So what needs to be done? Where are the faults?

  1. First and foremost is to beef up our intelligence agencies. While we keep getting intelligence from time to time, it clearly is not enough and is not distributed well (more on that in the next point). But we need to bring up our intelligence agencies on par with the best of the world. We have the agencies (RAW, IB, police and naval intelligence etc), but it is clear that while the set up is present the capabilities are not up to the mark. If that means taking the help of the best in the world like CIA, Mossad, FSB (the successor of KGB in present day Russia). Its time we let reality take precedence over pride. And this is in no way demeaning our agencies, I am sure they try to do a stellar job, but everyone gets rusty from time to time. The other thing is that in the changing geo-political scenario India, US and Israel (and Russia to some extent) find themselves fighting similar enemies (if not the same). More so for Israel and US, they have ensured that they are capable of protecting their citizens on their own soil but they now realize that their citizens are soft targets outside their countries where they cannot do anything but watch. The enhancement of capabilities should be of both TECH INT (technical intelligence, like intercepts, at which India seems to be doing pretty good) and also HUM INT (human intelligence, at which we are supposed to be pretty weak).
  2. Enhancing capabilities is one thing, ensuring the available intelligence is passed on to the relevant agencies at the right time is another. For the Mumbai attacks, there seem to be two different but very authentic sources of intelligence (US and RAW) which warned of attacks by sea. But somehow this did not flow down to the relevant authorities in Mumbai, atleast that's the defence of those in charge. This is even worse than having no intelligence. Having no coordination after it has been gathered is almost a crime, especially after the millions spent to set up and support the infrastructure and when lives are at stake. What India needs is a central organization that analyses and disseminates information across the country, to the states, to the relevant departments, ministries etc. This organization need not necessarily gather intelligence, as we already have the agencies for that.
  3. The National Security Guards (NSG), who did such a stellar job in the current crisis have proved beyond doubt that they are equal to, if not better than other similar agencies in the world. To conduct such an operation with comparatively less loss of human lives, especially when there were more than a thousand guests in both hotels and when the terrorists were unwilling to negotiate, speaks volumes of their efficiency. We do not have a problem of numbers here, NSG has around 7500 members (source:bharat-rakshak.com) and have proved to be capable of handling simultaneous, long drawn crises like in the events of past few days. However one glaring issue is that NSG is based out of New Delhi and moving them to crisis sites has proven to be a huge logistical nightmare. 10 hours between start of crisis and landing of NSG at crisis sites is simply not acceptable. This is not a fault of the NSG, they are as good as what the Govt does (which is requesting their assistance). But without waiting for the logistical nightmares to be resolved, NSG should have regional commands (atleast in the 4 metros, to start with), so that even of the request for their help comes late, NSG can reach the site in the shortest possible time. I am sure the NSG is a very well equipped force (unlike our police who use outdated weapons), but they atleast need a few helicopters or planes permanently on standby, close to where they are stationed to move them to the crisis sites pronto (apparently they waited for a plane to come from Chandigarh to New Delhi and transfer them to Mumbai and then for BEST buses to transfer them to the 3 hot spots)
  4. The much stretched and much reviled police forces should immediately get a facelift, in terms of weapons, equipment, technology, personnel, training etc. Policing is a state subject, but the Centre should take the initiative to lay down the guidelines of police forces in all the states and provide all possible help (monetary, equipment etc) to modernize them. Police forces too should have elite units, akin to SWAT in US (probably similar to GreyHounds of AP State Police) that can immediately reach crisis spots and handle the situation until NSG reaches there. Not all cities have Naval commands and army commands (which allowed the MARCOS and Army to handle the situation until the NSG arrived).
  5. Providing NSG commandos to VIP and VVIP security should cease immediately. Currently NSG commandos are loaned to the SPG (Special Protection Group) which is responsible for VIP security. If needed, raise a separate elite force for protection for enhace capabilities of SPG to the level of NSG. But NSG should be available only for anti-terror, hostage rescue and other such operations for which it was created and not for running behind ruddy politicians. If the politicans have an iota of remorse left in them, they will voluntarily give up NSG protection. But as we know for them NSG protection is a status symbol, hence the state should act and remove this with immediate affect.
  6. The borders should be protected better, that includes land, mountains and sea. Fence the entire border around India, land that is, even if it means spending thousands of crores of tax payers money. That includes borders with hostile neighbours (like Pakistan), friends (Nepal, Bhutan etc) and the ones in between (Bangladesh). No other illegal immigrant should enter India. Fencing would not be enough, technology used be used to the fullest extent (like at the US-Mexico border) and so should more personnel. This would not solve the problem of illegal immigration and infiltration a hundred percent, but no one should think it would be easy to just enter India.
  7. The same should be extended to the maritime borders, not the fencing of course but use of technology and increased patrols. This obviously is more difficult than anything else said above and easier said than done, with approx 6000 kms of maritime border and territorial waters of 12 nautical miles but if the efforts could at least make it difficult for those who think they can just ride a boat up to our shores without being confronted. Coast Guard and local police patrolling the maritime borders and who are responsible for protecting our coasts, should again be the beneficiaries of spending in this area.
  8. The current pilot project of issuing National Identity Cards should immediately be implemented for the entire country. This will not solve the problem of illegal immigrants who have already made this their home and the numerous sleeper cells that have already penetrated into our country, but this will be some kind of deterrent in the future.
  9. Bring back strong anti terror legislation, TADA or POTA whatever it is called in whatever form (for example Maharashtra has MCOCA, Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act which allowed the police to hold the only captured terrorist at an undisclosed location and without filing an FIR). We had enough of pseudo-secular parties saying strong anti-terror laws will be misused. Well, that means even those that created this system has so less confidence in it. All kinds of laws get mis used, the way out is to build checks and balances around them, but not scrapping them altogether!

I am no expert in these matters. I am just an ordinary average Indian, and the immense anger that welled up in me after the audacious attacks made me write this. I am totally pissed off and so are millions of Indians. How dare they attack my country like this? If our political masters feel half this anger, things will be better. There are experts out there who can provide better and more actionable suggestions. Take their help, pay them if you want, ask the help of our allies who would be very obliging if asked.

All this would cost money and take time to be put in place. But then this is a matter of national security and the citizens of this country will not mind paying for this. So tax us, put surcharges but in the end of the benefits would be worth it. Indians have long given up the hope that their elected representatives would make their lives better, provide them with social security, food security, energy security, good roads, portable drinking water, good education, employment opportunities etc. It might sound fatalistic, but Indians have more or less stopped expecting their own representatives to provide these. They decide to get these things on their own, make a decent life of their own and provide for their families. They move across the country in search of livelihood, taking in stride all the prejudice, parochialism, regionalism, religious divide, casteism and all such despicable things drummed up by the politicians. They fight all these and the system to just get ahead in life. All they are asking is to provide security, security that while going out to work or an outing with their family, someone doesn't come up and pump a dozen bullets and blow up the train they are travelling in. Infact every Indian knows that its impossible for the Govt to provide this security, but they would be happy if the intent was there.

Mumbai, Bleeding!

Friday, November 28, 2008

2 days and nights of terror, blood and gore in Mumbai! And its still not over yet! 160 dead at last count, scores injured, many still missing, families torn apart and a city, a nation and a world aghast at the sheer cold blooded murderous rage of a handful people! 

They stuck India and Mumbai again, this time the scale, coordination, precision and planning is unparalleled! They stuck at 10 places and places in the heart of Mumbai's tourist and financial centres! While all previous attacks were targeted at the average working Indian, this time they also stuck at India's elite and foreigners! If poor and middle class Indians were targeted at Cama Hospital and Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the rich, famous and foreign tourists staying at the premier and upmarket hotels like the Taj Mahal hotel and Oberoi/Trident were also in their gun sights! Those dead and injured were across the cross section of society, religion and nationality! Americans, Germans, Indian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Parsi, poor, rich, middle class, bell boys, policemen, interns, businessmen, tourists, young, old, men, women, children, white, black, brown. You just cannot categorize them! A cruel and ironic reminder that the divisions and categorisations we create do not stand in front of terror, we are all equally the target! 

I came home on the evening of 26th from office and logged in to CNN-IBN to catch the day's news and saw the terror unfolding on the laptop, my first thoughts were of my brother who is working in Mumbai for a multinational and would be returning from work at that time! I called him and was relieved to hear his voice, but a shudder ran down my spine when he said how he passed the flyover at Vile Parle just a couple of hours before a blast ripped through a taxi there! I initially thought these are a kind of serial blasts again, but they innovated this time to cause maximum panic and loss of loves! They fired indiscriminately at commuters at CST, killed top policemen, stole their patrol vehicle and went on a kind of ride around the city just firing randomly at passersby (which was dramatically caught on tape), fired at patients at a hospital and took 2 hotels and a Jewish house hostage! These look like random events, but are all part of a sophisticated, well planned and extremely well executed operation! It makes my gut wrench that I am kind of praising their efforts with those words, but the truth is that they did what they planned to do! 

There are a lot of unanswered questions: Who are these people? How did they manage to sneak into the city undetected by the sea? Was the Govt slow in responding? What took the Govt almost 9 hrs to get the NSG commandos near the buildings? Where was the intelligence? Where were the warnings? If they were, why were they not acted upon? Why were such important hotels so vulnerable and so weakly guarded? These are questions the common man, the media, world governments whose civilians were dead, the victims and their families are asking. As is the wont, they expect the Govt to answer them! But the sad thing is that our Govt has no answers! Its not just about who is in power right now (its another matter that those in power right now presided over almost 50 years of incompetence and some of the bloodiest attacks on our nation, cities and people), but its about the class we keep sending to our parliament and state assemblies year after year and election after election! Just a couple of examples: our very 'articulate' union home minister Shivraj Patil told one of the news channels "By the time I arrived at the place the 
terrorists had left". I think the terrorists missed a chance there to shake hands with his royal highness and take a snap with him! On the other side of the political divide, BJP and LK Advani, although quiet for one long day, clearly lost their patience and launched into a scathing attack on the Govt! What was worse was the way they patted themselves on the back for the way they handled terror during their rule (like escorting terrorists in exchange for hostages). 

The sheer incompetence of this class has been known to Indians for years and we have long lost hoping anything sane from them, but now even the world knows that this glorious democracy we keep touting, this shining India, this resurgent economy, this ancient civilisation is run by a bunch of incompetent, corrupt and care-a-damn jokers! We have scientists who send satellites to the moon at half the cost, we have defence forces who can fight against any army in the world, commandos who are best in the business, best geeks, best businessmen, best of everything, we also have the worst of the politicians! And who elects these glorious bunch? We! 

America suffered the biggest ever terrorist strike ever, it remained the biggest and the only one on its soil! Today, America is perhaps the most hated country in the world, there are perhaps millions of people wanting to attack America, but America ensured that no other attack took place on its soil! Yes we are a more complicated country than America, home to a diverse population, not as developed, but if not action, intent of action can deter many attacks! The intent is what we are missing!

What do we need to do now? I guess thats a whole different story! Perhaps another post! Meanwhile, fingers crossed and hoping that they flush out or kill the remaining terrorists still holed up in the Taj Mahal hotel without any more loss of innocent lives! The Taj Mahal hotel is a glorious structure, I stood gaping at it when I first visited Mumbai from across the Gateway of India. Its the symbol of how Jametji Tata cocked a snook at the uppity colonial govt that refused him entry into a British hotel! It was on fire for 2 days, and is now filled with blood of innocent victims, but still stands in all its grandeur and splendour! Its a metaphor for Mumbai, which is more or less the same now! Mumbai is bleeding! My heart is numb and mind blank!