Mumbai Terror Attack: No Lessons Learnt from 26/11

Mumbai Terror Attack: No Lessons Learnt from 26/11
26/11 Mumbai Terror Attack
Mumbai Terror Attack: No Lessons Learnt from 26/11
26/11 Mumbai Terror Attack

20:00 hrs, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Location: Mumbai

Today, it has been 11 years since the dastardly Mumbai terror attacks happened. The city was held to ransom by a group of 10 terrorists who went on a rampage through the entire city targeting and killing innocent people. The 10 Pakistani citizens indoctrinated and trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan, with support and guidance from ISI, landed at two locations in the Colaba area of Mumbai, in two inflatable rubber boats.

What followed was an unprecedented but coordinated act of sheer mayhem and senseless violence that resulted in 164 people losing their lives and left 308 wounded.

Taj Hotel, Oberoi Trident, Leopold Café, Nariman House, CST and Cama Hospital, all came under fire. The enactment of terror that started at 2000 hours on Wednesday carried on till Saturday, November 29, 2008, until the last of them was killed by the National Security Guard (NSG) Commandos.

All terrorists, but Ajmal Kasab, were killed. Ajmal Kasab confessed to being a Pakistani and having been trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. He also spilled the beans on ISI involvement. He was later found guilty on all 86 counts and was sentenced to death. He was hanged on November 21, 2012 at the Yerwada Jail, Pune.

No lessons learnt

After the 9/11 attack in America, the US reviewed and revamped the entire security apparatus with unprecedented zeal and commitment, to ensure that the country became a safe place to live in for its citizens. Potential terror elements have found it almost impossible to penetrate the US security system, since that fateful day. This is how a nation must respond to a crisis like the one faced by the US and subsequently, India.

In a shocking contrast, India has barely addressed the problem nor taken any action to rule out the repeat of incidents like 26/11.

The problem is, India has neither learnt any lessons nor addressed the threat, as would be expected of a nation that suffered an attack like 26/11. Cities in India remain still vulnerable, while there is little improvement in the security environment in Mumbai either.

Though 11 years have elapsed, still many of those who conspired the attack are yet to be brought to justice. The United States recently declared a reward of up to $5 million for any kind of information that would help in the arrest or conviction in any country of those people who conspired to commit or helped in the execution of the attacks.

Actions that should have been taken but haven’t

Lack of clear Security Policy

The first step taken by the government should have been to undertake a complete review and overhaul of the entire Security Policy and associated Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), in emergency situations. The Central government should have released a White Paper on 26/11 along with the necessary action taken. None of this has happened, at least not at the level that should be termed as appropriate and adequate.

On all accounts, the various security agencies in India, continue to remain isolated of each other’s function and there is still no smooth inter-agency operational coordination, as was done by the Department of Homeland Security in the US, which was created to improve inter-agency efforts to fight both domestic and international threats that might impact American interests.

Lack of Security temperament

Security is not an action but a process and a lifestyle and unless all stakeholders, including its citizens, understand and are involved, no nation can ever be secure. Israel learnt that a long time back and now the US has learnt it, as well. India is still a long way off from having a ‘security’ culture.

All personnel in various security agencies, including the police, look at their jobs as a means to bring in a salary at the beginning of the month and do not have any commitment towards imbibing and practising a high level of security protocol.

Take a look at security in an airport, railway station or bus stand. All are crowded public spaces, which make them vulnerable to a terror attack. All of them have only symbolic security personnel with no viable security cover in place. None of the persons deployed has adequate training in procedure, surveillance, weapons or security protocols. None of them is geared to handle any kind of terror threat. That’s India’s response to 26/11.

Lack of weapons and equipment

India’s callous and random approach to responding to a major terror event like 26/11 is seen in Mumbai police’s procurement of Amphibious Patrol Boats for maritime patrol and counteraction.

The boats were procured without adequately planning and factoring the need for 24×7 manpower to man them, their respective training, the coordination in communication and patrol protocol with the Coast Guard and Navy, planning for adequate spare back-up and annual maintenance contract with the suppliers, and last but not the least, budget for all the above. The boats have been lying unused and have now turned into junk, all at the cost of taxpayers money.

If this was a case of immediate investment without adequate planning then the other extreme is seen in the inaction on part of Mumbai police when it comes to weapons procurement. Post 26/11, Mumbai Police continues to use .303 rifles and .410 muskets. Even the High Court was forced to make an adverse remark on the state of affairs of the Mumbai Police in not modernising its weapons and equipment on priority. The same state of affairs exists with all state police forces in the country. They are all inadequately trained, inadequately equipped and mostly lack motivation in their jobs.

Lack of protocols in case of emergency

In any emergency, civil or military, all arms of the government are required to come together to meet the emerging crisis, with planned and established protocols.

India is clueless about these and grossly unprepared. This was seen when chaos prevailed during the Uttarakhand flash floods and Srinagar flash floods. In both situations, the respective states were grossly unprepared and there was total chaos. None of the arms of the government like the police, medical services, telecommunications, home guard etc, were able to respond in what should have been a well-coordinated and planned response. Lives are at stake but no lessons have been learnt.

And yet, a good example of a well-planned and coordinated response was seen during the NDRF response to Cyclone Phailin, which hit Odisha and Coastal Andhra Pradesh in 2013. The NDRF’s coordination with all state agencies pre-empted and saved several lives and also received praise from international agencies. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of any state, especially in the context of preparedness to handle emergencies related to terror.

Lack of inter-agency cooperation and coordination

In the post 9/11 security review, one of the main issues that came out was that the inter-agency cooperation and coordination between various arms of security needed to be overhauled. The Department of Homeland Security was born, as a result.

In India, there is still a lack of trust and confidence amongst various security agencies and that remains a major obstacle to an integrated approach to fighting terror.

The lack of trust and coordination between the Centre and States is another major issue, as was seen in the recent Centre-State conflict over the Burdwan bombing, in West Bengal. It is time the Centre took the initiative to bring all states on the same page when it comes to security and terror and not let domestic politics overshadow national interests, as is being seen in Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Lack of people support

In any terror attack, the biggest victim is the common man. While people always protest the loudest in case of an attack, they are also the first ones to protest any security measures that the government implements. Any discomfort or inconvenience caused, is vehemently protested and soon political overtones get added to the protests. Take a look at how we react and respond to security checks at railway stations and airports. It’s mostly with impatience and disdain for the security personnel and procedure.

Against this backdrop, no nation can assure its citizens’ security and nor can citizens expect any. India certainly is no safer than what it was at the time of 26/11 attack and what is frightening is that there seems to be no attempt on the part of Central government, state governments, security agencies or police forces, to rise up to the occasion and give it the due priority it requires.

Remember, we only have time till the next attack happens, so let’s act NOW.

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