Three years ago, on November 26, 2008, ten Lashkar-e-Tayebba terrorists, trained, equipped, sponsored and directed by Pakistan’s ISI, landed by boat at Mumbai and carried out audacious strikes on four iconic targets before nine of them were eliminated by Indian security forces. Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor, was tried by a Special Court and has been sentenced to death. Despite the voluminous evidence provided to Pakistan about the perpetrators and the planners of the diabolical strikes by India, and corroborated by independent investigations conducted by the United States and Israel, the Pakistan government has failed to act against any of them.
Writing in the Hindu last week, Praveen Swami stated, “Sajid Mir, Lashkar commander who crafted the assault plan, has been reported by both the United States and India’s intelligence services as operating out of his family home near the Garrison Club in Lahore; Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency hasn’t yet got around to paying him a visit. Muzammil Bhat, who trained the assault team, is claimed by Pakistan to be a fugitive, though two journalists who went looking for the terror commander in Muzaffarabad located him without great effort. Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, sole senior Lashkar operative held for his alleged role in the attacks, has continued to communicate with his organisation from prison. Pakistan hasn’t, tellingly, even sought to question David Headley, Pakistani-American jihadist who has provided the investigators with a detailed insider account of the attacks — including the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence in directing them.”
Pakistan’s intransigence in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror strikes to justice does not augur well for the recently resumed Composite Dialogue Process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stated that he will travel to Pakistan only after the terrorists who attacked Mumbai are convicted by Pakistani courts. Even Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of State has expressed her reservations about the Pakistan government’s “continuing failure, in our view, to fulfil all of the requirements necessary for prosecution related to the Mumbai attacks.” Unless Pakistan makes serious efforts to prosecute the terrorists and their handlers, the gains in the relationship made recently due to the announcement of MFN status by Pakistan and the proposed liberalisation of the Visa regime will lose value.
Within India too the follow up action to prevent another Mumbai-type terror strike has left much to be desired. The government had launched five major initiatives to shore up counter-terrorism capabilities. The first of these was to decentralise the deployment of the National Security Guards (NSG) – the agency that had eliminated the terrorists holed up in two hotels and the Jewish centre at Mumbai – to the major metropolitan centres besides Delhi so as to reduce the time taken to react against a terrorist strike. This has been done though the NSG commandos continue to face accommodation problems. The government has set up the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for post-incident investigation of major terrorist strikes. Unlike the U.S. FBI, the NIA lacks a counter-terrorism punch and cannot, therefore, assist in the prevention of terrorist strikes. It is to be hoped that the NIA will not be politicised like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CB).
While some efforts have been made to enhance coastal security, these efforts have fallen much short of the desired capabilities and India’s long coastline remains vulnerable to attacks from the sea. This was demonstrated with telling effect when an abandoned ship drifted all the way across the Arabian Sea to beach on the Mumbai coast without being detected by either the Indian Navy or the Coast Guard or the Marine Police.
Intelligence gathering, analysis, assessment and dissemination still need to be improved by an order of magnitude. The functioning of the existing Multi-agency Centre (MAC) has been streamlined but Home Minister P Chidambaram’s initiatives to establish a National Counter-terrorism Centre (NCTC) to coordinate all counter-terrorism efforts and a National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) database to maintain widely shared records of all terrorism-related intelligence and activities, are still to see the light of day because of Centre-State issues and inter-ministerial turf battles.
Clearly, India’s counter-terrorism responses continue to resemble a lumbering elephant, rather than a tiger ready to pounce.