If anyone needed a lesson on how to conduct special operations from the sea, they could take a leaf out of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai late on
Wednesday, November 26, night. With two magazines taped together, strapped to their AK-47s, the men who arrived on speed boats from the sea
could have easily been mistaken for naval commandos carrying out exercises off the coast. But they weren't, and as a security expert told
Outlook, "this is a quantum jump in terrorism in India. Global terror has finally come home."
In many ways, this was India's 9/11, an attack on mainland India on a scale it has never witnessed. For a nation that has dealt with armed insurgency and terrorism soon after independence, this was still an unprecedented scale of attack. It was just not prepared for anything even remotely like it. "It is one thing to plant bombs and melt into the crowd. It is another to come in from the sea and launch an attack such as this," a senior intelligence official told Outlook.
So far what is known is that the email sent by the terrorists, claiming a group called the 'Deccan Mujahideen' carried out the attack, has been traced back to Russia. Senior security officials say that it was, in all likelihood, sent by a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and this is perhaps the strongest indication of the real face behind the attack. Intelligence sources also point out that the current group of terrorists could have also got help from the Mumbai underworld as well as Chechen elements within the Russian Mafia which has already found a foothold in India.
So far, attacks of this scale and magnitude have been the hallmark of the LeT, be it storming a military camp on the outskirts of Jammu or any other similar attacks. If there is one terrorist organisation with the training, funds, manpower and support to conduct such a raid, then it is the LeT. The Hizbul Mujahideen has rarely stepped out of Kashmir and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, intelligence analysts say, is not in a position to carry out such an attack. Which leaves the LeT, which, sources say, has been training for years. What's more, its manpower and infrastructure all over Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir has been left intact by the US-led Global War On Terror.
In fact, areas where international tourists concentrate have frequently been on the radar of the Al Qaeda. A laptop recovered by British troops deployed in Iraq in 2006 revealed that two Al Qaeda operatives had done an elaborate reconnaissance of several areas in Goa frequented by American and Israeli tourists. In fact, interrogations of terrorists picked up by the Karnataka police
had also revealed that they were planning to hit the international community in India.
And when the hit came, the terrorists went into Nariman House, the home to a Jewish family as well as the headquarters of an Israeli religious group - the Chad
Lubavitch. It was clearly not just a coincidence that the Trident was targeted where an
Israeli conference on diamond exports and imports was taking place. Or
that top managers who run corporations, also happened to be having their board meetings at the Taj and
LeT's linkages with the Al Qaeda have been well recorded in the past, and the scale and scope of this attack indicates that the latter group has finally left its footprint in India. So far, intelligence officials say, there were intermittent reports, based on electronic intelligence and intercepts, of the Al Qaeda building up a base in the higher reaches of the Pir Panjal ranges. But when a ship is employed to launch an armed militia off the coast of Mumbai, it is adequate evidence to suspect an international hand in the current terrorist attack.
The Indian response, as usual, has left much to be desired. While the Mumbai police was completely caught unawares, (initial reports attributed the attacks to gang wars) the central intelligence agencies were also found wanting. But are they to blame for this continuing state of affairs? Most certainly not. The blame lies with a political leadership which continues to brush off civilian deaths with announcements of inadequate compensation and the promise to "revamp the state and central intelligence mechanism." Intelligence per se, will never be enough to check such attacks.
The lack of police reforms has ensured that the existing security matrix that guards India is completely inadequate to deal with terrorism. Our doctrines are outdated, our human intelligence (humint) negligible and our political will to combat terror holistic manner absent from our public discourse.
Our deterrent measures, such as the National Security Guards (NSG) continue to be poorly staffed, equipped and trained, which results in late deployment, as was the case this time when the Special Action group detachments arrived in Mumbai from Delhi several hours late and began hostage rescue operations on Thursday, November 27 morning.
Will the creation of a federal terror agency help? Chances are that it will be just another addition to the growing multiplicity of command, control and confusion that has dogged our security matrix for decades.
In sharp contrast, one could look at the way the Americans went about reforming their security matrix on several levels after 9/11. They worked on the state police forces, while the US Congress worked on the intelligence tangle. The Congress mandated the creation of the office of the Director of national Intelligence who would hold the sole responsibility of co-ordination as well as inter-facing the various and vast arms of the American intelligence community.
Unhappy with the performance of the first Direction of National Intelligence, the US Congress brought in a new man, Vice Admiral Michael McCullen who immediately launched two programmes – a 100 day programme for immediate requirements and a 500 day programme for long-term issues. The results, say security analysts, is already visible for the world to see.
In India, the Parliament has no say, there is no accountability and there is no transparency. Hundreds of crores are allocated as secret funds every year, but people continue to die on the streets and lanes they once called home.
Will the current attack be a wake up call for India? Unlikely.
Reports indicate that the terrorists holding hostages in the Oberoi hospital have demanded that all terrorists currently in custody be released. While the UPA government has contemplated in putting a "No Negotiations" policy since 2004, not much has been formalised since then. So, as the Prime Minister's Office grapples with a possible negotiation with the terrorists, memories of the IC 814 hijacking incident will continue to haunt officials. The sad part is that not much has changed since then. The terrorists continue to have the initiative, and the government continues to have a confused response to a crisis.