What happened in Mumbai on 26/11 was a watershed in the history of terrorism in India. It was a unique incident of its kind when terrorists sailed from Pakistan, landed on the Mumbai coast and held the city—and the country—to ransom for almost three days from November 26 to 29, 2008.
Did we draw the appropriate lessons from the incident and whether those lessons have been implemented on the ground to ensure that there is no recurrence of such an incident in future? The answer, unfortunately, is an emphatic ‘no’. From the very beginning, there was an attempt to cover up official failures. There should have been a national commission to inquire into the entire chain of events and make suitable recommendations to reinforce the security architecture of the country. The commission was not constituted because the guilty men sitting in Delhi ensured that no such inquiry was held or else their failings would be exposed and they may be held accountable. A state-level commission was set up, which did a good job, but was necessarily constrained by the limited mandate given to it.
The terrorist attack in Mumbai showed the chinks in our armour: it exposed the vulnerability of our coasts, the inadequacy of our intelligence, the fragility of our police, the weakness of our paramilitary outfits, and the absence of a national security doctrine.
It is true that in the wake of 26/11, some steps were initiated by the government to strengthen the security matrix of the country. NSG hubs were set up at Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. Twenty counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism schools are being raised. Coastal security was beefed up. Multi-agency centre for collection and collation of intelligence was activated. A National Investigation Agency (NIA) was raised. We still have a long way to go, however.
The Coastal Security Scheme apportions the responsibility to the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Police of the coastal states. The Director General (Shipping) has issued orders that all types of vessels, including fishing vessels (except those of less than 20 metre), are installed with AIS type B transponders for the purpose of identification and tracking. Progress in fixing the transponders, however, is slow. Maritime police has yet to take shape.
The intelligence network continues to have gaping holes. There is problem of coordination between the Centre and states. Everytime there is an incident, one sees the unseemly spectacle of charges being traded and responsibility being shifted. The Centre claims it alerted the state, while the state denies receiving any specific information.
The police structure in the states is in a shambles. There are more than five lakh vacancies across the country. Infrastructure is pathetic. Motivation levels are low. Discipline is poor. Political interference is endemic. Supreme Court orders on police reforms are not being implemented. The force is just not geared to deal with the terrorist challenge.
Paramilitary forces are also not in the best of health. There has been unplanned expansion of the forces. While manpower has been augmented, there has been inadequate corresponding expansion in housing, equipment and training facilities. As a result, there is dilution in quality. Questions have been raised over the NSG’s delayed response to the crisis in Mumbai.
At the national level, there is tragically no policy to deal with the menace of terrorism. The responses of different governments are ad hoc and depend on the perception of the political party in power. Indian Mujahideen is emerging as a major terrorist threat to the country, but important members of the ruling party are not prepared to even acknowledge its existence. There is no anti-terror law in the country either. Laws are framed but these are allowed to lapse for political reasons. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act does not have enough teeth.
Bereft of a stringent anti-terror law and in the absence of a national policy to deal with terrorism, the country remains highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The few measures taken by the government in the wake of 26/11 were in the right direction, but there are still several areas uncovered and the security architecture needs a lot more reinforcement and strengthening.