Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mumbai Terror Attacks: Rage, Retaliation and Restraint – Part II

I had written Part I of this article just after the attacks started. Now that the nightmare is over, it’s time to analyse the situation with a cooler head.

The Mumbai attacks were India’s 9/11. I say this mainly because it has suddenly become clear to me why the USA not only attacked the Taliban and invaded Afghanistan, but also went on to invade Iraq. The sheer need to find a scapegoat (any scapegoat) and lash out at that entity is overwhelming and I’m sure most readers will understand what I’m saying. However, having seen the disastrous effects of the Iraq war, it becomes all the more important that we do not try and follow the US example. India is a lot less wealthy and powerful than the US and we just cannot afford to make a mistake on the lines of what the US did in Iraq.

Till recently, I was sympathetic to the Pakistani view that the US had no business firing missiles into Pakistani territory, even if the objective was to kill Taliban. Now my eyes have been opened and I can see very clearly why it is absolutely necessary to kill the Taliban where ever possible. If American troops are being attacked in Afghanistan by Pakistan based militants, the US has every right to hunt them in Pakistan.

In all probability, the Pakistani government had nothing to do with the acts of its nationals who participated in this attack. The Pakistan based militants responsible for this attack most probably had the backing and blessings of their local chapter of the Al Qaeda. After all, what’s the Al-Qaeda but a loose coalition of Islamic insurgents who assist each other with funds, weapons and training? Massing troops on the Pakistani border (a la Operation Parakram) or threatening to launch an all-out war will not help anyone, except maybe the Taliban and the Pakhtun fighters in Pakistan’s north-west since Pakistan will switch its troops to confront India and relieve the pressure against the Islamic militants within Pakistan.

Trawling the blogosphere, one finds so many views on how India should react to these attacks. One view is that India must support as many insurgencies and separatist movements in Pakistan as possible, the idea being to cause the balkanisation of Pakistan. The idea has its attraction, but what would we actually achieve? If Pakistan were to splinter, it is likely that each of the chunks that breaks away will be economically worse off. A lot more unemployed men will be available to be brainwashed in the name of religion and used as cannon fodder in a war which doesn’t really concern them. The militants who attacked Mumbai are supposed to have come from impoverished southern Punjab. Let’s assume that Pakistan has splintered into Punjab, Baluchistan, Pakhtoonistan and Sindh. Would it mean that towns like Multan and Bahawalpur would cease to churn out men like Azam Amir Qasab? I seriously doubt it.

Another option I came up on was that India should send troops to Afghanistan to help the beleaguered Americans there. The biggest handicap the Americans face in Afghanistan is the shortage of boots on the grounds. The combined US-coalition troop strength in Afghanistan is not more than 50,000. If we could send our soldiers to help the United States (preferably keeping our soldiers in the north of Afghanistan where the Uzbeks and Tajiks are India’s allies), the fight against the Taliban would progress so much more nicely. Even after the American withdraw, the India-friendly Tajiks and Uzbeks would control northern Afghanistan and put the Pashtuns on the ropes. Making the Pashtuns insecure would revive Pashtun nationalism and cause further trouble for the Pakistani government. The problem with this theory is that it does not explain how support for Islamic militancy will dry up if the Pashtuns are on the ropes in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Internal squabbles within Pakistan may cause some of the militants to ignore India for a while, but it will not last for long. Remember, the Islamic militants in Pakistan are right now in the midst of a full-fledged war against Pakistan and the US in Afghanistan and it didn’t stop them from attacking Mumbai.

Manmohan Singh has already announced the formation of a new federal agency to tackle incidents of this sort. As if we don’t have enough agencies! We just need to reform the ones we already have. RAW and IB ought to be merged. The age-old distinction between external and internal threats is no longer there. External enemies work with internal enemies. Both RAW and IB must be run by intelligence professionals and not by police officers drawn from the IPS. I assume there will be an attempt to reinstate POTA or another avatar of this stupid law. We need to enforce the laws we have, rather than create new laws. Even if POTA were in operation when the Mumbai attacks took place, it would not have made an iota of difference.

Just as the 1962 debacle against China served as a wakeup call to modernise our armed forces, hopefully these attacks will force us to modernise our police forces and our processes for responding to such an event. There were so many things that were so patently wrong in the way we reacted to the attacks. Allowing mobs of people to surround the places under siege, permitting news channels to telecast details of the operations, most of it live, senior police officers jumping into the fray (only to get killed) rather than coordinating efforts, the list of mistakes is indeed very long. I think India was right in refusing to accept assistance from Israel or other countries when the siege was on. No, I am not saying we should be haughty or proud and say No even if we stand to gain. I just don’t think any fighting force can quickly start using new weapons or techniques, especially in the heat of battle. Now that things have quietened down, we should obtain assistance from friendly countries such as the US and Israel and plug the gaps.

There were a few points in our fighting tactics that looked silly even to a layperson like me. Our security forces kept saying that the terrorists seemed to know the layout of the Taj and the Oberoi better than they did. I have visited the Oberoi and the Taj many times and neither of them has a very complicated layout. May be some of the terrorists were locals who had visited the Taj and the Oberoi many times. Maybe the terrorists had visited Mumbai earlier and recconnoitered both the hotels. Nevertheless, there is no reason why our security forces could not have made themselves as familiar with the layout of the hotels as they wanted to be before going in. I remember reading an account of the Israeli operation at Entebbe many years ago. The Israelis obtained a blue print of the airport from the construction firm which built it, prepared a mock-up of the airport and practised with the mock-up before flying to Entebbe. Why couldn’t our chaps have done something similar? And once the militants were holed up in the hotels and NAriman House, why were we in such a hurry to complete the operation. Why didn’t we even make an attempt to capture them alive?

It is said that the local police ran way from CST instead of confronting the terrorists. It does sound like a grievous dereliction of duty, but then our policemen are not trained to fight men who fight back, are they? The average Indian policeman is good at bullying the weak and infirm, conducting midnight raids on brothels and rounding up the hapless women who work there. We need to retrain all our policemen. The armed reserve should be given combat training, rather than merely training them use firearms, whilst other policemen should be trained to understand the public and to work with them.

One kept hearing that the terrorists were armed with very sophisticated weapons. Since when did AK-47s and grenades get classified as sophisticated weapons?

Let me come back to the question I raised in Part I of this article. How do we retaliate against these attacks? We could use this opportunity to try and get Pakistan to extradite Dawood Ibrahim or someone else equally important in the underworld-ISI chain. However, the chances of Pakistan giving up someone so important and who would know so much, are not very high. The best thing to do, in my opinion, would be build a good case to prove that the attackers came from Pakistan. We should involve as many foreign agencies as possible while carrying out the investigation into this attack, including the background of the militants. Our findings will then have so much more credibility. If it is proved that all or most of the attackers came from Pakistan, the Pakistani government will be under tremendous international pressure to take some action against the organisations which planned the attacks.

Some of those involved in planning this attack were doubtless locals. Whatever maybe the grievances they have, I don’t think their actions can be justified. However, we should not condemn an entire community because of a few rotten tomatoes in their midst. Instead, we need to identify such elements and neutralise them before they do further damage. Our intelligence apparatus must be drastically overhauled for this task.

It is a fact that Indian Muslims are relatively poorer than other Indians. They have not really participated in the recent economic boom. Rather than trying to find out who’s to blame for this state of affairs, we ought to ensure that there are more Muslims become software engineers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, bankers and policemen. If Muslims have a greater share in India’s wealth, there will be few local collaborators for such attacks. Similarly, I think that if Pakistan were to be more prosperous, with fewer Pakistanis living in poverty, the chances of Pakistanis volunteering for such missions will be greatly reduced. No, we will not be able to guarantee that the flow of suicide bombers will totally stop, but it will be greatly reduced. I am not sure though, what we should do to spread the tendrils of prosperity from India to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It hurts to say this, but we will have to increase our defence budgets and spend more money on intelligence gathering. Rather than increase the size of our armed forces and police forces, we should train them better, arm them better and put in place better processes and a more efficient command structure. This increased defence expenditure is something our country could have done without, but it can’t be avoided after this attack.

Almost all fundamentalist attacks are funded by money from the middle-east. India must stop buying oil from that region, even if we end up paying more. India is Asia’s third largest oil consumer and we import more oil from Saudi Arabia than from any other country in the world. In the last financial year, 73.74 per cent of our oil imports came from the middle-east. India also imports oil from Nigeria and Angola. Getting oil from Russia and Venezuela may be more expensive due to higher transport costs, but at least we will not be putting money into the region that supports murderers such as these. A greater emphasis on alternative fuels will also go a long way in cutting our fuel bills. In these days of falling oil prices and growing alternative sources of energy, this is not an impossible task. With luck other countries will emulate India’s example and stop buying oil from middle-east.

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