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Mumbia Attack: A Distant Memory?

By: Vivek Gumaste
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Will this be another barely legible footnote in the annals of terror in India or will this be a defining moment in our battle against this evil scourge? That is the million dollar question. Close to 3 months have elapsed since the Mumbai terror attack. The statutory period of mourning is over, our mental turmoil has ebbed and the interlude to observe formalities has passed. It is time to make a pragmatic internal assessment of that debacle devoid of distracting emotions, ask uncomfortable but pertinent questions, pin accountability and penalize the criminal neglect on our part that sacrificed around 200 Indian citizens at the evil altar of terror. This is imperative to tackle the terror campaign against the nation.

The instant rage that gripped Indians in the aftermath of the siege was an emotional outburst that indicted the entire political class in a sweeping generalization that lacked a definite focus. Generalization is a simplistic concept that offers little in the form of a specific solution. Generalization is an escapist notion which by its nebulous nature frees the accuser from an embarrassing, direct confrontation with the accused: the net result being naught. Names have to be named, infractions identified and culprits punished to ensure tangible results that preclude a repeat performance.

The Mumbai fiasco was a multi-faceted failure of leadership that spanned the political, military and anti-terror wings of the country and incriminates the highest echelon of these august bodies. There was no sense of urgency. In full display was our suicidal complacency unruffled even by the gravitas of the moment. Fortunately our foot soldiers, our courageous NSG commandoes salvaged the situation. An objective perusal confirms point blank the total abdication of charge: a serious indictment of the present ruling government and its supervisory capacity. The heavy finger of accusation must therefore point to the UPA.

After the Mumbai attack, the Prime Minister stated in the Lok Sabha: "I am conscious of the fact that our system and procedures in dealing with terrorism needs a review. On behalf on our government, I would like to apologise to our people that these dastardly acts could not be prevented."

Governments are not in place to express regret. Apologies however sincere have no place in the public realm of national security and cannot be a substitute for shoddy performance. Neither can an apology be a redeeming feature or an official response of a competent government. An apology is a frank admission of failure that carries with it the onus of demitting charge to facilitate greater proficiency.

What makes this act of contrition all the more unacceptable was its timing. It came at the end of a series of crescendoing terror attacks each of which portended this finale. This was not an unheralded mishap but a culmination of negligence, prompted by petty political machinations that relegated national security to second place; in effect, an exhibition of callous irresponsibility that is hard to pardon. Shivraj Patil"s resignation was long overdue. That the Prime Minister chose to persist so long with his incompetence makes for shared culpability.

Similarly, the review of "our system and procedures in dealing with terrorism" that the Prime Minister referred to in his apology was obligatory after the slew of bomb blasts that rocked Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi but deferred due to political compulsions. This act of procrastination with its deadly repercussion qualifies as a felony that warrants prosecution at least figuratively.

President Truman had a sign on his desk that said, "The Buck Stops Here." The buck in this case must stop with Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh.

The glaring lack of urgency was further evident in the logistics of the actual response on the ground. A whole 12 hours elapsed before NSG commandos landed in Mumbai hampered by the non availability of aircraft and even land transport to ferry the personnel to the scene of the crime. Such an unprofessional approach does not befit a modern nation that aspires for world leadership.

That the military leadership did not have a contingency plan for movement of security personnel to tackle a crisis like this in a terror-struck nation is astonishing and disturbing. It implies criminal neglect. Heads must roll. Additionally, it brings into question the issue of administrative oversight. When the military top brass is found wanting, the chain of command calls for executive intervention by the civilian leadership. This did not happen. Could the Prime Minister have not hastened the process by a simple phone call? It boggles my mind that not a single aircraft was available for this national calamity. Even the passenger aircraft parked at the IGI airport could have been commandeered to serve the purpose. All this boils down to one fact: our lackadaisical "chalta hai "attitude, our lack of urgency that has been the pervading sentiment of our national character and which has proved costly time and again especially during a crisis. This has
to change.

Coming to the ATS, one finds it guilty of two conspicuous failings. Focusing attention on the months preceding this attack, one sees a sense of misplaced priorities. Despite clear cut warnings about a major terror strike on Mumbai with even the target identified, the Maharashtra ATS chose to concentrate its energies on unearthing "Hindu Terror" that at best was an amateurish plot of blotched bomb blasts with minimal significance from the national perspective but with obvious political ramifications. True, Hindu terror cannot be condoned but resources of an agency must be allocated to match the degree of the crime in question.

The terrorists reaped an unexpected bonanza when the top ATS team was wiped out with one blow and the anti-terror response was left floundering with no capataincy.To lead from the front is a commendable quality but one that has now been consigned to the dregs of history. Changing times have altered the rules of engagement. Leadership, so vital to the success of a mission, must be removed from the scene of combat. The ATS leadership should have been in the command center directing the operations as opposed to being in the line of fire. This scrutiny in no way demeans the ultimate sacrifice or deprecates the brave leadership of Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar who laid down their lives fighting the terrorists. But is a point to be noted for future remedial action: the premise of this article.

What the country demands is not cosmetic touches to placate hurt emotions but far reaching changes encompassing all sectors of internal security to prevent another 26/11. Where do we stand today, three months down the line? The nation demands an answer.

Vivek Gumaste

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