[Burning Issue] Ten Years after the Mumbai Attack

CONTEXT

  • Ten years ago, Pakistan carried out one of the most heinous of terror attacks perpetrated anywhere in the world. The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, named after the date in 2008.
  • The targets were carefully chosen after being surveyed for maximum impact, viz. the Taj and Oberoi Hotels, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, the Jewish centre at Nariman House, and the Leopold Cafe, since these places were frequented by Europeans, Indians and Jews.

INTRODUCTION

  • India’s internal security apparatus continues to move with characteristic and elephantine slowness ten years after the Mumbai 26/11 attacks, when the national leadership had promised it would take all possible measures to ensure that such incidents would never be repeated.
  • A constellation of factors – domestic, regional, and global – have nevertheless worked to ensure that there have been no repeats of the 26/11 attacks since, but vulnerabilities remain endemic.
  • Indeed, speaking of the threat of Islamist terrorism, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh rightly observed, “There has been a decline in the incidents of extremism. The credit for this should go to the followers of Islam in India.”
  • Nevertheless, despite enveloping deficiencies and deficits, the intelligence and policing establishments have also responded with surprising alacrity and effectiveness.
  • Specifically, with regard to the threat from the Islamic State (Daesh), at least 112 persons have been arrested, including at least 33 in 2017, and another 60 detained, for linkages with, plots connected to, or attempts to travel to join this global terrorist formation.

Background

26/11 Attack

  • The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack was one of a kind and not a mere variant of previous instances of terrorist violence.
  • It was the rarest of rare cases, where one state’s resources, viz. Pakistan’s were employed to carry out a series of terror attacks in a major Indian city.
  • It was a case of ‘war by other means’, in which the authorities in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the Pakistani armed forces, were involved.
  • The Mumbai terror attack was not based on a sudden impulse. Several years of planning and preparation had preceded the attack, even as the peace talk was going on between India and Pakistan.
  • From an Indian standpoint, it was for the first time that an operation of this nature involved Rapid Action Force personnel, Marine Commandos (MARCOS), the National Security Guard (NSG*) and the Mumbai Police.

Lessons Learned

  • The incident made changes in India’s attitudes toward terrorism. It hardened the country’s attitude towards terrorists and militants of all stripes.
  • Following the Mumbai attacks, the government of India came up with many measures to deal with the new threat.
  • A specialised agency to deal with terrorist offences, the National Investigation Agency, was set up and has been functioning from January 2009.
  • Four National Security Guard (NSG) hubs were set up for a rapid response to attacks. (Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai post-2008, and in 2017 Gujarat got the 5th NSG hub)
  • An amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was created to provide for the arrest and interrogation of terrorism suspects.
  • Outcomes of 26/11 were also to get the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), an intelligence agency clearinghouse, in motion. Subsidiary MACS at the state level came up next.
  • The Multi-Agency Centre, which functions under the Intelligence Bureau, was further strengthened and its activities expanded.
  • One of the major decisions of the government was to place the Indian Coast Guard under the Indian Navy and make the latter the overall in-charge of maritime security, in coordination with the state government agencies and the marine police.
  • A number of radars and automatic identification systems were later set up along the coast, and also a command, control and coordination center was set in New Delhi to monitor the operations.
  • The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has been constituted to create an appropriate database of security-related information.
  • The Navy constituted a Joint Operations Centre to keep vigil over India’s extended coastline.
  • Financial Intelligence Unit-IND (FIU-IND) is the central national agency responsible for receiving, processing, analysing and disseminating information relating to suspect financial transactions.
  • A special Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT) Cell has been created in the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2011, to coordinate with the Central Intelligence/Enforcement Agencies and the State Law Enforcement Agencies for an integrated approach to tackle the problem of terror funding.

National Security Guard (NSG)

  • NSG is a Federal Contingency World Class Zero Error Force to deal with anti-terrorist activities in all its manifestation.
  • Motto: Sarvatra Sarvottam Suraksha
  • The Union Cabinet took the decision to create NSG in 1984 and it formally came into being from 1986. NSG is under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • It consists of officers/personnel from Army, Central Armed Police Forces and State Police Forces.

NATGRID

  • NATGRID is an ambitious counterterrorism programme
  • It which will utilise technologies like Big Data and analytics to study and analyse the huge amounts of data from various intelligence and enforcement agencies to help track suspected terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks.
  • It will connect, in different phases, data providing organisations and users besides developing a legal structure through which information can be accessed by the law enforcement agencies.

Financial Intelligence Unit of India (FIU -IND)

  • FIU-IND is an independent body reporting directly to the Economic Intelligence Council (EIC) headed by the Finance Minister.
  • The function of FIU-IND is to receive cash/suspicious transaction reports, analyse them and, as appropriate, disseminate valuable financial information to intelligence/enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities.

Constitution of FIU

  • The FIU – IND is a multidisciplinary body with a sanctioned strength of 74 members from various government departments.
  • The members are inducted from organizations including Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Department of Legal Affairs and Intelligence agencies

New Forms of Terrorist Attacks and Activities:

  • Notwithstanding increased vigil and streamlining of the counter-terrorism apparatus, the ground reality is that newer methodologies, newer concepts more daringly executed, and more deeply laid plans of terrorist groups have made the world a less safe place.
  • Terrorism remains a major threat, and with modern refinements, new terrorist methodologies and terrorism mutating into a global franchise, the threat potential has become greater.
  1. One new variant is the concept of ‘enabled terror’ or ‘remote controlled terror, that is violence conceived and guided by a controller thousands of miles away.
  2. Today the ‘lone wolf’ is, more often than not, part of a remote-controlled initiative, with a controller choosing the target, the nature of the attack and even the weaponry to be used.
  3. Internet-enabled terrorism and resort to remote plotting is thus the new threat.
  4. Operating behind a wall of anonymity, random terror is likely to become the new terror imperative.
  • Terrorists are motivated by different goals and objectives. Depending on the objectives of the group/groups, the nature of terrorism also differs.

New terrorists tend to be religiously motivated:-

    • Many terrorist groups are inspired by a specific interpretation of religious or prophetic scriptures
    • Because religious terrorists are usually more interested in killing outsiders than causing political change, they tend to be more lethal.

New terrorism:-

    • Newest terrorists encourage more frequent active violence, hostage-takings and kidnappings. They seek to kill in the most horrifying ways. They distribute acts of violence widely in time and space.
    • New terrorists are more drawn to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. For instance, from 2014 through 2016, IS used chemical weapons at least 52 times in Iraq and Syria
    • In the 21st century, terrorist groups are most strikingly those concerned with ‘global jihad’ often lack clear political goals, some not even claiming responsibility for their actsNow, the means the sacrifice of the perpetrators’ lives  seems to be the end in itself leading to martyrdom and the passage to heaven that it claims to bring.
    • Newest terrorists aim to kill as many people as possible, as frequently as possible, as horrifically as possible, intimately, suicidally, with the most accessible weapons, in the most accessible public spaces.

India is safer today but still vulnerable-

The sobering reality, however, is that while there have been significant augmentations to technical intelligence capabilities, and these have been reflected in several counter-terrorism successes, the overall capacities of central and state intelligence agencies remain cripplingly inadequate in terms of their growing mandate.

While immediate dangers have been contained, vulnerabilities still persist. This is despite the symbolism of various initiatives to augment capacities in diverse security sectors.

  • Crucially, India’s policing apparatus – the ‘first responders’, we have been repeatedly reminded, in case of terrorist attacks, and the most productive sources of counter-terrorism intelligence – remains decrepit, ill-equipped, and substantially unprepared. Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju rightly noted, “Most police security systems are old and obsolete… We are slowly adopting a new system.”
  • The problem is that we are doing this much too slowly. Basic capacities are nowhere near adequate. To take the most rudimentary index of capacity, the police-to-population ratio, this remains a fraction of what is actually needed.
  • The Bureau of Police Research & Development, which has now taken over maintenance of data on police strength from the far more stable and reliable databases of the National Crime Records Bureau, appears to be resorting to a measure of fudging to show relatively quick progress.
  • Its 2017 report, for instance, claims that the ratio has gone up from 137.11 as on January 1, 2016, to 150.75 on January 1, 2017. For a population of roughly 1.3 billion, this would imply an addition to strength of over 177,000; further, one may assume a natural rate of attrition – death, disability, and retirement – of about 10 per cent in a force of over 1.9 million: about 190,000.
  • But the report informs us that total recruitment in 2016 was just 78,030 (in one table, however, we are shown an increase in actual strength of 194,581). There is clear deception in much of this. Whatever the case, the exaggerated 150.75 ratio is well below what is necessary even for peacetime policing (projected at 220/100,000).
  • The 26/11 attacks came from the sea and coastal security has since been projected as a major priority. Despite significant expenditure and acquisitions in this direction, however, vulnerabilities remain undiminished as a result of fitful, poorly integrated, and insufficiently implemented projects.
  • Many critical projects have been delayed beyond reason. The most crucial of these, the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), was originally intended to be completed by March 31, 2012.
  • Significantly, CCTNS received no budgetary allocations in financial years 2014-15 and 2015-16, and resource allocation has only been restored in the current financial year.
  • Meanwhile, some sources suggest that the technologies acquired for CCTNS are already approaching obsolescence.
  • Another major database project with security implications, the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), remained headless for two years between May 2014 and July 2016. NATGRID was originally slated for completion by May 2011 but is yet to be operationalised.

Way Forward

  • Dealing with the menace of terrorism would require a comprehensive strategy with involvement of different stakeholders, the Government, political parties, security agencies, civil society and media.
  • There is a need for the National Counter Terrorism Centre. A centrally co-ordained Terrorism Watch Centre, which could also operate as a think tank with sufficient inputs from academic and private experts.
  • The previous Government conceived National Counter Terrorism Centre to centrally focus on myriad developments in terrorism.
  • A strategy for fighting terror in India has to be evolved in the overall context of a national security strategy. To tackle the menace of terrorism, a multi-pronged approach is needed.
  • Socio-economic development is a priority so that vulnerable sections of society do not fall prey to the propaganda of terrorists promising them wealth and equity.
  • There are no ready-made answers to this new threat. Vigilance is important, but remaining ahead of the curve is even more vital.

CONCLUSION

  • Terrorism is a menace which has huge socio-economic ramifications so there is a need for a holistic approach with all the countries coming together to find the solution to this menace.
  • India has become inexplicably safer over the past years but her vulnerabilities have not diminished.
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