By Sushil Kutty
Ten gunmen, members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, carrying AK-47s and grenades, backpacks straining with dry-fruit. The 10 made a maritime entry into Mumbai, walking right through a waterfront village—pictures of curious villagers looking on surfaced later. At that time, on 26/11, the ’10’ were smiling and grinning, but of course these fellows were brainwashed bots—ready to kill and be killed.
The events of November 26-29, 2008 will remain etched in the history of the Maximum City. Today, 13 years after the Mumbai terror attacks, the fear may have retreated into the sea, but one question stays afloat: “How safe is Mumbai, are we as a nation safer today than we were 13 years ago? Some would dismiss the question as superfluous and speculative. Others would answer and be damned with it.
But let’s be square on one fact. The Mumbai coastline looks as porous today as it was on 26/11, 2008. Like one American noted: “Shocking and brazen, the brutality was, without question, some of the worst that we have seen in terrorism in modern times. Terrorists using fairly ordinary weapons wreaked great havoc and destruction. So we need to know what happened, how it happened, so we are better prepared to deal with potential attacks of a similar nature.”
The ’10’ were a well-armed, well-trained terrorist cell. They made the maritime entry and then fanned out to multiple locations. They attacked a railway station, hotels and religious facilities. Mumbai had enough convenient targets. It was a chaotic city. It remains a chaotic city. It is not difficult to recognize Mumbai’s landmarks. The ’10’ came armed with knowledge of the city, helped by Google Earth.
The city had been recced by an accomplice earlier. The plot was discussed threadbare in Pakistan. India’s intelligence agencies did not get a whiff. Nothing much has changed in 13 years. India’s intelligence agencies even today cannot seem to match the ISI. Otherwise Pulwama wouldn’t have happened—Uri, Pathankot and tens of others. Mumbai has been left alone, but that is only because the message must have gone from the “Pakistani establishment” to leave Mumbai alone.
What if a similar “lashkar” makes a ‘sea’ landing in Kochi or Lakshadweep—Goa and a score of other landings along India’s long winding coastline? Let’s admit it, we aren’t a great people when it comes to learning from history. These days even less. The rightwing obscurantists have their own reading of history, peppered and made spicy with fairytales and mythological love angles!
How can we be sure that new plots hadn’t been discussed and kept aside for future use? Terrorist plots are like volcanos, lying dormant and waiting to spew violent ash at a “time and place” of the terrorists’ choosing.
We cannot let our guard down. But are we sure we haven’t let our guard down? That is the point. A determined terrorist will be patient and always plotting. The 26/11 terrorists knew Mumbai too well to be dismissed as persons of fluke. They knew their secondary targets and they had identified their primary targets—the Taj Mahal hotel and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Station. The Jewish Centre was a coveted addition, a bonus.
They entered by water. Success was guaranteed if they came from the sea. No country can guard the entire length of its coastline. Are Mumbai’s hi-fi hotels secure now, 13 years after 26/11? We don’t know, not for sure? Has the Taj Mahal installed security scanning devices? Does the hotel have trained people to prevent another 26/11 type ingress?
The ’10’ had too much precise information. That said, hotels are vulnerable. They can be scoured. The attacks were choreographed to shock and awe! Hotels, eateries, railway stations. The targets were well-chosen. The bravery of some individual policemen stole the day away from the terrorists—Tukaram G. Ombole who took 40 bullets but still managed to hold on to Ajmal Kasab. Hemant Karkare. And Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan. There were others.
There was this other story, too: The terrorists managed to kill and create mayhem with automatic rifles and grenades. Appeared like they were the advance infantrymen. They used satellite-phones and cell phones. They kept an eye on the press coverage. They were in wireless touch with handlers in Pakistan—it was a military-grade operation!
The response then to the terrorist attacks were off-the-cuff, not according to a well-chewed playbook. Have we devised plans to handle another 26/11? If we have, nobody is talking. Of course, the enemy has changed tactics. Surgical strikes and air-strikes far into Pakistan have made the enemy cautious and wary. Adventure, if it is there in the enemy’s bloodstream, it’s stopped bubbling over.
As for our own preparations, and are we safer as a nation today from a 26/11 type attack; are Mumbai and Kochi or Kolkata and Chennai, safer today? Common citizens wouldn’t know. Do we have a unified command centre to deal with such emergencies? Again, who knows? The United States’ Homeland Security formed a ‘National Response Framework’ after 9/11.
Are we living in our own safe bubbles? The enemies (not one enemy!) have changed tactics—Kill soldiers all in one go! Do a Pulwama and a Galwan. Then it is ‘Wages of War’, not mindless mayhem wreaked by amphibious proxies. If Kasab’s hanging taught Pakistan anything, we don’t know. But did 26/11 teach us anything? We don’t know! (IPA Service)