In January this year, I walked into the office of A. K. Doval, a retired chief of the Intelligence Bureau, India’s domestic intelligence agency, in connection with my research on “India’s Counter-terrorism Architecture after Mumbai attacks.”
I asked him point blank, “Are we prepared to prevent another Mumbai type attack?”
Mr. Doval replied, “Yes, only if a November 2008 type of Mumbai attack has to recur. We are certainly much better prepared.”
The terrorist attacks of November 2008 and July 2011 were different. While in November 2008 ten Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists took the sea route from Pakistan to Mumbai and carrying out multiple location armed assault style attacks, on 13 July 2011, the terrorists appear to have gone back to the good old tactics of planting explosives in different places. Irrespective of Mumbai’s quality of policing, to prevent terrorists from doing so in a messy and chaotic city of 16 million is a child’s job.
The blasts had accounted for about 20 deaths and injuries to about 81 people as I finished writing this report. The toll will increase.
Point of suspicion is obviously Pakistan. “The Pakistan based LeT is trying to carry out attacks in the Indian cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore,” an Indian intelligence official had told me a few days back.
The organization is known to have undergone split recently, but this has neither reduced its capacity to carry out attack, nor has it changed its anti-India intentions. The group could possibly have used its local affiliates like the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) for the blasts.
Indian intelligence officials have told me that the IM, with many of its leaders and cadres under arrest and rest on the run, is far too weak today to carry out a solo attack. If at all, it has acted as a local contact for the LeT or has simply provided the logistics.
The Hindu extremists too have carried out attacks in the past, but with its top leaders behind the bars, it is no longer a potent group.
India got a new Home Minister after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. P. Chidambaram initiated a grand project of revamping the country’s counter-terror architecture. The budget allocation for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) increased substantially. Forces were recruited, trained and equipped with sophisticated arms. The MHA also created the National Investigative Agency (NIA).
The NIA since then has come off as a robust investigative agency looking into various incidents of terror and is one of the key agencies to have uncovered the involvement of the Hindu extremists in some of the terror attack cases.
While the country has done well in investigating the past terror attacks, where it has faltered severely is in putting together structures for preventing terror. Mr. Chidambaram’s pet project, the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) is stuck amidst concerns of intruding upon individual privacy and liberty. NATGRID is an attempt to create a unified database by linking all the existing databases belonging to over 20 agencies. Departmental rivalry and political turf battles have slowed down the project. There was at least a minor possibility that NATGRID could have prevented the 13 July 2011 attacks, by keeping a tab on the purchases of explosives made, financial transactions etc.
Mr. Chidambaram also wants to set up the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), following the US model. NCTC will be under the Home Ministry, under Mr. Chidambaram. However, the proposal to make the Home Ministry the nodal agency in anti-terror efforts has faced stiff opposition from other agencies and ministries. NCTC still remains a far-fetched idea.
It was a miracle that no major terror attack had happened since November 2008. But miracles only last for a while.
(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is an independent analyst based in Singapore and has previously been Deputy Director, India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BibhuRoutray)
This article appeared at Al Arabiya and is reprinted with the author’s permission.