“There were no prior intelligence inputs for the attacks.” These words of India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram summed up the reasons why the terrorists managed to successfully carry out three explosions in India’s financial capital Mumbai on 13 July killing 18 and injuring close to 150 persons.
Although Mr. Chidambaram later quipped in to say that the absence of inputs does not constitute an intelligence failure, it is difficult to imagine what else would have led to the coordinated attacks, which involved planting of explosives in three bustling locations, without anybody noticing them.
Mumbai has always been vulnerable to terror attacks. Jhaveri Bazar, Dadar and the Opera house- the three locations where the explosives went off within 15 minutes have been largely described as crowded places. If popular congestion provides the terrorists a vantage point, almost whole of Mumbai, a bustling city of 16 million and the dream city, which attracts thousands of Indians from other states everyday is a terrorists’ paradise.
With countless points of popular aggregation in forms of business centers, bus and train stations, cafeteria, markets, religious places, entertainment points and corporate houses, present a nightmarish situation for the law enforcement agencies. Not surprisingly, since 1993, 12 incidents of 31 explosions have taken place in the city. July 13 added three more explosions to the list.
This list does not include the 2008 Mumbai attacks when ten Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists landed in Mumbai from Karachi to carry out armed assault type of attacks. Prior to the 13 July attack, 516 persons had been killed in Mumbai’s explosions, while the November 2008 attacks alone claimed 166 lives.
One wonders, even if the intelligence agencies had succeeded in providing some inputs indicating the possibility of these attacks, the Mumbai police could have done much to prevent them.
Official data indicates the Mumbai police have a vacancy rate of 40 per cent at the lower-level police officers, including that of the assistant police inspectors and police sub-inspectors. It is the lower level police officers who are directly responsible for the law and order situation.
With the available police officials, Maharashtra’s (the state of which Mumbai is the capital) policeman to 100,000 population ratio stands at a poor 166. While police deployment in Mumbai would fare better than the rest of Maharashtra, the figures would be no where close to the 500 plus prescription by the United Nations. National capital Delhi, in comparison, has a much better ratio at 362, compared to Mumbai.
Inquiries into the 2008 Mumbai attacks had revealed a lot about the organizational weaknesses and a overwhelming sense of operational lethargy in the police department. Very little appears to have changed since then. Reports now indicate that the Mumbai police authorities have procrastinated a January 2011 proposal to install 5,000 CCTV cameras in the city.
Time and again the terrorists have been able to exploit the vulnerability Mumbai presents to the world. Attack on Mumbai is an affront on India’s might as an economic power and is an attempt to weaken it from within. The Pakistan based Jihadis have long declared their intention of taking their war beyond Jammu & Kashmir to the Indian heartland and dismember the country.
“Inshallah, today I announce the break up of India”, the November 1999 statement of Lashkar Chief Hafeez Saeed is therefore still relevant. The outfit has carried out several attacks across in Indian urban centers in the past years, under its engorged war program.
That makes LeT a primary suspect for the 13 July attacks. The outfit’s recent split notwithstanding, its capacities and anti-India intentions remain strong enough.
The Indian Mujahedeen (IM), the Indian affiliate of the LeT is motivated by a spirit to undo the alleged wrongs and atrocities committed on the Muslims in India. IM has recruited its cadres from states like Gujarat, which witnessed large-scale communal riots in 2002. But the organization is a lot weaker now and can possibly function only as an affiliate to a larger group like the LeT.
Home Minister Chidambaram has indicated that all anti-India terrorist groups are under scanner for their possible involvement in the blasts. It is perhaps the safest thing to do, for investigations into the past terror attacks, initially believed to have been carried out by Islamist outfits, unearthed the role of the Hindu extremists. But the Home Minister’s statement is also a reiteration that the agencies are simply clueless about the perpetrators.
Since the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, India has invested a lot in augmenting its anti-terror capacities. Each year, budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has increased. It created the National Investigative Agency (NIA) in 2009, within months of the 2008 attacks. Within the same time, it created hubs for the anti-terrorist commandos, the National Security Guards (NSG) in its mega cities.
It amended its anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) providing it with some teeth to deal with terror crimes. It put in place an intelligence collation mechanism at the state levels. For the financial year 2010-11, the NIA received a whooping budgetary increase of over Rupees 160 million (approximately $3.55 million) to reach an annual allocation of Rupees 550 million (approximately $12 million).
However, while its post-terror investigative capacities might have received a boost as a result, its capacity to prevent attacks remains a suspect. Collection of both Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and Technical Intelligence (TECHINT) leaves a lot to be desired. Even 30 months after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, projects like the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) and the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) remain unimplemented. Bureaucratic hurdles, turf wars between various departments and ministries continue to slow down India’s preparations to revamp its counter-terror architecture.
It is not difficult to conclude that the 13 July 2011 attack was a result of these collective failures. Mumbai was simply lucky to have escaped major terrorist attack since November 2008. And suddenly the luck ran out.
(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 was published by Al Arabiya and appears here with the author’s permission