Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mumbai - 26/11

Calm, albeit uneasy, seems to have descended on Mumbai after it was witness to an unprecedented carnage perpetrated by a group of fidayeens (suicide) in the up-market area of South Mumbai from 26th November to the morning of 29th November 2008. The mayhem left about 190 dead and nearly 250 people injured. Amongst those killed were high ranking officers of the Mumbai Police and several other security personnel from the Mumbai police, National Security Guards (NSG), scores of foreigners and ordinary civilians. The terrorists struck at five places – Leopold Café at Colaba, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station (CST for short; formerly known as Victoria Terminus), the Taj Hotel, Colaba, Oberoi-Trident, Nariman Point and Nariman House (renamed Chabad House) at Colaba which housed the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Community Centre. The terrorists also placed bombs in two taxis which exploded at Wadi Bunder and Vile Parle respectively.

The terrorist attacks started with several news channels reporting gunfire exchanged at Colaba (South Mumbai) around 2115 hours. (This later turned out to be the first reported attack on Leopold Café, where the first casualties occurred). Thereafter news started coming in of firing at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station explosions inside the headquarters of the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) which is located opposite CST, firing at Cama Hospital adjacent to the Metropolitan Magistrates’ Courts close to the BMC and later farther end of the road near the Metro Cinema. Later it was revealed that the firing at all these places, namely at CST to Metro junction, were the handiwork of the two terrorists. And it appears it was these two who were responsible not only for the large number of civilian casualties but also for the deaths of the top police officers as well as various ranks who with hand guns and rifles tried to take on these terrorists. At around the same time a group of terrorists had started indiscriminate firing at two of the premier five-star hotels – Oberoi-Trident and Taj located at Nariman Point and Colaba, near the Gateway of India respectively. Little did the world and the residents of Mumbai realize that this battle with hardcore fidayeens would involve 477 commandos from the elite National Security Guards (NSG), 400 policemen, one unit of the Navy’s elite marine commandos (MARCOS), 6 army columns and would take 60 hours to reach conclusion.

While the two terrorists who went berserk firing indiscriminately from CST to Metro Cinema (where they killed the chief of ATS and two senior police officers) and thereafter towards Girgaum Chowpatty where they were neutralized by a police team (one was killed in the encounter and the other Ajmal Amir Kasab, was taken alive though injured. Incidentally he was the only terrorist caught alive in the entire episode that unfolded in Mumbai). This drama on the streets lasted only for a few hours. It was the long haul at the two hotels and at Nariman House where Jewish families from Israel were taken as hostages that traumatized Mumbai. By late night of 26th November it was apparent that the attack was no ordinary terrorist strike but a meticulously fidayeen operation executed out by a group of highly motivated and trained foot soldiers from across the border in Pakistan. (The on-going investigations clearly point to the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET)[1] and the Pakistani military in the terrorist strike). This attack was a typical case of urban guerilla warfare at its best. The attackers it turned out were heavily armed with AK-47 assault rifles with seemingly endless rounds of ammunitions, Chinese hand-grenades, plastic explosives, small arms and ration in the form of dry fruits to last them for several days.

Investigations reveal that the Lashkar men got into an Indian fishing trawler that had either been arranged or hijacked for this purpose just before entering Indian territorial waters. Having monitored Coast Guard patrols closely, sources said, a mother ship (Pakistani vessel Al Hussaini) dropped them off in small boats from where they moved into an Indian fishing trawler (MV Kuber) to avoid detection. Once they reached close to the alighting point, they lowered themselves again into smaller boats arranged for them locally and then split into at least two groups for the attacks. The terrorists thus embarked in Karachi and either halted at Porbander (Gujarat) or off the coast of Porbander headed to Mumbai on MV Kuber. [Intelligence sources said that at least one of the boats used to carry out the attack was Kuber, a private Indian fishing boat from Porbandar in Gujarat. Kuber was found abandoned some five nautical miles off the Mumbai coast].

In the aftermath of the terrorist strike there has been an outpouring of emotions ranging from grief to anger and frustration in Mumbai and various cities of India. People in large numbers gathered to protest not only the shortcomings of the government and the politicians but also to impress on society that action was needed to tackle this menace. Heads have rolled with the Home Minister and Maharashtra’s Chief Minister and his deputy resigning within a few days of the attacks.

However, it must be pointed out that public anger and other varying emotions which were displayed on the streets of Mumbai and elsewhere cannot provide quick-fix solutions to the kind of terror that India is facing today.

The aim of this paper is a dispassionate and objective analysis of the shortcomings and the formulation of a strategy to combat terror.
First and foremost the terrorist strike in Mumbai was no ordinary terror strike. It was unique in that multiple locations, carefully chosen were targeted to cause maximum damage as well as impact. Instead of one or more bombings at distinct sites, the Mumbai attackers struck throughout the city using military tactics. Secondly, the choice of targets was also exclusive; all located in up-market South Mumbai (the five star hotels like Oberoi-Trident or Taj or the Leopold Café, a watering hole frequented by foreigners). The choice of the CST Railway Station was to cause fear and panic among the local populace and publicity for the jihadi cause. The Nariman House at Colaba was targeted primarily because it housed Jewish/Israeli families. The targets were selected for their visibility, (with the exception of Nariman House) impact, lax security, easy accessibility, hostage taking, and to find convenient fortifications to counter police action.

This choice of the fidayeens’ target particularly the Nariman House gives an indication as to the extent of planning that went into the execution of the terror strike. It must be remembered that though the Jews and in particular Israelis are vulnerable to terror strike the world over, little did anyone realize that Nariman House would be a terror target. It must be pointed out that even locals were not aware of the existence of a Jewish Centre till 26/11. This leads one to believe that a detailed recce (reconnaissance) had been carried out of all the targets in Mumbai much prior to 26/11. Considering the magnitude of the operation and the choice of targets, it can reasonably be assumed that more than the 10 member suicide squad, who were accounted for, may have been part of this operation.

The Pakistani Angle

Investigations indicated the attack to be the handiwork of the dreaded Pak-based terrorist group the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). The LeT was formed in the Kunar povince of Afghanistan as the armed wing of the Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI), an Islamic fundamentalist organisation of the Ahle-Hadith sect in Pakistan. The MDI is based in Muridke, near Lahore. It has subsequently changed its name to Jama’at-ud-Da’wah and is headed by Prof. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who is also the amir of Lashkar-e-Taiba.The group has the complete backing of the Pakistani military. Pakistan however denies this allegation. However, the Indian government and many non-governmental think-tanks allege and rightly so, that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is actively involved in training the members of this group in military skills as well as financing its activities directed against India. Pakistan vehemently denied that any of its citizens were involved in the Mumbai carnage. The Pakistani denial boomeranged when Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab confessed that he hailed from Faridkot, Pakistan and that he was instructed to cause mayhem. His father in an interview to a leading Pakistani daily the Dawn also admitted that the arrested terrorist was his son who had left home about four years back and the family had very little contact with him. Pakistan is also reported to have sought consular access for the arrested terrorist.


It has become a sort of fashion in this country to pin the blame on the intelligence agencies after almost every terrorist attack. This is because in the past several terrorist incidents in India, there was very little actionable intelligence that was available which could help the law enforcement agencies avert the strikes. However, in this particular case, on September 18, the R&AW intercepted a satellite phone conversation between a known LeT operative and an unknown person making refernce to an operation to be carried out targeting a hotel in Mumbai. September 24 intercept by R&AW identified the hotels – Taj, the Marriot, Land’s End and Sea Rock – considered for the attack. Thereafter, the CIA’s station chief also warned that terrorist might strike Mumbai that would come from the sea. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) also by its communication on November 19 warned Maharashtra government that Yusuf Muzamil (a.k.a. ‘Yusuf’ or as ‘Abu Gure’) a Muzaffarabad-based LeT operative and chief of operations had been in conversation with one HuJI operative identified as Yahhya for arranging foreign SIM cards for an operation. According to the Indian Express, internal inquiries into the Mumbai Terror attacks revealed that despite clear intelligence inputs the Coast Guard and the Navy failed to either spot or interdict Al Hussaini, the Pakistani ship that carried the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists from an Indus creek in Azizabad near Karachi. And this took place at a time when warships and some IAF aircraft were participating in an annual exercise for the defence of Gujarat... Therefore it can be reasonably inferred that some actionable intelligence was provided to the government of Maharashtra as well as to the Navy and Coast Guard. The inaction on the part of the various agencies on the ground that there was no actionable intelligence does not appear to be tenable.

However, this is not to suggest that there are no shortcomings in the intelligence gathering abilities and assessment of information gathered on the part of our agencies. There are a host of problems which need to be addressed:

The single biggest problem which needs to be addressed expeditiously is not the lack of intelligence information but an unwillingness to share information and resources among the police and intelligence agencies. This is further compounded by the fact that we have far too many organizations, with separate command and control thereby making it impossible to hold any one entity responsible for the failure. The Kargil intrusion was a case in point. In the case of 26/11, there was quite a bit of actionable intelligence. However there was no proper assessment and hence very little action was taken at the ground level by the concerned agencies.

The second problem is that of coordination. The blame game that necessarily follows the lack of coordination between intelligence agencies bring to mind a satire about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. Our agencies work more or less in this manner.

The Kargil Committee Report observed: “The Committee has drawn attention to deficiencies in the present system of collection, reporting, collation and assessment of intelligence. There is no institutionalised mechanism for coordination or objective- oriented interaction between the agencies and consumers at different levels. Similarly, there is no mechanism for tasking the agencies, monitoring their performance and reviewing their records to evaluate their quality. Nor is there any oversight of the overall functioning of the agencies. These are all standard features elsewhere in the world. In the absence of such procedures, the Government and the nation do not know whether they are getting value for money. While taking note of recent steps to entrust the NSCS with some of these responsibilities the Committee recommends a thorough examination of the working of the intelligence system with a view to remedying these deficiencies.” Nearly a decade after Kargil nothing seems to have changed on the ground.

In India the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), headed by an all-powerful, politically-appointed National Security Advisor (NSA) is at the top of the intelligence pyramid. Intelligence gathering within the country is carried out by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) was carved out of the IB and formed as a ‘Wing’ of the Cabinet Secretariat in September 1968 for collection of external intelligence. R&AW's legal status is unusual; it is not an "Agency" but a "Wing" of the Cabinet Secretariat. Hence R&AW is not answerable to Parliament on any issue.

As per convention, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) under the Cabinet Secretariat is responsible for co-ordinating and analyzing intelligence activities between R&AW, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). In practice, however, the effectiveness of the JIC has been varied.

India's hi-tech spying agency, the National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO), now known as National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is believed to be functioning under R&AW, although it remains autonomous to some degree. While the exact nature of the operations conducted by NTFO is classified, it is believed that it deals with research on imagery and communications using various platforms.

The Girish Saxena Committee which examined the state of the country’s intelligence apparatus recommended a ‘multi-agency set up’ to confront the challenges of terrorism, and this was, at least formally, implemented through the creation of two new wings under the IB – the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI). MAC was charged with collecting and coordinating terrorism-related information from across the country; the JTFI is responsible for passing on this information to the State Governments in real-time. Regrettably, both MAC and JTFI remain under-staffed, under-equipped and ineffective, with even basic issues relating to their administration unsettled. Their principal objective, the creation of a national terrorism database, has made little progress. The JTFI was also given the responsibility of upgrading counter-terrorism capabilities in the State Police Forces, as part of its mandate to improve intelligence-gathering across the country, but no actual programme of training or capacity enhancement has been initiated. The mission objective was to run an umbrella organization comprising state-level units called SMACs and the development of a national counter-terrorism database supported by state-level police-intelligence Joint Task Forces and inter-state Intelligence Support Teams. Conceived after the pattern of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center, the MAC was to be responsible for the joint analysis of intelligence flowing from different quarters and coordinating relevant follow-up actions.

The GoM had recommended the setting up of MAC as an immediate answer to charges of "intelligence failure" during the 1999 Kargil conflict. According to the GoM's recommendations, for wider and faster accessibility of intelligence information, it was necessary to set up a National Intelligence Grid along with a National Memory Bank.

Five years after MAC was approved, it is today composed of a skeletal staff and five SMACs, using a database hosted on a bare-bones computer system designed in-house, with no real-time links to state police forces or other intelligence agencies. There is no sign of the development of the comprehensive database on terrorists on which the entire counter-terrorism information grid was to be built. Senior intelligence officials have pointed out that the interrogation reports of 16,000 Islamist terrorists caught between 1991 and 2005 could prove to be a goldmine of actionable intelligence. The interrogation report of the LeT operative Fahim Ansari by the UP police could have provided a wealth of information had this been made known to the police in Mumbai. It turned out that it was Ansari who did the recce of Mumbai’s targets for the fidayeens.

Paramilitary organizations like the Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force maintain their own intelligence units (G Branch) to support counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and North-East.

Apart from the security agencies under the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are departments under the Ministry of Finance such as Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, etc. which deal with foreign exchange violations, hawala, money laundering, smuggling, tax evasion and crimes related to revenue.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the intelligence branches of the states police whose intelligence networks remain the primary source of information and main agency for implementing action on the ground.

In the aftermath of the recent terror attacks the government has proposed setting up of a National (or Federal) Investigation Agency to investigate and prosecute terror-related crimes. This is likely to be patterned on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is anybody's guess as to how one more agency will help India to combat terror effectively.

India’s Response

Indian response must necessarily be formulated in the context of Indo-Pak relations. The terror strike clearly indicates the involvement of Pakistani elements, if not the political establishment directly. Though, it must be said that this attack could simply not have been possible without the tacit knowledge and blessings of the ISI and the military. India can now ill-afford to have knee-jerk reactions and half-measures in dealing with this growing menace.

Pakistan’s so-called crackdown on terrorist groups like the LeT and JeM within its borders hardly inspires confidence. The action which is seen to be taken under intense pressure from the US and the UN is at best half-hearted. This type of Pakistani action was seen after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. One can expect these leaders to be free within a couple of months of house arrest or detention and the organizations which came to be banned will probably begin operations under a new name. The Pakistani President has already rejected India’s demand for handing over the leaders of the LeT, and chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar to India for standing trial.

Democracies cannot successfully combat terror by DEMOCRATIC MEANS. There is no denying the fact that harshest measures are needed to counter terror of the jihadi type emanating from a Talibanized Pakistan. The US which is the largest democracy and Israel which happens to be one of the smallest democracies could not combat terror through democratic means. India cannot do so either. The acts of terror perpetrated from across the border are not isolated acts or sporadic in nature. They are part of a concerted effort to destroy India. It is war of attrition.

India in the present scenario has the following options to deal with the crisis emerging out of Pakistan’s intransigence and reluctance:

India has been successful in mobilizing international opinion against terrorism sponsored by Pakistan and operating from Pakistani soil. Pakistan stands isolated today at the UN with very little support except probably from the Chinese. In the immediate short run, coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions can make life difficult for Pakistan. However, the so-called non-state actors (read LeT, JeM and other terrorist groups) in conjunction with the nefarious ISI may still be able to function from within Pakistani territory.

Ø Suspend bilateral talks with Pakistan on all issues including Siachen Glacier.
Ø Recall its High Commissioner to Pakistan and downsize both its own mission at Islamabad and call Pakistan to downsize its mission as well.
Ø Impose travel restrictions by suspending issue of visas indefinitely to Pakistani nationals.
Ø Snap of air, road and rail links to and from Pakistan.
Ø Stop PIA flights over Indian territory.
Ø Suspend cultural and sporting ties with Pakistan

Military Option

Though under the circumstances, a military option seems unfeasible. It also seems improbable that India would take recourse to the use of force till it has exhausted all its other options. However, India can adopt an ambivalent policy of “no war-no peace”. This will keep Pakistan guessing about India’s military options.

If India were to look at the military option then the scenario changes drastically for India has to take into consideration the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power and any action of this nature run the risk of escalating into a full blown conflict with attendant nuclear dangers. According to Stratfor, Pakistan expects that the Indians might launch air strikes against Islamist training camps and bases in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. In Pakistan’s view, this is not a serious problem. Mounting air strikes against training camps is harder than it might seem. The only way to achieve anything in such a facility is with area destruction weapons — for instance, using B-52s to drop ordnance over very large areas. The targets are not amenable to strike aircraft, because the payload of such aircraft is too small. It would be tough for the Indians, who don’t have strategic bombers, to hit very much. Numerous camps exist, and the Islamists can afford to lose some. As an attack, it would be more symbolic than effective. Attacks on training camps sound more effective than they are. Concentrating troops on the border is impressive only if India is prepared for a massive land war, and a naval blockade has multiple complications.

India needs a military option that demonstrates will and capability and decisively hurts the Pakistani government, all without drawing India into a nuclear exchange or costly ground war. And its response must rise above the symbolic.”

The military option that India must consider is not war but measures short of war. Reprisal, for instance, under such special and compelling circumstances could be considered legitimate and justified under international law. “A reprisal is an act of SELF-HELP… by the injured state, responding—after an unsatisfied demand—to an act contrary to international law committed by the offending state….Its object is to effect REPARATION from the offending state for the offense or a return to legality by the avoidance of further offenses." [Naulilaa Case (Portugal v. Germany), 2 UN Reports Of International Arbitral Awards 1012 (Portuguese-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, 1928)] A reprisal is a form of self defense and can only be used as a last resort; it must be executed with the view of restoring a sense of equilibrium in international relations and ensuring future compliance with legal norms.

There has been a lot of debate over whether India should carry out covert operations across the border to neutralize terrorists and terror infrastructure. Though clandestine operations have the advantages of surprise, stealth and deniability, such operations are also fraught with the danger of escalating into a full blown war. The pre-requisite for successfully executing such operations is having considerable HUMINT capabilities inside Pakistan along with logistical facilities. India must develop these covert action capabilities in order to retaliate deep inside enemy lines if it wishes to deter 26/11 type attacks in the future. Till date India’s war on terror is being fought within Indian territory militarily and otherwise. India must strive to fight such wars on enemy soil in future.

This war on terror (sponsored by Pakistan) is India’s war alone. We cannot expect and should not expect others to fight this war for us.

At the time of this writing, Pakistan under pressure from the US and India responded by detaining Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and certain leaders of the LeT. In the past too, Pakistan had temporarily detained certain leaders of the terrorist outfits based in Pakistan and released them after a few months. This “action” has been viewed with suspicion by India. At the same time Pakistan has also refused to hand over or extradite the 20 most wanted operating from Pakistan
[1] Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani-based Islamic terrorist organization, founded in 1986, seeks to drive out Indian security forces from the disputed Jammu and Kashmir regions of South Asia and establish an Islamic caliphate.


Pete said...

Hi Kumar

Your article is very high quality. Better than magazine articles and comments by "serious analysts".

Your section on Indian Intelligence arrangements stands out - in that you look at long term organisational trends not just the events of the last 3 weeks.

I've closed down my blog for comments from now till New Year but I'm directing people to your article because its far better than anything I've written on 26/11 or on India for that matter.

A great article my friend.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Pete - this is a very good article indeed and deserves wider circulation. The basic problem is that people don't have the attention span or the background knowledge to appreciate the nuances involved. In Australia, security work is a bloody nightmare largely because of a hostile judiciary and an uninformed public. The most depressing thing about Mumbai was the way that the terrorists were able to use modern technology such as Google Earth, VoIP, and the insane coverage offered by Indian TV that in fact betrayed the disposition of police forces. It's something that needs addressing in this country. Somewhere there should be a switch to turn off the whole bloody lot and let the media whinge in print after the event. The Chaser made everybody looks stupid in Sydney and instead of throwing the book at them, they were fêted as heroes and great comedians. They would've only needed one rocket launcher and Mr. Howard would've had a lot more to worry about than Kevin Rudd.

I spent most of my life defending this country, usually from external threats but now the cancer is within and it is advanced. What happened in Mumbai could easily happen here. We already know that LeT has sleepers in the country and although the authorities stuffed up an attempt to recruit someone who had been to Pakistan for training with that terrorist group, it makes you wonder how many they have options remain when people don't take counter-terrorism seriously.

PointSingularity86 said...

Bingo!! Great read and to the point... Nice work mate


Excellent. However I will ask you peel beyond the usual suspects - LeT, ISI and Pakistan Army.

Cheers and keep up the good writing.


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Jigs said...

Hi Kumar,

This article of yours is excellent, I have been reading articles on the 'Mumbai Terror Attacks'in various newspapers and magazines but none of them were as well crafted and intelligently detailed as yours. It surely needs a wider circulation.


Kumar said...

Hi Jigs

Thanks for the comments. Some of the officers directly involved in the operation are not only well known to me but very close (as good as part of my extended family). One officer survived to tell the tale. But sadly Mr. Kamte did not. Secondly, I followed the whole operations very closely. So was probably able to articulate it in my own way. Last but not the least, the subject "Terrorism" is an area of my ongoing research.


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