India’s National Security Policies and the Threat of Lashkar-e-Taiba: A Forgotten Concern
The year gone by has been significant for Indian politics and the months yet to come promise to be even more critical. Big cities, especially the capital- New Delhi, saw the emergence of mass movements against corruption, the formation of a new People’s Party and the emergence of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the party currently in opposition. With 2014 being an election year and a most likely change in administration, the debate in the media as well as civil society revolves around corruption, economic development and the controversial Prime Ministerial candidate- Narendra Modi.
Even though debates on these issues are important and vital for a thriving democracy, it almost seems like that the debate around national security policies has been put on a back burner. None of the contesting parties have shared their views on homeland security after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, even Modi, who has emphasized on India’s need to be self- reliant in defense production, has not spoken about his views or agendas regarding national security policies. The election this time around seems to pivot on anti-corruption, development and projecting India as a growing power in South Asia. But, in my opinion, homeland security should feature in this list too and take priority as well, since India is as much vulnerable, if not more, to terrorist attacks as it was in 2008.
The present administration in India would argue that it has been focusing on national security issues and that the dialogue process between India and Pakistan also saw some activity in the recent winter months which had otherwise been dawdling since after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. But, the threat of terrorism, especially Lashkar-e-Taiba, still remains an imminent danger despite the ongoing dialogue between the two countries.
The debate and emphasis on national security is imperative at this point in time not only because it will help encourage better formation and implementation of policies and that national security would directly contribute to economic growth but also because it will serve as a metric for the Indian population to gauge and establish the intention as well the agendas of the leadership which is likely to come to power in the very significant forthcoming elections.
This article thus aims to bring back to light India’s national security policies following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, assert that the threat posed by Lashkar-e-Taiba still remains imminent and despite the dialogue process between India and Pakistan going forward, LeT continues to enjoy the Pakistani state support. Through this article, I revisit the Mumbai attacks, analyze the countermeasures put in place by India as well as Pakistan and examine, in conclusion, the policy options India has with a likely change in administration.
A Prominent Threat: Lashkar-e-Taiba
Lashkar- e- Taiba which translates into the ‘Army of the Pure’ is the most robust and powerful terrorist group operating out of Pakistan and a prominent threat to India. Lashkar has proved its capability for planning and executing highly sophisticated attacks like the one in Mumbai in 2008 where the operatives used maritime insertion, GPS navigation and satellite phones for real time monitoring and as well as for communication with their leaders in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba has also been the pioneer for introducing Fedayeen attacks in India, their first recorded attack was in Kashmir in 1993.
LeT has infiltrated and built an extensive network of sleeper cells and associations with other jihadi groups in the sub-continent, which if not dealt with can and most probably will result in more Mumbai-style attacks. If we look at Lashkar’s expenditure for the Mumbai attacks, the biggest operation Lashkar has planned and successfully executed, they spent around $200,000 which when compared with LeT’s overall annual budget (probably in the $50 million or more range), it is evident that terrorism remains a low-cost endeavor.[i]
The group also has a robust above ground infrastructure that may be used as a first point of contact for would be jihadists.[ii] It has a sophisticated website named after its social wing- Jamaat-ud-Dawa and has an active presence on social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Despite Lashkar being connected to various other attacks in Mumbai before November 26, 2008 as well as in other incidents across India which also involved a large number of casualties, the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which claimed 164 lives and injured 308, brought to attention Lashkar’s global jihad ideology. For the first time after 9/11 foreign tourists, the Jewish community and luxury hotels were specifically targeted in Mumbai and the event forced national security authorities all across the world to rethink their preparedness as well as the possibility of another ‘Mumbai style attack’.
Also, since its formation Lashkar has shared very special relationship with Al-Qaida. It is widely believed that Osama Bin Laden was the one to provide seed funding for the establishment of Lashkar’s headquarters in Muridke, Pakistan. The affiliation grew stronger with time especially after 9/11 when it became impossible for Lashkar to ignore global jihad. Dr. Bruce Hoffman, as RAND Director of the Washington office, said in an interview, “LeT is increasingly transforming itself from a localized group to one that is not only an al-Qaida surrogate but a global jihadist group. This is part of al-Qaida’s strength: exploiting a group and getting them to buy into the global jihadist imperative.”[iii]
Al-Qaeda’s core strategy aims at distracting and exhausting adversaries, creating divisions between counter-terrorism allies, forging close ties and assisting local affiliates, planning major international or global attacks and monitoring western security and defense systems.[iv] The only difference in Lashkar’s core strategy is that the jihad they wage is directed towards India. Furthermore, not only they share a strong alliance but also similarities can be seen in their tactics and modus operandi. Many experts believe that the Mumbai attacks showed an uncanny resemblance to attacks carried out by Al- Qaida. The Mumbai gunmen were well-prepared and trained. The terrorists had done their reconnaissance and planning, which would have taken months to coordinate. They knew the terrain and locations. They had worked out the internal infrastructure and layout of the buildings and moved with stealth, combing their way through 10 locations and creating devastation along the way;[v] much like how Al-Qaida likes to conduct their operations.
Indian Response During the Mumbai Attacks
The terrorist attacks in Mumbai on night of November 26, 2008 were not the bomb blasts that the people of Mumbai had experienced before; they were also not similar to other terrorist attacks in the country or the incursions and fighting along India’s western border with Pakistan. Never before had young men, looking very unlike the images of terrorists shown on news channels, had blindly opened fire at places where people in Mumbai felt safe. The attacks continued for 3 days and the target places ranged from railway stations to hospitals, luxury hotels and cafes.
The initial response of the Mumbai Police Department was confusion. First responders from the Mumbai Police thought that a gang war had broken out. “I had no idea when I heard the firing that they were terrorists”, said Nitin Kakade, part of the small team that first entered the Taj Hotel.[vi]
Mumbai Police’s then Joint Chief Commissioner Rakesh Maria said in an interview a year later that it was a failure of imagination on the part of the Police Department. “What happened last year was a failure of imagination. Nobody had anticipated that something of this kind would take place. What we were anticipating were bomb blasts occurring in the city. Most of the time we used to begin the investigation after the bomb blasts were over. This was probably the first time that you had simultaneous, random and indiscriminate firing at different locations in the city, you had bomb blasts in the city, there was a hostage situation and you had encounters with the terrorists. The force didn't anticipate such an attack.”[vii]
Even when the police force established it was a terrorist attack, there was no Standard Operating Procedure which was followed. It appeared to be a case of confusion and crossed wires in the police command and control structure, with then police commissioner Hasan Gafoor giving orders to the main control room (MC) from his post at the Trident Hotel, the MC relaying orders to officers on the field, and the officers taking their own decisions based on ground-level inputs.[viii]
Sometime around midnight of November 26, the elite commando force called National Security Guards were requested to be deployed by then Chief Minister of Maharashtra State. Even though the National Security Guard (NSG) were able to secure the attack sites and kill the terrorists, it took the political leadership nearly 5 hours to decide on sending the NSG and then reach Mumbai from their Headquarters just outside of New Delhi. Precious hours were lost. First, on deciding the size of the force to send and, then, in getting them a plane to fly to Mumbai.[ix]
Although the Mumbai Police Force and the NSG are applauded for their operations during the attacks, their initial response and operating procedures brought to light serious flaws in coordination among the first responders, equipment and weaponry used by the forces, training against terrorists and taking action against the available intelligence.
The response to the Mumbai attacks reflects the counterterrorism measures taken by Indian authorities in general, particularly against Lashkar-e-Taiba - One step forward, two steps back.
Indian Countermeasures Post Mumbai Attacks
Immediately after the Mumbai attacks several measures were taken by the Indian administration amidst much public debate- mostly criticism as to how vulnerable Indian cities are to terrorist attacks. These measures were:
- Creation of NSG hubs in the major metropolitan cities
- Diplomatic pressure on Pakistan for the arrest and trial of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s top leadership
- Creation of a new National Investigation Agency (NIA)
- Amendment of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act
- Increased budget allocation for Homeland Security Agencies
- Coastal Security Scheme
- Creation of a Police Commando Force in Mumbai
- Arrest of key Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives
Within a week of the attacks Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the setting up of NSG hubs in different parts of the country. The first phase included setting up of hubs in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. All four of the hubs have been established and the last one was inaugurated in the winter of 2011. The regional NSG hubs were set up with the intent of reducing response time in case of a terrorist attack. In a country like India, which faces terrorist threat not just from external terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba but from homegrown terrorist and insurgent groups, even though it is necessary to have these regional hubs for quick deployment and response, security experts also feel that increase in the number of personnel or hubs is not going to solve the problem. Former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan said at a conference that the idea of setting up of NSG hubs was ‘archaic’ and a ‘major mistake’. “I am concerned about the current emphasis on increasing the size and numbers of the NSG. I also have reservations about the establishment of four regional hubs. The NSG is an elite special force intended to meet a specific situation and not intended to confront the normal law and order situation… Its strength does not lie in its numbers, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it consists of the bravest of brave personnel, of great virtue and ability, specially trained for undertaking the most difficult tasks... increasing numbers, to my mind, is bound to dilute both quality and capability of the force”[x]
The National Security Guard which was established in 1986 was modelled after the German GSG-9 and raised as an elite anti-hijacking, anti-terror and bomb disposal force[xi]. In the years before as well as after the attacks in Mumbai, they have mostly been used for VIP security. In 2012 the NSG for the first time in many years pulled out its 900 commandos from VIP security details and put them to train for and perform counter-terrorism and anti-hijacking operations.[xii] The boost that the NSG got after the Mumbai attacks was a step in the right direction but no Mumbai like attack after 2008, the force seems to now be caught up in a fight for budget allocations, equipment acquisition and improving their capability in terms of personnel and training.
As the interrogations of the lone surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, proceeded and reports of Pakistani state support as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba’s involvement surfaced, Indian officials blamed Pakistan for providing sanctuary and letting terrorist activities emanate from their soil. Indian administration since then has been trying to pressure Pakistan through diplomatic channels as well as through the international community to crack down on Lashkar- e-Taiba and bring the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks to book. In early January 2009, India sent evidence to Pakistan which linked the Mumbai attacks to Pakistani terrorists including data from the satellite phones which were used by the 10 gunmen to keep in touch with their handlers as well as what was described as ‘Kasab’s confession.’ The evidence dossier was also sent to countries whose citizens were the victims of the attack such as the United States, as India tried to corner Pakistan diplomatically into bringing the perpetrators to justice.[xiii]
In a time frame of three years since, 15 such dossiers have been provided to the Pakistani administration by the Indian government and officials of both countries have met on 13 different occasions. And even though Pakistan has acknowledged that the plan to attack Mumbai was hatched on Pakistani soil, India feels Pakistan has done little to cooperate and hasn’t taken any real hard steps to crack down on terrorist activity. It has been almost 5 years since the first dossier was provided and on the 5th anniversary of the attacks, Indian officials still press for a speedy and just trial of the masterminds.
Another major initiative taken by the government was the setting up of a federal National Investigative Agency by passing the National Investigative Agency Act and making relevant amendments to the already existing Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Both these measures were taken within a month of the Mumbai attacks and were passed by both Houses of the Parliament almost at the same time.
At present the NIA is functioning as the Central Counter Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India and has dealt with 72 cases till date.[xiv] Even though there was a dire need for a Federal Investigative Agency, the haste in which this Act has been conceived has left unresolved many issues about the NIA’s constitutional validity, functioning, and scope.[xv]
The constitutional basis for the creation of the NIA remains a matter of debate. The areas of policing and public order lie within the exclusive legislative competence of the States and not with the Centre (Central government). States would be extremely chary of accepting or cooperating with any agency that encroached on that power.[xvi] Furthermore, the NIA Act has been drafted in a way that it focuses only on investigation but not on prevention. In order for the NIA to be effective in preventing federal crime, it needs to be able to warehouse, process and coordinate the flow of critical information.[xvii]
The Amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which were brought about almost parallel to the NIA Act also felt significant but were vague in character and meaning. The amendments define ‘an act of terrorism’ but for the Act to have any real prevention or enforcement powers the definition needs to be more specific in sketching out the difference between civilians and combatants as well as between political and personal motives.
Further the Act lacks any kind of provision for a review mechanism. It grants immunity from prosecution or other legal proceedings to the central and state governments, and their employees.[xviii]
One of the more progressive steps which seems promising and likely to have a real effect on India’s counter-terrorism policies is higher budget allocation for the Ministry of Home Affairs which is responsible for internal security, border management, para military forces etc. The allocation for India’s homeland security agencies was increased by 25 percent in the budget 2009-2010.[xix] The allocation of budget for the Ministry has since increased yearly.
The budget in recent years also included the Coastal Security Schemes which were initiated in 2005, well before the Mumbai attacks in 2008, and completed its first phase in 2011. The Coastal Security Schemes were initiated with the aim of improving surveillance and patrolling along the Indian coast with the strengthening of the Marine Police Force. Under Phase-1 of the scheme 73 Coastal Police Stations, 58 Out Posts and 30 Barracks were approved with 204 boats and vehicles.[xx] Phase-2 was approved in 2010 and is set to be completed by 2015. 131 Coastal Police Stations, 180 boats/vessels, 60 jetties and 373 vehicles have been approved under Phase-2.[xxi]
The issue of maritime security and the lack of it surfaced and gained much attention after the Mumbai attacks. The fact that 10 men could easily enter Indian waters and gain entry into India’s financial capital armed with explosives, made the Indian government a target of the civil society’s outrage and frustration. Candle light vigils and heated public debates forced the administration to review the matter of coastal security and accelerate the implementation of the Coastal Security Scheme. But even though the Home Department and police are regularly claiming to have enhanced the coastal security system, the projects launched for this still remain on paper. Many coastal states failed to reach the target number of coastal police stations under Phase-1 and yet more have been sanctioned under Phase-2. States are also struggling with the maintenance and repair of equipment and vehicles. The intelligence community in Mumbai has got around 250 intelligence inputs this year with some referring to the possibility of terrorists using the sea to carry out attacks. Despite this, coastal police stations have not been built and the boats have been under repair for nearly two years.[xxii]
Yet another example of an ineffective counter-measure is the creation of an elite commando force under the Mumbai Police Department. The commando force called Force One was created for swift action in an event of Mumbai style attack and again it failed to even stand up on its feet. Till 2012, three years after its formation, the force was struggling to get the funds allocated to it by the State government and was struggling to cope with shortage of equipment such as special rifles, bulletproof vests, pistols and even ammunition for training and practice.[xxiii]
The most successful of all countermeasures though has been the arrest of key Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives. In 2013, Indian security officials arrested Abdul Karim Tunda- an expert bomb maker for the terrorist outfit. In 2012 approximately 61 operatives were killed in encounters with Indian security forces including Lashkar Division and District Commanders. Around 48 were arrested and 8 sleeper cells were neutralized.[xxiv] The arrests included key recruiter for Lashkar from India and Nepal Mohammad Omar Madni and Chief Coordinator for Jammu and Kashmir Manzoor.
Looking at the numbers, it certainly seems like the intelligence community is successful in gathering critical information as well as preventing further attacks but in my opinion they still have a long way to go. In 2013 itself, there has been a record of 254 infiltration bids made by terrorists along the India-Pakistan border. In 133 cases, the terrorists were made to ‘return’ to Pakistan territory, while they successfully crossed over in 84 cases.[xxv] The operatives that crossed over in these 84 cases could well be planning another Mumbai.
As seen in most of the counter measures analyzed above, they were carried out in haste without much deliberation or debate after the attacks in Mumbai. The poorly formed and impulsive decisions were then tangled in bureaucratic processes, slow paper work and murky politics. A senior journalist, Praveen Swami, commenting on the police reforms after the Mumbai attacks wrote in an article, ‘The Indian Fine Art of Faking Security’- “India's post-26/11 police reforms painted stripes on a donkey — and passed it off as a tiger.”[xxvi] But the alarming as well as disconcerting fact is that it is not just the police reforms which are being passed off as a tiger but India’s counter-terrorism policies as a whole seems to be a striped donkey which when under attack will shed its stripes and show its true colors.
Indian authorities continue to boast and reiterate the fact that they have launched many counter measures post Mumbai and they have been successful because there has not been another Mumbai like attack after 2008. Although that it is true, it is hardly a metric that can be used to measure success for counterterrorism policies. Most of these measures were taken to show to the world as well as to pacify the public sentiment that ‘we are doing something.’ Instead, for a review of the success or failure of these measures some basic questions should be addressed: Is the dependence on certain factors that terrorists or anti-terrorists can exploit as vulnerabilities increasing or decreasing? How seamlessly do terrorist organizations and networks interact? How seamlessly do new government anti-terrorist organizational structures and networks interact? Is the international operating environment becoming more or less inviting or restrictive for terrorists or for those combating them? Is it easier or harder today for terrorists to inflict the damage they seek to do?[xxvii]
Countermeasures by Pakistan and the International Community
Post the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has been under constant pressure by India as well the international community, especially the United States, to take action against the terrorist networks operating from Pakistan as well bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. Since then Pakistani authorities have:
- Raided Lashkar Headquarters and bases
- Apprehended hundreds of Lashkar operatives
- Indicted 7 Pakistani terrorists in connection with the Mumbai attacks
- And, have frozen Jamaat- ud- Dawa bank accounts
Since the first reports of Lashkar involvement as well the fact that the operatives were Pakistani nationals started appearing in the media, Pakistan started cracking down on Lashkar camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or Azad Kashmir. They apprehended the Operations Chief Zaki- ur- Rehman Lakhvi among many others. By the end of January 2009, the security services had rounded up close to 100 members of Lashkar and JuD, while putting over 100 more under surveillance.[xxviii] But this was almost like a standard procedure carried out by the Pakistani authorities in the event of any attack against India or elsewhere, when the international community closely watched the action taken by Pakistani authorities.
Soon after these raids on the camps and offices, Pakistani authorities put JuD’s founder and overall leader Hafiz Saeed under house arrest and also took over their headquarters in Muridke; but did not ban the organization under Pakistan’s Anti- Terrorism Act and Saaed was soon let off by the Lahore High Court because of lack of evidence connecting him either to the Mumbai attacks or to Al- Qaida. Also, of the approximately 100 Lashkar members rounded up in December and January 2009, most were never charged and instead bled back out onto the streets over the next several months.[xxix]
The 7 operatives including Lakhvi who were formally charged, almost a year after they were apprehended, pleaded not guilty and during the course of the proceedings 5 judges have been changed or transferred. Also, while awaiting trial in Rawalpindi, Lakhvi was allowed the use of a mobile phone and had full conjugal rights with his wife.[xxx] Lakhvi and others have also changed their lawyers recently who ahead of the fifth anniversary of the attacks said that the dossiers provided by the Indian authorities were a ‘sham’.
This preferential treatment highlights the relationship between Lashkar and the Pakistani authorities- they have always been the one terrorist group who have been considered above all others and have been chosen to fight a proxy war against India. The reason behind this relationship is mostly Lashkar’s ideology- they believe in waging jihad outside of Pakistan, primarily against India, and do dawa or social service at home in Pakistan. Stephen Tankel in his book ‘Storming the World Stage’ interviewed an ISI official who put it bluntly, saying “Pakistan is being expected to hit Lashkar to prove we are treating every jihadi group equally when it is the other groups that are hitting us while Lashkar is not. For this reason he said, “They are not equal to us and of course Pakistan favors Lashkar.”[xxxi]
Another eyewash by the Pakistani authorities has been the freezing of bank accounts for JuD, the social services arm who collects and raises funds for its armed wing- Lashkar. Two days after JuD’s accounts supposedly were closed, Wall Street Journal reporters discovered some remained open for deposit.[xxxii] Further, this summer Pakistan’s Punjab government also allocated Rupee 61 million in its budget for fiscal year 2013-14 to the largest center of JuD. Besides a grant-in-aid of over Rupee 61 million for the JuD's center known as ‘Markaz-e-Taiba’, the provincial government has allocated Rupee 350 million for setting up a ‘Knowledge Park’ at the center and other development initiatives.[xxxiii] Lashkar and its social wing have also been using the tactics of quick morphing to avoid any interruption of flow of funds. After the Mumbai attacks, when JuD’s name was under the lens, they quickly changed their name to Tehreek- e- Tahafuz- Qibla Awal (TTQA).
Lashkar has also faced a lot of pressure from the international community post Mumbai attacks. In December 2008 the United Nations Security Council banned and placed sanctions against JuD and named Lashkar as its alias and Hafiz Saeed as the group’s leader.
Two men - David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana -were also arrested in the United States for plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper office which had published controversial cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. While interrogating the authorities found the two men to be connected to the Mumbai attacks and charged them for the same. Headley pleaded guilty and has been sentenced to life in prison while Rana has been sentenced for 14 years in prison.
United States has also been repetitively pressurizing Pakistani authorities through diplomatic channels to crack down on the terror networks as well as ensure a speedy trial for the Mumbai attacks. In April 2012 U.S. put a $10 million bounty on Hafiz Saeed and recently President Obama again questioned Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on why the trial had yet not started.
The United States military establishment has also been closely working with their Indian counterparts on sharing intelligence as well as developing strategies to counter the common threat- Lashkar. Admiral Robert Willard, Head of the US Pacific Command said in an interview in 2012, “Our (US and India) security relationship involves strategic to tactical-level dialogues, increasingly robust military exercises, security assistance, and personnel exchanges”.[xxxiv]
And although the pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorist organizations has been immense, especially after Bin Laden was found living in Abottabad, Pakistan has been dragging its feet to take any appropriate action against Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hafiz Saeed often appears in videos and news reports to be roaming around freely in Pakistan and preaching, along with his family members, for people to join jihad, and in my opinion, it is senseless to expect that Pakistani authorities will take any kind of action against Lashkar and not deal with other terrorist outfits first, who pose a far greater threat to Pakistan. Lashkar has always been Pakistani authorities’ favorite tool for its war against India and the last thing they would want is to upset the outfit and turn it against the state. Tankel further writes in his book about the interview with the previously mentioned ISI officer, “In a moment of candor, an ISI officer asked rhetorically, “Who benefits if we go after the Lashkar? And who pays?” His response: “India and Pakistan”.[xxxv]
What Went Wrong and the Way Forward
Actionable intelligence is the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about disrupting a terrorist plot. Although its primary function is strategic intelligence, the Indian Intelligence Bureau has an excellent record in providing tactical support to state police forces- within reasonable limits. Between 1998 and 2003, it reportedly neutralized 250 ISI- backed jihadist cells across India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern states. This neutralization rate of approximately one terrorist cell per week has been maintained even after the current spate of jihadist violence erupted in 2005. Where problems have arisen is not so much in the IB’s response to pan-Islamist terrorism, but in that of the political leadership. Put simply, there has been no policy response to ample warnings from the intelligence community since 2002 that Pakistan planned to target the Indian heartland.[xxxvi] Before the Mumbai attacks there were reports of at least 20 intelligence reports provided to the Mumbai Police Department specially warning them about Fedayeen attacks or sea borne infiltrations. The Intelligence Bureau of India had also received two specific warnings about the Taj hotel. One concerned a possible attack on 24 May and the other on 11 August, both prompted by tip offs from a source in Pakistan said to be inside Lashkar.[xxxvii] The hotel was made aware of the tip offs but nothing was really done to beef up security or improve the current measures in place, like CCTV cameras and security guards on the front gate.
Prem Mahadevan writes in his book ‘The Politics of Counterterrorism in India’, “Such inaction (failure to act on intelligence) stems from four factors, two of which are political and two operational. The factors are: a lack of political consistency and consensus, and a lack of operational capacity and coordination. Between them, these constraints ensure that decision- makers in the Indian political and security establishments fail to act on initial warnings provided by intelligence agencies.”[xxxviii] Additionally, the security agencies as well as the people in the position of responsibility have an attitude problem. Till the time everything is right and nothing goes wrong the attitude is simply ‘Chalta hai’ – Everything works. Any amount of intelligence is of no use till the time it is taken seriously and acted upon.
Despite such specific intelligence inputs, as mentioned before, Mumbai’s Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria said in an interview that it was a ‘failure of imagination’ on the part of the police department. This clearly shows the lack of seriousness attributed to the importance of intelligence in counterterrorism. To overcome this, personnel in state police departments need to go through rigorous training for intelligence gathering as well as to deal with the gathered intelligence inputs.
A committee set up to find the loopholes in the response to the Mumbai attacks, The Pradhan Committee, found out that “well set out procedures for handling intelligence and ‘crisis management’ were overlooked and the Commissioner of Police Mumbai Hasan Gafoor did not exhibit adequate initiative in handling the multi-pronged attack and remained at one spot near Trident Hotel throughout the operations.[xxxix]
There is an urgent need for proper Standard Operating Procedures in place and not just on paper but for them to be enforced through drills and simulation games. There is also a need a for a centralized command and control, so that in an event of an attack, forces on the ground know who they are taking orders from and remain coordinated in their efforts.
Most importantly, it is necessary to be practical about countermeasures being put in place, most of the steps taken by Indian authorities remain non-operational and useless. In the end everything boils down to resource allocation and in India where every official must have his ‘cut’ at every step of the process, it becomes increasingly difficult to implement any policies. It is imperative that a strong anti-corruption system comes in place, especially where authorities are working for national or state security for a speedy and proper implementation of counter terrorism policies.
Proactive steps should be taken to break Lashkar’s alliance with homegrown jihadi outfits like Indian Mujahidin (IM) and the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) who are known to provide logistical as well as surveillance services to Lashkar. Not just domestic jihadi organizations but also their links to organized crime and mafia leaders who provide a safe channel for money laundering should be cracked down upon. One of the most effective ways to disrupt Lashkar’s operations is to disrupt their money flow. Further even though India has joined the Financial Action Task Force in 2009 and has with the help of the United States declared Dawood Ibrahim an international terrorist, but because Lashkar has such an extensive global network for fund raising as well as money laundering, it is difficult for authorities to move through slow diplomatic channels to fully implement and stop the money flow, especially with regard to Pakistan who seems to be extra cautious and slow while providing any kind of cooperation against Lashkar.
Although many commend India’s restraint in taking an offensive action against Pakistan, at the risk of sounding like a hawk, the most strong and probably the most effective approach India can take is a counterterrorist offensive against Lashkar camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. While it will be a bold move, which would require political consensus as well as a strong international backing, an offensive like that does have the potential to completely destroy as well as deter the group and their friends inside Pakistani state.
Former IB Director also suggests that India develops a strong covert capacity similar to what Pakistan has done: “It (Pakistan) estimates that its nuclearization has raised India’s tolerance threshold infinitely high, giving it space to operate with impunity and indefinitely. India cannot afford to play the game in defensive mode, which is like playing soccer with a single goalpost in which you only receive the hits. By mathematical logic, the defending team can never win. Developing credible covert capacity, whose use can be controlled and calibrated, will be an effective deterrent against Pakistan.”[xl]
But in my opinion, going for a covert offensive would only make matters worse instead of solving it. The nexus of terrorism, in my opinion, has to be dismantled not created. If India uses the same technique of a proxy war against Pakistan, it will result in a never ending cycle of state supported terrorism from both sides. Instead if India does choose to go for an offensive, the best choice would be to strike terrorist camps in PoK. It will send a strong message to Pakistan as well as majorly degrade Lashkar’s recruiting and training capability.
Further, we have seen that with time, Lashkar has demonstrated a change in tactics and is not limited to any particular means of attack, therefore any countermeasures taken against Lashkar must be designed keeping its strengths and modus operandi in mind. The objective of counter terrorism measures is not just to prevent future attacks and secure the borders and coastlines but also proactively making it difficult for terrorists to plan and implement any attacks by denying them the support structures they need to operate. Keeping this mind, the process of radicalization of youth in India, especially in places like Kashmir, should be targeted. There is a huge trust deficit between the authorities and the local population which encourages the youth to join or associate themselves with terrorist outfits. Dr. Bruce Hoffman outlines in his book ‘Inside Terrorism’ the key lessons to be learnt from suicide terrorism, one of the suggestions he makes is “Develop strong confidence building ties with the communities from which terrorists are most likely to come or hide in, and mount communications campaigns to eradicate support from these communities.”[xli] This measure is also very appropriate as well as crucial for dealing with Lashkar’s network and sympathizers in India.
Also, keeping in mind how similar Al-Qaida and Lashkar are in their motives and aims, India needs to focus on targeting the core Lashkar leadership as the U.S. has done with Al- Qaida. But also keeping in mind the resources and the relationship India has with Pakistan, this seems hardly plausible. What India can do though is to focus on developing relationships with other countries in South Asia as well as western powers to form a working alliance against terrorism and the threat of Lashkar.
Although the use of drone programs has certainly put a dent in Al-Qaida’s strength, similar use of drones might result in undesirable consequences for India. Yet, the role of technology, I believe, is crucial for India’s fight against Lashkar and investing in Unmanned Air Vehicles and using them for reconnaissance along the India- Pakistan border as well as along the western coastline can be highly beneficial.
In an interview in November 2011, Former Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, who took charge after the Mumbai attacks, said that India does not have the ability to prevent another Mumbai like attack. But, he further adds, that India’s response would be better.[xlii] This stands true even in 2014, more than five years after the Mumbai attacks. Even though so many decisions were made to prevent as well as to strengthen India’s capability to respond to such attacks, most of them still remain on paper or are constantly fighting for resources to maintain their operational standards. Because India can now “imagine” the threat of Mumbai styled attacks and with the creation of NSG hubs in different metropolitan cities of India, the response of security forces as well as political leadership is likely to be better.
Pakistan on the other hand has also taken some very limited steps to show to the world as well India that they are with them in the fight against terrorism. But yet again, most of what they have done against Lashkar is merely an eyewash. Pakistan has its hands full with terrorists groups who are creating havoc in Pakistan and on the other hand they have Lashkar which seems to be more loyal to the Pakistani authorities and focuses on only targeting India and liberating Kashmir. Hence, Pakistan is now trying to balance between taking action against Lashkar and trying to show to the international community that they are treating all the terrorist groups equally.
To combat terrorism and eliminate the threat of Lashkar, India needs to completely devoid the national security apparatus of corruption. There needs to be an increased cooperation among the different agencies working for national security as well as among the different state police departments. Focus needs to shift on training personnel keeping in mind the changing tactics of Lashkar and quick and proper implementation of any measures that are taken to strengthen national security.
India also proactively needs to end the cycle of radicalization and recruitment of youth by building strong confidence building programs and programs which counter jihadi propaganda. Further, India also needs to invest in technology which helps the security agencies combat terrorism and secure porous borders.
Moreover, Lashkar has always shared a very special relationship with Al-Qaida and destroying Lashkar’s strength is not only an important step for India’s national security but also a step towards limiting Al-Qaida’s brand name and the global jihad phenomenon. Hence, how the Indian authorities respond to Lashkar plays a very critical role.
Lastly, now in the months before the elections, the matters of homeland security should be brought back to the table and the contesting parties should debate on their views regarding national security. Electoral promises should include more resources, better equipment and capabilities for not only securing prominent targets and coast lines but also for deterring attacks like the one in Mumbai.
[i] Geoffrey Kambere, Puay Hock Goh, Pranav Kumar, Fulgence Msafir, The Financing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Combating Terrorism Exchange, vol. 1, no. 1 (August 2011) p. 18
[ii] Testimony of Stephen Tankel, House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, May 3 2011 accessed at http://homeland.house.gov/sites/homeland.house.gov/files/Testimony%20Tankel%20(Revised).pdf
[iii] Sumathi Reddy, “Militant Group is Considered Sophisticated, Well Financed,” The Baltimore Sun, August 5 2005 accessed at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2005-08-05/news/0508050290_1_lashkar-pakistan-al-qaida
[iv] Bruce Hoffman & Fernando Reinares, “Al-Qaida’s Core Strategy and Dis-quieting Leader Led Trajectory,” Real Institute Elcano, October 9 2013 accessed at http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano_eng/Content?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_in/zonas_in/ari372013-hoffman-reinares-al-qaeda-strategy-leader-led-trajectory
[v] M.J. Gohel & Sajjan Gohel, “Commentary: Were Mumbai Attacks Inspired by Al-Qaida,” CNN, December 1 2008 accessed at http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/11/30/gohel.mumbai/
[vi] Meena Menon, “26/11: The first few hours at the Taj,” The Hindu, November 21, 2009 accessed a
[vii] Linda Blake, “26/11 Response a “Failure of Imagination”, Wall Street Journal, November 27 2009 accessed at
[viii] Nikhil S. Dixit, “Why Police Command & Control Failed on 26/11,” DNA, November 27 2009 accessed at
[ix] Pranab Dhal Samanta, “26/11: It took 5 hrs to decide on sending NSG, find aircraft,” The Indian Express, June 6 2009 accessed at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/2611-it-took-5-hrs-to-decide-on-sending-nsg-find-aircraft/472337/0
[x] “NSG Hubs an archaic idea, says Narayanan,” The Indian Express, October 13 2012 accessed at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/nsg-hubs-an-archaic-idea-says-narayanan/1016058/
[xi] “Modernizing the NSG,” India Today, January 9 2009 accessed at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/Modernising+the+NSG/1/24796.html
[xii] “NSG to pull out 900 commandos from VIP security for counterterror operations training,” The Times of India, July 1 2012 accessed at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-07-01/india/32494610_1_commandos-nsg-national-security-guard
[xiii] “India says all options open to dismantle terror groups,” The Epoch Times, January 7 2009 accessed at http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/india-terror-groups-9932.html
[xv] “Issues Paper on the National Investigation Act, 2008,” The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, January 5 2009 accessed at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/programs/aj/police/india/police-reforms/issues_paper_on_the_national_investigation_agency_act_2008.pdf
[xviii] Ravi Nair, “Stop This Terror of Law,” National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Vol. 44, No. 4 (January 2009) accessed at http://nchro.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6582:stop-this-terror-of-law--ravi-nair-&catid=45:law-and-judiciary&Itemid=40
[xix] “High Time for National Intelligence Coordinator, Says Pallam Raju,” Press Information Bureau, November 4 2009 accessed at http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=53829
[xx] “Government Clears 1,100 Crore Coastal Security Scheme,” The Times of India, September 24 2010 accessed at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-09-24/india/28272908_1_coastal-security-scheme-coastal-police-stations-coastal-states
[xxi] Coastal Security Scheme Phase II, South Asia Terrorism Portal accessed at http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/document/papers/2010/Statewpc.htm
[xxii] Somendra Sharma, “Centre raps Maharashtra for its Porous Coastal Security,” DNA, October 8 2013 accessed at http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-centre-raps-maharashtra-for-its-porous-coastal-security-1900305
[xxiii] Yogesh Naik, “3 Years On, Force One Lacks Sufficient Arms, Ammunition,” The Economic Times, June 20 2012 accessed at http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-06-20/news/32335646_1_force-one-bulletproof-vests-recce
[xxiv] Incidents Involving Lashkar-e-Taiba: 2012, South Asia Terrorism Portal accessed at http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/jandk/terrorist_outfits/lashkar_e_toiba_lt.htm
[xxv] Bharti Jain, “Pakistan Made Record 254 Infiltration bids in 9 Months,” The Times of India, October 22 2013 accessed at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-10-22/india/43286974_1_infiltration-security-forces-three-terrorists
[xxvi] Praveen Swami, “The Indian Fine Art of Faking Security,” The Hindu, July 21 2011 accessed at http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/the-indian-fine-art-of-faking-security/article2278238.ece
[xxvii] Raphael Perl, “Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, March 12 2007 accessed at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL33160.pdf
[xxviii] Stephen Tankel, Storming the World Stage (Hachette India, 2011), p. 236
[xxix] Ibid., p. 237
[xxx] Cathy Scott- Clark & Adrian Levy, The Siege: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj (Penguin Books, 2013) p. 292
[xxxi] Tankel, Storming the World Stage, p. 258
[xxxii] Ibid., p. 239
[xxxiii] “Pak’s Punjab Govt. Allocates Millions of Rupees For Hafeez Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa”, The Times of India, June 18 2013 accessed at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-18/pakistan/40048214_1_jud-punjab-govt-punjab-government
[xxxiv] Uttara Choudhary, India, US Closing in on the Common Enemy: Lashkar-e- Taiba, First Post World, February 29 2012 accessed at http://www.firstpost.com/world/india-us-girding-against-the-common-enemy-lashkar-e-taiba-228929.html
[xxxv] Ibid., p. 258
[xxxvi] Prem Mahadevan, The Politics of Counterterrorism in India (I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2012) p. 195
[xxxvii] Clarke & Levy, The Siege: Three Days of Terror Inside the Taj, p. 27
[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 2
[xxxix] “Pradhan Committee finds serious lapses on Gafoor’s part,” The Hindu, December 21 2009 accessed at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/pradhan-committee-finds-serious-lapses-on-gafoors-part/article68262.ece
[xl] Mahadevan, The Politics of Counterterrorism in India, p. 204
[xli] Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006) p. 169
[xlii] Sahil Makkar & Elizabeth Roche, “India Cannot Prevent Another 26/11 Attack,” Live Mint, November 25 2011 accessed at http://www.livemint.com/Politics/LEUY8uWkIEoPxcQllAjZZO/GK-Pillai--India-cannot-prevent-another-2611-attack.html