While a lot of facts and figures are still to be unearthed from the fog of the 3-day terrorist war in Mumbai, here is the big picture of the heinous three days:
12-25 terrorists entered Mumbai on November 26, 2008, at 9:30 pm; spread a blanket of terror across the city attacking 10 locations simultaneously. The soft underbelly of hotels, cafes, cinemas, and hospitals were targeted. There were blasts and civilians were gunned down and taken as hostage, while terrorists asked specifically for people carrying U.S. and British passports in the two hotels they attacked.
Indian cities are no longer strangers to multiple bomb blasts. In Mumbai itself, this started with the series of thirteen explosions resulting in 257 deaths and over 700 injured in March 1993. Ten years later in March 2003, a bomb attack on a commuter train killed 11 persons. In another incident, twin car bombings killed at least 52 people and injured 150 persons. Again, seven bomb blasts occurred at various places on the Mumbai suburban railway, killing 200, in July 2006.
This year alone, India suffered a high number of terrorist bomb attacks including the ones in New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Guwati, and Manipur.
Then what is so different this time?
1. From the global media coverage perspective, for the first time, westerners, in particular the Americans and the British, and Jews, were targeted on Indian soil. As a result, this attack received the highest global media coverage since 9/11. Some are calling the incident as the 9/11 of India as well.
2. The distinction also lies in the “method” of terrorism. The “frontal built up area assault” tactics combined with “amphibious operation,” instead of timed explosive devices causing one or more bombings at distinct sites, might be called a new chapter in the history of terrorism. The “frontal built up area assault” is also known as the “Fidayeen technique” in the terrorism history of Indian sub-continent. The Fidayeen technique is a rudimentary form of “shock and awe” warfare introduced into Kashmir in the 1990s by Pakistani radical organizations. The large majority of Fidayeen attacks in Kashmir were perpetrated by one such organisation, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, founded and led by Pakistani religious radicals. Though the tactic has had precedents, its deployment in central Mumbai shows that this technique has now found a new theatre to operate in densely populated urban centers.
3. What makes this attack different is also the scope and scale of the “preparation” that took place before the attack. A great deal of planning, financing, training, and setting up a supporting network to aid the terrorists went into the attack. It is more than likely that the masterminds are seasoned operatives and that the young participants had undergone rigorous training for months or years. They had also established an operation control room inside the Taj Mahal hotel.
This incident has also revealed the critical shortcomings in India’s security apparatus. It is essential to modernize the police system. Providing them with better training and regular drills, modern weaponry and best quality protective guards is very important to give them the right incentives to protect the country. If this is not done timely, the police force will soon become demoralized. There should also be a reorientation of the police force. Today in India they are used shamelessly and indiscriminately to protect mainly the political leaders. The political leaders should have their own team of security guards and should not involve the Indian police. There is also a burning need to organize a national level intelligence squad to deal with terrorism effectively.
Indian people and leaders are too complacent and totally unperturbed by the shocking incidents around them. They get used to tragedies like this fast. They should realize that their complacence is very quickly going to take them down a slippery slope of increased terrorist attacks. They should act before it’s too late.
India is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, and languages. It is geographically located in a dangerously disturbed zone as well. Destabilizing India economically and politically can send strong shock waves throughout the World. This is something that the international community should be aware of.
A citizen of India living in the U.S., Sreya Sarkar works as a policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, based in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Sarkar grew up in Kolkata, where much of her family still lives, and earned advanced degrees in India and the U.S. Views expressed in this column are the personal views of the author, not of Cascade.