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Five lessons from Mumbai

Tunku Varadarajan, Forbes.com | December 03, 2008

The terrorist assault on Mumbai has only just ended, and India has entered a period of urgent self-examination, bitter soul-searching--and increasingly acrid recrimination. Here are five lessons that present themselves--to the naked eye--in the aftermath.

1. India is an incredibly soft target for terrorists.

Mumbai, India's financial hub, lacked its own SWAT teams and commandos. They had to be flown in from the capital, New Delhi [Images] (with the interior minister announcing, on TV, that 200 of them were on their way . . .  talk about a free gift of information to the terrorists!).

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  • One cannot imagine that the small number of terrorists who assaulted Mumbai were the only ones trained at the Pakistani camps whence they came. So: What will happen if terrorists attack, next, the information technology hubs in Bangalore and Hyderabad, the high-tech heart of India's economy?

    Or the Taj Mahal [Images] in Agra [Images], arguably the most famous building in the world? Or the Howrah railway junction in Calcutta--India's busiest? Or India's off-shore oil platforms in the Arabian Sea, not all that far from Karachi? Or, all at once, each of the five elite Indian Institutes of Technology, with the aim of wiping out the next generation of Indian scientists?

    India must set up numerous regional anti-terrorist-squad hubs, with one in every state capital, and with special protective provision for sites deemed to be likely terrorist targets.

    This will be expensive, but not as expensive as the cost of recovering from terrorist catastrophe. (Footnote: How safe from terrorist attack are India's nuclear installations?)

    2. India must revamp its dysfunctional intelligence services.

    Here, it must put nationalism and spurious pride aside and go cap in hand to the Israelis, the Americans, and the Brits, and say: "Help us protect ourselves. Tell us what we should do to keep our country and its people safe."

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  • These countries are streets ahead of India in the sophistication and sweep of their intelligence, and now have a vigorous incentive to help India: Their nationals are extremely vulnerable abroad, and were singled out by the terrorists in Mumbai; besides, no doubt now remains that India is battling a common Islamist foe.

    The Hindu has joined the Jew and the Christian as an infidel to be scorched with jihadist wrath.

    3. India's political parties must swiftly agree on a national security agenda, drawing up a list of goals that transcend partisan politics.

    Their aim must be to keep the country's citizens and resources safe from terrorist attack. A government of national unity, while a seemingly Utopian idea in such a politically fractious country, should be on the table for consideration.

    Furthermore, there must be a pact between parties that India's Muslims must not be stigmatized in the run-up to the country's elections next year. (It should be noted that a number of those who were gunned down by the Islamist terrorists in Mumbai were Indian Muslims.)

    All the Indian political parties could, usefully, reaffirm their commitment to secular democracy, a cornerstone of the Constitution of India. In a war, one must distinguish oneself as clearly as possible from one's enemy.

    4. India must take advantage of the presence in Pakistan of a friendly, civilian government.

    That government is waging its own struggle for political supremacy against the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments--which have a vested interest in stoking hostility toward India, and which have, in ways that have been irrefutably documented, aided the terrorists' jihad against India.

    So any Indian "Blame Pakistan" reaction must be careful not to undermine the civilian government there: That government is bending over backward to improve ties with India, and the terrorist attacks on India are, in part, an attempt to derail genuine peace efforts.

    So New Delhi must treat President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani as friends. After all, Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto [Images], was killed by terrorists not unconnected to those who assaulted Mumbai. He has as much hatred for them as does the average Indian.

    Philosophically, Indians must also learn to distinguish "a few evil Pakistanis" from "Pakistan as a whole," just as most Americans, after 9/11, did not see Mohammed Atta as an incarnation of Egypt [Images].

    5. The Pakistani government, for its part, needs swiftly to assert control over Pakistan's military and intelligence institutions, for no amount of peaceful overtures toward India will bear fruit if they can be wrecked by a single terrorist assault. It may be enough, this time, for President Zardari to assert that the Pakistani government was not involved in any way. But what of the next attack . . .  and the next?

    There will come a time--and it will not be long in coming--when India will be entitled to ask itself what forcible, self-defensive measures it should take if the Pakistani government is incapable of controlling jihadist activity (including the presence of elaborate training camps) on its own soil?

    Here, the Obama administration has to be rock-firm with Islamabad--particularly with Pakistan's generals and Inter-Services Intelligence spies. After all, did not the terrorists--trained in camps to which the Pakistani army appears to have turned a blind eye--seek out and kill Americans in Mumbai?

    Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at the Stern Business School at NYU and research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, is opinions editor at Forbes.com, where he writes a weekly column.


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