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How to fix Pakistan's Mad Mullahs and prevent another 26/11

November 26, 2013 10:29 IST

'The Kuber left Porbandar on the Saurashtra coast on November 14 and was next traced in Mumbai on November 26. It is a mystery where this boat was for 12 days.'

'It was claimed that the Kuber was hijacked on open seas. But would the LeT have planned such an elaborate operation on the chance that they would be able to hijack a boat, asks Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) on the fifth anniversary of the 26/11 attacks.

First, the good news. There has been no major terrorist attack of Pakistani origin since the 2008 Mumbai massacre. The job of killing Indians has been outsourced to local outfits like the Indian Mujahideen.

Fortunately for India, the IM lacks expertise and wherewithal like RDX etc. On August 1, 2012, four bombs in Pune turned out to be damp squibs. Mere zeal is no substitute for efficiency in killing.

A noticeable thing about the IM attacks is that despite the outrage professed by it at the 'oppression' of minorities etc, there have been no suicide attacks.

Without publicly admitting so, it appears that Pakistan has indeed curbed the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's anti-India activities.

But it would be downright dangerous to be complacent.

As the Americans withdraw from Afghanistan and internecine killings intensify in Pakistan, the conflict is bound to spill over into India.

In addition, the kind of toxic election campaign being run in India for the upcoming 2014 election will give a ready excuse to Pakistan-based terrorists to fight the 'communal' elements in India.

Never mind that more people have been slaughtered in the Land of the Pure (Pakistan) in the last one year alone than by the so-called Indian communalists in a decade.

All in all, it would be reasonable to assume that a repeat of the 26/11 attacks in 2014 is quite likely. It is time we think of preventive and deterrent measures to stop it.

The first essential step in prevention is to conduct a thorough inquiry into the Mumbai attacks. The inquiry carried out by Ram Pradhan and V Balachandran appears to be more to assuage public outrage than a search for truth and closing the loopholes in security.

The analysis of 26/11 has to be done at three levels:

  • The intelligence aspects in forecasting the event-based information available and its analysis. For instance, how and why was the boat carrying the terrorists not detected on the high seas? This has grave implications for the security of Bombay High oil rigs, the Tarapur, Kalpakkam, Kundakulam nuclear power plants, all installations of strategic importance and all located on the seashore, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
  • The reaction of the police, army, navy, state, media and the central government.
  • The role of local support.

The inquiry so ordered must have a representative of intelligence services, police, navy, coast guard, NSG commando experts and bureaucrats from the home ministry. The commission must be headed by a very senior person with total powers to access all documents and personnel.

The inquiry must be kept 'Top Secret' and not open to the public, if one is to expect the affected persons to come out with true facts.

The US did precisely this after the 9/11 attacks that led to a total revamp of its intelligence and homeland security as well as a new law like the Patriot Act. What we have had so far is individual-based assessments and actions like the creation of the National Investigation Agency etc.

The task to secure our vast coastline is indeed daunting.

A very crucial maritime aspect of the 26/11 attacks has received less than deserved attention.

It has been established that the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Karachi on a Pakistani merchant ship Al Hussaini, transferred to the MV Kuber -- the Indian trawler -- and came to Mumbai.

The DNA samples collected from the Kuber showed the presence of six other persons besides the 10 terrorists.

The Kuber left Porbandar on the Saurashtra coast on November 14 and was next traced in Mumbai on November 26. It is a mystery where this boat was for 12 days. It was claimed that the Kuber was hijacked on open seas. But would the LeT have planned such an elaborate operation on the chance that they would be able to hijack a boat?

It is also not clear whether the Pakistani navy not just trained the LeT terrorists, but may have escorted the Al Hussaini in international waters.

The possible involvement of Pakistani armed forces in the terrorist attacks raises the issue of 'deterrence'. The reaction of the Pakistani government in not curbing the activities of the LeT should be taken as complicity.

Pakistan should be warned in advance that any terror attack on targets in India with Pakistani signature will invite a retaliatory air/missile strike on equivalent Pakistani targets.

It is time we end the Pakistani charade of hiding behind a denial. This threat should then act as an incentive for Pakistan to act against terrorists on its own soil. This action is fully supported by the UN charter that permits hot pursuit and punitive action against the aggressor State.

In order to minimise the damage by terrorist attacks, the following measures must be taken:

  • On the lines of disaster relief plans, a counter terror plan must be made for all important installations. This must include all local resources including the police, army, navy, air force, civil defence and NGOs.
  • Local communities including the fishermen's association, housing societies in urban areas, mohalla committees and gram panchayats must be linked to police/counter terror centres to report any untoward movements/personnel. This is the best and cost effective method for surveillance and intelligence gathering. To incentivise participation, there should be rewards and periodic recognition.
  • Terror attacks involve a small number of persons and are not military invasions. Each infantry battalion already has a commando platoon (37 soldiers). These should be equipped at par with the NSG commandos. With this we will have close to 300 crack commando teams available all over the country as first response.
  • In the Mumbai attacks, much of the damage and delayed reaction was due to the fact that there were no set procedures to pool in all resources and have a coordinated action. There is a need to evolve a standard operating procedure to declare an incident as a 'terrorist incident' by a designated decentralised authority like the police commissioner. Once that happens, a designated commander must take over and must have authority to requisition all resources. There ought to be a legal cover of suitable law to cover all anti-terror actions.

The deterrent threat of a strike on Pakistani targets may be seen as provocative, but is the best incentive for Pakistan to act against its own terror groups. Why must the onus of wanting to avoid an open conflict always be on India?

It is time India called the bluff of Pakistan's 'Mad Mullah' strategy -- one that (since 1980s) has been based on a premise that Pakistan may be weaker than India but since it is 'mad', it is capable of irrational/aggressive action and therefore the onus for maintaining peace is on India.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)