By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The Mumbai-siege, which lasted for nearly 60 hours â€“ from Wednesday evening to Saturday morning is over but its scars may never heal and tremors never die down. The ease with which a handful of terrorists held life in Mumbai, the financial pulse of the country, to ransom, the horrendous manner in which they systematically carried out their operations raises many questions. More than 180 people lost their lives in the attacks, including 22 foreign nationals, 20 security personnel and around 140 Indians. At least 325 persons were injured. The siege is over but the real battle has begun now for the Indian government and the people. If it is Mumbai today, it could be any other city in the country tomorrow. The terrorists, using assault rifles, explosive devices and hand grenades, struck at 13 places, including the Taj Mahal & Oberoi/Trident hotels, Nariman House, Leopald Cafe, Chhatrapati Shivaji Train terminus, the Metro Cinema junction, Cama & Albless hospital and outside Olympia restaurant in Colaba.
The toll could have been much higher, as Indian leaders have said that the terrorists planned to kill around 5,000 people. They were here only to kill and create havoc. It is for the first time, however, that terrorists targeted primarily foreigners, particularly Americans and British at the two posh hotels and Jews at Nariman House. Why? Does this carry a message for US, UK as well as Israel, that however safe their citizens may be in their own countries, their security is now at risk in India?
If the militantsâ€™ entry into Mumbai via the coast exposes lapses in security maintained at the coastal area, who is to be blamed? Taking â€œmoral responsibilityâ€ for the Mumbai incident, Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned on Sunday. P. Chidambaram, earlier the Finance Minister, is now the new Home Minister. The finance ministry would be additional charge of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Even National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan submitted his resignation, but it was not accepted by the Prime Minister. Ironically, at the all-party meeting called by the Prime Minister to discuss the security situation (November 30), while need was voiced for strengthening it further, there was no mention of Mumbai-siege reflecting a major lapse in the countryâ€™s defense system. While addressing the meeting, Singh said: â€œWe are further strengthening maritime and air security for which measures have been initiated. This will involve the Navy, the Coast Guard and the coastal police, as well as the Air Force and the Civil Aviation Ministry.â€
It is indeed tragic that among the Indian officers who lost their lives in the siege, was Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, who had been investigating the role of Hindutva terrorists in Malegaon blasts and elsewhere. Just a day before the Mumbai-encounter, the police control room in Pune received a call saying that Karkare â€œwill be killed in a bomb blast within two-three days.â€
A day before he was killed, Karkare had called veteran police officer Julio Ribeiro and had shared his views on being unhappy at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) questioning his integrity at his investigating several Hindu extremistsâ€™ involvement in blast cases. Karkare also told Ribeiro that he had managed to get hold of a CD with additional information on Malegaon case. Karkare had planned to confront those already under the scanner with these facts. The fact that the Mumbai-siege and Karkareâ€™s death are likely to push these investigations to the backburner has not gone totally unnoticed.
Though credit must be given to Mumbai Police, the National Security Guard, the Army and other personnel involved in countering the terrorists, the siege clearly also reflects that Indian authorities were not totally prepared to tackle it. There is a view, that howsoever prepared the Indian personnel may have been, it may not have been possible to avert the incidents that occurred. The security arrangements even at luxurious hotels, including the two targeted in Mumbai, are largely at the entrance point. The terrorists entered Taj from the back through the kitchen. The entry of terrorists at other points too, including the railway station, exposes lapses in security there too.
While identity of the terrorists has still not been confirmed, different versions are doing rounds. Though Pakistan-based militant groups are held to be linked with Mumbai siege, there is as yet no coordinated report on this. One version points to Pakistan-connection, as the terrorists allegedly received orders from Pakistan, another points to two killed terrorists being Britons with Pakistani connection and yet another says their being probably having been trained earlier in Pakistan by United States for its operations in Afghanistan. There is also â€œnewsâ€ about US and Israel being jointly responsible for Mumbai-siege with the aim to apparently weaken India, create communal divide with the terror-strikes being painted as work of â€œIslamicâ€ militants. In addition, various reports of terrorists speaking fluent Marathi and chaste Hindi indicate possible involvement of local elements.
Irrespective of who is responsible for Mumbai-siege, whether external elements based in Pakistan, elsewhere or from India itself, the 59-hour ordeal, at the cost of numerous lives and billions of rupees is definitely an eye-opener to a hard reality. It is time, Indian politicians moved beyond rhetoric as well as fake encounters and started paying serious attention to their anti-terrorist drive. With due respect to all the courage and expertise displayed by Indian personnel, it is appalling that less than a dozen, fairly young terrorists were able to hold Indiaâ€™s commercial capital at siege for nearly three days. Whoever is responsible for the siege certainly deserves condemnation as well as punishment. But that does spare the concerned national authorities from explaining security lapses, which only contributed to terrorist-strikes in Mumbai.