Friday, December 5, 2008

Mumbai Attack- Blame Game Moving in Circles

Mumbai Attack- Blame Game Moving in Circles
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The November 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed nearly 190 people is the most recent episode in long string of high-profile terrorist attacks in India.

India has plethora of disgruntled elements, all planning million mutinies now and the story of grappling with the scourge terrorism is quite long. To cut it short, even then there is no long term vision yet prepared how to tackle this menace in a time bound sustained manner.

As it happens after every terrorists attack, the moment the dusts settles down, the blame game begins and this time the blame for Mumbai attack is centering on three broad themes. The first is of course Pakistan, the epic center of terrorism in South Asia. The second is Indian politicians, incurring the wrath of the common people. The third is the intelligence agencies, that has repeatedly failed to protect the lives of the people.

India’s blame game of Pakistan is as old as the age of that country itself. Pakistan is a convenient scapegoat for every security related problem of India. It seems there is no vision in the blame game and it follows the snake and ladder story. In the wake of security challenges, blame game begins by stoking temperature and peace prospects are put on the backburner. Then the thread of coexistence is picked up all over again. No one knows how long this story will keep playing itself, how many generations would remain victim of this.

There is some thinking within the country emerging demanding to put an end to this blame game in a in a civilized manner. However there are not many takers to it as it requires a great deal of political courage to set the record straight, and no one like to risk their political ambition. This leads to the continuation of the blame game to take on Pakistan but no one knows how to move forward and there logjam over this issue.

At another level the blame game is being directed towards the politicians and its being said they often shy away from taking tough decisions for fear of angering their constituents. This again seems to another story that’s moving in circles.

But what is the tough decision that’s being talked about. It actually pertains to bring back Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). This empowers the security agencies to keep terror suspects in custody without bringing them to trial. This counter terrorism measures have often been used to target a particular community and several human rights organizations have appealed that many innocents have become victims of this draconian law.

Interestingly the debate over the tough measures suddenly vanished into the blue, when the ugly face of Hindu terrorism came to limelight with the arrests made in the Malegoan blast case. The Hindutva leaders went hammer and tongs against any tough measures in wake of the arrest of a Shadvi (female religious leader) and few other persons that included an India Army personal. They warned that such measures should not be used to target Hindu community that according to them cannot be terrorists.

However, the saffron toads have once again started croaking for tough measures in the wake of the Mumbai terror attack. It may be recalled that in 2002 when the BJP led NDA government was in power, it passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act. What actually happened was in the name counter terrorism measures this act was use to target a particular community and met with stiff opposition. It was repealed in 2004 when the Congress led NDA government came to power. Now after the recent Mumbai attack, the call for POTA has again started making rounds.

The question is can such tough laws put an end to the scourge of terrorism. Was terrorism on wane when this law was in place and did it gained momentum after being repealed? There again seem to be no long term vision involved in this and what seems to dominate this debate is some muddle headed thinking.

The Mumbai attack is blamed on the failure of the country's intelligence community but no one has given a thought, what needs to be done about the organizational structure that’s unable to cope up with the new security pressures.

As of now a number of intelligence, military, and police organizations within the Indian government contribute to counter terrorism efforts. These include state-run police forces, special security forces, and paramilitary forces that patrol the borders and assist the police when necessary. The army usually participates in counter terrorism operations as a last resort.

India's Ministry of Home Affairs heads the homeland security and oversees national police, paramilitaries, and domestic intelligence gathering agencies. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), a division of the Home Affairs Ministry, collects intelligence inside India. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is the external intelligence agency. A Joint Intelligence Committee analyzes intelligence data from RAW and IB as well as from a handful of military intelligence agencies. The IB oversees an inter-agency counter terrorism center. The Ministry of External Affairs oversees its own counter terrorism body.

The big question is whether these monumental apparatus armed with sub organizational structure are good enough to handle the security demands of the country or do they require an overlook.

Opinions are again divided on this issue. Some feel India’s intelligence agencies are performing well and there is no need for restructuring. Contrary to it there is pressing demand that the entire intelligence gathering format should be rehauled and be made accountable and result oriented. This debate again seems to be showing no sign of playing itself out. There are no signals of any immediate sweeping changes to be taking place in counter terrorism measures in India.

So where do we go from here. It seems India has a higher tolerance for collateral damage than working out any long term vision plan to get rid of it. This is because many of the conflicts are self created and vested interests are working overtime to keep them afloat. The net result is India keeps on getting deep wounds periodically and no one seem to know how to get past it.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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