December 1, 2008
Cabinet Minister Resigns in Wake of India Attacks
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
MUMBAI, India — The top domestic security official resigned in disgrace on Sunday for the failure to thwart or quickly contain the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week, as India’s government announced a raft of measures to bolster antiterrorism efforts and struggled to calibrate a response to what it views as Pakistani complicity.
The Bush administration, hoping to defuse the possibility of hostilities, announced it was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India this week “to stand in solidarity with the people of India as we all work together to hold these extremists accountable.”
Top Indian officials have suggested that groups based in Pakistan had some involvement in the attacks, but the officials have not explicitly blamed the Pakistan government. The options on the table for responding, officials and analysts said, range from the suspension of diplomatic relations to the most extreme and least likely, a cross-border raid into Pakistan against suspected training camps for militants.
While Indian officials insisted publicly that the mayhem was carried out by only 10 heavily armed men, there were new indications that others had been involved and that the attackers had at least some accomplices pre-positioned on the ground.
The security official who resigned, Shivraj Patil, the home minister, became the first senior official in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration to leave office over the Mumbai attacks, which have traumatized the nation for their audacity and have laid bare glaring deficiencies in India’s intelligence and enforcement abilities. The pressures on the government are especially acute with elections only six months away.
The finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, was named to replace Mr. Patil, who said he had resigned to take “moral responsibility.”The three-day siege of Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, ended Saturday with a death toll of at least 188, hundreds wounded and two famous five-star hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Oberoi, where most of the killing took place, partly in ruins.
At least 28 of the dead were foreigners, including at least six Americans and eight Israelis killed at a Jewish religious center that had been seized by the attackers. It was stormed by elite Indian commandos.
Despite repeated assertions by Pakistan’s government that it bore no responsibility, the attacks have raised the pitch of India-Pakistan tensions to their most dangerous level in years. Not since the December 2001 suicide attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which India blamed on Pakistani groups, have there been such blunt Indian accusations about outlaws based across the border; that episode prompted the two countries to send their armies to the border, sparking fears of war between the nuclear neighbors.
On Sunday, a senior government official said Mr. Singh’s administration would have to consider a range of measures to show toughness toward Pakistan. “The government is under pressure; we are taking steps,” the official said. “We’re not trying to say we’re going to attack them. Short of that everything will have to be pursued.”
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation, said, “Certainly we are not going to sit back with Pakistan unleashing this terror on India.”
Reuters quoted a senior police official as saying Sunday that the sole gunman captured alive had told the police he was a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba organization, blamed for attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere.
The government has not allowed outside access to the captive, who is said to have identified himself as Ajmal Amir Qasab, a Pakistani citizen who was wounded in the leg and was being treated at a military hospital.
An officer of the Anti-Terror Squad branch in Mumbai, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said the man had given inconsistent answers to questioning, sometimes saying there were 10 attackers, sometimes more than 10.
The officer also said that Anti-Terror Squad investigators believed there were accomplices who may have left weapons at the hotels for the gunmen, and that names and telephone numbers of five Mumbai residents were found among the cellphones and wallets of the attackers.
He also confirmed reports in the Indian press that a satellite phone used by the attackers had been used to call a phone number in the Pakistani city of Karachi during the assault.
The officer also disputed Indian press assertions that the attackers were Pakistani, saying they were of many nationalities.
While there was no immediate suggestion of Pakistani-Indian hostilities, it is clear that India must carefully consider how to deal with its concerns about Pakistan. On the one hand, public pressure compels Mr. Singh’s administration to take a tough stance, at least publicly. On the other hand, his government may not want to squander a chance at negotiating peace with Pakistan’s elected civilian government.
In any event, the mere idea of Indian-Pakistani hostilities cannot bring much comfort to Washington, which needs Pakistan’s attention on curbing radical groups on the Afghan border.
At the same time, particularly with elections looming, Indian officials are keenly aware of the need to shore up confidence in the domestic security apparatus.
On Sunday, Mr. Singh said his government would expand the National Security Guards, the elite antiterrorist unit that sent commandos to flush out the attackers from the two hotels and the headquarters of a Jewish religious organization.
Mr. Singh also said that discussions were under way to establish a federal agency of investigation to streamline the work of state and national agencies, and fortify maritime and air security. The police have said the attackers came by boat. The Indian government had been warned as far back as March 2007 of infiltration by sea.
“Clearly, much more needs to be done,” Mr. Singh said, “and we are determined to take all necessary measures to overhaul the system.”
The chairman of the Tata Group, the conglomerate that owns the Taj hotel, asserted that it had been warned about the possibility of a terrorist attack and had taken some measures, but that the assailants knew exactly how to penetrate the hotel’s security.
“They came from somewhere in the back; they planned everything,” the chairman, Ratan Tata, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN. “They went through the kitchen; they knew what they were doing.”
In a telephone interview, the junior home minister, Shriprakash Jaiswal, said the government would double the size of the 7,400-strong National Security Guards. The force was created after the 1984 siege of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by Sikh separatiss.
The guard’s Black Cat commandos emerged as heroes last week, having slithered down ropes from helicopters and rescued trapped civilians as gunmen marauded through the hotels.
But uncomfortable questions have been raised about whether the guard could have begun its operations sooner and why it took its commandos so long to defeat the attackers.
In Israel, while leaders publicly praised India for its response to the attack, questions also were raised about whether the commando mission to rescue hostages in the Jewish center, Nariman House, had been botched.
Witnesses have compared the destruction inside the center to an earthquake, with floors, walls and stairwells blasted apart by two days of shooting, explosions and grenades.
The head of the guard, J. K. Dutt, confirmed on Sunday in a news conference that most of the civilians had been killed in the hotels before the guard’s operation began. His troops’ first obligation, he told reporters, was to make sure that there was “no loss of innocent lives.”
One commando, Sunil Kumar Yadav, who was recovering at a hospital from bullet wounds in his leg, echoed that he was instructed to be extremely cautious inside the Taj hotel, because foreign guests were inside.
He said the commandos could not determine the exact locations of the gunmen, nor their total number, in such a large sprawling hotel — until they came out with guns blazing. It was dark and smoky from the countless explosions inside, he said, and visibility was poor.
Explaining the nearly 60 hours that passed before the Taj was cleared entirely, Mr. Dutt said that the terrorists were “well trained” and more familiar with the hotel than expected.
In addition, the Taj was littered with unexploded grenades, which had to be defused. He said the last three gunmen at the Taj eluded capture for so long by repeatedly setting fires.
On one side of the Taj, workers boarded up the sidewalk at one of the city’s most exclusive shopping arcades, barricading the now-improbable row of luxury labels, from Zegna to Louis Vuitton.
Remu Javeri, owner of Joy Shoes, the only Indian boutique there, stood across the street. He had practically grown up at the Taj, he said, where his family opened the store before independence in 1947. “I know every single waiter in here,” he said. “I’ve grown up with them. I’ve lost some very good friends.”
Reporting was contributed by Jeremy Kahn and Keith Bradsher in Mumbai; Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar in New Delhi; and Isabel Kershner in Jerusalem.