A Mindset Of Insecurity
HARINDER BAWEJA takes a hard look at the internal security apparatus and finds that it will take at least five years to fix
THE STORY of Al Kuber — the shipping trawler in which the heavily-armed men who attacked Mumbai travelled from Karachi to Mumbai — tells the story of India’s security apparatus in so many ways. It was one of the estimated 50,000 trawlers registered in Maharashtra and Gujarat — an awesome number, the Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta now tells us. Yet, it was only one of those 50,000 trawlers that came back to shore — Porbandar in this case — on November 13 and sailed out soon after. Its captain, Amar Sinh Solanki, was a happy man that day. He had been out on the high seas for a fortnight — as most fishing trawlers are wont to do — and had come back with 1,000 kilograms of fish. Enough for the captain or ‘Tendel’ as captains are referred to, to rest a few days with his families.
Bloodbath The scene after the carnage at CST, with blood staining the floorPhoto: AFP
But quite unlike all the other 50,000 trawlers, Al Kuber set sail again on November 14. This should have alerted the coastal authorities’ but Kuber sailed on. When Solanki set sail aboard Kuber on November 14, he was not alone. Another trawler, Ma, with Jeevabhai Hardasbhai as its tendel, too sailed out of Porbandar. The two navigated the waters side-by-side for two days and kept in touch over VHF radio sets for at least ‘seven sunsets’. Investigators who have spoken to Hardasbhai know that he had harboured Ma on a safe shore due to choppy weather, nine days after leaving Porbandar and are now trying to find out if Kuber merely strayed into Pakistani waters or whether Solanki — whose dead body was found in the engine room — deliberately steered the vessel there.
Solanki, in all probability, steered the trawler deeper into Pakistani territory because the GPS (now being examined by investigators) has two directions logged into it: Mumbai to Karachi and Karachi to Mumbai. Investigators reveal that Kuber traveled along the coast in its onward journey and returned via the high seas. But this is hindsight. The question that the internal security network needs to ask is — why was there no alert when Kuber went missing. Neither Ma’s tendel, nor Solanki himself, called for help.
Trawler of death The crew of Al Kuber was killed on the high seas
So Kuber set sail and went missing without detection even though there were specific intelligence reports warning of the possibility of a sea attack. RAW, the country’s external intelligence agency, issued repeated warnings, in fact, all pointing to the possibility of a sea attack, and of an attack in Mumbai’s Gateway of India. One alert, ironically, clearly specified the Taj Hotel as a target. Ratan Tata only confirmed this when he told live television that yes, he had been alerted and they had also increased security at the Taj Hotel. A senior intelligence bureau officer confirmed to TEHELKA that RAW’s intelligence alert, which came on November 19 — a week before terror struck Mumbai — was sent to the Navy but Admiral Mehta, while admitting that there was some information, still presses the point that the input was not ‘actionable’. Nobody in government — not the Prime Minister, not the Home Minister, present or former, pressed him on the question of why the Navy and the coast guard failed to proactively patrol the high seas when they had received information, including the co-ordinates of the ‘Lashkar ship’. This time the Navy seniors will probably get away with its pass the buck exercise. On numerous occasions, agencies have often not shared information only because of the rivalry that has come to beset its various arms.
Kuber’s story does tell the story of our internal security apparatus in so many ways.
THE POSSIBILITY of a threat from the seas, far from being unknown or unexpected, has been a matter of government record at the highest level since 2006. That year, then home minister Shivraj Patil had categorically said, “We understand the terrorists have been collecting information regarding location of various refineries on or near the Indian coastline... Some Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives are also being trained specifically for sabotage of oil installations. There are plans to occupy some uninhabited islands off the country’s coastline to use them as bases for launching operations on the Indian coast...” A year later, he again reiterated the threat to Director Generals of Police. Similarly, Defence Minister AK Antony informed the Lok Sabha in March 2007 that “Pakistanbased terrorist groups, particularly LeT, have been exploring possibilities of induction of manpower and terrorist hardware through the sea route...” Even the National Security Advisor, MK Narayanan, whose primary duty it is to strengthen and streamline security, was aware of the threat. He is ducking television cameras following reports that he had offered to resign, but only recently he had told the International Institute of Strategic Studies that the sea route, in particular, was becoming the chosen route. Even this year, on March 12, 2008 to be precise, the Home Ministry had briefed the senior staff of ISRO, Bhabha Atomic Energy Centre, Reliance and others who have coastal assets of the threat of a sea attack.
Battlescars The upper floors of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai after the battle with terrorists endedPhoto: AP
Yet, Kuber sailed on.
Unknown to either the Navy or the Coast Guard, Kuber was hijacked on the night of November 23-24. Solanki, its tendel, either willingly or under duress, helped the heavily-armed men steer their way into Indian territory. Barely a few nautical miles from Mumbai — and this now is the account of Azmal Kasav, the lone survivor amongst the group of 10 — Solanki was killed. They had no use for him anymore. Dumping his body into the engine room of the vessel, they jumped into an inflatable speedboat and walked onshore at Mumbai’s Badhwar Park, a railway colony barely a mile from the Indian Navy’s dockyard.
THE GROUP broke up into pairs and went about their business. They had made it past several layers of security, just as their counterparts have through successive attacks.
India was hit with ferocity on 26/11, 2008. The country’s Parliament was stormed on 13/12, 2001. Unit after unit of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry infiltrated the heights of Kargil in 1999. Srinagar’s assembly faced a determined suicide attack in 2000, a few months after it released Maulana Masood Azhar in Kandahar. Attack after attack has been met with a lot of rhetoric. Committees have been set up and pledges to refurbish the security apparatus have been made in earnest, but the frightening postscript is simply this — we will be hit again.
Aftermath Policemen examine the remains of a vehicle which was blown up in AhmedabadPhoto: SHAILENDRA PANDEY
26/11 was the seventh attack this year alone. India will be hit again. For those who find this alarming, examine this:
• A comprehensive securitY review was ordered after close to 600 soldiers died securing the heights of Kargil. A taskforce on border management had then, in the year 2000 warned, “The long coastline with its inadequate policing makes it easy to land arms and explosives at isolated spots on the coast.” In January 2005, a coastal security scheme was formulated for enhancing security by strengthening infrastructure for patrolling and surveillance of the coastal areas. The Home Ministry’s own website says, “The scheme envisages setting up of coastal police stations, outposts and check-posts in the coastal areas for strengthening surveillance and patrolling of the coastal areas.” The scheme was approved in January 2005 for implementation in five years from 2005-06 with an approved outlay of Rs 550 crore. Till date, only Rs 13 crore have been released. Maharashtra specifically has got only Rs 2 crore of the Rs 40 crore outlay approved for the scheme. A Home Ministry official admits that there are negligible patrol stations functioning. Close to four years after the approval of the scheme, even the Intelligence Bureau, which was to get nine patrol boats, is still waiting for the first one to arrive.
• In 2001, the Girish Saxena Committee gave a report on the country’s intelligence apparatus. The report recommended an overhaul of technical, imaging, signal and, electronic counter-intelligence capabilities. The recommendations were accepted by a Group of Ministers (GoM) but in the seven years since they gave the report their stamp of approval, it has never been implemented beyond a few symbolic changes. Among other suggestions it made was a proposal for the immediate recruitment of an additional 3,000 cadres to the IB but, by 2008, only 1,400 additional posts have been sanctioned.
• The Saxena Committee had called for a Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) and a Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI) to be set up under the IB. The MAC was to collect and coordinate terrorism-related information and the JTFI was to share the information with state governments. Both are functional, but under-staffed and under-equipped. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released funds for MAC only after the bomb attack in Delhi in September 2008, seven years after the Committee first recommended that it be set up.
• Former Prime Minister IK Gujral, as part of his Gujral doctrine (of India extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan as the bigger brother) halted all covert operations in Pakistan.
• Again, in 2001, senior bureaucrat NN Vohra — currently Governor, Jammu and Kashmir — took months crafting a report on internal security. His recommendations have obviously been gathering dust, for Vohra had indicted the Home Ministry, saying it needed to be completely restructured as “it has lost the capability to respond to any internal security challenge.”
• It was only in August 2007 that the Home Ministry included the police-population ratio in its report to Parliament. According to Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, “After reeling under terrorism for at least two decades, the Home Minister for the first time demonstrated awareness of the fact that the country was severely underpoliced and had meagre intelligence cover to deal with terrorism. The reality is, India’s entire justice system, from the thana to the Supreme Court, is in a state of terminal sickness. This, and not the minutiae of the latest terrorist attack, is the critical issue confronting the country.”
KUBER MANAGED to sail because the India’s counter terrorism policy is clearly only on paper. Says CD Sahay, former director, RAW, “There appears to have been enough intelligence to avoid Mumbai. You can’t expect the Lashkar patron, Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed, to pick up the sat phone and give precise information with names of those who were being sent.” According to him, “The tendency is to only push intelligence reports like babus push papers. Why have only political heads rolled? Why are the officials being protected? The culture will not change until key officials are held accountable.”
The threat, as Mumbai and the blasts in Delhi, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad have shown, is grave but how prepared are our security managers? Ask Ajai Sahni, and he says, “We are not in for big trouble, we are already in big trouble. The only way to prevent terrorism is through policing and intelligence but the system is so rotten, it will take five years to refurbish.” Ask him then of the possibility of being hit again, of another Mumbai and he says, “For the next decade, yes. Even if you start the responses today, it is going to take you four to five years to get to steam.” Ask CD Sahay, and he says, “If the government keeps trying to cover up, yes. It is time for accountability and for case officers being put on intelligence inputs so they are analysed up to the last detail.” Ask Vikram Sood, also a former director, RAW, “Our greatest responsibility is the lack of a response mechanism. Security does not just consist of deploying armed guards outside the doors of our politicians.”
Mumbai 1993 to Mumbai 2008 is proof of India’s vulnerability and its inability to learn even from hindsight. On November 23, three days before the mayhem in Mumbai, the Prime Minister, while addressing the Director Generals of Police had said, “We cannot afford to be hit again.” It is time to implement the reports authored by some of the best security experts because even then it will take at least five years before a Prime Minister can again promise that we will not be hit again.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 49, Dated Dec 13, 2008