Yesterday, Mumbai commemorated four years of 26/11 with speeches and homilies and the kind of rituals that India is famous for. The security measures we have managed to implement since that day are also largely limited to speeches and rituals. On ground, little has been done to prevent another 26/11.
Mumbai’s ambitious coastal security plans are largely just that, plans. The patrol boats have technical issues, the bulletproof vests are still being purchased, bomb squad vests turned out to be substandard ‘Made in China’ ones, costal police stations still don’t exist.
All this is only to be expected. If a system as a whole is sick it is silly to expect it to suddenly start working perfectly after one kick.
Procurement throughout the government is mired in corruption and controversies. The police force is struggling to deal with modernity and technological change, quite apart from corruption and rampant political interference in transfers and postings. It is understaffed, underpaid, and insufficiently trained.
Instead of making serious efforts to restore basic systems to health, our leaders appear keen to perform some ritual cutting of ribbons that would magically fix everything.
This is emblematic of the Indian mindset.
When corruption is recognized as a problem, a Jan Lokpal Bill starts being touted as a magic bullet. When terrorism is a problem, a new National Counter Terrorism Center becomes the magic cure. For everything, the emphasis is on some shiny new therapy. Meanwhile the body itself continues wasting away.
Reasoned thinking would force one to conclude that basic systems and processes must start to work efficiently before the larger issues can be reliably solved. In a broader context, this would have to happen across South Asia for terror attacks to stop.
Most terror attacks emanate from Pakistan. In that country, the systems are weaker than here. Democracy is fragile, the courts dare not act against terrorists – the rare judges who have passed judgments against terror groups have had to leave the country and go underground – and even journalists are routinely subjected to lethal attacks.
Indian Right-wing extremists, who see all of Pakistan as one, don’t seem to realise any of this.
All indications are that the democratic government, large sections of civil society and media, and many traders and businessmen are in favour of better ties with India. It is in the interest of all Indians to extend the hand of friendship to these sections in Pakistan. This reality was recognized by the BJP as much as the Congress. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani both made efforts to reach out to them.
Renewing such efforts will be especially important in the next two years, as US and Nato forces leave Afghanistan, and the situation in the region starts to deteriorate.
It is likely that Afghanistan will return to a state of chaos, with Taliban gaining influence. Everyone knows this and is preparing for it. The security establishments of India and Pakistan will find their interests colliding. The terror groups will find space again, and possibly return to action with renewed vigour.
It is important that India gets its basics right in policing and security before 2014 to prevent murderers like Ajmal Kasab slipping in. At the same time, the country must pursue peace with Pakistan, move towards peace in Kashmir, and stay out of military engagement in Afghanistan. The Americans may want us to get in deeper there, but that is fraught with danger. The Soviet Union failed there; the US and NATO have failed. There is no reason for us to enter that minefield.
All this talk of foreign affairs may seem far away, but it is not. Kasab came here from Karachi because he was motivated to fight for Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and ISI are said to have launched the attack with an eye on Afghanistan, because Pakistani forces were being forced by the Americans to fight the Taliban. Another theory says the LeT was losing cadres to the Taliban and wanted to stop staff attrition. An American named David Headley did the site mapping. The whole thing was quite international.
It was a manifestation of the dark side of globalisation.