The fifth anniversary of the deadly Nov. 26, 2008 terrorist attacks that shook India’s commercial capital of Mumbai has once again spotlighted glaring shortfalls in the country’s security apparatus that remain unaddressed.
On that fateful day, at around 9.30 pm, Mumbai came under siege by 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen who launched simultaneous attacks on six key locations across the city. The 60 hours of terror spread over four days, resulting in a loss of roughly US $1billion to Mumbai, industry body Assocham estimated.
The coordinated attacks killed 166 people, including policemen, National Security Guard commandos and some foreigners. Nine terrorists were killed by the security forces in the operation against them. The lone surviving Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, who was nabbed after the carnage, was hanged on Nov. 21 last year in India.
However, the tragic episode refuses to get any closure as the question that continues to preoccupy the country is – Is India any safer than what it was in 2008?
Unfortunately, India’s response to security threats – security experts say – continues to be ad hoc and uncoordinated. The challenges Mumbai faces in preventing militant attacks are echoed in other cities of India, often crippled by ill-equipped police forces and bureaucracies unable to respond quickly to threats.
State police forces, the security analysts say, continue to suffer from a glaring deficit of arms and equipment as well as poor infrastructural support. Worse, the intelligence agencies, both the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, the nerve centers of the security apparatus, are reeling under a severe staff crunch.
“Even though Pakistani terrorists gained access to the country through the coast, even now India’s coastline continues to be vulnerable,” said Rajeev Bhaskar, a Mumbai-based security analyst. “The fact that terrorist organizations still prefer the sea route, as evidenced by the blasts that rocked Hyderabad this February that killed 17 people and injured 119, shows that India has still not been able to build up foolproof deterrent capabilities.”