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26/11 attacks: Mumbai remains as vulnerable today as it was on those awful days 12 years ago

After 26/11 the lesson we have learned is that it is no longer about Kashmir. It is about harming India in every way possible and the reason why Mumbai has been on target, is with the specific aim of weakening India’s economy.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: November 29, 2020 2:18:53 pm
File - Smoke is seen billowing out of the ground and first floor of the Taj Hotel in south Mumbai during security personnel's "Operation Cyclone" following the 26/11 terror attacks in 200. (PTI Photo)

It troubled me to see the farmers’ agitation get more media coverage last week than the twelfth anniversary of 26/11. Personally, I make it a point to never forget this grim anniversary for the reason that, as someone who lives in Mumbai, I pay close attention to any improvements that I notice in policing methods. As I have done every year since 2008, I can report that there have been no improvements at all. In this cowardly war that Pakistan continues to wage against India, our frontline soldiers are ordinary policemen. They cannot be expected to fight well unless they are trained in counter-terrorism. This has not yet begun to happen.

In the Sonia-Manmohan era it was sort of accepted that national security would remain weak. Manmohan Singh actually weakened it by conceding in Sharm el-Sheikh at his first meeting with Pakistan’s prime minister after 26/11 that ‘terrorism’ in Balochistan should also be discussed. One of Rahul Gandhi’s closest aides, Digvijaya Singh, released a book whose title was ‘26/11: An RSS plot’. Rahul himself famously told an American ambassador that he believed ‘saffron’ terrorism was a bigger threat than the jihadist kind.

What disturbs me is that in the seven years that we have been ruled by Narendra Modi the same lackadaisical approach to national security continues. If Pakistan’s jihadist Generals decide that they want a repeat of 26/11, they would find it just as easy to succeed. It is astounding that we have allowed Pakistan to continue repeating the lie that the attack was carried out by ‘non-State actors’. How can this be possible when the Lashkar-e-Toiba is itself a creation of the ISI? How can Pakistan continue daring to demand ‘proof’ of its role in 26/11?

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The military men who control Pakistan are never going to change. As someone who has had the dubious privilege of meeting many of them on visits to Pakistan, I can say on good authority that their hatred for India motivates their every move. What we need is for the men in charge of our security to realise that the only way to win this horrible war is by strengthening our own defences. Israel should be our role model. It is surrounded by hostile countries whose declared aim is to destroy it and yet it has managed to win against them. How? What are they doing right that we are doing wrong?

On last week’s anniversary of 26/11, Narendra Modi announced that we are now fighting terrorism with ‘a new process’. Really? Well, I can report that in Mumbai there is no sign of change. For the first two or three years after the attack when the 26/11 anniversary approached, the streets would be filled for a few days with armoured cars and policemen patrolling in uniforms that had ‘Commando’ written on the back of their shirts. It was pointless melodrama. The city’s hotels, restaurants, hospitals and train stations remain as vulnerable as they were when Ajmal Kasab arrived with his fellow jihadis to spread murder and mayhem until Tukaram Omble died apprehending him. And, until his companions were all killed. The attack only ended after commandos arrived from Delhi. Many lives may have been saved if they had not taken more than 24 hours to get to Mumbai.

The reason why 26/11 must be remembered every year is not just because it was the worst terrorist attack on Indian soil but because it completely changed our relationship with Pakistan. Until it happened it was easy for those of liberal disposition, on both sides of the border, to trot off to Wagah and light candles to convey a warm and fuzzy idea of friendship and goodwill. After 26/11 most Indians see Pakistan as a country with whom there will always be hostilities. This should make it easier for the Prime Minister to demand radical changes in the way that national security is handled. Why has this not yet happened?

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Why has the Home Minister, who some see as Iron Man 2.0, wasted time hunting illegal immigrants from Bangladesh instead of reforming the methods used to train our police? Why are they forced to work in punishing conditions and live with their families in squalid quarters when they are our frontline soldiers in this ugly war? Every now and then the Prime Minister declares at some international forum that the world needs to come together to combat the menace of jihadist terrorism. These declarations would have more meaning if they were accompanied by real changes on the ground.

Islamist terrorism exists all over the world. But, every country has its own particular battles to fight. In India we are dealing with a country that has shown that it will never hesitate to send suicidal jihadists across the border to kill innocent people in the most brutal ways. After 26/11 the lesson we have learned is that it is no longer about Kashmir. It is about harming India in every way possible and the reason why Mumbai has been on target since the synchronized bombings on March 12, 1993, is with the specific aim of weakening India’s economy. It saddens me to say that Mumbai remains as vulnerable today as it was on those awful days 12 years ago when senior police officers sat helplessly in their vehicles unable to understand who the enemy was or where. This could happen again.

This article first appeared in the print edition on November 29, 2020 under the title ‘We must never forget’.

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