Fifth column: 26/11 and its unlearned lessonshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fifth-column-26-11-and-its-unlearned-lessons-4954664/

Fifth column: 26/11 and its unlearned lessons

Almost a decade has passed since 26/11, and we have come no closer to punishing Pakistan for this.

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One of the saddest stories I heard after the 26/11 attack was from a man who had spent two terrified nights barricaded in his room in the Taj Hotel (PTI Photo/File)

Today marks another anniversary of one of the most evil acts of violence ever committed on Indian soil. Almost a decade has passed since 26/11, and we have come no closer to punishing Pakistan for this. So it thumbs its nose at India and the world. Last week Hafiz Saeed was released by the Lahore High Court despite being designated a terrorist by the United States, and despite having a $10 million reward on his head. A Pakistani official said the court released him because of ‘the failure of the government to produce verifiable evidence’ to prove that he plotted the murder of 166 innocent people in Mumbai nine years ago.

The military men who control Pakistan need only to listen to this monster’s venomous speeches to find verifiable evidence. Or to the regular interviews General Pervez Musharraf gives from his safe haven in Dubai, if they want to verify that men like Saeed were trained by the Pakistani army as ‘assets’ to be used against India and Afghanistan. Musharraf ruled Pakistan at the time of 26/11 and he has admitted more than once that men like Saeed and even Osama bin Laden were ‘our heroes’. So if anyone in India still hopes that Pakistan will one day mend its ways and start bringing men like Saeed to justice, they should abandon this hope. Pakistan is a rogue nuclear state and not us, not the United States, or any other country knows what to do about this.

What should concern us as Indians is that in the nine years since 26/11 so little has been done to improve our defences against this rogue Islamic Republic. If another Indian city is attacked the way Mumbai was, will it be better prepared to defend itself? Will commandos trained in counter-terrorism arrive sooner than they did last time? For those of you who may have forgotten, may I remind you that it took more than 24 hours for them to get to Mumbai from their base in Manesar. In this time at least a hundred people were killed by Ajmal Kasab and his comrades. If a Mumbai policeman, Tukaram Omble, had not given his life to capture Kasab we would have no evidence (verifiable or otherwise) that Pakistan was behind the attack.

The criminal delay in transporting commandos to Mumbai was not the only failure of the Indian government. There were nothing but failures at every level, and the awful truth is that very little has been done to rectify them in the past nine years. Policemen in our cities, who are inevitably the first responders, remain untrained in counter-terrorism, and as for expertise in intelligence gathering, the less said about it the better. India remains as vulnerable to a similar attack as it was in November 2008. As someone who knows Mumbai well, I can report that this city’s hotels, cafes, railway stations and bazaars continue to have no more than cosmetic security. Even more frightening is that India’s coastline remains as vulnerable as it was then. Ferry services from Mumbai are closed when a foreign dignitary happens to visit but for ordinary citizens there is not even minimal security.

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At the crux of what is wrong is our obsession with protecting our wretched VIPs and VVIPs. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination her son ordered the creation of special forces (Black Cat commandos, et al) but the sad truth is that to this day they are employed mostly to protect political leaders and their progeny. When foreign VVIPs come to Mumbai and Delhi, whole areas are closed off to protect them, but it is as if our lives matter not one bit.

One of the saddest stories I heard after the 26/11 attack was from a man who had spent two terrified nights barricaded in his room in the Taj Hotel. Every other moment he heard the killers banging down doors to hunt for new victims and was in a state of total trauma when he was rescued. What bothered him most was that outside the hotel there was not a single official or policeman to take him home or even offer him a cup of tea.

The people who put their lives on the line in the Oberoi and Taj were hotel staff and they did this without minimum help from those paid by Indian taxpayers to protect us. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has continued to make it clear that no matter what measures the international community takes, it will continue to pursue the path of violent jihad. So on this anniversary of 26/11 all we can hope for is that by the 10th anniversary next year, the government of Narendra Modi will have done more to strengthen our defences against evil than the government of Sonia-Manmohan did in its second tenure, that began the year after 26/11.