Within 40 minutes of the first shot that was fired in Café Leopold that night, what seemed like a gang war had escalated to a bomb attack and minutes later to a full-blown fidayeen strike of the kind that India had not witnessed before.
In the aftermath, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was set up, security protocols updated, coastal security beefed, city police teams trained to counter such strikes. The 26/11 attack represents, to borrow a phrase from the Kean-Hamilton Commission that inquired into the 9/11 attack, “failures in imagination, policy, capabilities and management”. Five years later, some questions linger.
1. Do we have the complete and authentic narrative of the response of Indian authorities to the 26/11 attack?
We do not yet have a cogent and comprehensive account of the responses of various central and state authorities. The different reports do not explain the lapses and lacunae that occurred, such as the initial lack of coordination between security agencies, the five-hour delay in treating it as a national emergency, delay in dispatching the National Security Guards (NSG). Only a commission of inquiry with comprehensive terms of reference would have offered insight, fixed the accountability of decision-makers, and helped evolve a national counter-terrorism strategy.
2. Did the 26/11 attack have the support and inputs of locals, either from Mumbai or other parts of India?
Two Indians, Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Shaikh, then in jail for other offences, were arrested for providing logistical support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both were acquitted by the trial court. But this did not provide closure. Doubts linger about the possibility of local support for the strike. The then Mumbai police commissioner Hasan Gafoor, in February 2009, had categorically stated that “there were 14-16 locals” involved in the attack. Days later, the police attempted to deny or deflect questions about their identities. Police officers unofficially shared that some trails had been chased down and a few phone numbers traced, but the trails had gone cold.
3. Do enhanced security strategies mean agencies are better prepared for another attack?
The Ram Pradhan Committee that inquired into the attack concluded that it “found total confusion in the processing of intelligence alerts” and “serious lacunae in the working within Mantralaya and within (Mumbai) police establishment”. There’s little to suggest that the glaring lack of coordination between agencies has been fixed. The NSG has hubs nearby. Force 1 is ready. The city police have modern firearms, there’s a marine police wing and speed boats, but are not adequately trained in counter-terrorism measures. The proposal for closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras still remains a proposal. The level of preparedness to counter another fidayeen attack “demands a lot more than what has been put in place”, said a top-level bureaucrat of the Maharashtra government.
4. Will justice be carried out?
Kasab’s execution on November 2012, after due judicial process, brought a measure of closure but it was not justice. David Coleman Headley, the rogue American agent who plotted the attack, though serving a prison term in the United States, may never stand trial in India. The mastermind Hafiz Saeed is untouched by the process of law in Pakistan. Other plotters and handlers, mainly from the ISI, are unlikely to face trial. Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir told HT earlier this month: “the executive has done its job” but declined to say if other elements of the Pakistani establishment are obstructing the judicial process.
5. Is Mumbai secure enough?
Certain private sections of the city – starred hotels, posh office complexes, plush residential enclaves, some institutions and sensitive facilities – have layers of security cordon around them but the city itself is only cursorily protected. Suburban trains, railway stations, buses, markets, schools and streets remain vulnerable. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus which was the scene of a ghastly massacre on the 26th night and registered the highest number of deaths (58) is still an easy target. The 26/11 attack was the third most-deadly terror strike; the serial bomb blasts in March 1993 claimed 257 lives and bomb explosions in the suburban train in July 2006 left 209 dead. The city has witnessed six other bomb attacks. Mumbaiites wonder when, not if, the next hit will be.