Three years ago today, a four-day war against India was conducted by a band of death-affirming armed men who crossed the sea to lay siege on Mumbai. For four days, unprecedented real-time images of the mayhem unleashed on India’s most life-affirming city stunned the nation. India has had its share of terrorist attacks before and after November 26, 2008. But never before, or thankfully after, were two points driven home so forcefully and successfully: one, that Indians could be exposed so easily to a planned terror attack for such a long duration on their own soil; and two, that a group of Pakistanis were the ones behind the unprovoked and unprecedented attack. One hundred and fifty-four people were murdered between November 26 and 29, with more than 300 injured, the numbers serving as a pointer to the grip of terror India was caught in over those four days and weeks after.
Three years after the nightmare that started at around 9.30 pm at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and which would wind its sickening head across Mumbai, how well are we prepared to withstand such an attack again? The brutally honest answer would be that we don’t know, since such a brazen act of war hasn’t been unleashed on us since November 29, 2008. But as we mourn and remember those who died — both as victims of the terror spree as well as those who fought the murderers and sacrificed their lives — it’s necessary to acknowledge that 26/11 didn’t break us. Even in the contorted manner in which India-Pakistan relations work after every terrorist attack in India, 26/11 has had its fair share of unintended consequences.
If the objective of the terrorists and their mentors was to destabilise India and make jihadis operate more freely in the hostilities that were to follow between New Delhi and Islamabad, the operation was an utter failure. With Pakistan’s internal security and stability already under tremendous strain in the post-9/11 world, the earlier trajectory of Islamabad ‘utilising’ a terrorist attack in India to further its cause (read: hitching ‘Kash-mir’ on to any India-Pakistan agenda) was made impossible for all practical purposes. A full-fledged war along the Durand Line simply didn’t allow the Pakistani establishment to risk a counter-reaction from India along the Radcliffe Line. In effect, 26/11 served no purpose for its perpetrators. In fact, it made their lives and jobs much more precarious.
Such a dry post-mortem, of course, belies the sheer emotional charge that was lit three years ago from whose effects we are still coming to terms with as a nation. If there is one thing that we have learnt since those four harrowing days and the months and years that have followed, it is that the best revenge against your enemies is to live a happy life. Something that we, as a nation as well as individuals, have done and must continue to do as a way of honouring all those who perished while doing exactly that when unhappiness came to town.