Today in 2008, Pakistan’s ISI launched a diabolical plot to bring Mumbai to its knees. Ten terrorists owing loyalty to the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s chief Hafiz Saeed were sent by boat to cause mayhem in India’s commercial capital.
From 26 November to 29 November, 166 innocent people were butchered and more than 300 were wounded. Iconic landmarks were attacked, chief amongst them Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Taj Hotel, Oberoi & Trident Hotels, Cama Hospital, Nariman House and Leopold Café.
The reason I am writing this is that the tragedy did not end on 29 November. It continues to this day. Yes, we are safer. Manpower and technology has been put in place so that infiltration from land, sea and air becomes extremely difficult to carry out. Cross-border terrorism, for the most part, remains confined to sporadic attacks in the Kashmir Valley. We have spent billions of dollars to ensure that Indians are safe. But is there a hundred percent guarantee that the attacks will not happen again? Well, USA has an annual defence budget of over USD 700 billion and yet, nineteen hijackers stunned the world’s only superpower. On 9/11, terrorists killed 2996 people and over 6000 were injured.
An enraged America went to war. While fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia, the US attacked Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and yet that nation was destroyed and President Saddam Hussain hanged. Iraq is still imploding. In Afghanistan, the Taliban played willing hosts to al-Qaeda and faced the unmitigated rage of the American war machine. Libya and its psychotic dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi were brought to their knees. Gaddafi always thought of terrorism as an attractive hobby. The world is better off without Saddam and Gaddafi. Or is it? Vicious and cruel they may have been, they served a purpose. They kept the Pandora’s box closed. They kept radical Islamist outfits at bay. They spoke the language of the terrorists. If someone committed a terrorist act, his family paid. Torture chambers, death squads and kangaroo courts were their weapons. But both Gaddafi and Saddam maintained the peace. When they died, they took peace with them. Their deaths gave rise to the superstardom of al-Qaeda and the birth of ISIS.
Israel has a remarkable track record for a nation surrounded by mortal enemies. It has kept terror largely out of its borders. The Israeli defence establishment is effective for many reasons, the chief being unity of purpose. The Jews know that they are fighting an existential battle and there are many nations who would want nothing better that to “drive the Jews into the sea”. Israel knows all too well that to do it harm, the enemy must have both intent and capability. There is no dearth of intent. What the Israelis do really well is to deny capability to their enemies. Through Mossad, their intelligence wing and Sayeret Matkal, their legendary Special Forces, Israel has proved time and again that it has both intent and capability, something its enemies lack.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel, is a former Sayeret Matkal operative. While conscription is mandatory under law, it is interesting to note that many Israeli Prime Ministers are from Special Forces. That nation has a strategic culture. That is why it is safe.
India has great capability but no intent. It has no strategic culture. It has ambitions to sit on the high table of the United Nations Security Council but does not have the iron in its soul that is needed to sit at that high table. We are a nation without fangs and claws, content to soft-peddle and spout homilies about yoga and world peace.
As today drew closer, may people asked me if we are safer than we were on those fateful November days of 2008. My answer is this. Yes, we have put systems and equipment in place. Yes, we have deployed manpower far greater than we had, ten years ago. But what we have not done is punished the perpetrators of 26/11. Hafiz Saeed still lives. He still runs training camps that send terrorists into Kashmir. He still collects funds; all this under the benign gaze of the Pakistan Army, whose prime strategic asset he is.
If we want to prevent another 26/11, being defensive is a small part of the solution. We can put more manpower and equipment on the ground, but they will serve only a limited purpose.
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After the 1984 Brighton bombing narrowly failed to kill Margaret Thatcher, the perpetrators of the act, the Provisional IRA said, “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always”.
This is the distilled essence of a terrorist’s mind.
While we have significantly improved our capabilities, we have not been able to degrade the enemy’s capacity to wage war. We have not been able to look beyond our borders.
There are two kinds of evil men in this world. Some are stopped by court cases, some by a 7.62 mm full metal jacket bullet to the head. Hafiz Saeed clearly belongs to the latter category.
We are wasting our time petitioning the world and the International Court of Justice. We debase ourselves as a nation when we plead with Pakistan to bring Hafiz Saeed to justice.
The time for candlelight marches and petitions is past. If we want justice for the unfortunate 166 who were brutally killed ten years back in Mumbai, we will have to get that justice ourselves. Then the world will respect and fear us. There is no respect without fear.
It is time to unleash the hounds.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)