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Lessons from the Mumbai Attacks

February 2009
Lessons from the Mumbai Attacks

With 179 dead in November’s horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian diaspora here in Atlanta were not immune from personal tragedy. Many were personally affected; one of journalist Kavita Chhibber’s relatives, a prominent London businessman called Sir Gulam Noon, was held hostage in his room at the Taj Mahal Hotel by three of the Pakistani gunmen.

Chhibber was one of the panelists at a recent seminar to assess India’s counter-terrorism preparedness after the Mumbai attacks. The seminar was organized by the U.S.-India Business & Research Centre (USIBRC), Asia Program, the Center for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia (UGA), and Georgia Tech’s Center for International Business Education & Research (CIBER).

The panel also included Dr. Anupam Srivastava, Director of the Asia Program, Center for International Trade & Security at the University of Georgia (UGA), and Ambassador Reda Mansour, the Israeli Consul General, Atlanta. Ani Agnihotri, USIBRC founder, was the moderator.

Chhibber said that when she interviewed prominent politicians and celebrities from both India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the terror attack in Mumbai, she concluded from her interviews that Islamophobia should not be at the center of the debate and that terrorism does not stem from religion. “It lies in politics,” she said. She also blamed the abject and pervasive corruption in India as one of the factors that needed to be tackled seriously in order to protect ordinary people from future acts of terrorism. Exerting pressure on and being critical of the Indian government was vital, “but people like you and I have to be blamed as well as we have failed to force politicians to act and protect us,” she added.

Dr. Srivastava gave the rapt 40-odd audience a quick summary of who these Islamic terrorists were. “They were from Lashkar - e- Taiba, the main terrorist group in Pakistan, they were well-trained, armed with AK-47s, carried several rounds of ammunition, had GPS systems, mobile phones, were intent on taking hostages and were willing to die. They were trained in a covert military fashion.” Their attack, he said, was low-tech but very effective due to the massive media coverage, in creating mass panic. “It damaged investors’ confidence in the country’s financial centre.”

He added that the severely under-funded military, marine police, navy, counter-terrorism force and police to tackle terrorism have to be addressed following the critical lack of effectiveness of the Indian Commandos in flushing out the terrorists. “International cooperation on counter-terrorism between India and USA for example has lead to the latter helping India in encrypted chatter among terrorists. Germany is willing to help India in all sorts of intelligence gathering and analysis,” he continued. “But there are challenges!”

Dr. Srivastava asserts that Pakistan and India’s long-standing animosity is causing psychological, economic and social damage to both countries. “Sovereignty cuts both ways, if both countries control their sovereignty, then one can be sure to protect the lives and properties of both countries.”

“Israel and India have had a very close military and strategic relationship in the last eight years. Israel has one of the world’s finest know-hows in urban warfare, state-of-the-art artillery and air defense and intelligence gathering. India has to take technical steps to move towards improving its national security and strengthening its counter-terrorism methods with Israel’s help.” Ambassador Reda Mansour reiterated Israel’s expertise in dealing with terrorism but also painted a very bleak and nightmarish scenario in the event of terrorists being armed with biological or nuclear weapons. “It’s a wakeup call for Mumbai, and the rest of the world should become more serious in tackling terrorism as it can have very frightening consequences and can lead to mass destruction.”      

“Terrorists worldwide have created webs of cooperation between each other. We have discovered they form alliances; for example the ETA in Spain supports guerrillas in Colombia and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” “They have intricate webs of communication like encrypted e-mails and advanced systems of encoding messages,” he added.

“Israel works very hard with the Palestinians economically to prevent them from being hijacked by the terrorists. We have to be very pro-active in our attempts to steer them away from becoming suicide bombers. One method is using very strong intelligence, using military and technological know-how, utilizing the Internet and mobile networks and we have invested heavily in our national security.”

Education is also vital in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Mansour added there were textbooks that had become tools of political indoctrination, advocating hatred toward the West, Israel and inciting people to even murder “infidels”. “After 9/11, Saudi Arabia banned these textbooks and Pakistan needs to do likewise to clamp down on hateful textbooks and improve their curriculum.”

Lastly, Mr. Agnihotri, the moderator, highlighted the on-going dilemmas faced by India in its fight against terrorism and said, “We hope that your participation in these discussions will bring about long-term changes to India’s complacency in tackling terrorism within its own borders and her neighbor, Pakistan.”

As for Sir Noon, Kavita Chhibber’s relative, he thankfully escaped safely from the clutches of the terrorists.

- By Umah Papachan

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