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Mumbai Attacks Raise Questions on India’s Ability to Combat Terror

November 28, 2008 at 6:10 PM EST
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As more details emerge about the Mumbai attacks, questions are stirring on India's ability to prevent and respond to terrorism. Analysts examine the government's response and what it means for larger security issues.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Terror in Mumbai, India. We start with a report on how the militants carried out their attacks. The correspondent is Nick Paton Walsh of Independent Television News.

NICK PATON WALSH, ITV News Correspondent: This is about as close as you could get to the gunmen who’ve held Mumbai hostage for two days. Behind these curtains, maybe two militants are holding up to three hostages inside the Nariman Jewish Center.

A rare glimpse of the men behind a raid as brutal as it was daring, gunmen who simply came ashore in boats and backpacks.

Fishermen here say at least six militants pulled up in a dinghy with an outboard motor. They seemed like students, in T-shirts and jeans, speaking in clean Indian Hindi accents. And they threatened them, “You’ve not seen anything here.” And they told this woman to mind her own business.

INDIAN CITIZEN (through translator): Four of them went that way, and two that way. Before leaving, they shook hands with each other and said, “Good luck.”

NICK PATON WALSH: Now, it’s here you can get an idea of exactly how brazen this raid must have been. A number of dinghies pulled up to these docks behind me. The gunmen got out and simply walked towards the Taj Palace Hotel. And the question today is, how did they get here and where did they come from?

Well-armed and prepared, according to the special forces team that later fought them.

COMMANDO: See, I told you, these people were very, very familiar with the hotel layout. And it appeared that they had carried out a survey before when we entered. We found a rucksack or a bag which contained dried fruits for survival, large amount of ammunition, explosives.

NICK PATON WALSH: It’s been claimed the gunmen had jobs in the hotels and even, according to one Indian minister, that two of them were British-born Pakistanis. While Scotland Yard officers are here investigating, U.K. officials played this down. But one detained gunman is reportedly Pakistani.

PRANAB MUKHERJEE, Foreign Minister, India (through translator): Preliminary evidence indicates that there is some connection between these Mumbai attackers and Pakistan elements. As of now, nothing can be said with certainty about them or from where they came, but evidence indicates that Pakistani elements have been in touch with them.

NICK PATON WALSH: Pakistan denied any association with the attack and will send its intelligence chief here to help investigate.

India in 'unprecedented' situation

Christine Fair
RAND Corporation
You know, if we go back to 9/11, what we now know is that there was plenty of information about 9/11, but it was very difficult to discern what's a credible threat and what's not. So at this juncture, I'm not sure that that is a fair question.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Suarez has more on India's vulnerability to terrorism.

RAY SUAREZ: And we take that up with Sumit Ganguly, professor of Indian cultures and civilizations at Indiana University in Bloomington, and Christine Fair, senior political scientist at RAND. She focuses on security issues in South Asia.

Christine Fair, now that we're into day three, can you say that India has adequately prepared to deal with terrorist attacks?

CHRISTINE FAIR, Rand Corporation: Well, I'll not sure that that's really a fair question. We don't actually know what sort of chatter the Indian intelligence apparatus had.

You know, if we go back to 9/11, what we now know is that there was plenty of information about 9/11, but it was very difficult to discern what's a credible threat and what's not. So at this juncture, I'm not sure that that is a fair question.

But I think that the Indian commandos have actually shown an incredible degree of competence in handling this. There were, you know, I think initially some questions if you looked at the footage of some of the hotels. They were a bit slow to cordon off the area and to secure the area.

But I think the Indians have really done a very commendable job in handling what is really an unprecedented situation.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ganguly, from inside and outside the country, there has been criticism of the pace of the response. There are still explosions and gunfire at the scene of the Taj Palace. Did the attackers get too much of a head start? And why do you think that happened?

SUMIT GANGULY, Indiana University, Bloomington: No, I don't think they got too much of a head start. I think they were extremely well planned. I think they had taken adequate steps to provide themselves with food and succor and, in addition to that, had ample ammunition, as has been discovered from several of the backpacks that have been recovered.

And if there's only one area where I would fault the Indians is not to bring in the national security guards swiftly on the scene, because they are highly trained. I have actually witnessed some of their training.

And when they were being lured off the helicopters, I was reminded of the manner in which they are trained. So the only question that I have is, why did it take nine hours to deploy the national security guards?

Terrorists chose soft targets

Sumit Ganguly
Indiana University
I think it would be important to improve metropolitan policing; I think it's important to increase perimeter security at critical installations.

RAY SUAREZ: Should Indian policymakers, Professor, assume that the country is the target of more terrorist attacks, more than any other country...

SUMIT GANGULY: I think it would be wise -- oh, I certainly think so. I think it would be wise to make such an assumption. And I think it would be important to improve metropolitan policing; I thinkit's important to increase perimeter security at critical installations.

I think security at hotels and other installations will have to be beefed up so that these kinds of incidents, which are unfortunately becoming routine in India, do not happen.

RAY SUAREZ: Christine Fair, many places in the world, even places with no history of terrorist attacks, have beefed up security since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When you're in Mumbai, have you noticed that kind of increased hardening of targets, public places, places like hotels?

CHRISTINE FAIR: Well, I mean, again, let's take a look at the targets that they chose. They did not choose the U.S. consulate, which was also in the general vicinity. There are a number of intelligence, police and military installations in the larger area that they targeted.

What they actually did was targeted exceptionally vulnerable hotels, a train station, a cinema, and a cafe. I mean, many of us, you know, have eaten at Leopold's Cafe. It's an open cafe on a sidewalk. So many of the targets that they chose were very soft targets.

And in point of fact, if you take a look at the Marriott bombing in Islamabad from a number of months ago, when you have a hotel that's in a historical location, the city grows up around it. Without physically moving the road, as we did in Washington, D.C., with the Pentagon, it's actually very difficult to get a security cordon.

And what I'd like to point out about these attacks is what makes them very different from previous attacks is they didn't use suicide bombing. You didn't have suicide attackers either in vehicles or elsewhere.

So the kinds of weapons that they used and the way in which they infiltrated the target, this would have been very difficult to have actually hardened against.

Tighter security measures needed

Christine Fair
RAND Corporation
Mumbai is also very interesting, because it has a historical gang presence, and you also have had a well-known problem in Bombay, Mumbai, and elsewhere in India with police corruption.

RAY SUAREZ: Have you noticed any raising of the general precautions in India in the last several years?

CHRISTINE FAIR: Well, actually, the entire region, when you go to hotels, it's very typical that you'll be subjected to a metal detector, that you'll be subjected to -- your baggage will be put on an X-ray equipment.

But it's also very typical that that procedure will be handled in a very lackadaisical manner.

Mumbai is also very interesting, because it has a historical gang presence, and you also have had a well-known problem in Bombay, Mumbai, and elsewhere in India with police corruption.

So, as Dr. Ganguly mentioned, you know, India moving forward is going to have to take very seriously issues such as internal intelligence, beefing up the police, and generally rethinking security.

What I haven't seen in India is the adoption of a lot of public cameras. You know, many countries that I've been to in Europe, the United States is moving in that direction -- you know, India has talked a lot about going that way.

Of course, it's very expensive. And this is obviously an area where India could turn to its allies and friends to try to find some way of fortifying public security.

India-Pakistan tensions rise

Sumit Ganguly
Indiana University
I'm forced to assume that there must be some scintilla of evidence that they are basing these accusations on...for the simple reason that, in the last several weeks, relations between India and Pakistan were actually on an even keel.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ganguly, in the last several hours, members of the Indian government have pointed a finger toward Pakistan. Members of the Pakistani government have heatedly denied any connection to the attack.

Does this ratchet up the tension with Pakistan, even if the government in Islamabad is telling the truth that its fingerprints are not on this attack?

SUMIT GANGULY: Oh, without question it ratchets up tension. But I think senior members of the government of India would not make public statements at a time when relations were steadily improving with Pakistan in the absence of any shred of evidence.

I'm forced to assume that there must be some scintilla of evidence that they are basing these accusations on and are not simply shooting from the hip, for the simple reason that, in the last several weeks, relations between India and Pakistan were actually on an even keel. President Zardari had made certain kinds of remarks that the Indians had appreciated and had welcomed.

And furthermore, this comes in the wake of other improvements in the last few months. So for them to completely sort of undermine the bonhomie that had developed in Indo-Pakistani relations without any basis just strikes me as being silly, that it's highly unlikely that they would engage in that sort of behavior.

RAY SUAREZ: But aren't there levels of culpability, shall we say, the difference between just Pakistani nationals being involved with something that actually is attached to the government there?

SUMIT GANGULY: That's absolutely true. There are levels and levels of culpability. These could be rogue elements operating from within Pakistan, using Pakistani soil as a sanctuary.

But the point still remains -- and it's inescapable -- that, if there are individuals operating from your soil, you still bear a certain degree of responsibility, that Pakistan for a long time has been in denial about the involvement of its own citizens in acts of terror, both in Afghanistan and India.

And this is a matter, whether or not they were involved directly in this particular episode, this is a matter they really must countenance and countenance very quickly.

RAY SUAREZ: Sumit Ganguly and Christine Fair, thank you both.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Thank you.