We have had enquiries in the past into national security lapses and disasters such as our humiliation at the hands of China in 1962, intelligence failures during the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and the revolt in Mizoram in 1966, the security failures resulting in the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in October, 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi in May, 1991, and our being taken by surprise by the Pakistan Army in the Kargil heights in 1999.
2. The report of the enquiry into the Chinese occupation of our territory was never released to the public, but we do know that many of the actions taken by the Government of India post-1962 for revamping our national security management were the result of the deficiencies identified during the enquiry. Similarly, the report of the enquiries into the lapses during the 1965 war and the Mizo uprising was not released to the public, but we do know that the creation of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) was a result of these enquiries. The reports of the other enquiries were released to the public by the Governments of Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Whatever be the merits of the follow-up action, no attempt was made by any of those governments to cover up the failures and deficiencies.
3. Since 2000 the world has seen a series of major terrorist strikes--- the attack on the US naval ship USS Cole off Aden in October, 2000, 9/11 in the US, the explosion in Bali in October 2002, the Madrid explosions in March 2004 and the London explosions in July, 2005. Each and every one of those terrorist strikes was followed by a detailed enquiry ordered by the Government in power in order to identify deficiencies and faults, which enabled the terrorists to succeed. No attempt was made by any of those Governments to cover up the sins of omission and commission, which made those terrorist strikes possible. Follow-up action was taken to see that similar acts of negligence were not repeated in future and that identified deficiencies were rectified. The conclusions of the enquiries were made known to the public and were discussed by their respective legislatures.
4. On February 27, 2008, Mas Selamat Kastari, said to be a leader of the Singapore branch of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), escaped from a high security detention centre of Singapore. The escape of this dreaded terrorist created alarm and concern in Singapore about the state of their security agencies. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave his word of honour to the Parliament and the public that he would see that a thorough enquiry would be held to find out how he escaped, to identify the acts of negligence and take necessary follow-up action. He promised that there would be no cover-up and that the enquiry report would be released to the public and discussed in Parliament. He kept his word of honour.
5. Between November 26 and 28, 2008, Mumbai witnessed what has been described by many international terrorism experts as the most daring terrorist strike anywhere in the world since the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. Nearly 170 persons, the majority of them civilians, including some foreigners of different nationalities and some brave police officers, were killed. The terrorists had virtual control of two leading hotels of Mumbai and a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre for three days.
6. The terrorist strike, which was seen by the entire world on TV, caused such an alarm that some leading think-tanks of the world such as the Rand Corporation have already brought out detailed studies on the incident. The Homeland Security Committees of the US Congress held detailed sessions on the incident for which they invited leading experts to give their assessment of the incident.
7. The conclusion of some of these studies was that India neither had the required preventive capability nor the retaliatory capability to deal satisfactorily with incidents of this nature and hence, one cannot rule out repeats of Mumbai style attacks.
8. The terrorist strike took place in our territory. Our people were killed. An attempt was made tro shake the confidence of foreigners ---- especially businessmen--- about the security of life and property in India. We should have been the most concerned to find out what happened so that we can see that this does not happen again.
9. One would have expected the Governments of India and Maharashtra to order a joint comprehensive and independent enquiry similar to the enquiries held in our own country in the past and similar to those held in other countries since 2000 to identify the sins of commission and omission and the weak points in our counter-terrorism management and to take follow-up action. Unfortunately, the Government of India focused largely on Pakistan's involvement in the strike and avoided any independent enquiry into its own responsibility and that of the Government of Maharashtra, which made the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Lashkar-e-Toiba succeed in such a spectacular manner.
10. The Government of India was successful in its cover-up exercise because neither the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership nor the other opposition parties, whose responsibility it was to see that there was no cover-up, failed to exercise this responsibility. By their confused inaction, the BJP and other opposition parties played into the hands of the Government and unwittingly facilitated its cover-up exercise. Nobody asked questions about our own failures at New Delhi as well as in Mumbai.
11. While the Government of India successfully avoided any enquiry, the Government of Maharashtra did order an enquiry into the role of the Mumbai police. It set up a two-member enquiry commiittee consisting of R.D.Pradhan, an officer of the IAS cadre of Maharashtra, who had served as the Union Home Secretary, and V.Balachandran, an officer of the IPS cadre of Maharashtra, who had served for two decades in the R&AW and retired in June, 1995, as a Special Secretary. The enquiry committee has completed its work and submitted its report to the Government. The Government of Maharashtra has reportedly promised to lay the report on the table of the State Assembly along with an action taken report.
12. This was what the Vajpayee Government did in respect of the enquiry report by the Kargil Review Committee, headed by K.Subramanyam, the strategic analyst, who was at that time Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board. While there was a wide dissemination of the report and its critical findings, the only substantial discussion of the report was in the media. As a follow-up, the Government also set up a number of Special Task Forces to look into various aspects of national security management such as internal security, border security management, higher defence management and the revamping of the intelligence set-up. An exercise for strengthening national security management on the basis of the recommendations of these task forces was undertaken. Details of the recommendations of all the task forces except the one on the intelligence set-up were released to the public.
13. Anybody who had watched the TV during those three horrible days and read everything that was available to read about the terrorist strike would have noticed that there were apparent lapses which made the strike possible. According to sections of the New Delhi-based national newspapers, intelligence was available, but not complete and continuous. Two reports in September, none in October and one just before the strike. The follow-up action even on the available intelligence was ill-co-ordinated. Emergency response after the strike left much to be desired. There were complaints about inadequate and unsatisfactory protective equipment. The quality of the perational leadership at the counter-terrorism nodal points was criticised. There was an inadequate culture of joint action by various agencies responsible for counter-terrorism.
14. In his statement to the Lok Sabha after taking over as the Home Minister after the Mumbai attack, Shri P.Chidambaram admitted that the responsibility for follow-up action on even the available intelligence was diffused. It must be said to his credit that even though a formal enquiry of an independent nature was not held, he apparently made his own in-house enquiry to determine the deficiencies and correct them. He has tightened up our internal security management system and has been taking active interest in ensuring that the system would function as it should. The fact that an independent enquiry was not held does not mean that a comprehensive in-house exercise was not undertaken to identify and correct deficiencies.
15. But the public of this country and its legislators have a right to know what went wrong and why. The national security management system is funded by the tax-payers' money. When a terrorist strike takes place, it is their lives and those of their relatives that are affected. By denying the public knowledge of the acts of commission and omission, the political leadership is denying the public and the opposition an opportunity to judge whether the tax-payers' money allocated for counter-terrorism is being spent efficiently. The successful functioning of the national security management system depends not only on the quality of the various components of the system, but also on the co-operation which it is able to get from the public. The readiness of the public to co-operate will depend on the system's credibility in the eyes of the public. If the public is kept in the dark, how can it have the required confidence in the system? Today's terrorism is trans-national. Our ability to deal with it depends not only on our capabilities, but also on the co-operation received from other countries. If the others find that we do not have the moral courage to look into our deficiencies and admit them, what incentive they will have to improve their co-operation with us?
16. In the light of this, we should have followed the example of other countries and held a comprehensive and independent enquiry, different from an in-house enquiry. One was surprised to note that Shri Chidambaram firmly rejected on June 5, 2009, the demand of Shri L.K.Advani, the leader of the opposition, for such an enquiry. In an interview to some journalists, he gave the following reasons for his rejecting the demand: Firstly, the demand is belated as it came six months after the terrorist attack. Secondly, the Vajpayee Government did not hold an enquiry into the hijacking of an aircraft of the Indian Airlines by some terrorists to Kandahar in December 1999 and into the attempted attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001.
17. The attack on the Parliament was not an instance of security failure. It was an instance of security success. That was why the terrorists did not succeed. Kandahar was an instance of failure by the then Government. An enquiry should have been held, but the fact that no enquiry was held by the BJP-led Government should not be cited as a ground for not holding an independent enquiry into the Mumbai attack.
18. Shri Chidambaram is right in pointing out the belated nature of the BJP demand, but this should not be allowed to stand in the way of a comprehensive and independent enquiry, which would be in the national interest. I have been pointing out since 2004 that one of the reasons for things going wrong in counter-terrorism management in our country is the lack of activism by the relatives of the victims of terrorist strikes. It was the activism of the relatives of the victims which ensured a thorough enquiry in the US, the UK and other countries. One saw on the TV the way the relatives of the victims by rotation attended the hearings of the Congressional committees on the 9/11 strikes and the interest which they took in ensuring that the recommendations of the National Commission were implemented. Unfortunately, in our country, that kind of activism is not there. The Governments are consequently able to get away with their stonewalling.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)