You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2008.
M. Tawsif Salam
In all of the political discussions, the question that inevitably is asked to the political analysts of strategists is, what improvements in politics have been done as result of what happened in 11 January, 2007. None of the people who ask this question try to realize that there has been done nothing to make our politicians feel that they need to be more serious and more ardent to commit better things to the people. Everyone feels comfortable to misunderstand the 1/11 event something like the whole classroom has been kept under detention as many of the students became rowdy. The 1/11 was nothing like that and whoever came forward to punish the classroom did not have prosperous agendas to commit so. Thus it will be our own faults if we think the politics of Bangladesh have received enough lessons to deliver all the divines henceforth.
It is quite amazing to hear we are having the population more than the superpower Russian Federation does have. It’s amazing to be the 7th on the list whereas Russia is 9th, UK is 22nd and Canada, France, Italy, Germany all are below our rank. And beside the amazement it is out utmost failure of noticing and our imprudence that this population has made ourselves a bowl which never fills. It is the increasing population of Bangladesh which has presented us the fate where may be we won’t see the day when our empty bowls of demands will be pouring. A tremendously tight count of resources with a population increasing without any controlled and positively expected rate, are on the way to take us to a valley where all of the formulas of prosperity will se failures to bail us out of the disaster. The disaster is up ahead. And the disaster is simple to explain. It’s just a situation where we got an immense count of population but not even a fraction of necessary resources and nobody delivering words to provide us with them. It’s so simple like a family having all ways of incomes crucially closed, a family with numbers of members to feed, a family with no friends or relatives ready to borrow or charity or something, a family having no definite way other than to be on streets begging to be fed.
I remember that the population was a prime issue of social and technical studies when we were at school. For a country like Bangladesh, population has always been the prime concern. As far as we are not to maintain the luxury of beating superpowers like Russia, United Kingdom or France having the population of 159 millions of people, we are also not to afford to overlook this vital concern of ours which can turn all of our earnings in coming days into useless. We don’t have a definite food plan to deal with what the population will be ten or twenty years later. We don’t have a definite power plan to provide with electricity and fuel to what the population will be ten or twenty years later. And all these things which we are ought to do in coming days will have to be done by who we will be voting for a week later. But did you see manifestos of them? Did you find what are they thinking about the increasing population in any of their manifestos? One of the party heads has dedicated the manifesto to all those will cast vote for the first time. But there is no definite declaration of what to be done to ensure their effort to keep on their lineages hundreds of years later. On of the party heads has promised to his constituency voters that rice and lentils as regular meals will be made free for all. A proverb goes in North-eastern Europe, the only way to get cheese and to not pay is raiding rat holes; rat holes are only place from where free foods used to come. So there is commitment of delivering foods from rat holes but there is no commitment on how to deal with some more millions of people who will be added in coming years.
The absence of population issue in the political manifestos has been noticed crudely. Some of the political analysts and strategists have mentioned the manifestos as advertisement leaflets of the parties to have the people casting their votes for the particular parties. As the population issue is quite old to do marketing jobs with, most of the manifestos have dropped it out. This is disappointing. There is no permanent result at the end of a shortcut. Every developments, every prosperities, every agenda have to be implemented in an ongoing process with immense patience. And politicians of a country are to be set on those ongoing processes. And their so vicious overlook of a so important issue like the increasing population will urge the people of Bangladesh to reconsider their choice of handing over the ruling-sceptre of the nation.
This post has also been published in Weekly Economic Times
M. Tawsif Salam
It’s not necessary to have the political history of hundreds of years to contain political events of multiple dimensions. Bangladesh in her history of not a lot more than 37 years has seen quite a lot of kinds of elections; elections under military rule, elections under democratic governments, election under constitutionally explicable caretaker governments etc. But this time Bangladesh is going to experience such a situation were we are to vote under authority of such a government, which is neither a direct military rule, nor a constitutional caretaker government.
This has completely been a newer way of rupture to the constitution, made of some party-loving people like to do reunion kind of thing at Tommy Mia’s Gulshan kitchen or something. The situation is virtually different from what it has been seen before. The present authority which has an outspoken renown as the “1/11 government”, is going to handover the power to another government, which they say to be elected by public polls. Or by the other kind of saying, or it makes sense if we say what really will be going on in fact, the handover will be done to a group of people who are not really disappointed with the rupture of the constitution. In fact we have these interested groups who have expressed their will to “ratify” all the constitution-breaches. And things obviously look like the stage and all other surroundings have been set to have that group of illicitly interested people winning the upcoming election.
I was really stunned to hear Munni Saha of ATN Bangla saying Akbar Hussain was called “Ekbar Hussain (এক বার হোসেন)” in Comilla because he used to go to Comilla not very often. Many politicians in many of the localities are called in different sorts of names and some of them are pretty abusive. But this does not mean a nation-wide television channel will have their reporters hailing those names. Sedgefield (Durham, UK) politician Jonathan Cockburn in 2005 has several times given names to Tony Blair and other Labour Party seniors. Cockburn had pretty large number of supporters at Sedgefield. But we definitely would have to think about the neutrality and sense of decency of Sky News if one of their reporters would call Blair a wacko while reviewing pre-election air in Durham; so we’ve done and all of Bangladeshi should do, everybody awaited for a fair election should take the concern of whether ATN Bangla with their fellow comrades in the front line are neutral or just working with the target of bailing a party as winner out of the election, a party which has leaders of it expressing their impudence for getting to the power, saying “we will ratify everything every violators in this government did with anybody”.
Many of Awami League leaders have been tremendously upset about having their rivals and Jamaat-e-Islami running together. Well, actually they don’t think about there can be someone looking back to their track they have left behind. The photo given here is for the evaluation of those who have shown their immense patience by reading this of my posts down to this bottom of it.
A long derided Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil has been forced out; Maharashtra State Home Minister, R.R. Patil has succumbed to public and media pressure and resigned after a crass comment that “such things keep happening in big cities”; the Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, is tottering on the verge of resignation after engaging in some heedless ‘disaster tourism’ at the devastated Taj Mahal Hotel; other heads are poised to roll. Has the latest Mumbai carnage pushed India beyond the ‘tipping point’ in its responses to terrorism? Is it now possible to expect a radical break with past patterns, where each major incident has been followed – to borrow a phrase applied to the Left parties during the nuclear debate, but which accurately describes the entire political class in this country – by some “running around like headless chickens”, to lapse quickly into a habitual torpor? And can India’s polarized and unprincipled political parties come to a consensual understanding and strategy on counter-terrorism, instead of subordinating the national interest to partisan electoral calculations and the politics of ‘vote banks’?
Regrettably, there are already too many signs that it is going to be ‘business as usual’ in India.
At the height of the confrontation in Mumbai, L.K. Advani, the Leader of the Opposition and the man projected as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate in the coming elections next year, kindled a spark of hope, calling for an all-party consensus on counter-terrorism, and declaring, “at this juncture, the country needs to fight the terrorist menace resolutely and stand together”. However, even before the fighting had ended, partisan political sniping had commenced on the round-the-clock television coverage and debates, and this has escalated to a point of viciousness even while the debris of the attacks is being cleared out. Crucially, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened an all-party meeting at Delhi on December 1, 2008, Advani and BJP President, Rajnath Singh, chose to absent themselves, though V.K. Malhotra, Deputy Leader of the BJP Parliamentary Party, did attend.
Governmental responses, moreover, show little sign of coming to terms with the enormity of the issue. The Prime Minister has chosen to emphasise amendments to the prevailing laws on terrorism – currently a set of toothless provisions inserted in 2005 into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 – and the mirage of a Federal Investigation Agency that is intended to make all terrorism in the country miraculously vanish, simply because it pretends to imitate the American Federal Bureau of Investigation in nomenclature and intent. Neither of these initiatives, however, has any potential whatsoever to contain the rampage of terrorism across a country that remains pitifully under-policed, with a paper thin intelligence cover concentrated in a few urban centres and strategic locations.
There has also been a reiteration of assurances that ‘maritime security’ will be beefed up, with more power and resources to the Coast Guard and Coastal Police Stations, and better coordination between these Forces, and with the Navy. But this is all tired old stuff and has been articulated ad nauseum, since 2001, with little evidence of change in capacities on the ground. Indeed, the critical capacities – those for policing – are actually undergoing continuing erosion, with the latest National Crime Records Bureau Report indicating that the police – population ratio for the country at large actually declined from an abysmal 126/100,000 in 2006 to 125/100,000 in 2007.
Of course, a few random sanctions for augmentation of capacities have been announced in the wake of past attacks – including the sanction of 6,000 additional personnel for the Intelligence Bureau (IB), immediately after the serial blasts in Delhi on September 13, 2008. Given the country’s turgid and obstructive bureaucracy, however, there are no signs of these sanctions resulting in an augmentation of capacities on the ground any time soon. The very idea of responding on a war footing, cutting through red tape and existing institutional limitations, does not appear to exist in any aspect of the country’s counter-terrorism responses.
And then, of course, there is a question of response to the very obvious role of Pakistan – and this is a palpable dead end. Even preliminary investigations have thrown up overwhelming evidence that every string of control in the multiple terrorist strikes in Mumbai leads back to Pakistan and to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) – an organization that, under its new identity as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa continues to enjoy direct state support in Pakistan. In a rare outburst, Prime Minister Singh warned unnamed “neighbours” that “the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them.” His Government is now reportedly “under pressure” to act against Pakistan, and a range of hair-brained responses are doing the rounds in official circles, including massive troop mobilization along the border, mimicking the purposeless massing of troops under Operation Parakram, launched on December 16, 2001, after the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament. 680 soldiers were killed, without a single shot being fired, by the time Operation Parakram was, inexplicably, called off on October 16, 2002, with the unsupported claim that its undefined “objectives” had been achieved. If this worthless and counter-productive exercise is the model to be replicated in the present case, it would be no less than tragic. If, on the other hand, it is not, then there is little capacity – at this juncture – to design effective alternatives, in the foreseeable future, to impose any “cost” on Pakistan, and such capacities can only be constructed, gradually and systematically, over time, and with a clear strategy in mind – and there is little evidence of the latter at this juncture.
Indeed, the overwhelming focus of the Indian response to Pakistan’s role – either as the source of these attacks, or more direct involvement of the state’s agencies in engineering or facilitating them – appears to be concentrated on diplomatic efforts to bring international pressure to bear on Pakistan. This has been an apparently successful initiative, with world leaders coming out with some of the most unambiguous condemnations of the incident and commitments to support India’s efforts to address the problem in all its dimensions. Crucially, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to arrive at Delhi on December 3, on a visit that many expect (or, more likely, hope) will produce more than just a very strong ‘message’ to Islamabad. While all this will certainly make the powers that be in Pakistan squirm a bit, there is little reason to believe that the dynamic that has protected them in past and even greater transgressions, both in the region and well beyond, will not, once again, reassert itself. The truth is, it is not just India that is powerless to impose any unbearable pain on the basket case that is Pakistan – the ‘international community’, particularly including USA – are no better positioned. It is useful to recall, here, that US intelligence agencies concurred with Afghan and Indian agencies, that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had engineered the terrorist bombing of the Indian Embassy on July 7, 2008, and there had been great expectations, at that juncture as well, that this would result in stronger action against Islamabad. Pakistan, however, has weathered many such storms and its diplomats and proxies are quick to range across the world peddling their theories of root causes and Muslim grievance to ever-willing audiences in the West and, indeed, even in victim countries such as India.
In the meanwhile, the attack in Mumbai has done what may well be irreparable damage to the “shining” image of the “emerging global power”. The utter incapacity and incompetence of India’s security apparatus has been incontrovertibly demonstrated in what may be an audacious attack by as few as 10 terrorists (nine have been confirmed killed and one is currently in custody, singing like a canary). It is crucial, here, to notice the exemplary courage, exemplary leadership and exemplary dedication to duty, among those who responded from the security forces, who were given virtually nothing to fight with, and who still put everything they had into the fight, with many losing their lives. Their personal commitment and attainment notwithstanding, the reality of the institutional and structural responses is disgraceful. While a detailed analysis of the counter-terrorism (CT) operation must wait till far more information is available, a few aspects are already evident.The most significant of these is the sheer tardiness and inadequacy of response. The first shots in the multiple attacks in Mumbai were fired at about 21:40 in the evening of November 26, and the incident was already on national television by 22:00 (all timings are approximate and based on available open source reportage). Local Police contingents – including the Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) headed by Hemant Karkare, who lost his life in the encounter – responded fairly quickly, but, lacking protective equipment, firepower and even the most rudimentary CT training, with tragic consequences, losing top line Police leaders in the very first engagements. After that, the world witnessed the most astonishing paralysis, as the locations of attack were loosely cordoned off by variously armed Police contingents, but no forces appeared equipped or willing to enter and engage for hours following. It was evident that even the most basic of response protocols had not been established, and the word repeatedly occurring in every live report in these long initial hours was “chaotic”. As one commentator in the New York Times noted, “The grainy television imagery suggested not so much a terrorist attack as the shapeless, omnidirectional chaos of Iraq.” Local contingents of the Army – arriving at about 02:50, more than five hours after the incident commenced – brought some semblance of order to the incident environments, but still did not enter the major sites of ongoing terrorist carnage.The first ‘special response team’ to arrive was a small group of Marine Commandos (Marcos), who actually sought engagement with the terrorists – but their own accounts suggest that they were not able to neutralize a singly terrorist before they were pulled out. Eventually, a 200-strong contingent of the ‘elite’ National Security Guard (NSG) was deployed at 08:05, in the morning of November 27, and this is the point at which the terrorists can seriously be considered to have been engaged. But the NSG went into the locations blind – with no maps of the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Oberoi-Trident complex initially available – and were extraordinarily tentative, unsure weather they were dealing with a hostage situation, and transfixed by their fear of inflicting civilian casualties – the reality eventually disclosed was that the massacres in the three principal sites, the two hotels and Nariman House, where a Jewish family was trapped, were over long before the NSG engaged. The result was a stand-off that lasted all of 62 hours.
There is also, of course, the long succession of intelligence warnings that were given to the State Government, and that were also passed on to the security establishments of the hotels under threat, but even the limited security measures that were implemented by both local Police and the hotel security apparatus were, as Praveen Swami notes, “lifted a week before the attacks, after businesses and residents complained of inconvenience.” Swami, quotes an unnamed Police source, further, as stating, “We also removed additional security… because our manpower was stretched to the limit and the personnel we had did not, in any case, have the specially-trained personnel needed to avert a suicide-squad attack.”
The Maharashtra State Government has tried to package this operation as a grand success, arguing that the terrorists had “come to kill 5,000 people” and to “blow up the Taj” (both pieces of unmitigated nonsense), and that, consequently, the eventual loss of life and damage to various structure, was not ‘as high as it could have been’. The reality, however, is that the multiple attacks – at 11 different locations – by a tiny contingent of terrorists, inflicting 195 fatalities (the figure is tentative, with numbers still rising, and pending official confirmation) and leaving over 300 injured, and virtually devastating two major locations (the Taj and the Oberoi-Trident), fully achieved their attainable potential and were complete successes from the point of view of their planners. They cannot, consequently, be thought of as anything but comprehensive failures from the point of view of India’s security establishment. Indeed, the Mumbai carnage shows every mark of a botched operation from the security point of view. If anything, security forces’ (SF) action appears to have trapped the terrorists in the locations, blocking off their avenues of planned escape – even as it gave them significant freedom of operation within them – instead of quickly neutralizing them, and protracting the carnage for an incredible 62 hours.
Despite the extraordinary courage and evident commitment of SF personnel and leaders, the reality is that there was a comprehensive structural failure in Mumbai. Any terrorist operation can only be contained, in terms of its potential, in the first few minutes. Which means that the “first responders” – invariably the local Police – have to be equipped, trained and capable of, if not neutralising, then, at least, containing the terrorists. If the first batches of Police personnel had arrived in sufficient strength at each of the locations of terrorist attack in Mumbai, with appropriate weaponry, communications, transport and other technological force multipliers (such as, for instance, night vision goggles and thermal imaging systems for the major standoffs in the Taj, Oberoi-Trident and Nariman House) and immediately engaged with the terrorists, they probably would have been able, in at least these three locations, to isolate the terrorists in small corners of the target structures and would have been able to minimise the loss of life, the material damage, and the operational time.
Many journalists ask the routine question after each of the increasingly frequent major terrorist strikes across India: why did this happen again? The more rational question, given India’s capacities for intelligence, enforcement and CT response, is: why does this not happen more often?
Imitative mantras, such as “strong laws” and “federal agency” will not diminish the threat of terrorism that confronts India. It is only the hard slog of building effective capacities – not incrementally, in terms of what we already have, but radically, in terms of what we need – on a war footing, that will help diminish the enveloping and, progressively, crippling, threat of terrorism confronting India. Only this can help the Government recover from the loss of public confidence and of international prestige that this devastating attack has inflicted on the nation. Regrettably, a national leadership – across party lines – that has repeatedly betrayed the national security interest for partisan political gains, does not demonstrate the necessary capacities for learning that can create defences within any time frame that could be immediately relevant to the trajectory of terrorism in the country.
* * * * *
Ajay Sahni is the editor of South Asian Intelligence Review (SAIR) andExecutive Director of Institute for Conflict Management