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The Taj hotel Mumbai under seige| Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The Longest Sixty Hours of The Mumbai Mayhem

|By Col NN Bhatia (Retd)|

When heaven sends down calamities there is a hope of weathering them, but when man brings them upon himself there is no hope of escape. – A Chinese saying.

 At about 0800 hrs on 29 Nov 2008 after 60 long frightening and uncertain hours of the ‘fidayeen attacks’ on Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, the National Security Guards (NSG) commandos victoriously embraced each other with a faint smile playing on their faces while the DG NSG on the electronic media stated that the Taj Mahal Hotel was clear of the terrorists and sanitization operations were being carried out in the premises.

Needless to say, the whole nation anxiously remained glued to their TV sets for hours together and had a sigh of relief with pride and jubilations.

Almost at the same time my mobile blinked and I had the SMS I was waiting for from Brig Bobby Mathews, Commander Mumbai Sub Area who was in the thick of operations saying dutifully typically in army lingo ‘Operation over. All OK. Regards – Bobby’. Bobby was my adjutant when our Battalion 2 KUMAON (Berar) was deployed in Ahmedabad riots in 1984.

Our forces during the mumbai attacks

Our forces during the Mumbai attacks

Notwithstanding the brave and committed effort put up by the local police, the armed forces, especially the NSG and the Marine commandos, the appreciation of the magnitude and handling of the crisis by the political masters and bureaucracy both at the Centre and the State levels were inept with uncoordinated knee jerk responses as if routine localized tragedy had occurred.

It is felt our response lacked the leadership qualities of the type exhibited by the Mayor of the New York when twin towers were struck on 9/11.

Our responses in spite of the repeated terrorist attacks and disasters suffers from ‘routine chalta hai’ syndrome  need to be handled with more professional maturity and in a proactive way.

Sadly it was again often repeated intelligence failure as we refuse to learn from our past mistakes or else ‘why and how’ could with unprecedented stealth, sweep and speed, the terrorists attack 10 different locations and then move into three iconic buildings – the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Hotel Trident-Oberoi and the Nariman House of the Jewish Community killing indiscriminately, leaving 187 dead and over 300 injured which included 22 foreigners. Twenty two security personnel also laid their lives in this avoidable tragedy.

The brazen grit, determination and the doggedness with which these terrorists fought, and the range of arms, ammunition, explosives, technical gadgetry like  sat phones and global positioning systems with which they were equipped, underlined their high morale, motivation and months of careful preparations.

While Mumbai was maimed our prestige as an emerging global power was put to shame internationally with cancellation of England’s cricket tour and numerous other mega events. It is debatable as to who carried out these attacks.

There were perhaps two separate groups that were involved in this mayhem. One group could be sleeper cells of the local fundamental motivated Indian Muslims who gave intelligence and logistic support ahead of the attacks while the second group came from Pakistan via ship from Karachi, later hijacked a small Indian fishing trawler ‘Kuber’, killing its crew, got past Indian coastal patrols, and ultimately landed near the Gateway of India to wreck havoc in Mumbai by blowing up the Taj Mahal Hotel and inflicting heavy casualties.

Extensive preparations had been made, including surveillance and gathering real time hard intelligence of these ‘soft targets’ and logistic support for the operations of this magnitude through Indian associates sympathetic with LeT and al Qaida to execute well-planned attacks. No wonder apparently all eyes and fingers accused LeT, and al Qaida, duly supported by the ‘D’ Company and the notorious ISI for these senseless attacks.

As per media reports, 10 terrorists were shot dead and one apprehended whose interrogation has revealed above findings.

It is further intriguing that they could book room No 630 in the Taj Mahal Hotel that was stocked with large quantities of arms ammunition and explosives apparently with the support of the local sleeping cell.

It is a matter of interest that quite naturally, while our security forces were ‘foreign and unfamiliar’ with the areas of their operations in their own city, the alleged Pakistani terrorists had blue prints of the Taj Mahal Hotel and used it to their advantage in fighting pitched battle(s).

“Was it not a total failure of intelligence from macro to micro field level once again ? And who should be taken to task for this national shame?”

The magnitude and the scale of this terrorist act has been so large that it could set stage for a major confrontation between two nuclear states.

Next : Lessons that need to be learnt from Mumbai Mayhem

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