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Mumbai was a sitting duck

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh, who retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, had sounded an eerily prescient warning in an article in this journal over six months ago. On May 21, 2008, he wrote that the next major terror attack might come from the sea. ( Read his previous article )

by Arun Kumar Singh

(November 29, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) On the evening of November 26 I was on a TV panel, explaining how the Indian Navy had taken the correct action on November 18, 2008 by sinking a pirate ship in the Gulf of Aden. This act marked a refreshing departure from our timid national response to the war on terror. A few hours later I watched the TV in horror and disbelief as news unfolded about the terror strike in Mumbai. It was being reported that the two dozen odd terrorists had come by a mother ship from Karachi, disembarked on Mumbai harbour and arrived at the Sassoon Docks, in high-speed rubber inflatables, with their automatic weapons and heavy bags of ammunition and grenades.

The terrorists obviously had fifth columnists’ help since they went to their 11 targets with pinpoint accuracy and caused mayhem, which flashed across TV screens around the globe. My horror changed to anger and then disgust at the sheer inaptitude of our national leadership to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks. I remember writing an article in The Asian Age of May 19, 2008, where I said: "The next terror attack could be from the sea". I also remember writing another half-a-dozen articles about the urgent need for institutional and legislative reforms, along with accountability, given the experience of how ruthlessly other nations have dealt with terrorists and protected their citizens.

Of course, our politicians and bureaucrats, in their ignorance and arrogance, would have the people believe that "India is unique and we have nothing to learn from others... Besides, our people have resilience".

The customary noises about "bringing the culprits to book" are already being made, while young Army, Navy and police commandoes are again shedding blood to ferret out these terrorists. A few TV debates will take place with a few ignorant participants and the politicians will soon get back to their "election mode," unmindful of the terrible beating India’s reputation has taken by this act. Hopefully, the sacrifices of our young soldiers and sailors during this attack will not be communalised in the way the Batla House shootout in Delhi was, despite police inspector Sharma sacrificing his life at the altar of national security.

At the time of writing this article the Navy had launched a search by ships and aircraft and captured the terrorist mother ship the MV ALFA. which had brought these killers from Karachi to Mumbai. I sincerely hope and pray that the Indian Navy again replicates its ruthless action of sinking a pirate mother ship. This will be the best tribute to the numerous innocent lives lost and will send a signal to our politicians, bureaucrats and citizens that India’s military will act ruthlessly against terrorists.

What needs to be done to prevent a repeat of such attacks? The answers are simple:

Single-window approach to deal with terrorism, modelled on the US’ department of homeland security

Anti-terror legislation with dedicated fast-track "anti-terror courts"

Legislation permitting the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard to stop and search suspected merchant ships before they enter the Indian harbour

Double the strength of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Police and intelligence agencies

The ridiculous policy of making an unequipped Port Authorities responsible for port security must be discontinued. Security of all the 13 major ports must be handed over to the Navy and security of the 36 minor ports be handed over to the Coast Guard.

A single-window National Maritime Advisor be created, headed by a professional Naval or Coast Guard officer, and not a bureaucrat

Set up a national electronic anti-terrorist data link and data bank, based on the American system

Co-operation with other maritime nations who face the same threats of terrorism and piracy.

This is a war on terror against a faceless and fanatic enemy. This war is not for the faint hearted, and can only be won by ruthless action.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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