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India Assesses Lessons Learned from Mumbai Terror Attacks

  • Raymond Thibodeaux

Mumbai's police commissioner says the city has beefed up security with new equipment and specialized training, but critics warn that India remains vulnerable to another attack

Mumbai's police commissioner says the city has beefed up security with new equipment and specialized training, but critics warn that India remains vulnerable to another attack

Critics warn India still at risk of terrorist attacks

A year after the terrorist attacks that killed 165 people in Mumbai, India is assessing its measures to keep a similar attack from occurring again.

A noisy wedding procession has filled the street next to the Taj Hotel. The bride and groom are perched high on a silver carriage, drawn by two white horses. Almost forgotten, is the carnage from three days of violence that engulfed the city around this time last year.

But amid the celebration there are still reminders says Prateek Nahar, an 18-year-old college student who watches the wedding party go by the construction scaffolding of the Taj. "You [have] just a different feeling altogether," he said. "You see the police standing out there. You see how much security is all over the place. That tells you how much fear that is still there among Mumbaikers and the policemen around here."

He has come with his friend, Jasal Shah, a law school student in Mumbai.

"Certainly the scars have always been left behind. It is a very bad thing what has happened and it is never going to go away from our minds and hearts," Shah stated.

There also are work crews at the nearby Trident-Oberoi Hotel, the other luxury hotel taken November 26th (2008) by gunmen, who killed 165 people and held hundreds more hostage for days in one of India's worst-ever terror attacks.

But the repairs and the work crews are not the only remnants of the attacks. In the city's luxury hotels are armies of private security guards. Surrounding the Gateway of India and the historic Taj Hotel, the epicenter of last year's attacks, are hundreds of armed police with automatic rifles.

Many of the police officers are bussed from outlying villages. They are encamped near the Taj in makeshift barracks under blue tarps, their fresh-washed laundry drying in the hot sun. A camouflaged armored personnel carrier is parked outside the Taj .

This the new normal in the heart of Mumbai.

But some analysts question whether India has learned the lessons of that attack. The director for the Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi, security analyst Ajay Sahni, says India's security forces still lack the equipment and training to fend off a similar attack.

"India has historically spent a fraction of what most countries spend in terms of their GDP on defense and internal security," Sahni said.

Sahni says that is one of the reasons public outrage after the Mumbai attacks focused on politicians. He says there is still a big gap between what India's government promises about beefed-up security and what it is actually able to deliver.

Sahni says India still has one of the world's lowest ratios of police per capital. At the time of the Mumbai attacks, the city had about 40,000 police officers for its population of 20 million people, or one officer for every 500 people. "When it comes to investigative capabilities, when it comes to modern policing capabilities, when it comes to adaptability to using modern technologies, they are a pretty sad bunch. And then there is not enough of them," he said.

He says India also still lacks the naval resources to adequately patrol the 2,600-kilometer coast from which the attackers launched their three-day siege. "Figure it out, for every 50,000 or 60,000 boats on the seas on an average day, you have got maybe 50 vessels," he said. "And two planes buzzing around overhead looking for what? Do terrorists fly a flag?"

But government officials say India has been able to beef up its security forces, and Mumbai's police have augmented their numbers using police reservists from outlying areas.

Indian Home Affairs Minister P. Chidambaram says much has been done to make Indians safer. "We are trying to raise the level of competence by inducting new technology. We now have a fairly reliable system of intelligence gathering and, more importantly, intelligence sharing. We are also attending to the bread-and-butter issues of recruiting more people to the constabulary, acquiring modern weapons to the state police forces, and imparting better training to the constables and the officers. It is really making up for lost time," Chidambaram said.

In the weeks leading up to November 26th anniversary this year, the government issued warnings that terrorists were planning attacks in several Indian cities. That has put a damper on at a time known in India as wedding season, especially in Mumbai.

This might be one of the last weddings celebrated here for the next few days. The Trident-Oberoi and Taj Hotels have canceled all wedding celebrations from November 26 to November 29, a move they say has less to do with concerns about security than about showing respect for the victims of last year's attacks.