Nilova Roy Chaudhury
NEW DELHI: One year ago, millions across India and the world were mesmerised by the chilling spectacle of a bunch of gun-toting men paralysing India as they sprayed bullets and killed random innocents in the heart of India’s financial capital, leaving average citizens shell-shocked for over 60 hours at the sheer scale and brazenness of their attacks.
It was like a collective nightmare being played out for most people on our TV screens, for others more immediately, seemingly without end. One hundred and sixty-eight people died, and hundreds of others were ravaged as the images seared our
collective consciousness, bringing an end of innocence, as it were. This was different. Nothing was safe anymore.
One year since the defining images of 26/11 changed forever the complacency of the ‘chattering classes,’ India has moved on. It is more confident of its ability to handle such crises and knows that diplomatically, at least, Pakistan has been completely exposed to a point where it has no option but to act on one set of the terrorists it has bred. Improved real-time intelligence collaboration with major agencies worldwide has helped improve force preparedness and, according to an armed forces official, infused a “level of professionalism that was missing” earlier.
The attacks on prime locations in Mumbai exposed the pathetic state of the Indian internal security apparatus and the multiplicity of commands delayed the final denouement of the episode. The lacunae translated into some swift action that saw billions of rupees finally getting spent to better equip police forces in the frontline of any attacks, creating more commando hubs, bolstering the coast guard and sea patrols with better boats and more people, and creating a centralised agency, the National Investigation Agency (on the lines of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US) to function as the nodal command in any terrorism related incidents. More than that, it has brought a level of accountability in government, which will not be able to hide behind excuses, a change embodied in the way the Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, brought in after the 26/11 attacks, functions. “One year later, we are not as vulnerable as we were,” said Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs, India, saying that the country had been relatively incident-free in the past year unlike last year when, even before Mumbai, major terrorist attacks had struck Delhi, Ahmedabad, Surat and Jaipur. Tharoor, who will visit Mumbai tomorrow, to commemorate the anniversary at Nariman House, (where the Jewish rabbi and his wife were killed), said a number of steps, including improved intelligence gathering and sharing, had been put in place to ensure the country was better able to deal with terrorist attacks. There is also now greater consciousness among all of India’s interlocutors that the problem began in Pakistan, leading to a definite de-hyphenation between India and Pakistan, an official said. According to former Indian envoy Arundhati Ghose, the major and obvious difference is that India has not been subject to a similar attack from Pakistan, indicating an improved level of security measures being in place. Both Indian PM Manmohan Singh and National Security
Adviser MK Narayanan have said that they get daily intelligence inputs warning of terrorist attacks in this country. “The anger against Pakistan is still simmering,” Ghose said, “but the calibrated response of the government to 26/11 has helped to focus the anger against the powerful Pakistani military, seen as the centre of hostility towards India, and not all of Pakistan”.
‘Take stern action against perpetrators’
WASHINGTON: US President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have strongly condemned the safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan, calling for their elimination.
In a joint statement issued after their summit, the two leaders have said they are gravely concerned about the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremists emanating from India’s neighbourhood.
Resolute and credible steps must be taken to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries that provide shelter to terrorists and their activities.
“The forces of terrorism in our region pose a grave threat to the entire civilised world and have to be defeated. President Obama and I have decided to strengthen our cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism,” Singh said. They have also said it’s absolutely imperative to bring to justice the perpetrators of Mumbai attack.
The two leaders also
announced a counter-terrorism Cooperation Initiative to expand collaboration on counter-terrorism, information sharing, and capacity building.
“The American people join our Indian friends in remembering the horrific attacks in Mumbai one year ago this week. To prevent future attacks, we agreed that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies will work even closer, including sharing more information,” added Singh.
Earlier, as he welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first state visit of his administration, US President Barack Obama declared that American ties with India will be “one of the defining relationships” of the 21st century.
India and the US have signed at least six MoUs on everything from counter-terrorism to education, health, agriculture and clean energy, indicating a consolidation
of gains made in the Indo-US relationship over the last few years.
Indian PM welcomes Pak steps
Agence France Presse
WASHINGTON: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said today he welcomed Pakistani steps to rein in extremists after a court charged seven suspects over the Mumbai attacks, but called for more action.
"It is the obligation of the government of Pakistan to do everything in their power to bring these perpetrators to justice," Singh told reporters on a visit to Washington.
Singh said he was not briefed on the Pakistani anti-terror court's charges over India's worst militant attacks but added: "I welcome every step that leads in that direction of reining in extremists."
However, he said, "It is our strong feeling that the government of Pakistan could do more to bring to book people who are still roaming around in the country freely and to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and I can only hope that there will be progress in that area." A court in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, earlier indicted seven men in connection with the attacks in Mumbai that left 166 people dead and rose new tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.
The indictment came one day ahead of the anniversary of the launch of the bloody assault, in which Islamist gunmen raided the monumental Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel and attacked sites of Mumbai's historic Jewish community.
Singh, who is scheduled to return to India on Thursday, called the anniversary a "day of remembrance" for the world's largest democracy.
"The attack was a calculated attempt by forces outside our country to destabilize our secular polity, create communal discord and undermine the country's economic and social progress," Singh said.
"Such forces should have no doubt that they will fail in their nefarious attempts."
Synagogue memorial service for Mumbai attack victims
Agence France Presse
MUMBAI: Candles were lit today for the 166 people who were killed in last year's militant attacks in Mumbai, with calls for unity to fight and defeat extremism around the world.
Local faith leaders and diplomats from some of the countries that lost nationals gathered at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in south Mumbai for prayers and to pay tributes to the victims on the eve of the first anniversary. More than 300 other people were injured in the attacks, which saw 10 heavily-armed Islamist gunmen storm multiple targets in India's financial capital on November 26, 2008, sparking 60 hours of terror.
One of the targets was a Jewish cultural and religious centre owned by the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Six people died at Chabad House, including the rabbi who ran it, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his pregnant wife, Rivki. The couple's then two-year-old son, Moshe, was plucked to safety by his Indian nanny.
Israel's ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, told the congregation: "There must never be, and indeed never is, any justification for the massacre of the kind that we witnessed here in Mumbai.
"There is no political, no religious nor any cause that can render such mass murder permissible. Terror is terror is terror," he added, calling the attackers' motives an "abomination of Islam". Solomon Sopher, president of the Baghdadi Jewish community in Mumbai, added: "Terrorism poses the greatest challenge to humanity.
"Each one of us must have the wisdom to detect terror wherever it exists. We can't afford to be spectators. We must not allow the terrorists to gain a foothold anywhere on our soil." Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, director of a relief fund set up for the Chabad House victims, called for a new resolve to "give life for life" in memory of the Holtzbergs. The service comes nearly a year after a poignant memorial service at the same synagogue, where young Moshe was seen crying out for his mother. The toddler's grandparents are due in Mumbai to attend a vigil at Chabad House on Thursday.
Pak court charges 7 suspects, including key LeT operatives
Agence France Presse
Islamabad, November 25
A Pakistani court today charged seven suspects in connection with the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people one year ago, a defence lawyer said. The men were indicted at an anti-terrorism court in a high security prison in the city of Rawalpindi on the eve of the first anniversary of India’s worst militant
attacks, which dramaticaly soured relations with rival Pakistan. All seven pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Among the seven, who were arrested by Pakistan over the November 26-29 siege on India’s financial capital, are alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and alleged key Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative Zarar Shah.
“All seven of them have been indicted, including Lakhvi. The accused pleaded not guilty as the evidence does not support the charges,” lawyer Shahbaz Rajput told AFP by telephone.
“They have been indicted under the anti-terrorism act and the Pakistani penal code,” said Rajput, without elaborating.
India and Washington blamed the deadly Mumbai rampage on Pakistan’s banned militant group LeT and the attacks stalled a fragile four-year peace process between the two nuclear-armed south Asian rivals.
In Washington for a state visit this week, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on the world to pressure Pakistan to rein in extremists.
US President Barack Obama said he believed Pakistan was making progress in fighting extremism.
The nuclear-armed Muslim nation is locked in offensives against Taliban militants in the northwest and has historically funded anti-India groups.
Wednesday’s indictments come a week after India handed Pakistan more information about the attacks, which New Delhi blamed Pakistani “official agencies” for abetting — charges that Islamabad flatly denies.
Court proceedings have taken place behind closed doors with journalists barred from the hearings and defence lawyers leaking only small details.
“We will defend them. The next hearing is December 5,” said Rajput.
New Delhi has been pressuring Islamabad to speed up a probe of
Pakistani militants blamed for the 60-hour siege that saw 10 heavily armed gunmen target luxury hotels, Mumbai’s main railway station, a restaurant and a Jewish centre.
Retired Pak major held in Headley chase
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Army has arrested a retired Major for his alleged links with terror suspects David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, nabbed by FBI on charges of plotting attacks against India and Denmark.
Chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the Major, who retired two years ago, has been arrested and is currently being questioned by intelligence agencies. He was held as he was “in communication” with Headley and Rana, Abbas said. However, Abbas denied a report that five army officers, including two serving Colonels and a retired Brigadier, had been detained by authorities, describing it as a “fabrication” by those running a “campaign” to embarrass the Pakistan Army.
The retired Major, who was not identified, was reportedly arrested in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that houses the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters. He was taken into custody after FBI gathered information that he was in e-mail and telephonic contact with Pakistani-origin Chicago resident Headley (49) and Pakistan- born Canadian national Rana (48). Headley and Rana were in contact with the Lashker-e-Taiba and militant commander Ilyas Kashmiri, the FBI has said. According to documents filed in court by the FBI, Headley travelled to Pakistan to meet a man identified only as ‘individual A’ and they together visited Kashmiri in the restive tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. Headley was at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on October 3.
Born amid hail of bullets, Goli turns one
Agence France Presse
MUMBAI: Shamu Lakshman Chavan and his wife Viju look like any other proud parents in the Colaba Woods Garden in south Mumbai, playing with their young daughter as she wriggles and gurgles in their arms. The other children here though are unlikely to have had such a dramatic entry into the world as Tejaswini, who was born one year ago tomorrow.
Her mother went into labour at the city’s Cama and Albless Hospital on November 26 last year, just as two heavily armed gunmen began stalking the building’s corridors and eight others laid siege to India’s financial capital. The gunmen had fled to the maternity hospital after killing 52 people and injuring more than 100 others at the city’s main railway station in a blitz of automatic gunfire and hand grenades.
Viju said she was oblivious to the danger and thought the shooting was the sound of firecrackers or a marriage procession. But she did what she was told as she was taken into the delivery room.
“I didn’t make any noise. I had to keep quiet,” the 29-year-old told AFP. “It was very painful but I kept my mouth shut.” Shamu, 34, had earlier been sent to buy medication when he saw a hospital security guard gunned down. He fled back inside with other frightened visitors and, unable to get to his wife, was forced to hide on the upper floors. Inside the wards, the lights had been turned off and the doors locked so as not to attract the gunmen’s attention. Heavily pregnant women and medical staff cowered on the floors, hiding behind metal bedframes.
Tejaswini, already two weeks early, couldn’t wait. She was born at 10.55 pm, about one hour after the gunmen took up position in the hospital. After giving birth, Viju huddled under the bed with her newborn until the coast was clear in the early hours of the morning.
The little girl — looking contented in a pink gingham dress and with her dark hair in a single bunch on top of her head — was named after a Bollywood film about an uncompromising female police officer fighting corruption. But she also has a nickname — Goli, which means “bullet” in Hindi.”The doctors told me to keep her name as Goli because she was born amidst a hail of bullets,” said Viju, flashing a smile.
The family, who come from southern Karnataka state, will celebrate their daughter’s first birthday at their home in a slum next to the upmarket apartment buildings and luxury hotels in one of Mumbai’s oldest districts. “We’re going to get a cake and will distribute sweets to friends, whatever we can afford,” said Shamu, a daily wage labourer who unloads fishing boats. The couple, who also have a six-year-old son, see their youngest child as a blessing — and a symbol of new life born during so much death. In all, 166 people were killed. “She was the difference between our life and death. She’s lucky to us,” said Viju.