November 29, 2008

life in general: bombay takes stock...

As many in Bombay, rest of India and rest of world, take stock of the real casualties figure and the potential real details of terrorists' entry/operations/motives & lack/disregard of intelligence agencies' alerts (read here, here and here), a few random thoughts and 1/2 personal experiences that I want to share:

1. I have been to Taj, Oberoi and Leopold many times in the last many years, the first two for attending work-related seminars/conferences and the last for a glass of beer. About 7 weeks ago, when I went to Taj (i was going after a gap of about 3 months), and as I went to the secondary entrance that faces the sea directly (and not the primary one that faces the Gateway side) I saw it was closed and completely barricaded. So I made my way to the primary entrance and there was struck by an unprecedented security check with 2/3/4 gun-toting security men standing at the entrance. My shoulder bag was checked thoroughly. I had a bit of argument with the security guard telling them that while it is fine for them to check bags of mine and visitors why were they not opening the bags of the guests who were checking in to stay at the hotel. Seeing my verbal conversation with the security guard a black-coated Taj manager who was standing there near the entrance walked up to me and sternly asked me what was wrong. I told him, but by then I had seen that check-in guests' bags were going through a metal detector itself (that though begs the question of how plastic explosives can be detected).
The point I am making above is that intelligence agencies' alerts had already reached the managements of most of the biggest hotels in Bombay. A TV news channel, Headlines Today, is in fact just now (as I write this at 3 pm) reporting that it has a 'top secret' letter by Indian intelligence agencies to the Bombay police that in their interrogations with captured terrorists in Uttar Pradesh and other places in north India they have been told that Pakistan's ISI and even Pakistan's Navy is involved in training terrorists to launch an unprecedented, well-organised offensive through the sea route from Karachi to Bombay.
This letter is apparently dated December 2006, but the unprecedented security checks I mention above only about 2/3/4 months back. This newsreport in Outlook brings out even more information about the heightened knowledge of an impending sea-borne attack. As is from my above-described experience, this information had also been passed on to the Taj Hotel and perhaps the other big hotels in Bombay too. But the Taj Hotel management (and also the Oberoi Hotel management) did not take adequate measures to protect every corner of the hotel. As I quoted a Colaba-residing friend of mine in my previous post the terrorists gained entry in the Taj from a shop at the backside and
the shop opened outside on the street as well had a door that opened inside the hotel. Why didn't the Taj management keep gun-toting security men continuously (for 24 hours and not just during peak-time daytime hours) at all ground-floor corners and sides of their hotel/s from the inside and the outside? Instead of blaming the government, Ratan Tata should have taken his hotel's management to task for not taking seriously the threat perceptions emanating intensely from the intelligence agencies. Night-time security checks also seems to have been lax compared to day-time security checks.

(the pic to the right has been taken from and shows the terrorist who was at the VT station, later caught alive & now in official custody)

2. The TV news channels (and not so much the print media although many of them too) have focussed 99% of their news coverage on three places--Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House--and have not culled/scoped out the happenings at VT station, Leopold Cafe and Cama Hospital. There is much to be reported and analysed from these other places as well. VT station, for instance, saw over 50-60 casualties and Leopold saw over 25.

3. Even at this time of tragedy, the inefficiencies and corrupt bureaucracy of state/private administration continue to trouble the relatives of the victims and the missing.
Also, the Colaba Police Station that is opposite Cafe Leopold, had the most pathetically inept response when the firings were going on at Leopold and which they could easily hear. They were deliberately slow in reaching that place (even though it was less than 20-30 metres away) and in fact like cowards closed the gate of their police station. Residents in Colaba, who know about them, of course say they did not expect any better from the Colaba police station which could perhaps rank among the top 5 corrupt and brutal police stations in Bombay and in the top 10-20 in India. Had Colaba police station officers counter-attacked the terrorists at or near Leopold Cafe itself those guys could have never reached Taj Hotel. But their police officers are so steeped in corruption they have lost all ability for any concrete action involving using their guns to take on the real goons or in this case the terrorists.
This newsreport also says that at CST station there was armed police personnel that could have easily shot dead the two terrorists. But they did not do so. Shameful!
4. Pakistan's ISI is perhaps the worst official agency in the world that cleverly aids terrorists' activities and has been doing so for many years. For India to put pressure on Pakistan's current democratic pressure is being foolish. The ISI in Pakistan, closely affiliated to the Pakistani military, is a law unto itself and has to be tackled directly bypassing whoever is the Pakistani government. For this, in fact, India should shed its cowardliness and take on the United States of America that in the past and even now (discreetly though) has looked the other way if not actively coordinated with the ISI. And if the US can attack Taliban inside Afghanistan, and if Israel can carry out operations inside its neigbouring countries including Palestine, and if Russia can carry out operations inside Georgia, then India can too carry out operations in the mountains of Pakistan where these terrorist groups receive their training.
Many of general Pakistani citizens do not like their country's ISI and extremist elements. By blaming Pakistan as a country where its citizens do not have enough democratic rights is according to me not wise at all.

5. It also needs to be told that the owners (two of them -- Faizad and one more) of Leopold Cafe are racist against locals, Bombayites and Indians and give extra-special treatment to the foreigners. I say this from personal experience, and therefore avoid going there to the extent possible. I don't blame the waiters as I think they are specially trained by the two owners to be like this.

6. What has happened is 'private' terror, that is, private groups (though backed by overseas official agencies like the ISI) have carried it out fighting state forces in India/Bombay. But we ought to remember the ugly consequences of other forms of terror that feeds into the private terror groups. And one of them is 'state' terror. India is not at all clean on this. The state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat in February-March 2002 and continued boycott/harassment/denial-of-rights of the Muslims in Gujarat stands out as one of the worst forms of state-sponsored terror anywhere in the world. Then, the US-UK-Australia ugly & illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and continued forced occupation of Iraq is even a worse kind of state terror
than Gujarat was because the entire country of Iraq and all its citizens have been hurt badly by the American-British forces.

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