14 Years Since 26/11: How India Has Strengthened Its Security

In the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, India's security apparatus has been working towards fixing the faults that allowed such a tragedy to take place
An Indian soldier keeping guard some distance from the Taj Hotel during the 26/11 attacks
An Indian soldier keeping guard some distance from the Taj Hotel during the 26/11 attacks

It has been 14 years since the Indian security establishment faced one of its most threatening challenges in recent times. On November 26, 2008 – commonly known as 26/11 – ten heavily-armed terrorists belonging to Pakistani terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) attacked multiple locations in Mumbai, India's financial hub and most populous city. What followed was a bloodbath in which 166 innocent people lost their lives and over 300 were left injured.  

The incident also served as a major embarrassment for the country's security forces because it exposed the glaring gaps in India's maritime surveillance and security, intelligence sharing and inter-forces coordination. Ten highly-motivated terrorists occupied several prominent spots across the thickly populated city and were able to outmanoeuvre the well-trained and experienced security personnel belonging to Mumbai Police, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), National Security Guard (NSG) and Marine Commandos (MARCOS).  

The fact that this horror episode went on for more than 60 hours made two things evident. One was that the terror attack was obviously well-coordinated. The other was that the various Indian security forces that were involved in the counter-operation could not strategise and implement their tactics as quickly as they would have liked. Fourteen years down the line, it is worth listing the shortcomings in India's immediate response to 26/11 and the subsequent steps taken to prevent such tragedies in the future.  

Marine Security Mishaps

The fact that Pakistani terrorists just trespassed across the Indian maritime border and committed terrorist attacks sent shockwaves throughout India. In an age of massive surveillance capabilities, it is worrisome that such security threats could arrive from the other side of the border without being detected by the Navy and the Coast Guard. Following the devastating example of 26/11, the Indian security establishment has taken many steps to prevent such maritime mishaps.

This involved various consultations between all the stakeholders responsible for maritime security. Eventually, after several initiatives like the National Committee for Coastal and Maritime Security in 2009, Steering Committee for Review of Coastal Security in 2013, and the State and District level Coastal Security Committees in 2016, India has now appointed a National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) who will act as the base of coordination between the Navy, Coast Guard and other agencies responsible for coastal and maritime security.
 
In addition to this, the Sagar Prahari Bal (SPB) was instituted as a distinct unit within the Navy with the aim of preventing terrorist advances such as what happened during 26/11. These measures will act as a strong check against similar attacks provided all constituent bodies of India's maritime security has access to the right intelligence at the right time.

Intrusion Despite Intelligence

One of the most shocking facts that came to the surface in the aftermath of 26/11 was that Indian intelligence agencies had prior information regarding the attacks. The country was warned multiple times by the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israel's Mossad about a sea-based intrusion by Pakistani terrorists who planned to simultaneously strike at multiple locations across Mumbai.  

Despite knowing this, the Indian forces failed to coordinate among themselves and prevent the terrorist attack. In fact, a day after the carnage began, Ashok Chaturvedi, then Secretary of India's Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) met the then Prime Minister to offer his resignation on grounds of failure to stop the attack. Even the Mumbai Police was tipped off by local fishermen about the presence of suspicious men on the city's shoreline. However, the Indian security establishment could not make any use of all this intelligence information.  
 
This drives home the important point that it is necessary to not just have access to crucial information, but also to disseminate the same to the right bodies and to take quick action based on that. To prevent such failures on the intelligence front, India has taken the initiative to set up the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), an integrated grid that connects the databases of the core security agencies in India.

This is expected to bolster information sharing between the various agencies especially when it comes to counter-terrorism activities. Importantly, the purview of NATGRID would include 11 central agencies and police of all states and union territories. This would help improve coordination between state and central agencies – this was arguably missing during the 26/11 attacks.
 
Chaos Without Coordination

As mentioned earlier, there were multiple forces on the ground trying to neutralise the threat once the LeT terrorists unleashed their mayhem. However, because there was not much inter-agency coordination, the terrorists were able to carry out their plans without much trouble. Their intentions were to hit at places that had a mix of Indian and foreign crowd, as evident from the targetting of Nariman House, the Oberoi Trident and Leopold Cafe. They managed to hit their targets despite being just a ten-man team in an unfamiliar city.

In fact, it can be argued that the terrorists were better coordinated despite being at different locations within the city. This is because the media coverage of the incident, which included live televised content, reportedly helped the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan to better assess the counter measures from India's side.

This made evident the need to have better coordination between the various security forces and also with the civil sections of society such as media. However, such coordination will come into play if and when all the required forces are positioned on the ground without any waste of time.
 
Delay In Deployment
 
Looking back, it is quite distressing that it took over 10 hours for the NSG commandos to be deployed at the sight of conflict. These commandos played a very crucial role in the eventual rescue of hostages and killing of terrorists. The casualty count and overall damage could have been drastically less if the NSG forces could arrive earlier.  

NSG commandos abseiling from a helicopter onto Nariman House during 26/11 attacks Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In case of similar threats in the future, it is imperative that the NSG, which is the elite counter-terrorism unit under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, is deployed at the earliest. In this direction, five new NSG hubs were established across Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Ahmedabad. These hubs ensure a division of geographical responsibility as well as faster reaction times.

Beyond The Horizon
 
The terror attacks on 26/11 was definitely a dark moment in independent India's history. Now, it is impossible to foresee whether such attacks will be plotted against India ever again. At the same time, the duty of the security establishment is to make sure that 26/11 is never repeated.  

To this end, India has taken several important steps. Effective gathering and dissemination of intelligence, enhanced coordination and quick responses if required will definitely put India on track to be a secure nation that cannot be bothered by brainwashed bigots.  

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