Saturday, July 11, 2009

MUMBAI 26/11: WHY IS THE GOVT SHIELDING LOCALS?

First it was Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor who said it openly in a televised press conference, only to retract his statement a few hours later under pressure. Then it was the BBC that made that claim in a TV program. Now it is the FBI that has provided solid evidence that proves that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008 did get local support for their operation.

Ever since 26/11, there has been a lot of speculation about the extent of local help that was provided to the terrorists who carried out the biggest terror attack ever in India. The Congress led governments both in Maharashtra and the Centre have, however, been consistently maintaining that the attack was planned in Pakistan and executed by Pakistanis who had no local help at any stage from any Indian except Fahim Ansari and Sahabuddin, both of who have been arrested by the police.

When Gafoor first dropped a bombshell by telling the media that "fourteen to sixteen men, which includes Indians and Pakistanis, are are wanted in the attacks", the government got him to clumsily retract his statement within hours to say that the "wanted" list, yes, included all the nine dead terrorists and Ajmal Kasab who had already been captured alive, and that the only two Indians in the list were also already in custody.

It is worth recapitulating certain significant facts pointing to strong local support that had emerged immediately after the attacks but about which no follow up action has manifestly been taken:
  • Naval commandos who were among the first to engage terrorists in Taj Hotel recovered a rucksack left behind by them. The contents of this rucksack were shown by many TV channels and included, among other things, cash and seven credit cards including those of top Indian banks like the ICICI, HSBC, HDFC, Axis and CITI bank. Fake Indian identity cards were also found on the person of all terrorists. Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive, was carrying a fake ID card of Arunodaya Degree College of Hyderabad, in the name of Naresh Verma. Who got these cards made in India for the terrorists?
  • The terrorists were completely familiar with the layout of the hotels and moved around the buildings with practiced ease. Their knowledge of the layout was first brought out by the Naval commandos and later confirmed by Ratan Tata himself. "There seems to be no doubt that they knew their way around the hotel," he said, "They seemed to know it in the night, or in the daytime. They seemed to have planned their moves quite well, and there seem to have been a lot of pre-planning in terms of what they did and how they managed to carry on for three days and sustain themselves during that time." Was it possible for them to acquire such familiarity only on the basis of blueprints, as claimed by Gafoor?
  • The way they were able to sustain themselves for three days without running out of ammunition and explosives suggests that much more of the lethal stuff than they carried in their rucksacks had been smuggled into the hotel prior to the attack and placed at locations precisely marked during previous reconnaissance missions. Who placed them there?
  • The terrorists were supposed to sink the boat they used to land in Mumbai, but had planned to get away safely after completing their operations. It means that they would have known the safe location to where they were to go to they to go, before evetually making their way back to Pakistan by a different route. Could such a get away have been possible without serious logistic support on Indian soil?
For almost eight months now, Indians have been led to believe by their own government that ten young boys just landed up from Pakistan in Mumbai by sea and held the city to ransom for 60 hours, all on their own. When Narendra Modi first echoed the question that was in the minds of most Indians by saying that the "smallest of persons knows" that a terror attack of this scale could not have been launched without some local support, Home Minister Chidambaram responded by asking in turn whether Modi was in contact with Pakistan. The position that no locals were involved was reiterated by him just 10 days back. But now it seems that the truth that the government has been trying so hard to hide from its own people is beginning to surface uncomfortably for it.

In a program telecast on June 29, the BBC made the startling claim that it was spotters on the ground who kept the handlers of the terrorists informed about the exact position of the security forces, enabling the former to direct events minute-by-minute, routing calls over the internet. BBC correspondent Richard Watson said that they knew every move that the police were making as the crisis unfolded, and that it was unlikely that this information was obtained by them from live TV coverage shots. This stance was, predictably, rejected by Mumbai police who maintain that the attack was carried out by a "totally independent module of ten terrorists" launched from Pakistan.

The most damning documentary evidence of all, however, has been made available by the FBI in its report to the Mumbai crime branch, as reported in the Hindustan Times of July 11, 2009. As per the FBI provided logs of the phone calls made by the handlers of the terrorists to "numerous phones in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik", they were in touch with local contacts between November 23 and 28. During this period, they made 91 calls to 23 mobile phones and 10 land line phones using 30 VOIP connections. The first call was made three days before the attack to a Delhi land line number. Details of calls made have since been published in HT and can be found here.

As per the HT report, none of the people who took these calls have been identified, let alone investigated. Why has no effort been made by the police to find out details, and more, about the 33 recipients of these calls? The handlers of the terrorists were surely not calling their relatives in India to just greet them during those few days.

It is becoming increasingly evident that investigation into the involvement of local LeT modules and/or individuals in the Mumbai terror attack has not been been stonewalled either accidentally or on the orders of local functionaries. A conscious decision seems to have been taken to do so by some very responsible people in the government. Mumbai's Police Commissioner would not have retracted his statement had he not received orders to do so from the highest echelons in the central government.

The question is: why is the government so adamantly shielding locals who have waged war against India? Is it because those involved are so politically powerful that they can damage the electoral prospects of the alliance in power in Maharashtra and Delhi?Are the lives of India's innocent citizens and the country's security less important than retention of political power?

Is this the unacceptable price that India will have to pay from now on for being a secular democracy?