11 years on, we look back at the response of the UPA government to the 26/11 terror attack and the change in the NSG charter which cost the nation many lives
November 26, 2008 is a day which no Indian would forget, and it could be said that it was one of the worst days in the history of India. Ten terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba entered Mumbai, positioned themselves in various places and mercilessly killed over 160 persons including civilians, security staff and police personnel.
As journalists positioned in Mumbai on that fateful day, we watched with absolute horror how the events unfolded for nearly 2 days before the last terrorist was eliminated. What every Indian expected was that India would give Pakistan a befitting reply and all through there was talk that some major action was being planned.
Pakistan was in denial mode and it was thanks to the supreme sacrifice made by policeman Tukaram Omble that India managed to get Ajmal Kasab alive. It was his confession that laid the foundation for the investigation and subsequent trial, which ended with his hanging at the Yerawada jail in Pune.
Who changed the NSG’s charter?
In the aftermath of the attack, the government had set up the Ram Pradhan Committee to probe into the lapses by the Mumbai police. Former officer with the Research and Analysis Wing, V Balachandran was part of the committee. Balachandran tells MyNation that the most shocking aspect was the time at which the NSG arrived.
The NSG landed in Mumbai from Delhi at 8am in the morning. The first call was made by the Mumbai Police to the Home Ministry at 10 pm. However, the NSG came in only at 8am the next morning. I am confident that had the NSG arrived at 12am, at least 100 lives would have been saved, Balachandran says.
When the NSG was being set up initially, I was very much involved. At that time, it was decided that a plane would be present at Palam 24/7 and 365 days of the year. Now who had changed this standing order. Why was there no aircraft available at the Palam airport. In our report we have said that had the NSG been available immediately at least 100 lives would have been saved. If the NSG came in at 12, then whatever killing happened between that time and 8 am would have been prevented, Balachandran also says.
The local link:
The manner in which the terrorists went about the job made it clear that they had some local support. The government and the police however had repeatedly denied this. Balachandran says that this point did come up during the hearing.
It was said that a local smuggler belonging to the Dawood Ibrahim gang may have been involved. He had some huts at Machimarnagar and is said to have provided shelter to the terrorists. The terrorists are said to have landed days before the attack, conducted a reconnaissance and then launched the strike.
Several persons had told me about it. We pursued that angle and handed it to over to the government and police. A copy was handed over to then home minister, P Chidambaram, but I don’t know what happened after that, Balachandran also says. This local guy was a diesel smuggler is what we had heard. This person was later arrested in some other case and Kasab’s confession did not have his name and hence nothing further came up on that.
Our committee did not have a mandate for a crime investigation. We were looking into the systematic failures of the police. What we were probing was whether there was enough intelligence. We were also looking to find out if the action taken by the police was adequate and the measures that had to be taken.
The chief secretary had written to the Union government about this committee. However, we informally got a message from the government that they will not take part in the inquiry. We did not get even the copies of the intelligence reports. Fortunately, it was forwarded to the state secretariat after which we got the reports.
We were looking into these aspects until the NSG came in. The NSG came into the picture only the next day at 8am. Our inquiry was about the events until that time. We never had access to the CCTV footage. We too decided not to get into the NSG aspect as the government of India did not want to cooperate, Balachandran also adds.
Was the UPA led government interested in striking:
For an attack as audacious as this, diplomatic pressure on Pakistan was not something that would have healed the wounds of those who lost their loved ones. There was constant chatter from Delhi that the UPA led government was planning something major to avenge this act by Pakistan.
Journalists were told that the Indian Air Force was kept on standby and would launch an all-out attack on Pakistan. The IAF was ready for the battle, but it turned out that the government of the day was not keen. The IAF was then headed by Fali Homi Major. In an interview dated 2016, he had said that none changed their mind. In fact, the government never made up its mind to go to war. He said that the contingency was ready and the IAF was ready to strike, but at the end of the day it all depends on what the government wants.
He also said that there was talk about hitting jihadi camps along the border, but the government felt that it may escalate into a full-fledged war. He further went on to add that the thinking in the government was to first establish the Pakistan link. However, by the time the link was established, the will was lost, he also added.
It appears as though all the apprehensions that the government had at that time were wrong. India has hit Pakistan twice in the past four years and Pakistan has not attempted escalating the situation into a full-fledged war knowing well that it cannot win a conventional war with India. The two incidents that are being referred to are the surgical strikes after the Uri terror attack and the Balakot air strike inside Pakistan after the Pulwama attack.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too had said recently that the forces were ready to avenge the 26/11 attack, but Delhi had then developed cold feet.
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Last Updated 1:48 PM IST