Why India is Escaping More Terror Strikes

June 27, 2011
Those who planned the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in 2008 were aware that the Mumbai police is widely regarded as being among the most corrupt in the world. Although all levels of the force are routinely said to accept money in exchange for official favours, a distinction has to be made between juniors and seniors. Harm gets done to the national interest only when the higher rungs of the police become corrupt, which is the case in Mumbai.

Those who planned the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in 2008 were aware that the Mumbai police is widely regarded as being among the most corrupt in the world. Although all levels of the force are routinely said to accept money in exchange for official favours, a distinction has to be made between juniors and seniors. Harm gets done to the national interest only when the higher rungs of the police become corrupt, which is the case in Mumbai.

Like their counterparts in Colombia or Mexico, many of whom are on the payroll of the narco mafia, too many top policemen in Mumbai are reported to think nothing of accepting money and other gifts from the underworld, including that section which funds and facilitates terror attacks. Just as corruption in the force has helped narco traffickers to use Colombia and Mexico as safe havens for their operations, terror networks in India use their corrupt contacts in the Mumbai police to facilitate their

There is a difference between corruption that causes harm to national security and other types of graft. In an economy and a society at the stage that India is in, it is utopian to visualize a situation when corruption will disappear the way that it has in Finland, Sweden or Norway ( but certainly not in Spain, Italy or France, in each of which large pools of corrupt officials thrive, including at the highest levels).

Hence, the war on corruption must principally target (1) the higher levels of the administrative structure and (2) those forms of graft that immediately impact national security. In the case of Mumbai, this is represented by the senior officers of the police force who accept cash from narco traffickers, even though they are aware that many of them are also associated with terrorist networks operating in India and overseas. Indeed, narcotics and terror go hand-in-hand in South Asia, as the results of the poppy trade in Afghanistan have made clear.

In the case of 26/11, key sources within the security establishment say that at least two senior police officers of Maharashtra state ( of which Mumbai is the capital) have been in the pay of a Dubai-based operator since the middle of the 1990s. They say that this is the reason why the Mumbai accomplices of the 26/11 plotters have escaped detection. Instructions were given from the top to ignore any possible local leads to the conspiracy.

Even in the identification of the external players, almost all the detective work was done by the FBI, with the Indian authorities playing second fiddle. In particular, the grave security lapses by the Mumbai police that allowed the 26/11 terrorists to continue on their destructive path for three days has yet to be addressed. Not a single top official - including those guilty of clear dereliction of duty and worse - has been cashiered. Instead, a few have been promoted and all shielded. The reason behind this is the influence that a certain businessman based in Karachi has over key politicians in the central and state level.

This operator - who may be regarded as a Muhajir, in view of the fact that he has exchanged his Indian passport for Pakistani documents - has more influence over the Mumbai police than Home Secretary G K Pillai, an inoffensive officer who from the goodness of his heart shrinks from administering the harsh punishment needed if wayward officers are to be brought back to the path of rectitude.

Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar - who is the businessman in question - has been known to use unorthodox means to get quality time with his high-level contacts in India. One method is for a contact ( such as a Union Minister) to transit via Dubai on his way to a European destination. By sheer happenstance, and to the delight of the minister, it will be Dawood who gets the seat next to him on the Dubai-Europe flight. Enough time for a detailed discussion on mutual business interests. Other ways include evenings spent together at the hotel rooms of visiting Bollywood starlets,so that the minister can do a few hours of aerobic exercise after discussing business matters with Dawood, who is ever a considerate and generous host.

Small wonder that his Indian operations are now close to $6 billion in turnover, and $900 million in profits. If the Dawood group is no longer as active in masterminding violent actions in India, it is not because of a police force that they have vast influence over, but because he himself does not want to place is immensely lucrative Indian operations in jeopardy by launching a terror strike that may make it difficult for even his Cabinet-level accomplices to bail him out.

That India is enjoying a respite from terror strikes is due not only to the profits being made by those based in Karachi and Dubai who would otherwise be active planning bombings in India, but because of the fact that the US sees India as the only counterweight to China in Asia. Because of this perception, the US authorities have been immensely helpful in sharing input with their Indian counterparts, except in so far as providing evidence against those in the Pakistan establishment is concerned. Some in India would like to present the UN and the International Court of Justice with evidence against some members of the Pakistan establishment, so that they may be sanctioned and prosecuted as accomplices to terrorism.

However, the US side has refused to help India collect evidence against Pakistani officials, even while Washington is helping Delhi to identify and defuse specific threats against the country. Such cooperation is the reason why even a government as incompetent and venal as the UPA is able to ensure relatively few terror attacks in India since the Mumbai attack in 2008.

However, the vulnerability remains. The police in key cities continue to be corrupt, and more than a few senior officers are partners of narco syndicates. The Manmohan Singh government has ensured that the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) gets kept out of the provisions of the Right to Information Act. The purpose behind this is so that they can continue to use the CBI to blackmail politicians ( by filing corruption cases) or save from prosecution those who are allied to key politicians. Indeed, the Press Club in Delhi is well aware that the real boss of the CBI has been the soft-spoken Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel.

A telephone call from Patel has key ministers standing to attention, the reason being that he is the only Congress leader trusted implicitly by Sonia Gandhi. The UPA Chairperson has the knack of locating people who are totally loyal to her and who are thereafter looked after by her. An example is a former high official in the PMO, who ensured a couple of years ago that coal blocks got allocated to those friendly to Number Ten ( 10 Janpath, the residence of Sonia Gandhi). This official was smart enough to usually rely on oral orders for allocation, rather than put such commands in writing, and was responsible for most of the key allotments.

Now, the entire episode of the allocation of coal mining blocks has become a scandal that has the potential to seriously wound Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The official, of course, has in the meantime moved out of the PMO, although it must be said to his credit that it is loyalty to Number Ten rather than cash that has been the motivation behind his frequent oral and other interventions while at the PMO. He himself is personally clean of financial wrongdoing, unlike many of his brother officers in high positions in the UPA government

It takes a lot of cash to operate in the political system in India, and because the laws are archaic and still reflect the colonial era of a century ago, the system is such that most of the actions ( such as campaign contributions or spending) regarded as normal in the civilised world are outlawed in India. The consequence is that political parties are forced to break the law to function, just as officials are forced into corruption in order to maintain their families. The system needs a complete overhaul so that it reflects the 21st century rather than the 19th.However, to a political and bureaucratic class that has fattened on the colonial-era system, any talk of change is anathema. Hence the resistance to civil society, when it demands change.

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