India vows to boost anti-terrorism effort

Police official points to Pakistan

angry public doubts reforms will lead to real change

December 01, 2008|By Mark Magnier | Mark Magnier,Los Angeles Times

MUMBAI, India - Facing mounting public anger over the response of his government and security forces to last week's assault on Mumbai, India's prime minister vowed yesterday to beef up anti-terror measures, and a top police official more pointedly fixed blame on a Pakistani group for the violence that left nearly 200 dead.

But analysts and citizens alike questioned whether the government's promise of reform would lead to serious changes in an anti-terrorism effort whose systemic problems were laid bare by the assault.

"I'll be surprised if this is a wake-up call," said Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "The government has proven quite adept at making statements after every act of terror and going back to business as usual."

The government vowed yesterday to create an FBI-style agency and to station specially trained forces in four cities in addition to New Delhi, the capital. Early in the day, Home Affairs Minister Shivrav Patil resigned, taking "moral blame" for security lapses.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to New Delhi in support of India following the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 200 people, including six Americans.

Rice and Bush wanted an opportunity "to express the condolences of the American government directly to the Indian government and the Indian people," Rice spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

Rice was scheduled to leave last night for a meeting in London and then travel to Brussels for a NATO gathering. On Wednesday, following the NATO meeting, she will travel to New Delhi, according to her new itinerary.

Police said the only gunman captured - another 10 were killed - had told authorities that he belonged to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamic group.

Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the assault on the city, Joint Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria told reporters yesterday, giving a high-ranking voice to previous Indian suggestions that the militant group was to blame.

Pakistan has denied any links to last week's attack. Western and Indian intelligence officials have long charged that rogue elements in Pakistani intelligence agencies used Lashkar and other militant groups as proxies in their conflict with India over the disputed Kashmir region.

Even as Indian officials focused on the possibility that India had been attacked from abroad, public anger raged at the response to Wednesday's attack. The assault on two top hotels, a restaurant, a Jewish center and other sites left at least 172 dead, including six Americans. The death toll was revised downward yesterday after authorities said some bodies were counted twice.

Students, Internet groups, social critics and the media have slammed the government for its failure to protect citizens. "Our Politicians Fiddle as Innocents Die," read a headline in yesterday's Times of India.

Many analysts, former police, military officers and ordinary citizens said they fear that weak political will, corruption and the shortcomings of the nation's anti-terrorism forces would undermine needed reform. All too often, some observers said, terrorist incidents become political footballs.

For instance, with Muslims accounting for 13 percent of India's population, politicians tend to avoid pushing too hard against militant Islamists for fear of alienating this important voting bloc.

"The issue of anti-terrorism, especially around election time, is radioactive," said Ryan Clarke, a researcher with Singapore's International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, saying areas with large Muslim populations can play swing roles in close elections.

Another problem, others said, is that India's porous borders with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and along the coast make it easy to launch militant operations from a neighboring country and then slip away. Last week's attackers reportedly slipped into the city aboard rubber dinghies launched from a hijacked fishing trawler.

"Mumbai has 15 patrol boats, and none of them are used for patrolling," said Y.P. Singh, a lawyer and former Mumbai police officer. "There's such complacency."

Security experts say individual police officers and national guard personnel performed bravely during last week's standoff.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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