December 1st, 2008 - 6:23 pm ICT by ANI  

Shivraj Patil

By I. Ramamohan Rao
The attack on Mumbai , the commercial capital of India, by terrorists, who subjected the city to unprecedented violence for three days during the last week of November has many lessons for the nation to learn.
The terrorists may not have been able to bring down the Taj Mahal, the Oberoi-Trident, Cafe Leopold and Nariman House, but they have been successful in achieving their main objectives– which was to kill as many people as possible and depict the city, and India as an unsafe place.
The television networks in India gave wide coverage to the event, from start to finish as if they were covering a cricket test match. The terrorists as also those who were masterminding their operations, were getting a birds eye view of the events.
Instead of trying to frustrate the objectives of the adversary, many of those engaged in combating the terrorists were keen to present themselves before the cameras and take credit for their achievements. And this included the Armed Forces.
The Army, the Air Force and the Naval commandos were doing their assigned tasks, but their senior officers were speaking to the media and giving details as to how they were fighting the terrorists, even though the main task was being done by the National Security Guard.
It was only towards the end that television channels were asked to restrain themselves and the local cable network was taken off the air for a few hours. But the damage was already done. Was it necessary to cover the event live including the sensitive para-drop of the commandos on Nariman House?
Did the live coverage help the operations? Was sufficient thought given to the way in which media was to function in a crisis situation? Everyone described the situation in Mumbai as a war, but apparently there was little thought to use the media as a support weapon during the event or to deny information vital to the enemy.
As Public Relations Officer of the Army who had covered wars in 1965 and 1971 those in charge of disseminating information had to take care no facts useful to the enemy should be revealed. This included the location and strength of your forces, the kind of weapons that they were using, and the area of deployment.
In Mumbai, all of the above were made available to the adversary: that they were facing the National Security Guard, the commandos from the Army and the Navy, and special police forces. Even the kind of weapons used were visible for anyone in the area. Leave alone denying the adversary valuable intelligence, it looked as if the media volunteered to make it available.
Many channels and spokespersons described the objective of the terror attack on Mumbai as an attempt to destroy the reputation of the city as a commercial centre of India. The terror attack had the objective of hurting trade and investment in the city. The terror attack also sought to divide the major communities in the country.
It is unfortunate that things had to happen that way. Indians have been aware of the use of information in war and crisis situations. The importance of information as an aid to warfare is detailed in Kautilyas Arthashastra. India had used information warfare to good effect during the India-Pakistan war in 1971 and in Kargil.
Strangely, we become complacent. The security forces paid a heavy price. The nation extols the sacrifices made by persons like ATS chief Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and National Security Guard Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. Their sacrifices will soon be forgotten.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil has paid the price by resigning. It has been announced that the National Security Guard will be permanently stationed at six different cities in the country. The Prime Minister has assured the nation that a Federal Intelligence Agency will be created soon. He has been saying this at the conferences of Chief Ministers, the Director Generals of Police and Intelligence Officers repeatedly.
The need has been felt that the legal provisions to combat terrorism have to be strengthened. The Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Veerappa Moily, submitted a report on the subject recently. But we have been hearing that law and order is a State subject and the States are not willing to change the law.
But we have seen how Governments have found ways of enacting measures when there was a will. This happened after the Indo-Pak war in 1965. Late Indira Gandhi, who was the Information Minister during the war entrusted professional organizations to prepare a report as to how information organizations should be streamlined to effectively function during a war.
Based on the studies, operation publicity guidelines were prepared. They broadly laid down how media was to function during wars, including the training of war correspondents and setting up of Press Camps during operations. India fought the war with Pakistan in 1971 under those guidelines.
But the guidelines needed to be updated after our experience in fighting insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and the Kargil War in 1999. The guidelines and the rules governing publicity have been revised as per the directions of the Group of Ministers and hopefully they would be followed in future.
It is time that the Government prepares a set of rules for the media to follow during crisis situations like the Mumbai terror attacks. And the discretion to impose the guidelines should be given to professionals and not bureaucrats or politicians.
The nation has seen that the Central Intelligence Bureau had conveyed information that our adversaries across the border had planned to infiltrate India from the seas. We have been told that Defence Minister A.K. Antony had cautioned the concerned agencies. We have many lessons to learn from the terror attack on Mumbai.
Reports indicate Pakistan is keen to absolve itself from the task of fighting the Taliban and the Al Qaeda by creating a situation where there is tension with India, which would justify the moving of its troops to the east.
While India may continue pursuing peace and goodwill, care has to be taken that it will not be taken for granted. One should remember that the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies have been indoctrinated for decades that its main enemy is India. President Zardari said the other day that in every Pakistani there is a little bit of India. It can mean many things.
India cannot afford to be complacent. Is that too much to ask?
I.Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer, Government of India;

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