Monday, December 15, 2008

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai

THE recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India, wrought devastating havoc, death and destruction on the city, and more ominously, put enormous strain on the fragile relations between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed states with a history of wars, border skirmishes and mutual recriminations. Yet, in spite of the evidence it claims to have linking the terrorists to groups in Pakistan, India has shown tremendous restraint and has refrained from mobilising its forces to its borders or launching retaliatory attacks on its neighbour.

For its part, Pakistan has condemned the attacks on its neighbour openly and sincerely, and has cooperated wholeheartedly with the investigation. This is most gratifying. India and Pakistan have both been victims of numerous terrorist attacks of recent. Cooperation, rather than mutual recrimination or suspicion offers the two countries the best option to rid themselves of the scourge of terrorism.

According to information which Indian authorities have gathered so far, the implementation of the well-planned and obviously well-coordinated terrorist attacks began when at least 10 young men took over at sea a private fishing trawler with five crew members that had set sail from the Arabian Sea off the coast of Porbandar in India's western Gujarat state on November 13. Little is known of the fate of the trawler's original crew except that one of them was found in the engine room of the abandoned trawler tied and with his throat cut.

In any case, the terrorists used inflatable dinghies to sail undetected into Mumbai waters on November 26, split into four groups, and rode on taxis to their target locations. For a start, the terrorists left explosives inside the taxis before they got out; these exploded soon after, killing two drivers and a bystander. Thus began a series of co-ordinated and multiple attacks that would last for three days; an orgy of senseless violence and destruction that killed over 195 people and wounded twice as many.

The next target was the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus otherwise known as the Victoria Terminus railway station where a number of the gunmen entered the platforms and started shooting people indiscriminately. Once out of the station they shot three police officers, stole a police van and moved on. When the police van got a flat tyre the gunmen abandoned it and drove a stolen Skoda car towards their next targets. As they drove through the city of Mumbai they opened fire on several targets including, of all places, the Cama and Albless hospital for women and children. The police eventually intercepted the Skoda, killed one of the gunmen and arrested another.

Meanwhile, other groups of gunmen were attacking a popular caf?, a Jewish cultural centre and two luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident. The gunmen stormed the hotels as guests sat down for dinner. They began shooting indiscriminately, setting explosions and fires as they moved from floor to floor. It took over 100 commandos and 60 hours to dislodge them, at terrible cost to the security officials, property, staff and guests of the hotels.

Although the attacks caused massive destruction of property and caught the attention of the world, the Indian people have remained unbowed. The Indian state has not panicked and has not taken any precipitate action that would inadvertently advance the cause of the terrorists. Instead the authorities in India have reacted with commendable restraint and maturity. They have listened to wise counsel from third parties, including the United States, whose Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, travelled to both New Delhi and Islamabad to persuade the Indian and Pakistani governments to relax tension. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also undertaken a similar mission to the subcontinent.

Of ample significance, especially for democratic pretenders like the ruling elite in Nigeria and other African countries, is the sense of responsibility demonstrated by Indian officials. India is of course the world's largest democracy and it is gratifying that in accordance with the tenets of democracy, Indian leaders have accepted personal responsibility for perceived lapses in the conduct and operations of the institutions of state. Quite a number of state and national officials have resigned in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

We cannot but contrast their conduct with that of Nigerian officials. At the time the attacks on Mumbai were unfolding, mayhem was let loose in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, following disputed results over local government elections. In the process over 300 hundred Nigerians were killed including three National Youth Corps members who were performing national service. The number killed in Jos was far greater than that of Mumbai. Shortly before the Jos incident, the media was inundated with reports of an adulterated medicine that was killing Nigerian children through acute renal failure. In neither of these instances did a single Nigerian official accept responsibility or acknowledge culpability. No Nigerian official has either resigned or been indicted for these incidents.

As the authorities in India deal with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai we urge them to maintain the path of reconciliation and cooperation with Pakistan so that together, they can take the necessary measures to improve institutional capacity to forestall a reoccurrence of similar incidents in the future. It is time the two countries saw themselves as stakeholders in maintaining peace and promoting development in the subcontinent.

For the ruling elite in Nigeria we urge them to take a cue from India and take measures to advance the democratic tradition in the country. Democracy cannot take root and the social contract between the state and the citizen cannot be maintained if government officials do not take responsibility for perceived lapses in the institutions of state.