Mumbai remains a target one year on from a deadly militant attack, experts say, calling for more to be done to improve security in the city and elsewhere in India to prevent another strike.
“Can 26/11 happen again? Yes, any time,” warned retired Major General V.K. Datta, India’s most decorated army officer, referring to the Nov. 26 attacks that killed 166 people and injured more than 300 last year.
The acting head of Maharashtra state police, A.N. Roy, said that more vigilance and better counter-terrorism measures were vital because Mumbai played a key role in India’s economy.
His counterpart at Mumbai police, D. Sivanandan, said improvements have been made since the force was found lacking training, equipment and manpower against the 10 heavily armed Islamist gunmen who stormed the city 12 months ago.
More police in Mumbai and other Indian cities would provide a more effective first response to any future attack, analysts said, also calling for greater use of technology and better coordination between central and state agencies.
“We have not improved our preventive capability,” Datta told India Today magazine earlier this month.
Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram, praised for pushing security up the agenda since his appointment late last year, also warned that India is just as vulnerable as before, calling the response to the Mumbai attacks “mixed.”
In Mumbai itself, there have been noticeable changes.
Luxury hotels such as the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, which was targeted by gunmen, have introduced tougher baggage screening and searches, while sandbagged machinegun positions appeared at key locations.
A new base for 250 elite National Security Guard commandos — one of four around the country — opened in Mumbai after criticism that they only arrived from their north India headquarters 10 hours after the first shots were fired.
Both the Maharashtra and Mumbai police have also set up their own rapid reaction forces as part of a 1.3 billion rupee (US$28 million) state government investment in training and equipment.
The Mumbai police central control room is being modernized and security cameras installed around the city, Sivanandan told business leaders earlier this month.
“As far as the police is concerned, whatever is possible is being done. We have got a long way to go. Give me another 100 crores [1 billion rupees] and I will do a lot better than this,” he said.
Some experts say that after a spate of bombings across India last year, the fact there has been no attack in the country in the last 12 months is proof the measures have been effective.
But some plans, including a promised improved coastal security system — seen as vital because the gunmen arrived undetected by sea — are yet to materialize.
Others believe Pakistan’s intelligence agency and army, which New Delhi blames for supporting the attacks, are focused on gathering unrest at home rather than sponsoring assaults on their neighbor.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management and editor of the South Asia Intelligence Review, called the changes in homeland security “nothing more than symbolic.”
“In terms of actual capacity, response or overall security, there’s been no significant change,” he told reporters, blaming a lack of political will to tackle the problem effectively.