Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Mumbai Blasts: My Thoughts on a Response

I see a number of replies to my posts, I am going to hold off on replying to those. I had another meeting with a friend last night and we talked for longer than I expected and I want to get this off my chest really quickly.

1) We are still in the initial stages of the investigation. There are some early leads pointing to the involvement of some local groups. The media is sensationalizing the minority angle and all major public communication channels are choking up with hype - this behavior on part of the media is really not helping. We need the cooperation of the minorties (and the majority) in prosecuting early leads in the investigation and scaring the shit out of them isn't going to work to our favor - this kind of thing really hampers our investigations.

2) Once our investigation is complete, I feel that we will be kind and compassionate to those who have been cooperative irrespective of what their religion, caste or languages may be. I also venture that those who lead to the arrest of the perpetrators wherever they may be will be amply rewarded for their services. I also point out that innocents will not be harmed by our desire to bring the guilty to justice.

3) With respect to Pakistan, we have made several gains after Op Parakram. The peace process which everyone loves to hate - will in my opinion - have to go on but the foundation of the peace process, the promise by President Musharraf - that he will do his utmost to undermine anti-India terrorism from Pakistani soil is in jeopardy. It is contingent on President Pervez Musharraf to correct this situation if the peace process is to continue to its logical conclusion.

4) With regards to other states, in the region and in the Gulf. We are well aware of the limitations of the regimes in these places, and we respect their soverignity. I propose we conduct ourselves in a fashion that does not polarize our ties with these states.

5) With regards to Western states, as you all know a great many Indian troublemakers are given shelter in their lands. Some of you probably know that SIMI recieves funding from a group in Chicago. All of you know who supplied pencil timers to the Pakistanis and what was the fate of the last pencil timer that was sent to a certain western country for "investigation". Given that background I do not anticipate India asking for technical assistance from western states, and should any entity seek to use this event as a platform to leverage other issues, I feel their efforts will not bear fruit.

6) The Gujuratis were not the target of the attacks. If someone wants to kill Gujarati speaking traders they do not hit the Western Railway trains, they have a completely different list of targets. The first class compartment was most likely chosen for reasons of technical convenience. Western Railway was chosen also for a completely different set of reasons. I suspect that the attacks took about a month or so to set into action. There does not appear to be a specific threat to the Gujuratis in Bombay.

7) This is not over - not by a long shot. There are more of these things in the works and people are just going to have to stay alert until the investigation comes up with some more detailed answers about the exact precipitating factors for such events. The PM said that we have "macro" level answers - what he didn't say is that we need "micro" level answers and until we do there is not point in jumping around - just stay alert. As we do not yet know what the various targetting options available are - they could easily change MO and we'll be left staring at another mess.

8) Whatever the motivations (religious, economic etc... whatever), this is a criminal act against Indian citizens - the full might of the Indian state will likely be brought to a pin-point focus against the specific individuals who are responsible for this act regardless of where they are and who they are. This is not going to be like 1993, we had an economy to restructure at the time and we were barely able to hold our heads above the water in Punjab and Kashmir - now the country is an economic powerhouse and we stand united. Those who planned this action perhaps did not take that into account.

10 Comments:

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Nitin said...

Maverick,

Your posts have been some of the most sensible out there for anyone looking to get a grasp of what's happening and what needs to be done.

The mainstream media and the politicians have picked up their pet themes and are running away with it. But this is in the nature of things. I see a failure of public communications on the part of the government. There should have been one single spokesman (or two, if the state and central governments had reasons to have separate ones) who would brief the media twice/thrice a day in the first week, and once a day subsequently.

We have Crisis Management cells and what not. In a land of a thousand newspapers and a hundred news channels, the government does not have a coherent media management/public communications plan.

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Nitin,

There is a very very serious problem here.

There are simply too many media houses that are competing for coverage. Even if the government gives a press conference the material that is printed or the sound bites that are released are completely driven by the desire to seize the news lead. The editors in these news outlets are chosen in a very peculiar fashion and a great many of them have questionable loyalties. You can't run a country the size of India without a significantly community of national loyalists in the editorial staff.

In the old days - there would be a conference of the major editors. They would all be told what the government was thinking and none of them would have the balls to defy the government. If anyone tried to pull a stunt they would most likely end up in a shallow ditch on the banks of the Yamuna. This can't be done anymore - there are simply too many of them and each one is desperate to out scoop the other.

My friend who reads newspapers pointed out a pattern in the way western news outlets were operating. They are literally planting news analysis into the Indian media. A western think-tank writes up an "analysis" of the blast. Some paid hireling in an Indian media outlet repeats the analysis in a bowdlerized form and then a mainstream high visiblity network picks it up and soon everyone in chanting the same thing on all channels irrespective of what the Government is saying.

This problem had been noticed in the Godhra-Ahmedabad riot cycle too. However there is the local factors were directing the media esp. the private cable news channels that were relaying live reports. The Police eventually shut down the local channels and the rioting damped out quickly afterwards.

It may be vital to secure the cooperation of India's minorities. You may recall that in 1993 the most accurate and detailed intelligence about the role of the Memons had come in less than 48 hours from a very powerful and influential Muslim figure in Gujurat. We are most likely going to need his help again and all this nonsense about targetting gujuratis isn't going to help us do that. A few weeks later the Memon family group had publicly dissociated itself from the actions of Tiger and cooperated with the investigation.

There are a number of law abiding and loyal muslims in India. All this slanted news coverage is doing is hindering our ability to use the information they are supplying.

I am almost tempted to say that a deliberate slant is being introduced into the coverage to cover someone's tracks and that someone isn't a local party.

 
At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Nitin said...

Maverick,

Despite the headaches they give to the government, I think the profusion of news channels is necessary. An evil, perhaps, but a necessary evil.

The broader theme---and I've written on this before---is that our security processes were developed in an environment of information scarcity. (No Internet, no Google, no multiple TV channels, etc). The world though has changed, and we are now in an era of information abundance. Our own doctrines, strategies and tactics have to evolve to work effectively in this new regime. Tactics like cutting of cellphone links in insurgency-filled areas will be increasingly counterproductive (because of network effects).

Similarly, moves to claim and address media penetration head on will be counterproductive. This does not mean that we don't act on suspicion, but the operational and public communication tactics have to be very different.

In other words, more than simply working on one aspect---say penetration of the media---we need a doctrinal change. The objective is to use the media (Internet, News Channels) to the government's advantage. I hope your newspaper reading friend is working on this. But even as this is being worked out, an inexpensive, commonsensical and possible measure is for the government to speak with one voice.

 
At 6:59 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Nitin,

I think there perception management relies on having both information control (i.e. controlled release) and network dominance (i.e. deciding how the information flows once it is released).

The information control aspect is done at the level of the raw footage and the network dominance is carried out through tailored analysis.

The problem in Mumbai is that there was no control over the raw footage. The news networks poured into the sites and filmed as they pleased. What should have happened after this is the the raw footage was cut to meet editorial demands. It is here that things went arwy - the editorial feed seems to have been shaped solely by the desire to achieve a larger viewership - no attention was paid to the consequences of their actions.

After that there was even more disgusting behavior - the editors made every attempt to give airtime to western analyses. They actively made it seem that the GoI didn't know what was going on and but the armchair idiots in the west somehow did know what was going on.

This is purely a lack of sensibility and responsibility at the editorial level.

My friend who reads newspapers is veteran of Punjab. He believes strong moves are necessary to keep the editors. In Punjab sections of the media became close to the Khalistan sentiment and alienated itself from the government. Unfortunately for these people the Khalistani terrorist groups soon began to compete for media attention. Pretty soon if a newspaper covered KCF instead of the BKI, BKI labelled that newspaper as "government spies" and attacked its staff. I don't know how many mediapersons lost their lives in this kind of intercine warfare.

I only wonder if there is some way to make the editors realize that they cannot be so callous and ignorant about their surroundings.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger Aryabhata said...

I agree with you we need some level of media handling discipline. People would have given the government that level of freedom if there was hope that this UPA government is strong. Talks with Pakistan make no sense now and our PM refuses to understand the situation. We really need to plan a major covert action against Pakistan to liberate Baluchistan. We need to create havoc there. Anything less is a meek response.

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger Aryabhata said...

I don't know if this is good or bad?

Modi is RSS choice

With the Sangh Parivar deciding to field Narendra Modi to campaign against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Mumbai, it is gradually becoming clear that the Gujarat chief minister will be the future face of the BJP. No doubt, Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Rajnath Singh continue to be prominent leaders, but the writing on the wall says that Modi will don the mantle in Delhi before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has decided to go back to its Hindutva plank, irrespective of which ally remains with it. The Parivar leadership has told Rajnath Singh that compromise on different issues may have brought the party to power for a while, but the country had to pay a heavy price for that. Therefore, Modi would be the face of Hindutva for the party, while also continuing to be Gujarat chief minister.

 
At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Nitin said...

Maverick,

Fair enough. I agree with you on the problem definition. On the solution though, GOI must acknowledge that times have changed since Punjab or even 9/11.

The doctrinal change I advocate presumes that information control is impossible (eg both news crews and camera phones). How do we get the message across in this scenario? No easy answers, of course, but attempting to implement information control in today's world will backfire, and very severely. China, Pakistan and other autocratic countries can try---even here success is not guaranteed. But with our kind of a setup, this is (thankfully) impossible.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Nitin,

I am open to ideas, like I said I am not in favor of my friend's approach - but then he has the benefit of experience in these things and I don't. At the end of the day - whatever was done in Punjab was effective so I find it hard to argue with that.

If someone writes something properly on this I am sure I could get my friend to read it.

 
At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That the farcical peace process is still going on, shows the level of self delusion in Delhi, how callous it is towards its own citizens, and how impotent it is with respect to Pakistan.

With all due respect, if the so called Indian Government does not have the balls to do anything or even prevent these attacks, while giving Mush& co the fig leaf of respectability, then they should not be governing at all.

Screw media management, protect Indian citizens first and last. Blaming the west for your own stupidity is useless!

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Anonymous,

The positive publicity for the peace process is largely being carried out for America's benefit. With so much of our prosperity and so many jobs depending on US views of India - there is desire to keep the Americans happy.

From our perspective Musharraf is only judged on his ability to deliver. It doesn't matter what the publicity is - he either delivers or his reputation with us suffers.

Our public posturing on the peace process is largely part of a scheme to communicate indirectly with the Americans. This is being misread by many Indians as part of any communication with Pakistan.

You see the Americans can't openly engage us on terrorism issues. If they do - they will have account for their own intelligence community's ties with the ISI. This is unprofitable for them. So the discussions with Americans have to be oblique and dereferenced from the actual problem - the engagement that western intelligence agencies seem to have with the ISI.

In 1993 - the Pakistanis courted India's narco economic groups. They carried out the Bombay blasts and the Americans help cover up their involvement in the crime. For all the American forensic experts and counter-terrorism specialists who visited the site, at the end of the day it was a major Indian muslim leader whose helped us piece together critical elements of the crime. Ofcourse at that time everyone wanted to stick it to Nawaz Sharif for doing this. In reality it was Nawaz who privately told us the names of the specific officials in the ISI who carried out this operation. This fact is now a part of public record as Nawaz spoke at lenght on this issue after he was removed from power in 1999.

The internet based Indians seem to be very keen to lash out at the GoI for it percieved incompetence but mostly they are just excessively bedazzled by media theatrics. Most don't have the sensitivity it takes to understand our complex relationship with Pakistan. And though this is fine - as most don't have a thing to do with it - it is a problem at crisis time when so many people seem to say the first thing that comes to their mouth. I place the media at the head of this group and I feel a time is not far when the media will really get it.

You think blocking blogspot was bad, wait till you see what the media - especially those editors who didn't listen to calls from the Cabinet ministers go through now.

 

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