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25 November 2013, Gateway House

26/11: Lest we forget

26 November, 2013 will mark the fifth year since Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists went on a rampage in Mumbai, claiming several lives. Although the only insurgent captured alive was hanged last year, the masterminds are still free. Why is it imperative to keep this incident from fading from our memories?

Bombay History Fellow

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It is five years since 26/11 today, but the day may go off just as any other frenetic day in the city. Besides a memorial function at the Police Gymkhana and one at the Knesseth Eliyahoo Synagogue (Fort), where the local Jewish community will light candles and hold a memorial service for the victims of this dastardly terror attack, the city’s memory is short.

The hanging of Ajmal Kasab – the only 26/11 terrorist captured by police – last year has brought no closure to the victims’ families, as the main masterminds of the crime are free.

Unlike earlier terror attacks on the city, which were executed by local terror cells, 26/11 effectively demonstrated how technology and geography can be effectively combined to execute as daring an attack as the 9/11 one on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, New York.

Mumbai may be an island city, whose main electricity grid can be isolated from the rest of Maharashtra in the event of a power blackout, but keeping her isolated from the rest of the world is a much tougher proposition as it is contiguous with the sea – the highways of the continents.

This has been demonstrated time and again in the past. During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, the one big threat to the city was the Pakistan submarine, Ghazi, whose only job was to stalk and sink India’s first aircraft carrier, Vikrant, headquartered in Bombay. Sightings of the Ghazi off the Coast of Bombay were numerous and a potential threat to the city itself. It was eventually sunk off the Coast of Vishakapatnam, and history tells us that the unencumbered Vikrant played a decisive role in the outcome of the 1971 War.

Even in the distant past, the greatest threat to the then growing city was always from the sea. Whether it was the Maratha Admiral Kanhoji Angre closing the entry into Bombay Harbour from the South and the East, by occupying the little islands, Karanja, Elephanta and Kenery; or the Sidi Fleet (of Janjira) coming in unannounced to shelter itself from the monsoons, in the harbor at Mazgaon.

This time, a little rubber dinghy, indistinguishable from the other bobbing boats in the harbor, with satellite phones and ten well-trained terrorists brought the city to its knees.

Let us not forget 26/11. Let us not forget that the main masterminds are free. Importantly let us not forget that miracles are also possible.

Today, after ten years of international isolation, in a game-changing step, Iran and the U.S. (and her allies) took the first step towards a comprehensive nuclear deal. In one stroke, this has changed the region’s political and geoeconomic dynamics. In much the same way, political will in the Indian subcontinent can not only break a 66-year impasse between India and Pakistan, but also change the fortunes of both countries. Bringing the 26/11 masterminds to book is a necessary goodwill gesture on the part of our neighbour.

The author dedicates this article to her school friend Ajit Chhabria, his wife Monica, and family friend Rohinton Maloo. They all lost their lives in the 26/11 carnage in The Oberoi.

Sifra Lentin is the Bombay History Fellow at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, Mumbai. Her paper, Mumbai’s International Linkages: Then and now, will be released shortly. 

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