Examining Mumbai One Year After Attacks
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Today in Pakistan, seven people accused of planning last year's attacks in Mumbai, India, were formally indicted on terrorism charges. The indictments come on the eve of the anniversary of the attacks.
Last November 26th, gunmen launched coordinated assaults on luxury hotels, the Mumbai train station, a Jewish center and other sites. More than 160 people were killed, and the city was paralyzed for three days. One of the suspects indicted today in Pakistan is a top leader in the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and is suspected of masterminding the Mumbai assault.
Praveen Swami is associate editor for the daily newspaper The Hindu. He joins me from Mumbai.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. PRAVEEN SWAMI (Associate Editor, The Hindu): Thank you.
BLOCK: And Mr. Swami, tell us a bit more about the seven men who are indicted, please.
Mr. SWAMI: Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, one of the men who's being indicted today, is a senior military commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and is alleged to have made the overall assault plans and to have recruited key figures involved in it. Zarrar Shah, one of the other people who's been indicted today, is again a Lashkar military commander.
The remaining five seemed to have played relatively peripheral roles in the attack, basically providing logistically help like getting engines for motorboats used by the men who assaulted Mumbai, paying for telephone connections and so on.
BLOCK: For quite some time, the Pakistani government denied any Pakistani connection with the assault. Do you assume that the timing of these indictments coming on the eve of the anniversary is no accident?
Mr. SWAMI: It probably has symbolic value. The indictments have taken a great deal of time; judges have been changed. The trial has been closed to the media, of course, so we don't know exactly what's happened, but there have been procedural delays. And in India, even the fact that these seven people have been indicted is being greeted with a little bit of skepticism. That's partly because many figures thought to have had important roles in planning the attack have not been arrested, notably the Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives who likely visited Mumbai before the attacks to carry out pre-attack reconnaissance.
BLOCK: Praveen Swami, you and I talked a year ago soon after the attacks, and I wonder how the city of Mumbai has changed in the last year. Do you see, for example, more security around Mumbai?
Mr. SWAMI: There's security at certain high-profile locations: expensive up-market hotels, for example, or important government buildings. The state government has been investing extensively in upgrading its special weapons and tactics unit. But the preparations, regrettably, are still more symbolic than substantial.
New weapons and vehicles have been purchased, but training and preparing police personnel who could actually deal with an emergency is a slow process. And for a graphic illustration of what it's actually like, you just have to look at policemen who are camped out at locations where public commemorations of the attacks will take place tomorrow. They're still sleeping in tents with no sanitation. So the city still has a long way to go before it has a modern and reasonably efficient policing system in place.
BLOCK: My memory from a year ago is that a number of the police, at the train station at least, were unarmed, didn't have guns to repel the assault. Has that changed?
Mr. SWAMI: Most police officers were unarmed and most police officers are still unarmed across Mumbai. Some of the police at the railway station had vintage bolt-action rifles dating back to the Second World War. There is somewhat more modern weaponry on display. Some people would say that's not necessarily a good thing because the policemen wielding those more sophisticated modern weapons still have only rudimentary training in using them. And if an attack were to take place, it's possible to argue that, if anything, more people would be killed rather than less because of the issue of these weapons.
BLOCK: You mentioned public commemorations planned for tomorrow in Mumbai on the anniversary. What would you say the mood is in the city leading up to that date?
Mr. SWAMI: It's oddly relaxed. One would have expected the city to be much more solemn before a day like this. There is an oddly festive atmosphere almost for want of a better word. In Colaba, for example, where some of the worst killings took place around the Jewish center and Leopold Cafe, a number of enterprising people seem to have set up these little tours of the attack sites for large numbers of tourists who have come into Mumbai.
And there's certainly no disruption of everyday life. I think part of the reason for that is because Mumbai had seen mass casualty attacks before. Larger numbers of people, for example, were killed in 2006, when the city's train system was targeted.
So the city has developed a certain kind of resilience about these kinds of things, but I think that's really what you see on the streets today.
BLOCK: Praveen Swami is associate editor with the newspaper The Hindu. He was speaking with us from Mumbai.
Mr. Swami, thanks very much.
Mr. SWAMI: Thank you.
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