After the wound to the collective Indian psyche by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Friday night’s bloodbath in Paris evokes a sad and weary sense of deja vu. The suffering which visited India in the first decade of the new millennium, has now visited France. US security experts believe this horrific incident will be a ‘game changer’ in how the West looks at the threat of terrorism in the 21st century. The outrage in Paris is eerily similar to the Mumbai mayhem, prompting suspicions of a ‘copycat’ attack using low-cost resources to inflict maximum possible damage on soft targets. Like in Mumbai, a suicide squad of terrorists fanned out in pairs in the French capital to simultaneously target crowded places like theatres, cafes and tourist spots. They even had the audacity to target the Stade de France stadium where President Francois Hollande was among the spectators enjoying a France-Germany soccer match. After he was whisked to safety, the French President called to his countrymen to be strong and vowed retaliation for this ‘act of war’. Suspected to be a revenge operation by the ISIS against French airstrikes on its bases in Syria, the terrorists possibly belonged to a sleeper cell. Like the Lashkar operatives who rampaged through Mumbai, the Paris attackers were all young and said to be determined ‘to kill and die’ with Ak-47 assault rifles. Seven of this eight-member squad blew themselves up with hostages while one was shot down by French commandos. That these killers maged to gun down at least 127 people is testimony to the ferocity of the attack which lasted 12 hours. The French government has declared emergency and Paris is under curfew, with security forces launching a massive manhunt for the accomplices. What this dastardly attack shows up once again is the fragility of free societies — that terrorists can strike anywhere at any time when societies let their guard down.
While the intertiol community strongly condemned the Mumbai attack, with many among the 164 casualties belonging to different countries, it is a fact that India mostly waged a lone battle against the blatantly Pak-sponsored attack. Had it not been for Ajmal Kasab captured alive, Islamabad would have got away with its lie that the ten attackers were ‘stateless’ people. All the cellphone calls back and forth between the Mumbai attackers and their Pakistan-based handlers, the long trail of evidence they left behind — could not make Pakistan admit that its citizens are being pushed onto Indian soil for a never-ending proxy war. Rather, Islamabad did a lot of sabre rattling over possible Indian strikes against LeT targets ‘in hot pursuit’ across the line of control. There was much anger across India, and an even greater sense of helplessness at a world order which fails to hold accountable such rogue tions. The US and Indian intelligence services did share a lot of information in the wake of the Mumbai attack; Lashkar operative George Headley was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the death of six American citizens in the rampage. But the trial in a Pakistan anti-terror court against conspirators of the Mumbai outrage has got nowhere. In April this year, Lashkar commander and Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi walked out on bail. India continues to bleed from terror attacks emating from Pakistan — sadly, the Indian government is yet to formulate a clear policy to be tough against such blackmail. The very issue has become politicised, with proponents of anti-terror stand swearing by ‘tiolism’ and opponents warning of ‘commulism’. The standoff between the Centre and some State governments over the proposed tiol Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), envisioned as an umbrella organisation to control various anti-terror agencies — shows clearly how misplaced our priorities are. The US administration overhauled its homeland security apparatus after the September 11 attack, not backing off from racial profiling if needed. The European powers will doubtless re-organise themselves forcefully in the coming days against terror blackmail. As for India, its leaders must be made accountable for the knee-jerk, ad-hoc and wishy-washy manner with which its government continues to react to terror.