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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rock On, Baba Bulleh Shah!

Baba Bulleh Shah, the Sufi mystic, was always a bit of an iconoclast. That is one of the reasons because of which I enjoy reading and listening to his poetry. Unconventional as he was, I am sure he also would approve of the potent combination formed by his poetry and rock music. The following tracks range from rock to rock-fusion, I believe, in terms of genre.

Title: Aleph
Album: Parvaaz
Artiste(s): Junoon

Title: Bulleya
Album: Parvaaz
Artiste(s): Junoon

Title: Bulla Ki Jaana Maen Kaun
Album: Rabbi
Artitste(s): Rabbi Shergill

Title: Bandeya
Album: OST Khuda Ke Liye
Artiste(s): Khawar Javed

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Few Conclusions Based On The Mumbai Audio Intercepts

A few days ago, a television news-channel aired excerpts from audio intercepts of telephonic conversations amongst those who attacked Mumbai and their mentors. Based on the portions that I managed to listen to, the following appear to be quite plausible conclusions, if the recordings are presumed to be authentic, apart from the most obvious one i.e. the entire operation was micro-managed from the 'war-room':

1. The attackers were well-trained in the use of fire-arms and other hardware required to achieve their objectives, including electronic equipment, but probably had little combat experience, before they were sent into Mumbai. Also, they had not been put through much training for close-quarter combat in an urban environment, it seems.

Those who laid siege to Nariman House, for instance, expressed their inability to decide upon the appropriate defensive positions to be taken near a staircase and sought guidance from their mentors, after commandos of the National Security Guards (NSG) landed on the roof of the building and began to make their way downwards. Similarly, those who were at the Taj and the Trident required advice on how to take position in the hotels' rooms and when to hurl grenades upon security forces' personnel.

It had appeared to me earlier that the attackers must have been trained as well or perhaps even better than the Indian commandos, since such a small number of them had managed, for so long, to hold off commando forces that are supposed to be India's best. However, as is clear from the audio intercepts, it was not the case and they managed to pull off that feat, to a large extent, on account of live assistance (available round the clock through telephone) from experts.

2. In light of the above, it may be fair to conclude that had communication between the attackers and their handlers been jammed, the terrorists may have been overpowered much sooner than they actually were and, possibly, at a lower cost in terms of loss of life and property. On the other hand, it could be argued that listening in could keep the security forces apprised of the terrorists' activities as well as plans and, therefore, be the more effective approach. That the latter was adopted is now part of history. Whether it was utilised to save the lives of as many non-combatants as possible is something I am not very sure of, however.

During a conversation, after negotiations for meeting some of the terrorists' demands in return for the release of two Israeli women taken hostage in Nariman House had come to naught, a handler ordered them to shoot the women dead. The one who took the call told his superior though that his partner had gone off to sleep, since he was too tired. So, together they decided to postpone the killings for half an hour, when the mentor would call his wards again.

It is difficult to be absolutely certain about whether the women's lives could have been saved if the NSG commandos had stormed the building at that point of time, but that was the only chance they had. Nothing of the sort happened, however, and the security forces continued to listen in, as both women were done to death during the next telephone call, a good 30-40 minutes later. They stormed the building only the next morning, soon after they had heard the terrorists' advisers tell them to move out and attack the security forces in a final and, possibly, suicidal assault, if the besiegers did not enter Nariman House within a certain period of time.

From the aforementioned sequence of events, one may reasonably conclude that whoever was making decisions on behalf of the security forces that day found the hostages' lives to be far less valuable than the opportunity to capture the terrorists alive and to minimise the casualties among the commandos, on account of the terrorists becoming hungrier and thirstier as their food and water supplies ran out and, therefore, their fighting abilities being diminished.

3. If the tapes are to be believed, the television coverage of the attacks did prove to be of assistance to the terrorists, particularly in the case of those besieged at Nariman House. With the help of the visuals provided by various news-channels, those at the command centre informed the foot soldiers that the NSG's men had taken up position on some of the surrounding structures and included snipers with their rifles aimed at the windows of the building, which should be kept away from for that reason. They conveyed to the men that security force personnel were finding it difficult to find a place in the narrow lanes that could provide sufficient cover for them to take up position at and was close enough to the building, in order for the final assault to be launched. Among other vital pieces of information that were passed on was an approximation of the number of commandos dropped on to the roof of Nariman House by helicopter, at a later stage.

The continuous coverage by electronic news-media was also utilised by the controllers to boost the morale of their boys. Details of the number of policemen and soldiers killed, along with their ranks, proved useful in this respect, in addition to the expressions of fear and anxiety by prominent personalities in front of television cameras.

4. Any one who listened to the conversations recorded from Nariman House would know that these were in the Urdu language, whereas those recorded from the Trident were in Punjabi and those from the Taj were partially in Urdu and partially in Punjabi. The Urdu speakers among the mentors sounded, at least to me, like they had a distinct Punjabi accent, however.

Furthermore, it seems to me that some of the mentors had been to schools and/or colleges where the medium of instruction was English, because just like I often tend to do, whenever they were at loss for the appropriate word in Urdu/Punjabi, they made use of an English word instead. Those who have been to educational institutions where the medium of instruction is a regional language also use English words while speaking in the vernacular, but such usage generally tends to sound deliberate.