Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea that an informal opening session of the UNSC counter-terrorism committee (CTC) should be held at Mumbai’s Hotel Taj Mahal Palace saw India driving home a strong message on October 28.
It was very straight and strong: that the world needs to do much to bring perpetrators of terrorism to justice.
As desired by Modi, Hotel Taj Mahal Palace was chosen as it was one of the main targets of a 10-member team from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that unleashed a three-day wave of killings in November 2008.
In a solemn ceremony, UNSC members, present and incoming, joined by UN officials paid tributes at the 26/11 Memorial at the hotel — before External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reiterated that the task to bring the mastermind and perpetrators to justice remains unfinished.
“We have endeavoured to bring the mastermind and perpetrators of the 26/11 attack to justice. This task remains unfinished. The coming together of UNSC’s Counter-Terrorism Committee to this venue is special and significant,” said Jaishankar, mincing no words to state India’s concern.
In other words, India wanted the world to know that its deep disappointment over China putting on hold a proposal to proscribe five Pakistan-based terrorists, including the son of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, has only made its resolve only stronger.
The Pakistani terrorists entered Mumbai after arriving in boats and unleashed mayhem by carrying out coordinated attacks in multiple locations across Mumbai.
Apart from the Taj Hotel, other places of the attack were the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Leopold Cafe, the Nariman House and the Oberoi Trident.
Nearly 166 people were killed during these attacks, which included civilians as well as police personnel, and over 300 were left wounded. The attacks began on November 26 and lasted for four days till November 29.
Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving attacker, was fortunately caught and executed on November 21, 2012, after the Supreme Court upheld his death penalty in August of that year.
A photo of his holding an AK-47 at the main railway station became an enduring image proof of Pakistan’s involvement.
Jaishankar, who laid a wreath at the 26/11 Memorial at the Taj Hotel, said that key conspirators and orchestrators of the terror attacks remain at large and unpunished. The international body has “regrettably” been unable to act in some cases when it comes to proscribing some terrorists due to “political considerations,” he said.
“Fourteen years ago, Mumbai witnessed one of the most shocking terror attacks of our times. 140 Indian nationals and 26 citizens from 23 other countries lost their lives in four days. In fact, the entire city was held hostage to terrorists who entered from across the border,” Jaishankar said.
KS Kang, general manager of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel at the time, recounted the mayhem that had unfolded. “That evening, there were 2,000 guests and staff unarmed versus four heavily armed terrorists in this very place. My staff…risked their lives to save our guests, assisted by a few, brave local policemen over the next 10-12 hours until we got help from the NSG (National Security Guard).”
Later, Indian officials revealed at the meeting intricate details of Pakistan’s role in the attacks at the special meeting of the UNSC counter-terrorism committee.
Pankaj Thakur, Joint Secretary, Government of India briefed the delegates that the locations of the attack were chosen for iconic status, high civilian footfall, and the presence of foreigners. He explained how terrorists were trained across different locations in Pakistan and were in constant touch with their LeT handlers throughout the attack.
Thakur highlighted that Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Sajid Mir, Abdul Al Qafa, Abdul Aziz, and Major Iqbal of ISI played a key role in the 26/11 terror attacks. Revealing the role of the Pakistan military establishment, Thakur explained that Major Iqbal was involved in every aspect of the attack and provided funds and hardware for the reconnaissance exercise.
An audio of Major Iqbal was played in which he is heard telling the terrorists in the Chabad House to fire at persons moving on the rooftops. As Thakur put it, “During the attack, assailants were in constant touch with their LeT handlers through Call Phonics View IP services. View IP services were hired by the users of firstname.lastname@example.org. This email id was accessed by 3 IPs from across the border. Payment of View IP services was made in October and November 2008 from foreign locations. The Yamaha engine of the dinghy was shipped from Japan to 2 locations across the border in September 2008. The 5 mobile sets seized from the assailants were shipped from the Nokia factory in China to 2 mobile companies based across the border.”
Exposing Pakistan’s hypocrisy on Sajid Mir, Thakur said “He was one of the architects of the LeT’s Denmark Project to a Danish newspaper, its editor and cartoonist in Copenhagen. Fortunately, the planned attack was foiled in time. He was declared dead for a long time and even a DNA test was used to buttress this assertion. Owing to deeper international scrutiny, he was finally arrested and convicted in a terror financing case. As of date, his UN listing process however remains on hold.”
Besides Jaishankar, UK foreign secretary James Cleverly, Gabon foreign minister Michael Moussa Adamo, Ghana foreign minister Shirley Ayorkar Botchwey, UAE minister of state for international cooperation Reem Ebrahim Al Hashimy, Albania’s deputy foreign minister Megi Fino and delegation from the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) led by under secretary general Vladimir Voronkov were present.
Some victims of the Mumbai attacks also addressed the participants.
The conference will shift to Delhi where the main theme of the CTC’s special meeting – countering the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorism – will be held on October 29.
India, which chairs the CTC till December, proposed holding the meeting in Mumbai and Delhi for shaping a coordinated global response to terrorism. According to Ruchira Kamboj, India’s envoy to the UN, and Sanjay Verma, secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry, these discussions will focus on three sub-themes – countering terrorist exploitation of information and communication technologies, internet and social media, countering online terrorist financing and threats related to new payment technologies and fundraising methods, and threats posed by the use of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) by terrorists.
Significantly, CTC was formed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001. This is only the eighth time the body is meeting outside the UN headquarters in New York. This is also the first time a CTC meeting is being held in a foreign country since 2015 when a meet was hosted by Spain.
“A global tribute to the victims of terror. A united front against the scourge of terrorism. In a solemn ceremony, UNSC members, present and incoming, joined by UN officials paid tributes at the 26/11 Memorial at Hotel Taj in Mumbai,” the Ministry of External Affairs tweeted.
(The author is a senior journalist and a well-known political commentator)