It has been exactly 12 years since Pakistan-based terrorists — with the explicit sanction of at least a part of the Pakistani establishment — launched the most audacious terror attack on Mumbai. The 26/11 attacks brought home to both the Indian State and citizens that it could not be business-as-usual anymore. Besides conventional wars, Pakistan had engaged in asymmetric warfare — encouraging violence in Punjab in 1980s; in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989; in Mumbai in the early 1990s; across the Indian heartland through carefully-choreographed attacks in public places meant to spread panic and stir inter-community tensions; even against the Indian Parliament in 2001. This had devastated families and communities, and created deep anger. But the scale of the attack in Mumbai, its televised and prolonged nature, the manner in which citizens could relate to the iconic spaces of the city, and the human stories of tragedy redefined India’s approach.
Diplomatically, engagement with Pakistan may have gone through its ebbs and flows since the attack — indeed, the Manmohan Singh government launched a peace effort at Sharm-el-Sheikh only the following year which failed and Narendra Modi himself went to Lahore. But the attack also changed something within India. Citizens were no longer willing to give the benefit of doubt to Islamabad; concessions to win peace were frowned upon, since Pakistan’s intent was in doubt; and increasingly, having a tough approach against Pakistan became a prerequisite to passing the test of Indian nationalism. Domestic political actors may have contributed to this climate but make no mistake; at its root was Pakistan’s continuous violation of inter-state norms. Mumbai shifted Indian discourse in favour of retaliatory action after a terror attack — a strategy the Modi government has adopted.
Internally, India recognised that its internal security grid was fragmented and ill-equipped. Enhanced inter-agency coordination — particularly getting intelligence agencies to generate more actionable inputs, and other agencies to act on it well in time — became a priority, as did instituting more efficient protocols to reduce response time to a crisis. But these successes are often invisible and, as the old adage in security affairs goes, the other side just has to get it right once. India must continue to pay close attention to its internal security capabilities while keeping an eye on what Pakistan is up to.