MUMBAI, India — In the wake of last week’s devastating terrorist attacks here, one thing has become clear: India’s security forces are so spectacularly unprepared, its intelligence agencies so riven by conflict and miscommunication, that it lacks the ability to respond adequately to such attacks, much less prevent them.
India’s government is being called poorly prepared for last week’s terrorist attacks. The gunmen seemed better armed than most police officers, who often carry only the wooden or Lucite pole known as a lathi, above.
This nation of 1.2 billion has only a few hundred counterterrorism officials in its intelligence bureau. Its tiny, ill-paid police force has little training, few weapons and even less ammunition. The coast guard has fewer than 100 working boats for a shoreline nearly 5,000 miles long.
In the latest revelation of India’s lack of preparedness, on Wednesday, a full week after the attacks, sniffer dogs discovered a bag with a 17-pound bomb that was left by the terrorists in the city’s central train station and that was later deposited in a pile of lost bags, police officials said. The police defused the bomb on the spot and never bothered to clear the station, Victoria Terminus. It is also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and is Mumbai’s busiest train station.
Long before last week’s attacks on Mumbai, which stunned the world and left 173 people dead, Indian intelligence officials and their Western counterparts had passed on various tips about the possibility of such assaults. But the Indians utterly lacked the ability to assess the significance of those tips or respond to them.
As a result, a group of just 10 attackers, according to the police, took the city by surprise on Nov. 26. They easily killed the police officers who opposed them and seized control of some of the city’s best-known landmarks, as all of India watched in horror on television.
“The scale of the task before us is colossal,” said Ajai Sahni, a former Indian intelligence official and the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in Delhi. “We are looking at a system which does not have the capacity to either generate adequate intelligence, or to respond to it.”
Although India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has promised far-reaching reforms, earlier efforts to improve police training and effectiveness have gone nowhere. In any case, such efforts are unlikely to occur quickly in India’s vast, corruption-riddled bureaucracy.
That could leave India, a key American ally and one of the engines of global economic growth in the past decade, dangerously vulnerable to more terrorist strikes.
The Mumbai attacks have pushed tensions between India and Pakistan, where the gunmen are said to have been trained, to their highest level in years. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to New Delhi on Wednesday and to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, on Thursday in an effort to calm the situation.
The violence has also fed an unprecedented and broad-based rage at the Indian government for not having done more to protect its people. On Wednesday evening, tens of thousands in Mumbai marched near the attacked sites, chanting slogans that made their anger clear. Similar rallies were held in New Delhi and in the southern technology hubs of Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Many Indians were stunned to discover how easily, and thoroughly, the group of militants initially overpowered the police who tried to stop them (all but one of the militants were eventually shot dead). The attackers all had AK-47 rifles and pistols, and plenty of ammunition — far more firepower than any of the officers who confronted them. None of the police officers who initially encountered the terrorists had bulletproof vests, allowing the attackers to kill a number of them quickly, despite some heroic efforts at resistance.
Scenes from closed-circuit cameras, played endlessly on TV in the days after the attacks, showed police officers running from the gunmen alongside terrified civilians. In all, 20 police officers and commandos were killed.
After the assault began on the night of Nov. 26, it took hours for the Indian commando squad to arrive in Mumbai because it is based near Delhi, hundreds of miles away, and does not have its own aircraft. Even after the commandos, who are better armed and trained than police officers are, began fighting the terrorists holed up in the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, they lacked a floor plan, whereas the militants seemed to know the hotel’s layout well.
In a sense, none of this was a surprise. India’s National Security Guards force has only about 7,400 commandos, and it has often taken hours to respond to crises in the past, Mr. Sahni said. As for the city and state police forces, their equipment and training are far more meager, and they are lightly scattered across a vast population. India has 125 police officers for every 100,000 residents, one of the world’s lowest ratios.
Intelligence failures also played a role in India’s inability to deal properly with the Mumbai attacks. The United States warned Indian officials in mid-October of possible terrorist attacks on “touristy areas frequented by Westerners” in Mumbai, echoing other general alerts by Indian intelligence. In the past week, reports of other, far more detailed warnings have been rife in the Indian news media, though government officials have disputed them.
But the debate masks a broader problem, Mr. Sahni said: Neither the intelligence agencies nor the government has the ability to prioritize or assess those threats, or to act on them. The various wings of India’s intelligence apparatus, like their American counterparts before the Sept. 11 attacks, are famous for failing to communicate and share intelligence.
In the wake of the attacks, some police officials have become remarkably outspoken and even angry about their inability to defend the citizenry or even themselves.
“You see this old musket? It is useless,” said Ankush Hotkar, a police officer, as he stood Wednesday in the cavernous hall of the main train station. He was pointing to a battered old hunting rifle in the hands of one of his fellow officers. Mr. Hotkar himself, despite his 26 years in the Mumbai police force, carried only a lathi, the wooden or Lucite pole that most police officers here carry as their only weapon.
“The weapons they give us are no good, so policemen died,” he said, his voice thick with anger.
The Mumbai police are given scarcely any training and no opportunities to fire their weapons, Mr. Hotkar said. Starting salaries are 3,050 rupees a month, just over $60 — not enough to live on, he added.
“Maximum corruption is going on,” Mr. Hotkar said wearily.
Mumbai’s beat officers are not even issued individual radios to communicate with one another. Instead, they must find a nearby “beat marshal,” an officer on motorcycle who is equipped with a radio to report incidents, said Police Inspector Maniksingh P. Patil, an officer at a station house near the hotels that were attacked.
The police officers who are assigned to guard political figures are generally much better trained and equipped, a point that has been the focus of outraged commentary in local newspapers here in the past week.
On Wednesday evening, a throng of angry people gathered near the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the buildings seized by the terrorists. As the demonstrators marched through the streets, many held up banners with slogans like “No Protection, No Security” and “No Protection, No Vote.” There were chants of “Enough is enough!” and promises that they would demand real change.
But as night fell, the rally dissolved, with many of the marchers straying away. One observer, Dezadd Dotiwalla, 24, seemed dismayed and said she saw the protest’s disintegration as a symbol of the very complacency that the marchers were promising to overcome.
“I sometimes wonder whether we deserve any better,” he said.
Somini Sengupta and Jeremy Kahn contributed reporting.