By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th February 2015
A Pakistani boat that the Indian Coast Guard intercepted 365 kilometres off Porbandar on the night of the New Year, and which sank without trace or survivors after four “terrorists” on board apparently set it on fire, has come back to haunt the ministry of defence (MoD), which had backed the coast guard’s account of having warded off a terror strike in the making.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had personally endorsed the coast guard’s account, stating in a television interview that the surest proof of the boat crew’s malevolent intent lay in the fact that they had committed suicide when they were intercepted.
Now, a senior coast guard officer, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) BK Loshali, has been videotaped boasting to an audience in Surat that he had ordered that the boat be “blown off”.
“I hope you remember 31st December. We blew off the Pakistan… we have blown them off. I was at Gandhinagar and I told at night we don’t want to serve them biryani”, Loshali says in the video.
Several media reports, including a “news analysis” piece in this newspaper (January 5, “Terror boat”: Questions linger) had placed question marks over the coast guard’s story. It was unclear why a fast-moving coast guard ship pursued a slow-moving fishing boat for an hour before intercepting it; the coast guard’s account of the crew blowing up their own boat; why photographs of the burning boat showed no signs of explosives; and why there were no bodies or debris could be recovered.
Yet, Parrikar continues to stand by the coast guard’s version, which was put out in a MoD release on January 1. "The Defence Ministry had given a very clear statement. We stand by it”, said Parrikar to the media at Aero India 2015 in Bengaluru today.
When it was pointed out that DIG Loshali had himself confessed that the coast guard had “blown them off”, Parrikar hinted that disciplinary action might be taken against him, and that he might be a disgruntled officer.
"At the most if you prove that he has made statement, you are making a case of taking action against him. It does not change ground reality," he said.
Asked by Business Standard why Parrikar had not fulfilled his promise, made in a television interview, to release video footage that would prove that the coast guard vessel had not shot at the boat and set it on fire, Parrikar denied ever having promised to release video.
“I said I would release proof, not video”, he said.
The television footage in which Parrikar promised in early January to release video proof “within two or three days” was played out on television on Wednesday night.
After the Indian Express reported on Wednesday morning that DIG Loshali had boasted about blowing off the Pakistani boat, Loshali denied having made any such statement. Later on Wednesday, the Indian Express released video footage of Loshali’s speech, which corroborated the newspaper report.
This incident was first played as a major coastal security success, in which the National Technical Research Organisation intercepted satellite phone messages that suggested a Pakistani boat that had sailed from Karachi would tranship explosives to an Indian receiver, who would bring it ashore. According to the account, a coast guard vessel then intercepted the boat, which was then sunk by terrorists on board.
This story, questioned from the start, now lies in tatters.