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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Was it really a terror boat? Security experts consider the evidence...........

New Delhi: It has been a good story sell for the media. The theory of a 26/11-style fidayeen attack on India has been doing the rounds ever since a “suspicious Pakistani fishing boat” went up in flames after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard ships and aircraft in Arabian Sea – 365 km off Porbandar in Gujarat on the midnight of December 31. Pakistan-based terror outfits, the Pakistan army, ISI and everything else that go with terror plots fit nicely into the story. Coming days ahead of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat summit, the incident and the narrative around it have produced the desired shock effect.
However, the crucial questions remains unanswered yet: was it just the usual smugglers' boat carrying either explosives or inflammable fuel into India? What could have been the actual reason of the ‘explosion’ and who were those ‘four persons on board’ the so-called fishing boat?
An official release issued by the Press Information Bureau on behalf of the Ministry of Defence mentioned “Coast Guard intercepts suspect boat carrying explosives in Arabian Sea. But, the statement didn’t mention the kind of explosives in the boat.
Intelligence sources claimed that there were three boats from Pakistan under surveillance. While the first boat exploded, the second boat was towed away by the third boat. The official statement doesn’t mention ‘cross-border terrorism’ or ‘boat belonging to any terror outfits’ etc.
“First no evidence has come up yet suggesting clearly that explosion was caused due to explosives or the boat had arms and ammunition. Second, the defence ministry release didn’t mention about any terror link, as claimed by the intelligence agency sources. It was a fishing boat unlike in the 26/11 case, which was a military-style operation,” a Naval source said on condition of anonymity.
According to the official release, “Four persons were seen on the boat who disregarded all warnings by the Coast Guard ship to stop and cooperate with investigation. Soon thereafter, the crew hid themselves in below-deck compartment and set the boat on fire, which resulted in explosion and major fire on the boat.”
What happened to those four men? Whether they died due to the explosion or managed to jump off the deck and escaped remains a mystery.
“Jumping to conclusions is not right at this moment. Instead of making speculations, it’s better to wait for the final report,” said Shekhar Sinha, former Commander-in-Chief, Western Naval Command.
Echoing a similar view Shakti Sinha, chairman, South Asian Institute for Strategic Affairs (SAISA) said, “One should not make speculations about the incident, but there is something fishy in the entire episode. It’s not just a simple accident. The mobile interceptions can reveal the exact cause.”
If not a mere accident, what it could have been and how did the explosion occur?
“A theory says that the boat containing diesel was approaching Indian coast. No one would smuggle diesel from Pakistan to India. Rather it’s the opposite, because diesel is costlier in Pakistan. So, the question is why was the boat carrying diesel or inflammable fuel? There could have been explosives that triggered the blast; but it needs to be probed first. Was there any such evidence in the boat that could have been dangerously revealing and the men in the boat decided to blow it up, rather than getting caught?” questioned Shekhar Sinha, who was also chief of Integrated Defence Staff.
The SAISA director is also not ready to accept the explosion of the boat as a “natural accident, even if it was a work of arm smugglers”.
In this context, an important question emerges – how far is the Indian coastline, which is 7,600 km long, secure and what measures need to be taken to protect it from the infiltration of terrorists?
“We’ve a vast sea and long coastline, which makes it very difficult to monitor. The idea of stretching the navy for coastal security should be done away with. Instead, under the National Security Advisor (NSA), a security council comprising the shipping ministry, coast guards, maritime police, fisheries, etc should be set up. The maritime security should be under a deputy NSA,” added Shekhar Sinha.
Another important area of maritime security is related to Andaman & Nicobar Islands, which covers more than 1900 km stretch and witnesses heavy traffic due to movement of ships. The Maritime security experts opine that this group of islands can’t be neglected or else it could be the next threat as marine and national assets could get destroyed, given that these islands are scattered and mostly uninhabited, and far away from the mainland.
According to Shakti Sinha, also former chief secretary of Andaman & Nicobar, maritime security needs to be beefed up with more number of boats for interception, advanced tracking system, installation of radars at strategic locations and simultaneously developing the union territory as exclusive economic zone to bring development.
“Since, Andaman & Nicobar are our strategic assets, with deep access to Indian Ocean and China seas, economic development should be a priority, and ensure connectivity through transportation and undersea cable for digital communication. This will greatly ensure coastal security,” he mentioned.