Intercepts by the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) show that the crew of the >suspicious Pakistani boat were negotiating the monetary terms of the mission they were to undertake.
Members of the crew were heard talking to their ‘handlers’ in Karachi, discussing a ‘certain transaction,’ a senior Defence official told The Hindu .
“ Chaar lakh nahi, iss keliye 10 lakh chahiye (Not Rs. 4 lakhs, we want Rs. 10 lakhs for this operation)” one of the crew members was heard saying. The agency suspects this could either be a code or a demand made by the crew for ferrying the ‘illicit cargo.’
Subsequently, after the intercept, a second boat was seen approaching the first one, which was seen ‘disembarking some suspicious objects’ and it later changed its course towards Thailand. The suspicious vessel, however, started moving towards the Indian waters.
Defence sources have told The Hindu that both the Western Naval Command and the West Region Command of the Coast Guard were kept in the loop by the Coast Guard Commander, North West Region. The agencies were also privy to the information transmitted by the NTRO on the movement of the suspicious Pakistani vessel.
“ Not Rs. 4 lakhs, we want Rs. 10 lakhs for this operation ”
The information gains significance in the light of the row that has broken out over the operation carried out by the Coast Guard. The agency is battling allegations that it did not share the information with other agencies and that it resorted to ‘extra judicial’ use of force.
On December 31 morning, after receiving the information, the Western Naval Command got in touch with the Coastguard West Region, but it is still not clear why the Navy did not step in. Asked about it, an official said the Navy perhaps did not consider it serious enough to merit its involvement. However, there was no clarity on why the Navy did not guide the Coast Guard on its operation.
Simultaneously, the Coast Guard West region was also preparing to deploy a ship if the vessel moved into its jurisdiction, The Hindu has learnt.
“We had kept a ship on standby and were coordinating with the headquarters and the North-West region on the movement of the suspicious boat. We later learnt that the boat had started moving ‘northwards’ [towards Pakistan]. An operation was subsequently launched by the North-West region, but the crew set the boat ablaze,” the source said.
While what the boat was carrying is still in the realm of debate and probe, Coast Guard officials believe it was not a simple case of bootlegging or smuggling.
“With law against smugglers not stringent in India, it is rare for smugglers not to surrender. In the past, whenever we have intercepted a smuggling consignment and have asked the crew to surrender, they have obliged,” said another source.
The December 31 night operation, however, has now left the Coast Guard exposed. Sources say though the vessel might well have been carrying contraband, terror outfits would now have learnt its interception capabilities through media reports.
“Prior to the 26/11 attack, we were not equipped to pick intercepts on sea. But after the attack, we have equipment that can transmit the information. These equipments help us to monitor activities on the sea. But now, terrorist will either device ways to evade the surveillance or opt for another route to carry out attacks,” he said.