The dramatic photograph of a fishing boat ablaze on water and the assertions by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) that it was an “explosives-laden” vessel from Pakistan that blew itself up on being intercepted, has provided some comfort that a force guarding the country’s coastline was able to avert a 26/11-type horror on New Year’s-eve with a timely chase across the Arabian Sea. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has commended the Coast Guard for a job well done. Pakistan has denied the boat had anything to do with it. Particularly as vital questions of foreign relations are involved, the MoD would do well to shed more light on what happened off the Gujarat coast that night. So far, the version provided has left several questions unanswered. Given the Coast Guard’s suspicion that this was a boat carrying terrorists from Karachi, why was the Navy not involved in the incident, at least in a supporting role? If there were intercepts of communication between the boat and handlers in Pakistan, surely the Coast Guard needed to mobilise more help. It should have at least called out more of its own vessels. The blaze is said to have started when the crew went below deck and set the boat on fire after the Coast Guard caught up with it. There was also an explosion, according to a statement put out by the MoD. An expert examination of the photograph provided would confirm whether there was a blast. A statement that the four-member crew aroused suspicion because they were not dressed like fishermen is also worrying, indicating as it does the Coast Guard’s belief that clothes are a good indication of a person’s occupation and intentions.
On top of it all is the opaqueness on locations, 365 km west-southwest off Porbandar providing only a general direction and an assurance that it was within the Coast Guard’s 200 nautical mile jurisdiction. A full-fledged investigation into the incident would not be out of place. With India-Pakistan relations not yet out of the shadow of the 26/11 attack, an allegation that a boat loaded with explosives that set off from near Karachi tried to get close to the Indian coast is a serious matter. Those who make the allegation must be able to provide better grounds for their suspicion than the single input that a boat was set to make an “illicit transaction”. After all, smugglers abound in those waters. In the last six years, New Delhi has built up much international support in the diplomatic battle against India-directed terrorism emanating from Pakistan. A wrong call can erode that support, just as the right one can strengthen its hands. This is why it is very important to provide adequate information to support the account of the incident.