South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

New twist in terror boat episode
S M Hali

Pakistan has been requesting for the reports of the Indian investigation and the trial of the main perpetrators of the Samjhota Express crime but the Indians have not respondeda

The alleged Pakistani terror boat drama, which unfolded on New Year’s Eve, has taken a new twist in the shape of an exposé, which has overturned Indian aspersions blaming Pakistan. Readers may recall that the Indian government had claimed that it had foiled another 26/11-type attack, alleging that Pakistani terrorists had been apprehended by the Indian Coast Guard on the high seas and, after a long chase, when warning shots had been fired, the ‘terrorists’ had blown themselves up.
Retired Indian naval personnel and knowledgeable opinion makers, analysing the incident, had pointed out that the claim that Indian Coast Guard vessels had chased the “terror boat” for hours was improbable. They argued that the alleged terror boat, apparently a fishing boat according to Indian television videos, was no match for the high-speed coast guard ships. Secondly, the flames being shown on the ill-fated boat resembled a fuel fire rather than detonation caused by explosives. The Indian Coast Guard had claimed that due to inclement weather, no survivors of the terror boat could be rescued nor wreckage recovered. Marine specialists contradicted the statement because the weather forecast for a whole fortnight depicted fair weather. Some analysts were curious as to how a Times Now television crew was on board the coast guard vessel to exclusively film the entire grisly episode and air it, giving the impression that it was a choreographed event. Several news reports emerged later that questioned the official claim and hinted it could have been a case of smuggling, not terrorism.
The Pakistani Foreign Office (FO) had reacted calmly to the allegations and carried out its own investigations, which revealed that no Pakistani vessel was either missing or had left its ports on the purported dates. Rejecting these claims, the FO asked the Indians to reinvestigate the episode.
The matter would have died down but for the revelation by Deputy Inspector General (DIG) B K Loshali, also chief of staff (northwest region), coast guard, Gandhinagar, at a gathering of officials from the coast guard and Larsen and Toubro during the launch of the coast guard interceptor boat ICGS C-421. Loshali’s startling disclosure caused a furor: “Let me tell you,” he said, “I hope you remember December 31 night. We blew off that Pakistan...We have blown them off...I was there at Gandhinagar and I told at night, blow the boat off. We do not want to serve them biryani.”
This exposé totally contradicted Kuldip Singh Sheoran, commander of the Indian Coast Guard (northwest), Gandhinagar’s statement on January 3 to The Indian Express: “After we had covered them from the air and the sea, the suspects blew up the boat...suddenly a ball of fire rose into the air and the boat was aflame.”
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, rejecting Loshali’s claim, has stated that his ministry stands by its statement of early January that the boat had been destroyed by the men on board. Parikkar said he would discipline the officer if an inquiry proved he had made the remarks. Loshali later issued a rejoinder that rejected the media report, terming it as “not factual” and denied making any such claim although numerous Indian television news channels replayed the video in which the coast guard DIG had made the claim.
Coincidentally, the revelation regarding the alleged Pakistani terror boat incident comes on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the Samjhota Express carnage. Readers may recall that in the early hours of February 19, 2007, 68 people (mostly Pakistani civilians and a few Indian military personnel guarding the train) were killed and scores more injured in a terrorist attack on the Delhi-Attari train, known as the Samjhota Express. Officials found evidence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and flammable material, including three unexploded IEDs. The Indian National Investigation Agency has concluded that the blasts were masterminded by Swami Aseemanand, a Hindu religious leader belonging to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), while the explosive material was provided by Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit, the alleged culprit behind the Malegaon bomb blasts of 2008.
Pakistan has been requesting for the reports of the Indian investigation and the trial of the main perpetrators of the heinous crime but the Indians have not responded. Speaking about the Samjhota Express incident, Pakistan FO Spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said in a press briefing that India had not shared investigation reports with Pakistan, adding that Pakistan has once again asked the Indian authorities to share the probe reports with the Pakistani authorities.
India will have to make a concerted effort to clear doubts about various conspiracy claims. Both Pakistan and India are now inclined to renew the dialogue process to bring peace but, unless such irritants like the Samjhota Express, the Mumbai terror attacks issue and now the terror boat are resolved at an early date, there will be little progress.