Updated: February 18, 2015 10:09:57 pm
For the second time in less than two months, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has had to promise to tell the truth about the “suspect fishing boat” from Pakistan destroyed in the Arabian Sea on New Year’s eve where it planned “some illicit transaction”.
On January 5, in response to a report in The Indian Express that quoted naval and intelligence sources casting doubts on the Coast Guard version, Parrikar said: “The government will release all analysis on the suspected Pakistani boat in 3-4 days.”
He had to make that promise again on Wednesday, this time after The Indian Express put out a videotape of Coast Guard Deputy Inspector General B K Loshali saying he had ordered the boat blown out of the water.
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Loshali’s claim contradicts the government’s version that the boat’s crew blew themselves up when confronted by the Coast Guard – the Ministry of Defence, in a statement on January 2, said “the crew hid themselves in below deck compartment and set the boat on fire, which resulted in explosion and major fire on the boat”.
The government must make the evidence public because the mounting controversy has consequences for India’s credibility.
For one, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar may face sharp questions about the government’s version when he visits Islamabad to revive talks with Pakistan. Moreover, if there has been violation of international law, it will make it that much harder for New Delhi to complain when Pakistan’s navy next fires on its fishing fleet. India’s claims in future terrorism cases may also receive skeptical hearing in world capitols.
Sadly, little of Parrikar’s account so far has stood up against the mounting waves of questions. He asserted in one television interview that the Coast Guard maintained a kilometre’s distance from the boat – and yet, minutes later, insisted the suspect crew had been cornered. He contradicted himself on whether or not the government thought there were explosives on board.
He even speculated that the crew might have killed themselves by consuming cyanide as they set the boat on fire – an account for which no basis has so far been offered.
No evidence has been made available, either to show that the men were terrorists. The National Technical Research Organisation says it has tapes – but Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing experts say the conversations have nothing to do with terrorism. Parrikar says he cannot disclose this part of the evidence on national security grounds.
Loshali might, as some BJP spokespersons argue, have been lying. But in that case, the government needs to explain why a fantasist is holding a key national security position, with power over life and death. Alternately, the Coast Guard may have hidden the truth from the Defence Minister.
For hard-working officers, who have long watched as a minority of careerists win promotions and honours for fabricating stories which happen to suit politicians, these questions have a special significance. In past decades, there have been several instances where officials faked operations which were hailed by politicians – undermining the armed forces’ integrity and morale.
Before he took office as National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval had stated that the Army leadership had failed to act on a wealth of intelligence on the looming Pakistani attack on Kargil. Yet, there’s been no move towards accountability.
Instead, the Ministry of Defence has gone to the Supreme Court to challenge an order by the Armed Forces Tribunal, slamming the Ministry for falsifying battle records to shield top commanders, while making their subordinates scapegoats.
Brigadier Devinder Singh, a highly-decorated war hero whose treatment by the Army and Ministry of Defence led the tribunal to issue its orders, insists “it is shamming that hurts the morale of the armed forces, not its exposure”.
He said: “I don’t want to comment on the particulars of this controversy, because I don’t know the facts. But I do know that officers and men in my brigade, who gave their all in Kargil, were deeply pained by cases where undeserving people walked away with medals.”
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