Updated: February 19, 2015 12:00:52 am
Ever since the Coast Guard encountered a boat which blew up under mysterious circumstances outside Indian waters last December, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has been promising to make the facts of the case public. Now, his promise gains fresh urgency, following Coast Guard DIG B.K. Loshali’s expansive claim that he had ordered the boat to be blown up. Loshali then went into denial, until this newspaper released the video of his address. Now, Parrikar is trying to reduce this to a “disciplinary issue”, but the truth is a matter of national importance. From Parrikar himself, it was learnt that the occupants of the boat offered the Coast Guard no resistance. Nor has any official claim been made that the boat’s crew were engaged in a criminal act. In that case, what was their status and how were they dealt with, over 150 nautical miles outside the limits of Indian law?
The events around the case, too, raise concerns on multiple counts. First, spokespersons for the ruling party, as well as the ministry of defence, sought to harvest political capital from the case by claiming to have averted a 26/11-style attack. The price for political point-scoring, though, is the erosion of India’s credibility on future, well-founded claims it might make on terrorism cases. Then, India’s violation of international law, which permits the use of force outside territorial waters only in self-defence, leaves New Delhi with little room to complain next time Indian fishing crews or vessels are targeted by hostile nations. Then, there’s the question of morale: honest, hard-working military officials don’t, for obvious reasons, like questionable operations which may be exploited for political ends.
Little that the government has said so far has persuasive heft. Parrikar has, among other things, claimed that the Coast Guard maintained a kilometre’s distance from the crew at all times — and at once, that the crew committed suicide when cornered, possibly by consuming cyanide. His ministry says the boat was outrunning the Coast Guard — an arithmetical impossibility given their relative speeds and the distance of the chase. The incident has been under a pall of doubt right from the beginning, and the government’s conjectures have only muddied the waters further. Now, following the ebullient confession of the DIG of the Coast Guard, the credibility of the government’s version has been put in serious doubt. At a time when the government is committed to making progress in the dialogue with Pakistan, when clarity and certainty are vital coin in the diplomatic exchange, such a situation can be an expensive embarrassment.
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