Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar today said “circumstantial evidence” indicates that the Pakistani boat, that was intercepted by Indian Coast Guard on New Year’s night, had suspected terror links.
Dismissing claims that the occupants of boat were smugglers, the Minister said he would classify them as “suspected or possible terrorists” since they had committed suicide after being intercepted and added that they were in touch with Pakistani maritime officials, “army and international contacts”.
He said the boat was neither in a fishing area nor on any busy route preferred by smugglers to sneak in and that their actions indicate that they were there for “some other kind of activity. We are not sure what is that other kind”.
His remarks came as questions were being raised on the veracity of claims that a 2008 Mumbai attack-style operation had been foiled. There were also reports claiming that the boat was involved in smuggling.
The Congress has asked the government to come clean on the matter leading to a slugfest with the ruling BJP which accused the former of providing “ammunition to Pakistan” and speaking their language besides playing “petty politics” on terror.
Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a Defence Ministry event, Parrikar said, “There are speculations but I don’t intend to be part of speculations except saying one very important aspect that the location (where the boat was found) is not a normal route for fishing boat”.
He said that there were no other boats in the vicinity and hence it was not a fishing area.
Parrikar added that even smugglers of gold, drugs and other contraband normally take a busy route since it is easy to hide and mingle with other boats.
The Defence Minister said the boat was in an isolated location when spotted by surveillance aircraft which tracked it for about 12 hours.
“It does not indicate any type of smuggling activity but some other kind of activity. We are not sure what is that other kind,” he said.
The Minister underlined that the suicidal act of setting the boat on fire showed that they were “committed” and indicated suspected terror link.
“…circumstantial evidence indicates what I am saying,” he said.
The Defence Ministry, in a press release, had said that the occupants went down from the deck and set the boat on fire which led to its sinking.
Ruling out the possibility of the occupants being smugglers, Parrikar said, “Smugglers don’t keep in touch with Pakistani maritime agency, or their army or international contacts”.
He said intercepted satellite communication showed they were interacting about passing of cargo and talking about families of some of the boat members.
“A normal boat, even carrying some drugs, can throw away their drugs and surrender. No one is going to be killing himself unless you are motivated enough to do that”.
He said the actions of the boat men backs what he has said.
“Not speculating that it had explosives but it had some activity in mind that does not fit the description of smuggling boat. Which smuggler would commit suicide? That much I can say,” Parrikar said.
The Minister complimented the Coast Guard saying they did the right job at the right time.
“They got surveillance done on the boat for almost 12-14 hours, intercepted it as soon as possible and stopped it after a chase,” he said.
Parrikar underlined that operating procedures for Coast Guard are clear.
“It was dark and it was laden with explosives… which appears to be at least partly correct. It could have induced injuries and damage to coast guard,” he said.
Asked about the presence of a second boat, he said it was in Pakistani Exclusive Economic Zone.
Parrikar pointed out that intelligence inputs were very clear even about the exact position of the boat.
Meanwhile, asked about ceasefire violations, he said there is an attempt to push “unwanted elements” across the border and the firing is a cover for them.
He said India is trying to ensure that terrorism does not grow or penetrate in its territory.