Ok. so despite his denial, one thing's pretty clear. DIG BK Loshali of the Coast Guard definitely did boast about how they had 'blown the boat' that had been intercepted and sunk off the coast of India.
"I hope you remember 31 December. We blew Pakistan off. We have blown them off. I was there in Gandhinagar and I had said that night blow the boat off. We don't want to serve them biriyani," the video shows Loshali saying.
Unlike other leaked videos this isn't a cellphone camera that was sneaked into the event but seems to be an official recording. And despite his and the Coast Guard's denial, more people are likely to believe the footage than him presently. Loshali's now reportedly also been served with a show cause notice asking him to explain his statement that was at odds with the government's line of the matter.
Meanwhile Pakistan's defence minister Khawaja Asif said, "It (India) not only imposed baseless and false allegations on Pakistan like in the case of Samjhauta Express, but was involved in treacherously killing four innocent lives on board. India has once again proved to be heinous in its face, designs and urge for peace."
But Loshali's statements raise some rather inconvenient questions about the entire incident:
Was Loshali basically shooting his mouth off?
Absolutely. Despite a rather contrite statement today which clarified that he was not in the operational loop when the suspicious fishing vessel was sunk, Loshali is clearly heard in the video released by the Coast Guard saying that he ordered the boat to be 'blown off'.
Loshali and other analysts have since pointed out that he could not be the man in charge of the operation since he is the chief of staff of the region and isn't even in charge of operations.
As Loshali pointed out, other officials could have handled the operation and he was on a need to know basis. It is highly unlikely that someone called the Deputy Inspector General in Gandhinagar and ordered them to 'blow off' anything in such a major operation.
So why is this so controversial?
Because Loshali is a senior enough official to know the series of events that took place on the night of 31 December. Doubts have been raised about the operation in which the fishing vessel was chased by the Coast Guard, and as per the official version, the occupants of the boat set themselves and the vessel on fire to prevent being taken into custody.
This also wouldn't be the first time that inconvenient questions have been raised about the incident. Questions have been raised about whether the Coast Guard resorted to disproportionate force to deal with a vessel that did little beyond not stopping when directed to. Even as per official statements so far, there was no retaliation from the vessel nor has there been any evidence of explosives found from the site of the incident.
Unnamed government officials have also claimed it has intercepts proving that those on the boat were in touch with a person believed to be from the Pakistan Army, through a middleman. Given the alleged involvement of the Pakistan Army in the November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, any boat would be deemed suspicious if there are adequate intelligence inputs to prove a link with the defence force. However, the government hasn't put forward any evidence to indicate this in the public space despite claiming to have clinching evidence.
Should the government come clean?
Ideally, yes. For a government that is attempting to rebuild ties with Pakistan with steps like cricket diplomacy and a potential visit from its foreign secretary, nothing would help quite like a mea culpa. It would also perhaps put the onus on Pakistan to prove the identity of those on the vessel, something that it has also shied away from doing so far even while seeking a transparent probe.
Attempting to enforce national security isn't a crime and the Coast Guard is well within its jurisdiction to engage with any suspicious vessel and use force when necessary. However, if it has used excessive force without adequate explanation it is a chance for it to evaluate its own procedures and ensure such incidents don't have greater repercussions the next time round. The government had earlier said it would reveal details of the operation in due time. There's nothing like the present in this case.
The government would be well within its right to not disclose operational details given it involves national security. But then it needs to ensure that officers like Loshali understand the importance of an official gag. In all probability, it won't end with a show cause notice and DIG Loshali will be getting his marching orders to a remote posting or worse. Given his indiscretion, it wouldn't be entirely inappropriate.
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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2015 09:08:56 IST