Ravi Nitesh for BeyondHeadlines
At a time when there is already a tragic and disturbed environment in both India and Pakistan as well as on the border that have claimed lives on both sides, that there is also now “Terror Boat” case where it is said that on midnight of 31st December, a Pakistani boat was ‘intercepted’ by Indian coast guards and later it burnt itself and sank along with the four crew members. It was told that it was a Pakistani boat that was probably coming to India with explosives, with their objective of committing ‘something like 26/11 attack’.
I had visited Diu on the west coast few months ago and I met with Indian fishermen who were released by Pakistan before the swearing in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister. I had also met with few fisheries officer. In this case of the ‘terror boat’ story, I look critically based on my own experiences during the visit and with the present news wires in media.
Most of the Indian media houses are in a “hurry” and publish anything without caring about the need to verify the facts or analysis. Also, even if it is news and might be true, it choose to present it in a very provocative manner which at some extent, i think happens at the expense of the media ethics. This can be inferred from the news headlines for this incident:
26/11 Style attack aborted :Blast in boat stokes fear (Economic Times)
Pak ‘terror’ boat intercepted off Gujrat coast (Times of India)
26/11 like terror attack averted, Pak boat intercepted off Gujrat coast (Times of India)
India foils terror plot as Pak boat self explodes after being caught (Zee News)
These above mentioned titles were made by media to link it with objective of spreading terror, without waiting for analysis and more information.
During my visit, I had been told by the fishermen and Indian officers that fishing boats of Pakistan are less advanced than Indian mechanised boats. The reason was not linked with the lagging in technological advancement, but with the requirement. For Pakistani fishing boats, they need to travel less for a good catch of fish, while for Indian boats, they need to go longer in deep sea. Most of the good fish catch is near the Indo-Pak maritime boundary and very often, fishermen of both sides cross this boundary for this catch, and get trapped. Also, consumption and margin over fish market in India is more than in Pakistan and it therefore keeps Indian boats more advanced. An average Indian boat can run faster than any Pakistani boat and can carry as many people as 11-15 crew members, while generally a Pakistani boat is able to carry as 3-7 crew members. It was also told that in case coast guards of India or Pakistan chase even if the advance mechanised boats, the boat cannot run away as the speed of coast guard boats is many times more than these mechanised boats.
Now, in the case of the present ‘terror boat’, It was told that dronier aircraft first intercepted that a boat on slow speed was inside in Indian boundary and then ‘Raj Rattan’ coast guard ship was diverted towards it. If it is the practical sea situation, then how and why the Indian coast guards could not catch the ‘terror boat’? Reply by Indian narrative is that, they fired ‘warning’ shots. It is to be noted that no firing or attack was done by the ‘terror boat’. It was told that the warning shots were fired by coast guards.
Contrary to what some media houses are stating, no clear evidence about ‘carrying explosives’ has been found yet.
It is a fact that few boats roam in the sea carrying diesel cans as they sell diesel to other fishing boats in the sea. This ‘terror boat’ may be the same kind of boat that had may have got blown up with the bullets of coast guard. It is unclear if the boat burnt itself, or by the crew members, or by the bullets of coast guards.
It was told that the boat was intercepted and fired within 15 km of Indo-Pak maritime boundary, it was presented in such a way that it was near west coast of India and it was written as 365 km from Porbandar (India) almost everywhere. Also, being inside few kilometers of maritime boundary happens many times by fishing boats of each other in each other’s boundary.
Even if the boat was a ‘terror boat’ and was carrying explosives and has been intercepted, even the coastal police could be informed to track the same and it could be caught red-handed, with all evidences in hand and also to be ready for any situation, in case the intercepted boat may reach till coast. Media reports that police officials also expressed that they were not informed about any such thing.
Due to sinking of the boat and that no recovery of any dead body could be done, it is again unsure to say about nationality about persons. It could be any body, Indian or Pakistani. Even if Pakistani, then an ordinary and innocent Pakistani fishermen crew, or a small group of smugglers of diesel or even terrorists, but the third one is hard to believe with the available facts while cannot be completely ruled out. Indo-Pak maritime boiundary is still not completely finalised and due to conflicts in deciding borders also, few times boats were caught. There are other reasons too.
Indian Express (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/little-evidence-of-terror-link-may-have-been-petty-smugglers/) reports that Ministry of Defence in its Press Release said that intelligence inputs were received that a fishing boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi was planning some illicit transaction in Arabian sea’. Also, the news reports says that National Technical Research Organisation just intercepted mobile phone traffic involving small time smugglers operating out of the fishing port of Keti Bunder. It was also told that no link with any threat to India or of terrorism was provided. Reports also said that no information to gujrat and Maharastra coastal police were given while they claim that information should be shared to avoid any casualty or failure in case the boat was actually carrying explosives.
IBN news channel in its report (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/coast-guard-patrolling-still-on-area-where-pakistan-terror-boat-sank-under-surveillance/521036-3-238.html) stated that the Coast guard IG, Kuldeep Singh said they positively identified a suspected boat 265 km. south west of Porbandar. He further told that ‘They switched on light for sometime and when we saw that those on board did not look like fishermen, the boat did not respond to out repeated signals but after sometimes they themselves blew up the boat’. I think it is essential that we inquire from the Coast Guard that how a fisherman looks? When I went to meet the fishermen, I personally found it hard to tell them apart. Also, how in the midnight, a coast guard can identify some one on another boat that they were not looking like fishermen?
Times of India in its report describes 10 ‘interesting’ points (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Pak-terror-boat-intercepted-off-Gujarat-coast-What-we-know-so-far-10-interesting-points/articleshow/45731626.cms) where in its first point it tells that ‘…This is an incident that comes a month after sixth anniversary of Mumbai Terror attack’. And the last 10th point only tells ‘ten terrorists involved in 2008 terror attack had reached Mumbai in a boat from Karachi. The attack had left 166 people dead.’
We really don’t know how and why it is linking with such a time scenario? It means that if the incident would happen in March, it could link it again saying after three months of sixth anniversary…, or even can link it with Kargil, Lakhvi etc etc. Also, the last point is no where any information regarding present boat and only written for sensitization or ‘opinion’ making for forced ‘link’ of a reader of this incident with the 26/11.
It is still unclear that what was there in boat. Everybody have their own narratives and probably it will remain so, like in many other blame games India and Pakistan play with each other. It could be and even it could not be. At a point where we see media as mostly irresponsible in covering such an important news, we also see that few media later analysed the news and tried to bring the critical analysis. With the reports like First post (http://www.firstpost.com/india/terror-boat-or-not-all-you-need-to-know-about-pakistan-vessel-that-exploded-2028573.html), Indian Express (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/little-evidence-of-terror-link-may-have-been-petty-smugglers/) and DNA (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-was-it-indeed-a-terror-boat-2049139), some hope re-affirms as they not only tried to look critically and with investigative way of journalism, but they also provided the rules and international protocols of ‘intercepting’ and ‘chasing’ and foreign vessel, that probably violated by Indian coast guards.
It is true that on land borders of India and Pakistan, continuous ceasefire violations are taking place. It was also observed that the frequency of these violations have been increased, however still it is unclear that who initiate it. It was also told that many times, even ministries of both sides don’t know the real situation of who initiated first, as everything happens on ground, on borders. A friend of border area describes that how even without reasons, these firings start sometimes and increases during cricket match and other such events.
It is sad and a reason to protest against the governments that while people in both countries got affected with such incidents indirectly and become involved in jingoism, media only propagates it and everything remains clueless. Peace groups appeal with people to remain calm. These groups also appeal with both the governments to not only stop such things, but also to make a joint inquiry and to public the report. The logic behind is that, both countries only blame each other and their citizens become confuse and start fighting among them, common people and soldiers on both sides lost their lives and huge amount of tax payers money spent over all such conflict management and counter operations, arms and ammunition. As all these are happening with money of common citizens and affecting them too, then it is their right to know the truth behind it and the ways to stop it.
It was also told that Pakistan is doing it in wake of Obama visit to India, Pakistan blames it that India is doing this just to make sensitivity about Pakistan and diverting the attention of ceasefire violations by India. The ministers are also out of patience and rather than talking about solution, are talking about giving a “befitting reply” as if it can make the concrete path of peace. Ministries of foreign affairs are just issuing summons to high commissioners of each other.
Rather than such an approach of postponing the resolution, it is a time when governments must understand that ‘business of conflict’ should be stopped and solutions and negotiations must take place. For the governments of both sides, it will also be a way to prove their capability that they are able to do what their previous governments could not.