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Coast Guard: Damned if he does, Damned if he doesn’t

We all know about the Pakistani “terror” boat which was intercepted by the Coast Guard. In ordinary circumstances, this would be termed a successful operation due to the following reasons:

1. Last major terror strike in India was via a Pakistani boat.
2. Indian Intelligence was alert enough to pick up inputs about another Pakistani boat which may indulge in some “illicit transaction”.
3. This input was passed on to Coast Guard in a timely manner.
4. The Coast Guard successfully prevented this Pakistani boat from doing any “illicit transaction” whatever that might have been.

Still, some people are raising questions over the entire operation. While some may be valid, like which @SaikatDatta raised  via this piece , some are plain slander, like ones raised by @PraveenSwami, which I dealt with in a previous piece.

Praveen Swami later went to the extent of treating information from Pakistani sources as Gospel truth. This was very much like asking a mother her version of how her kid is innocent. It shouldn’t be surprising that in such a situation, the Coast Guard team may feel demoralized:

// in @SaikatDatta’s piece, where he raises four points, the first point is purely procedural, where he argues that all the concerned authorities weren’t informed in time. This appears a bit like sticking too much to procedures in what could be an emergency situation, which is reflected well in the following tweet by NDTV defense beat correspondent Nitin Gokhale:

Mr. Datta’s second point is that NTRO claims they intercepted a “Thuraya satellite phone” which seems odd since there has been no “Thuraya intercept since 2008 because Pakistan knows it can be easily intercepted”.

This again is a bit technical, but valid, but can be rebutted if we assume the Pakistani people involved in this boat mission, were novices. Also, I don’t know if petty smugglers use Satellite phones.

His third point is questioning the behavior of the Pakistani boat, which chose to flee, instead of fighting the Coast Guard. This is indeed a mystery, since a “Terror” boat, would probably consider it a minor victory, if it at least took down a Coast Guard ship.

Maybe it didn’t have the ammunition needed, and was transporting some other dangerous weapons, but I am not a weapons expert so this point seems fair. However, it is very well possible that those on boats were just “intermediaries” who were to hand over weapons and explosives to others, who could have taken this terror mission forward.

His last point is that the fire on the boat appears to be an Oil fire, not an explosives fire, from the pictures we have. This maybe a case of trying to read too much from just a few pictures, but this theory could rule out that the Coast Guard “destroyed” the boat (as per Swami’s earlier claims), because the boat would’ve been blown to pieces.

Speaking of Swami, today morning, he said, referring to the Coast Guard’s version that this story gives away the secrets. His main basis for saying this is:

I don’t know why a faster Coast Guard can’t slow down its pace to trail a slower boat. Can’t imagine why it’s “arithmetically impossible”. If they Coast Guard suspected it to be a terror boat on suicide mission, will it not make sense to keep a distance from the boat, and thus slow down for one’s own safety?

Put yourself in the place of the Coast Guard. You have no idea what the boat is up to, besides knowing that it is supposed to carry out “illicit transaction” which could range from Kasab to Smuggling. Given this situation, isn’t it the best course of action is to observe the boat from a distance, to ascertain what’s going on before taking any action?

The Coast Guard has also said that “We did not know if they had weapons. Even one person had been hit, that would have damaged the morale of our men”. Seems fair to me, but Swami thinks this gave it away!

Swami also says it’s unclear how “one might know people set their own boat on fire” from a distance of 2 nautical miles. This is indeed funny coming from the author who quoted a Mr. Jadeja as saying “a fire at night would be visible many nautical miles away” (read my earlier piece to find out why it’s funny).

Jokes apart, a Coast Guard ship has Searchlights, possibly nightvision binoculars, and other such long distance viewing equipment. This should be enough to see what’s happening 2 nautical miles away. Also, the Coast Guard can easily infer that this boat had set itself on fire, since the Guard ship itself didn’t fire anything at the boat, and there was no other ship nearby capable of doing this.

I also want to look at this entire episode in a different way.

Suppose this entire thing happened on hard ground, involving normal cops and a normal suspected person. Cops in their car spot a suspect car which as per their inputs will do something illegal. Cops have no idea what weapons this car has.

Ideal way would be trail it, and warn it to stop? Or just shoot at it? I think the Coast Guard did the former. And for this I think the Coast Guard did its job pretty well, under the circumstance. Unwarranted criticism is uncalled for. And giving advice in hindsight is easy for those who have never faced a gun in the field!

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