New Delhi: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said that those on board the Pakistani vessel which blew up after being intercepted off the Gujarat coast last week were "in touch with the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani establishment."
Twice on Monday, the Defence Minister also asserted that they were "suspected terrorists" not smugglers. "I can assure you that those on the boat were not smugglers. The boat was blown up and only people who are motivated and trained could commit suicide," he said.
He said smugglers would not "keep in touch with the maritime Pakistani agency or the maritime security of Pakistan or their army or international contacts."
He did not elaborate, only saying that the government would release "all evidence" in the next few days once intelligence agencies completed their assessment.
The minister's comments to reporters come amid unanswered questions leading to speculation that the vessel was a fishing boat or even one that was carrying smugglers with contraband goods and not one being used by terrorists. "I will not be a part of speculation," Mr Parrikar said firmly, dismissing such reports.
"A normal boat even carrying drugs can surrender," the minister said, adding that the Indian Coast Guard had "done the right job at the right time based on intelligence inputs."
He said the vessel had been under air surveillance for more than 12 to 14 hours before it was intercepted, adding, "The location was not the normal sea route for fishing boats; even the smugglers normally take the busy route so that they can mingle with boats. This was an isolated location."
Mr Parrikar said on Monday that "there was a second boat but that was in Pakistani water."
The Indian Coast Guard has said that on December 31, the Pakistani boat blew itself up about 365 km off the coast of Gujarat's Porbandar after many warnings that it ignored and a "hot pursuit."
Intelligence agencies had reportedly picked up phone intercepts from the boat near Karachi about "expensive cargo" to be delivered near India. Another intercept revealed that those who were to receive the cargo "had been paid and were ready."
The Coast Guard said suspicions were raised about the identity of the crew as they did not look like fishermen and carried no nets. The maritime law enforcement agency has emphasised that it followed standard operating procedure while intercepting the boat.