His story seems to have more holes than a sieve, casting doubts on the veracity of his narration of the events that now seem linked to the fateful Pathankot attack. Punjab SP Salwinder Singh is certainly enjoying his much more than 15 minutes of fame with the media hanging on to every word of his, howsoever improbable many of his statements seem. The SP, who informed his superiors of the abduction and subsequent release by terrorists, now appears a crucial link in the Pathankot episode. So, it is odd that he is allowed to wander about at will narrating his story to all and sundry. Surely, such a witness should have been in custody and interrogated. The fact that he is able to talk to the media and create more confusion is indicative of the lack of professionalism in the manner in which such incidents are handled.
While there is every reason to keep the public informed, there is no call for a witness, who could well be in danger, to be allowed to meet everyone he chooses. His penchant to change his stories, often at the prompting of the media, now makes it more difficult to arrive at the truth of what actually happened during the hours the terrorists were with Mr Singh and his cook and friend. If anything, Mr Singh’s accounts have cast more suspicion on the involvement of the Punjab police or even security forces in drug smuggling or other illegal activity. The management of public perception and suitable reassurances form a part of the strategy in dealing with terror. Unfortunately, here the impression being conveyed is that of being caught flat-footed and then compounding the confusion by putting out premature statements in the press.
During the Mumbai attacks, some of the authorities concerned were quick to hold press conferences and issue contradictory statements. While 24/7 television is a part of life now, when dealing with highly sensitive operations, discretion is often the better part of valour. The National Investigation Agency’s decision to bring Mr Singh to Delhi in a day or two comes far too late. While the issue is being investigated, it doesn’t help for the security forces to be seen as incompetent and for the political leaders to appear confused. Silence is not always a good policy, but calibrated and considered responses are far better than the sort of free-for-all that we have seen so far.