Various aspects of Sir Creek issue
THERE are several unsettled issues between India and Pakistan regarding the boundaries shared by the two States.
The whole focus remained on land borders and no attention was given to the maritime boundary, which is of great importance as almost 90% of our commerce and 100% of oil shipments are being done via sea channels.
The main issue is Sir Creek which is geographically present in Kutch. It is situated in the southeast of Pakistan and the west of India (between the borders of Sindh province and the Indian state of Gujarat).
To explain the history of Sir Creek, I would like to mention another famous creek known as Kori Creek, which is a part of Indian Gujarat and is in the east of Sir Creek.
Initially, it was a conflict between the Bombay Government and the Kutch Darbar regarding jurisdictional rights over both creeks before the partition of the sub-continent.
In 1914, a resolution was signed by the mutual understanding between the Kutch Darbar and the Bombay Government known as the Bombay Resolution or Resolution 1192, promulgated on 24 February 1914.
As per this deal, the Bombay government stopped claiming the rights of Kori Creek, and Kutch Darbar relinquished its claim over Sir Creek which means that they settled the issue by having rights over one creek by each party.
In the decision, the border decided between the two governments was the eastern bank of Sir Creek rather than its waters.
Although, the issue was settled well before partition; conflict of Sir Creek jurisdiction became part of other controversial decisions of the partition pact we face today.
Since the partition, India and Pakistan have had differences over the division of this Creek. Pakistan claims that Sir Creek belongs to Pakistan.
At the same time, India believes it should be divided according to the Thalweg Doctrine of international law, according to which the navigable water body can be separated from the mid of its channel.
Just for a moment, if we give some weightage to the Indian argument regarding the navigable aspect of Sir Creek which India claims for a short period, then it should support trade or other economic activities in terms of the transport of merchant vessels.
However, it is not the case as cargo and passenger ships can’t navigate through it even during high tides which means Thalweg Doctrine does not apply to Sir Creek.
Pakistan says that the division was decided in the 1914 Bombay Resolution and strengthens its claim by mentioning paragraph 9 of the Resolution which states: Quote “For a full review of the evidence, therefore, Government End Matchconcluded that Begin Match to source 1 in source list: https://bahria.edu.pk/polaris/author/polarisadmin/the boundary between Cutch and Sindh should be the green line in the accompanying map from the mouth of Sir Creek to the top of Sir Creek, and His Highness the Rao has now expressed his willingness to agree to this compromiseEnd Match”. Unquote.
The boundary decided between the two governments was to be agreed upon by the two predecessor states of India and Pakistan in accordance with the International Law titled “Utipossidetis Juris”, which clearly states that the former boundaries would be the boundaries of the new states.
But, India claims its right over a part of the Creek and says that the line was only a symbol that the Creek is a border between India and Pakistan.
India states that according to paragraph 10 of Resolution 1192, the boundary should be the centre of the Creek.
However, the Bombay Resolution’s author clearly states that the eastern bank of the Creek marks the boundary.
India claims that the Resolution’s limits were established by building pillars, but none were built along Sir Creek’s bank, indicating the boundary layer in the water.
Both states should determine the former boundaries between Sindh and Kutch Darbar to resolve the boundary issue.
India is not ready to accept the involvement of third-party, maybe because India had to face criticism after the Indo-Pakistani western boundary Case Tribunal, in which 10% of Rann of Kutch was given to Pakistan and the rest of 90% to India.
In 2007, progress took place, and officials from both states carried out hydrographic surveys and showed a willingness to resolve the issue through mutual understanding.
Even signed maps were exchanged between the two parties in March 2007. But in November 2008, 10 militants attacked Bombay and ruined all the efforts because India held Pakistan responsible for the bomb blast.
If we talk about the structure and significance of Sir Creek, it is an estuary in the Arabian Sea.
Its total length is 96 km from the top to the mouth of the Creek in the Arabian Sea. This area is rich in natural resources like minerals, oil, gas, petroleum, fisheries and plants.
Pakistan recognizes it as a vital ecosystem and wants to conserve it from anthropogenic activities.
Because increased fishing and other economic activities in the estuary would affect marine life and the natural resources when both nations enter the area.
All these factors are being disregarded by India, which is also unwilling to turn it up to Pakistan.
Due to the tussle between the two states, it is the fishermen of both countries who suffer. As these fishermen are not very skilled or literate, they cannot determine the boundary.
Due to physical absence of boundary, they don’t know how to use navigational tools or locate themselves in the water using longitude and latitude techniques.
Consequently, they enter the boundaries of other states and are arrested by the coast guards.
Furthermore, these waters are the source of smuggling of different cargos between India and Pakistan.
In a nutshell, this issue should be resolved as soon as possible in accordance with international law to protect the ecology and put an end to this protracted conflict.
—The writer is associated with the IR Department, University of Sargodha.