SIR CREEK DISPUTE
Published by: Deeptanshu Chandak
SIR CREEK DISPUTE
Sir Creek Dispute is one of the eight long standing border disputes between India and Pakistan but unlike the famous issues of up North, this Dispute between Kutch and Sindh has taken a back seat owing mostly to the more prominent issue of the Siachen glacier confrontations. The Sir Creek or previously known as the “Ban Ganga” is the Inhabitable Marshland of the Indus River Delta. It is a 96 km long stretch of land between south Pakistan and west India just above the Arabian Sea and has been a matter of dispute of boundary since the ties of pre independence India.
A Brief History
A creek is a narrow sheltered waterway and the Sir Creek is an inlet to the Arabian Sea in the Indus river delta system. This narrow creek formulates the border between the Rann of Kutch of the state of Gujarat in India and the Sindh province in present Pakistan. The dispute of ownership of these marshlands of Sir Creek has been a disputed issue since as early as 1908, when both the Governments of Singh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch claimed the land, when the claims over a pile of firewood lying on the banks of the creek divided the two rulers. The creek, even after the conflict between the two presidencies remained rather free and issue free till the conflicts of 1965 when both the side heavily weaponized the borders on their sides and the issue of interpretation of the maritime borders arose.
What is the Dispute?
The issue of the Creek arose first in 1908 when it became a matter of dispute between the province of Sindh and the Rao Maharaj of Kutch while the whole area was under the jurisdiction of the Bombay Presidency of British India. The Bombay presidency in 1911 conducted a survey to deliver a verdict in 1914 in the Sindh Government Resolution of 1914. In paragraph 9 of its verdict, it says that the creek belongs to the province of Sindh, demarking the boundary at the Green Line but in the next paragraph it denotes that the creek is navigable through a major part of the year in high tide and the resolution needs the taken in the sense that both the presidencies were then a part of British India and it was not made up for demarcation between countries.
A principal known as Thalweg principal is used to guide the boundaries in international waters and is an accepted international law. The principal states that the boundary of any water body between two countries is at the median line of both the countries and this water way being a navigable marshland should have a border at the median line through erected border poles, argues India. Furthermore, the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea supports India’s position in the dispute. Also, India furnishes and upholds a government, man made in 1925, showing the boundary to be mid channel.
To worsen the issue the channel has drastically changed its course in the last 100 years and application of the Thalweg principal would lead to Pakistan losing a major portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone which was promised as a part of Sindh in the 1914 dispute resolution. Pakistan wants to solve the issue by the means of International Arbitration by involvement of a third neutral party, which is denied by India based on the Simla Agreement made between the Indian and Pakistani Governments on 2nd July 1972, remaining firmly on its stance to not involve third parties on bilateral issues.
The stance by Pakistan to involve third parties seems contradictory, since it does not take into account the stand of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. To encompass the reality the relations of India and Pakistan since their Independence marked by war, constant hostility at the borders, tension in its capital divergent & aggressive defense and foreign policies have made the issue far more complex. The whole of area of the Rann was free for movement until when the north of the Rann was under the control of Pakistan, when India occupied a portion to make a part of modern day Rajasthan and Gujarat, and further worsening the dispute, and thus, again aggravated the issue post the 1965 war.
The Importance of the Creek
The whole of creek may not be a post of military significance like the Siachen Glacier but it does provide significant monetary gains to the country holding the marshlands, and thus, the exclusive economic zone. The issue is not just about 96 kms of border but each kilometer means a few square kilometers of EEZ and about 370 kms of EEZ, which is substantial, owing to the economic importance of the creek.
The creek is an area of important fishing, it provides a significant amount of fishes to the country so much so that it has been a major issue regarding the lives of fishermen as both countries are constantly detaining fishermen of the other country leading to detriment to their livelihood as they return through the Wagah Border but their boats are never returned. Additionally the creek has sizeable amounts of oil and gas reserves which bear an enormous gain in the energy bearing of both the countries.
Aggravations along the Creek
On 10 August 1999, a Breguet Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft of the Pakistan Naval Air Arm was shot down by a MiG 21 fighter of the Indian Air Force over the Rann of Kutch, on the border between India and Pakistan, for failure to comply with protocols and acting ‘hostile’. The episode took place just a month after the Kargil War, aggravating already tense relations between the two countries.
After this incident, Pakistan deployed SAMs in the area. In the aftermath of the event, an Indian helicopter was carrying a journalist to the crash site in the disputed area and a Surface to Air Missile was launched on it, which narrowly missed it.
Progress and the Hinderances
There have been talks to resolve the issue of Sir Creek. It started proactively in 1989 and continued till the advent of the Kargil dispute, when they were halted for the interim, leading to escalation in the area. The same were again resumed and there have been a total of 12 diplomatic dialogues between the States, leading to formations of committees to find a solution to the issue, but to no avail. The talks happened till as soon as 2012 to resolve the issue, but any real progress has remained halted and no further progress with the Sir Creek Dispute as a topic has been held.
The harsh reality is that the difference of opinion is not so huge that it is unsolvable but the elephant in the room, the Kashmir dispute, renders as a prominent hurdle to any real progress in the issue. The issue has managed to undermine all other Indo-Pakistan issues, derailing any negotiation. The nuclearisation of the sub-continent, the conflicts of Kargil, the military overtake in October, 1999, the regular cross border shelling and the constant killings in the valley managed to spoil and compromise any chances on a resolve. This has led to high tensions between Delhi and Islamabad. Thus unfortunately a solvable issue remains unsolved, as another sore thumb in the harsh bumpy history of the neighbours.