Millennium Post

Navigating Sir Creek

As expected, the two day talks between India and Pakistan, held in New Delhi, over the Sir Creek issue made no headway. The talks were cordial and the two sides even issued a joint statement but this has merely stated that the two sides discussed the land boundary in the Sir Creek area and also the delimitation of the international maritime boundary between India and Pakistan. It has rightly reiterated the desire of the two sides to find an amicable solution through sustained and result-oriented dialogue as these issues should never become a flashpoint for armed conflict between the two countries. But little by way of progress has been seen on an issue that may be the easiest of the India-Pakistan problems to solve if Pakistan shows any kind of flexibility at all on the issue. Another round of talks will presumably be held later in the year there is some concern about how internal events in Pakistan will affect cooperation as there was some chemistry with the present prime minister of Pakistan with some hope of solving these issues. The disagreement between India and Pakistan has its source in an agreement signed between the Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch in 1914, according to which both sides agreed to a boundary line running through the middle of the creek as a border between the two States. The boundary was shown by a green line, which was initially depicted on the eastern banks of the creek. India rightly contends that the green was simply an indicative line, and the boundary line should be defined mid-channel of the creek as has also been subsequently shown in the map of 1925 and as is the international law. This question was settled when boundary pillars were erected in the middle of the creek around that time. But Pakistan has repeatedly claimed that the notion of 'mid-channel' is applicable only to navigable channels and this channel was not a navigable one despite the fact that it can so used, especially at the time of high tide.

The demarcation of the boundary is important, as the border, once defined, can be the basis of the determination of the maritime boundaries. These, in turn, define the exclusive economic zones and the continental shelves, which may be rich in resources, including oil and natural gas, and subject to commercial exploitation. Pakistan is trying to force a definition of its land frontier in the Sir Creek area in such a manner as will give it control over a larger economic zone.  India has even proposed that the maritime boundary be delimited first and then the two nations should proceed landwards, which reasonable suggestion is rejected by Pakistan. India has, therefore, to be very careful in discussing the issue of Sir Creek with Pakistan. Though peace and confidence building measures with Pakistan are necessary, these must neither re-open settled issues nor must they go against India's national interest.
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