Thursday, 3 March 2011

India's navy chief comments on Sir Creek dispute with Pakistan

Sir Creek with Pakistan's 'Green Line' and India's 'Red Line'
While territorial tensions between India and Pakistan tend to centre around Kashmir, the Indian navy chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma raised another important dispute on Tuesday 1st March, when he brought up Sir Creek.

“Really speaking, I cannot say it is doable because it is a question of both sides willing to follow a certain line of action. As far as Sir Creek is concerned, there are issues which have to be addressed by both the governments,” Verma told reporters on the sidelines of a naval function in New Delhi.

He was asked for his views on India's chief hydrographer, Vice Admiral BR Rao's recent comments on Sir Creek being an 'easily doable' dispute between India and Pakistan.

Rao had last week acknowledged former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's statement in 2007 that the issue could be settled in 10 minutes.

Sir Creek is a 60 mile strip of water in the Rann of Kutch marshlands. The creek, which opens up into the Arabian Sea, divides the Indian state of Gujarat from the Pakistani province of Sindh. Where exactly in the creek the border lies has been disputed for decades.

Ownership of the creek has been an issue since the two South Asian neighbours gained independence in 1947. Pakistan claims the entire creek, basing its argument on the 'Bombay Government Resolution of 1914' signed by the then Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch. The resolution, which demarcated the boundaries between the two territories, included the creek as part of Sindh in a map appendix.

India, however, prefers a mid-channel boundary, based on the fact that mid-channel pillars were installed in 1924. The mid-channel position was also depicted on a 1925 map. India argues the boundary to be the 'thalweg' of the creek, which is generally understood to be the middle of the chief navigable channel, or the middle of the deepest part of the creek.

The use of the thalweg doctrine in international law has been varied and has caused considerable difficulties in application; it is not always clear, for example, whether the thalweg is dynamic, meaning the border changes as the river course changes over time, or if it is set.

Pakistan disputes the use of the thalweg principle as it says it is only applicable to bodies of water which are navigable. India argues that at high tide the creek is navigable and that, for example, fishing trawlers use it to go out to sea. The main reason for Pakistan disputing the use of the thalweg is that the creek has changed its course considerably since 1925 and if the thalweg was maintained, Pakistan would lose a considerable amount of territory that has historically been considered part of Sindh.

EEZ implications of Sir Creek
While this would be a political blow, the effect it could have on Pakistan's land-sea terminus point, and therefore on its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) would be considerable. It is believed that the region is rich in oil and gas, and so control of the creek could pay economic dividends for the victorious side.

Sir Creek has twice sparked clashes, first as an important pre-cursor to the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War over Kashmir, and secondly in 1999, when the Indian Air Force shot down a Pakistani surveillance aircraft which India argued had strayed into its airspace. This incident took place just a month after the Kargil War: clearly the fate of Sir Creek is tied to that of Kashmir.

Since 1969, there have been eight rounds of talks between the two sides, but without breakthrough. Pakistan has proposed sending the dispute to international arbitration, but India maintains that it is a bilateral dispute that does not require third-party intervention.

The issue of Sir Creek is often pushed to the side in the face of other, more pressing concerns between India and Pakistan. While it is therefore good that Admiral Verma raised the issue publically, the fact that he believe that it cannot be resolved suggests the situation is not likely to change for the foreseeable future.

Sources: Zee News, Sify News, Islamabad Policy Research Institute

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.

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