Delhi Round of Indo-Pak Talks - III Sir Creek

21 Nov, 1998    ·   154

Suba Chandran provides a brief overview of the Sir Creek issue between India and Pakistan and details its significance. He also gives an analysis of the motives behind the respective positions of the two countries

Sir Creek is a 60 km long estuary in the  Rann of Kutch. The Rann of Kutch that lies between Gujarat on the Indian side and Sindh on Pakistani side, have many creeks such as Kajhar, Padala, Kori, Sir etc. The significance of the Sir Creek is that it lies between the boundary of India and Pakistan, which has not been defined precisely by both the countries so far. The Indo-Pakistan Western Boundary Tribunal's Award in 1968 did not include Sir Creek, because India and Pakistan had then agreed to exclude, the boundary from the head of Sir Creek up to the mouth of the creek on the Arabian sea. from the scope of the Tribunal .

India's stand and Pakistani response: The present problem between India and Pakistan arises from their differing interpretations of the boundary line dividing the Sir Creek. India maintains that this line should run through the middle of  the Creek. India supports its case by referring to the  Thalweg Doctrine in International Law, according to which the river boundaries between states are divided by the mid channel. Pakistan does not agree because it says the Thalweg Doctrine is only applicable to water bodies that are navigable. Since, the creek, according to Pakistan is not navigable, the Thalweg Doctrine is not applicable to this case. India maintains that, even if the Creek is navigable only during high tides, it is still navigable and in reality fishing boats are using the Sir Creek to go out to the sea.

Pakistan's stand and Indian response: Pakistan maintains consequently that the boundary should run along the eastern bank of the Creek. Pakistan supports its position, with a map appendixed to a  Bombay Government Resolution in 1914. According to Pakistan, the Green Line on the map, that lies on the eastern bank of the Creek, is the historical  boundary line. India considers this line as a riband that could have been drawn on any convenient side of the creek before the demarcation stage, hence rejects this line as only a symbolic representation.

Proposals of India and Pakistan during the talks: India proposed a Seaward approach, viz, until the boundary is formalised in the Sir Creek, India and Pakistan could delimit the maritime boundary from the sea. This could commence from the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and proceed  to a mutually acceptable limit as per the provisions of Technical Aspects of Law of Sea (TALOS). Pakistan rejected this proposal, on the ground that such a proposal could only be considered after the determination of the boundary in the Sir Creek. Besides, Pakistan emphasised that the two issues should not be delinked but should be discussed in one package. Instead, Pakistan proposed, if India is confident and its case was valid, then both India and Pakistan should go for an international arbitration. India rejected Pakistan's proposal for a third party arbitration in line with its general objection to outside mediation..

Why should India and Pakistan fight for swampy land? Does Sir Creek have any strategic significance? What are the motives behind the proposals of both the countries and the rejection of each other's proposals?

Sir Creek assume importance because of the prospect of finding petroleum deposits, and the presence of schools of fish in the continental shelf, off the coast of Rann. Secondly, India wants to solve the issue as early as possible because according to the UN Convention on the Law of Seas, India and Pakistan will have to demarcate the Continental Shelf by the year 2004. Pakistan understands this very well, hence it believes that international pressure is bound to operate on India to meet this deadline, and hence India will ultimately agree for  third party arbitration. Thirdly, the area of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) will change by hundreds of square kilometers, with the change in boundary in Sir Creek. It is this economic aspect of the EEZ that makes the Sir Creek dispute significant.

Why does India refuse international arbitration if it is confident of its case? India fears that if it agrees to mediation  Sir Creek, there will be pressure on India to agree for  international arbitration in solving other issues, like most importantly, Kashmir.