Rann of Kutch : Pakistan's Ominous Designs

25 Aug, 1999    ·   253

Wg Cdr N.K. Pant (Retd) effectively dismantles Pakistan's claim that India shot down the plane which was in Pakistan territory

Pakistan 's Atlantique maritime reconnaissance aircraft which is capable of firing anti-ship Exocet missiles, was the second aircraft shot down over Indian territory in the last three years, whilst on a covert espionage mission. In the previous case, at he beginning of January, 1997, Islamabad did not make any hue and cry to attract international attention since it did not involve any loss of life. Moreover, it was an inexpensive remotely piloted plane on a similar probing mission of the Indian defence along the Kutch border.



It is intriguing why Pakistan is making such strenuous efforts to gather vital strategic and tactical information on this region. Obviously, it has some aggressive designs in the Rann of Kutch . The French built Atlantique, four of which were acquired in the late 1970s, can fly at about 700 km per hour at an altitude of 33,000 ft, and has an operational range of 9000 km. They were later augmented by a fleet of 3 modern PC-3 Orions from the US .



Pakistan has tried to mislead world by insisting that the Atlantique was on a routine training flight with 16 naval personnel on board over its own air space. Is there any country in the world which conducts 'routine flight training' on the borders of a neighbouring State with which it has just fought an undeclared war? Flying training exercises are normally conducted over a safe designated area in the hinterland and not along highly tense borders.



At the time of the incident the Atlantique was flying over the Mianmari creek which is some ten kilometers east of the disputed Sir Creek; this was part of the Pakistani game plan to survey the Rann of Kutch and ascertain the navigability of its tidal creeks. This information could have been used to create a new Kargil-like situation in Kutch to highlight the Sir Creek boundary dispute by launching a covert sea borne intrusion. Although the Sir Creek is not yet a 'core issue' for Pakistan, the adjoining Continental Shelf comprises an exploitable shallow sea bed possessing oil and natural gas, hence this territorial dispute can hot up to dangerous proportions.



Sir Creek is a approximate 100 kilometers long stream in the Kutch marshes  separating the Indian State of Gujarat from Sindh. A dispute arose in the early years of the twentieth century between the princely state of Kutch and the province of Sindh which then formed part of British India . The award of 1914 pronounced by the British rulers took note of the principle of having the mid stream point dividing line as the boundary. But they took the stand that the creek being non-navigable the boundary could not be depicted in this way. But the fact of the matter is that the creek is perfectly navigable though its depth varies with the tides.



International maritime law allows coastal nations to exercise sovereignty over its territorial waters upto 12 nautical miles. It also permits jurisdiction over resources, scientific research  and environment protection within an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 nautical miles offshore. Clinching a just agreement on the Sir Creek would provide India access to approximately 3000 squre kilometres  of the continental shelf for economic exploitation. Besides, its security would not be undermined.



The very fact that Atlantique was equipped with a Global Positioning system (GPS), which indicates the actual position of the aircraft in the air, shows that it could not have accidentally strayed across the Indian side of the border. The Frontier Post, Pakistan 's leading newspaper has contradicted Islamabad 's position. In an editorial it said– "As a matter of fact, there have been some questions as to why the Pakistani aircraft was flying so terribly close to the Indian territorial waters. Given the current tension between the two countries care should have been exercised in allowing an aircraft to fly so close to the other's borders."



India will have to be on guard, as there is every likelihood that Pakistan will try to avenge the downing of the Atlantique, despite the American warning to desist from this temptation. Now that New Delhi is aware of the impending threat from across the border, it has to take appropriate counter measures, simultaneously with keeping the doors of diplomacy open for maintaining peace in the region.