Background of the Sir Creek Dispute
Out of the total 7417 kilometers of total coastline of India shared by 8 states, Gujarat with 1663 kilometers is the state with largest coastline. The Gujarat coast is characterised by two major gulfs viz. Gulf of Katch and Gulf of Cambay (pronounced Khambat in Hindi). A part of Pakistan's coastline is adjacent to that of the India's Gujarat coast. But there are no bilateral agreements defining the maritime boundaries. Not only these boundaries are unsettled but also there is absence of clear fishing laws.
The Maritime Zones Acts of both India and Pakistan are almost twin bothers but none of them is said to be corresponding to the United Nations Convention of Law of Sea (UNCLOS). Sir Creek, called Baan Ganga locally, is a 96 kilometers long estuary in the marshes of the Rann of Katch, which lies on the border between India's Gujarat and Pakistan's Sindh. It's basically a fluctuating tidal channel, not truly a flowing creek, along which the boundary between India and Pakistan was not demarcated. These marshlands became first disputed between the Rao of princely state of Katch and the Chief Commissioner of Sindh Province of British India due to different perceptions of the boundaries.
The case was taken up by then Government of Bombay, which conducted a survey and mandated its verdict in 1914. This verdict has two contradictory paragraphs, which make the India and Pakistan contenders on the same issue. Paragraph 9 of this verdict says that the boundary between Kutch and Sindh lies 'to the east of the Creek,' which effectively implied that the creek belonged to Sindh and, therefore, to Pakistan.
On the other hand, Paragraph 10 says Sir Creek is navigable most of the year and quotes the chief commissioner of Sindh to buttress the point. According to international law, a boundary can only be fixed in the middle of the navigable channel, which meant that it has be divided between Sindh and Kutch, and thereby India and Pakistan. India has used this para to consistently argue that the boundary needs to be fixed in the middle of the creek.
The map of the region was chalked out in 1925 and in this map, the showed a 'green riband to the east of the Creek'. Pakistan says that this 'Green Line' is the marked boundary between Sindh and Kutch, and argued that the Creek belonged to Sindh.
India countered, saying the depiction was part of 'normal cartographic practice' and should not be used to make any territorial claims. Thus we can say that Sir Creek dispute is a classic example of cartographic dilemma.
Till 1954, the borders around Sir Creek were virtually open and there was a free movement of people and material from both sides. After 1954, the countries started rigid stances on borders and a controversy evolved around Sir Creek.
Till 1968, India and Pakistan were competing each other to provide historical evidence that it belonged to them.
Stands of India and Pakistan
In arguments made at the UN tribunal, India claimed that Kutch was a well-defined entity. India says that the Raos of Kutch only paid tribute to imperial powers, first Mughals, then British.
Pakistan uses different colonial sources to say the Kutch never had an existence of its own, that the rulers of Sindh had invaded and occupied parts of the Rann in the 18th century, and that the whole breadth of the Rann was the boundary between Kutch and Sindh.
In spite of this historical nebulosity, the tribunal supported India's claim to 90 per cent of the Rann, fixed the land border up to a point called the Western Terminus, but left the westernmost part of the border fluid. This includes the stretch of water now under dispute.
Current Position & Recent Talks
The dispute between India and Pakistan is on 3 issues:
- The actual demarcation "from the mouth of Sir Creek to the top of Sir Creek"
- The actual demarcation "from the top of Sir Creek eastward to a point on the line designated on the Western Terminus".
- Demarcation of maritime boundary between India and Pakistan in Arabian Sea.
India and have held the talks on June 18 & 19 on Sir Creek Dispute after one year. Neither has changed its claims on the creek since the Rawalpindi talks in 2011. Yet leaders of both countries seem confident they can break the impasse, calling the resolution of the Sir Creek boundary dispute an "easily doable". In spite of the hurdles, India and Pakistan were said to have come close to an agreement in 2007, when it was reported that the two sides had exchanged maps that matched. But the process was derailed by the Mumbai attacks. Talks were resumed only in 2011.
The resolution of the Sir Creek dispute would have resonances in larger economic and strategic matters. The boundary at the creek would have a direct bearing on maritime borders between India and Pakistan, determining the exclusive economic zone of each country in the Arabian Sea. Solving Sir Creek has also been held up as a first step to the resolution of graver border conflicts between India and Pakistan. In the end, the decision on Sir Creek might not be one of historical or legal provenance. This "doable" might have to be a conscious political decision by both countries to fix a boundary in the interests of greater stability in the region.