The prospect of mutual progress of the key players in the Indian Ocean is highly reliant on determinant factors including the Regional Balance of Power. More importantly, the future of Indian Ocean as the Region of Peace is possible, provided territorial insecurities existing between regional neighbors is fast eradicated.
Note: In the essay that follows, a particular scrutiny has been presented as a hypothetical case study. This includes two regional neighbors which (in terms of the prospects of regional peace) qualify as the two most crucial neighbor countries in the Northwestern Indian Ocean; the two countries are Pakistan and India. The intent of focusing on maritime dispute resolution between Pakistan and India is to provide North-Western Indian Ocean as a building-block, based on which the generalized dynamics of the Indian Ocean Region can be foreseen and an understanding can thus be developed, about similar dispute resolution among other countries in the region.
(I) SIR CREEK
Out of all other bilateral disputes between Pakistan and India, the Sir Creek Dispute can be expected to have a relatively quick solution. The settlement of this dispute can be used as an important Confidence-Building Measure to build on to resolve other pending disputes.
Sir Creek is a 96 km strip of water.
It is made up of marshes which makes it water-logged for most of the year.
It runs in the Rann of Kutch area. The Rann of Kutch area lies between the south of Sindh in Pakistan and the State of Gujrat in India. Historical evidence (specifically the 1908 Imperial Gazetteer of India) clearly indicates that during the British Rule in India, the Rann of Kutch was part of Sindh. Later, when India was partitioned in 1947, Sindh became a part of Pakistan (therefore Sir Creek also became a part of Pakistan).
According to Paragraphs 9 and 10 of the ‘1914 Bombay Resolution’ (which was signed between the Government of Bombay and the Ruler of Kutch), the ‘Green Line’ as indicated in the map clearly demarcated the boundaries of Sir Creek and included the whole of it in Sindh.
India then argued that from the technical aspect, the ‘Green Line’ is not a boundary but just an ‘indication of a boundary’. India claimed that the boundary of Sir Creek lies mid-channel into the water and that exactly half of Sir Creek is part of India.
To validate this claim, India endorses the ‘Thalweg Principle’. In 1965, Indian forces unfairly attempted to seize Sir Creek because India wanted to establish its naval base in the Gulf of Kutch. As a result, India gained control of a part of Sir Creek.
When the prospect of important mineral resources (oil/gas) was discovered in the subsurface of Sir Creek, Pakistan and India became more serious about their respective claims. Both countries now realize that if they loose one kilometer of Sir Creek on ground, it would subsequently mean a loss of hundreds of square nautical miles of the resourceful economic zone under-water.
India’s current stance is that boundaries should first be marked under-water and according to the under-water boundaries, the land boundaries shall be demarcated. Pakistan’s current stance is to first demarcate on the ground and then under-water. Pakistan wants the adoption of the 1914 Bombay Resolution. Pakistan was willing to invite international arbitration because it believes it has a strong case. But India always wanted to keep this issue bilateral.
Proposed Solution-1914 Bombay Resolution:
(a) India’s endorsement of ‘Thalweg Principle’ is not applicable in the case of Sir Creek because Sir Creek is ‘water-logged and not navigable’ for most part of the year. The Thalweg Principle holds applicable only for navigable areas.
(b) The demarcation of land boundaries shall be done first. The demarcation of the under-water maritime boundaries will then follow.
(c) India’s unreasonable argument that demarcation shall first be done under-water will have to be countered. Hydrographers from both Pakistan and India have declared that environmental changes have occurred over the years and it is not possible anymore to distinguish between territorial waters without demarcating the land area first.
(d) During the process of demarcation, the ‘1991 Pakistan-India Agreement on Advance Notice on Military Exercises, Maneuvers and Troop Movement’ will be strictly followed by both sides to ensure peace along the coastline of Sir Creek
(e) After demarcating Sir Creek, both countries will submit their respective boundary limits to the ‘Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf’ (CLCS). The CLCS will consider and evaluate the data submitted by each country.
(f) Here, Pakistan will automatically have a stronger case because according to the format of the claim-documents submitted to CLCS, India can not mention Sir Creek as a part of its continental shelf in the documents which it will submit to CLCS.
(g) 3 factors will further strengthen Pakistan’s case. First, Sir Creek was a major water distributory of River Indus and Pakistan has an undisputed right over River Indus. Second, the ‘Green Line’ shown in the maps of 1914 Bombay Resolution clearly brings Sir Creek in Pakistan’s territorial domain. Third, the tail of Sir Creek terminates in Badin which is a district in Pakistan.
(h) Pakistan’s claims are very strong and it is very likely that the CLCS will eventually favor Pakistan.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), both countries are time-bound to resolve this dispute because unless this dispute is resolved, neither side will be eligible to exploit their respective Exclusive Economic Zones in the sea.
THE THREAT OF PIRACY: A Case In Point
Pakistan-India: Joint Policy Mechanism For The Containment of Piracy In Northwestern Indian Ocean
There now exists a well-established perception that Regional Security is the principal factor that will create a viable scenario for both Pakistan and India in terms of their respective global Economic and Defence interests; India aspires to become the region’s focal power-house and it realizes that an aspiration of this magnitude is a possibility only when regional partners are engaged and ownership of regional security is shared among all stakeholders. Thus, in light of strengthening Economic and Diplomatic ties with India, Pakistan can work towards a sharing of role with its eastern neighbor for the ‘eradication of likely attempts of piracy’ in the Arabian Sea. This however largely depends on the consent of Military Leadership on both ends.
Book Review: Pukh Theory by Farhad Karamally and Faraz Khan