The long-standing dispute hinges in the actual demarcation "from the mouth of Sir Creek to the top of Sir Creek, and from the top of Sir Creek eastward to a point on the line designated on the Western Terminus". From this point onwards, the boundary is unambiguously fixed as defined by the Tribunal Award of 1968.
This region belonging to India is a part of the Indus River Delta most of which lies in Sindh, Pakistan. The creek itself is located in uninhabited marshlands of the Indus Delta just to the West of the Great Rann of Kutch. During the Monsoon season between June and September, the creek floods its banks and envelops the low-lying salty mudflats around it. During the winter season, the area is home to flamingoes and other migratory birds.
The dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Pakistan and India. Before independence, the area was part of British India. After independence in 1947, Sindh became a part of Pakistan while Gujarat remained a part of India.
The resolution, which demarcated the boundaries between the one territories, included the creek as part of Sindh, thus setting the boundary as the eastern flank of the creek. India sticks to its position that the boundary lies mid-channel as depicted in another map drawn in 1925, and implemented by the installation of mid-channel pillars back in 1924.
India supports its stance by citing the thalweg doctrine in international law. The law states that river boundaries between two states may be, if the two states agree, divided by the mid-channel. Though Pakistan does not dispute the 1925 map, it maintains that the doctrine is not applicable in this case as it most commonly applies to non-tidal rivers, and Sir Creek is a tidal estuary. India rejects the Pakistani stance by maintaining the fact that the creek is navigable at high tide and that the thalweg principle is used for some international boundaries in tidal waters, and that fishing trawlers use Sir Creek to go out to sea. Another point of concern for Pakistan is that Sir Creek has changed its course considerably over the years. If the boundary line is demarcated according to the thalweg principle applied to the current channel, Pakistan and India would both lose small amounts of wetlands territory that was historically part of their provinces. More significantly, acceding to India's stance would result in the shifting of the land/sea terminus point several kilometres to the detriment of Pakistan, leading in turn to a loss of several thousand square kilometres of its Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.
Since 1969, there have been twelve rounds of talks between the two nations, without a breakthrough. The twelfth round was completed in June 2012. Steps to resolve the dispute include: allocation, delimitation, demarcation, administration.
Since neither side has conceded ground, India has proposed that the maritime boundary could be demarcated first, as per the provisions of Technical Aspects of Law of Sea (TALOS). However, Pakistan has refused the proposal on the grounds that the dispute should be resolved first. Pakistan has also proposed that the two sides go in for international arbitration, which India has flatly refused. India maintains that all bilateral disputes should be resolved without the intervention of third parties.
This disputed region is known for the Atlantique Incident which occurred on August 1999. The Indian IAF's MiG-21FL fighters shot down the Pakistan Navy's recconnaisance plane, the Breguet Atlantique which was carrying 16 naval officers on board, for an alleged airspace violation of Indian airspace on August 10, 1999. The episode took place just a month after the Kargil War, creating a tense atmosphere between India and Pakistan.
After the incident, the Pakistan Marines units have been deployed in the region, with a sizable SAMs active in the region. In 1999, the Marines reportedly fired an errant missile on Indian IAF's MiG-21FL, which they narrowly missed. Additional marines battalions and sniper reconn units have been deployed in the Sir Creek region.
Though the creek has little military value, it holds immense economic gain. Much of the region is rich in oil and gas below the sea bed, and control over the creek would have a huge bearing on the energy potential of each nation. Also once the boundaries are defined, it would help in the determination of the maritime boundaries which are drawn as an extension of onshore reference points. Maritime boundaries also help in determining the limits of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and continental shelves. EEZs extend to 200 nautical miles (370 km) and can be subjected to commercial exploitation.
The demarcation would also prevent the inadvertent crossing over of fishermen of both nations into each other's territories.
In contrary to economic reasons described by India and Pakistan, common fishermen of both countries get trapped in conflict and their economic rights of earning get affected. It has seen that government of India and Pakistan regularly arrest fishermen of each other for crossing the boundary, however for a common fisherman, it is always a wonder to know where the boundary starts and ends in sea. This unawareness are added with wind flow, waves and turbulence that push the boat in sea. While UN law advocates for minimum penalty for this offence and release of boats, but government of India and Pakistan catch these prisoners and keep them in prisons for long time. It is more unfortunate that their release happens through land boundary of India and Pakistan (Wagha border) and these poor fishermen come to their home country without their boats.
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