|River system||Indus river delta|
Sir Creek listen (help·info), originally Ban Ganga, is a 96 km (60 mi) tidal estuary in uninhabited marshlands of Indus river delta on the border of India and Pakistan. The creek opens up into the Arabian Sea and separates the Gujarat state of India from the Sindh province of Pakistan. Both Gujarat and Sindh were part of Bombay Presidency till 1936.
The long-standing India-Pakistan Suir Creek border 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 marshy area is home to russell's viper and scorpions making the lives of border soldiers difficult. 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.
On the Pakistani side, to the west of Sir Creek there are several other creeks most of which are part of the Keti Bunder South Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sir Creek lies just to the west of the Great Rann of Kutch area of India. On the Indian side, Sir Creek is one of the six main creeks in this area, others being Vian Wari Creek (Vianbari and Viyanbari), Pir Sanai, Pabevari, Padala 16 km southeast, and eastern most Kori 34 km southeast from Sir Creek. All of these creeks are within undisputed territory of India, except westernmost creek, i.e. the Sir Creek, is claimed by both India and Pakistan. These evershifting creeks, exit Indian territory, enter Pakistan, reenter India and vice versa, thus creating hard to patrol snake and scorpions infested marshy wetland border with no physical barrier or fencing.
Two channels, namely "Harami Nala" and "Bondho Dhoro", are of specific concern to India for preventing infiltration and illegal activities. The Vian Wari Creek (Vianbari and Viyanbari) on the Indian side enters Pakistan in the north where is it called "Harami Dhoro" (bastard's stream), turns east and reenters India where it is called "Harami Nala" (bastard's drain), then splits into two streams and one of which reenters Pakistan, which poses strategic challenge for India for guarding against infiltration from Pakistan. Bondho Dhoro channel, which enters India further north of Harami Nala in the Sujawal District of Sindh province of Pakistan, is another potential point of infiltration by boat. Chinese activities in the area are of concern too since China Bund just north of Bondho Dhoro was built with finances from China.
Indian military's Border Security Force (BSF) patrols the Sir Creek up to midstream using floating border posts, amphibious vehicles, and foot travel by the Creek Crocodile Commandos. The coastal area of Sir Creek is manned by the Indian Coast Guard and larger open sea beyond is patrolled by the Indian Navy.
Indo-Pak border dispute
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.
In 1968 an international tribunal solved the larger Great Rann of Kutch border claims of India and Pakistan which also covers the Sir Creek. In this resolution by the tribunal, India received 90% of its claim and Pakistan received 10%. Elements of dispute remain in the Sir Creek with conflicting claims from both sides. Since 1997 to 2012, there have been twelve rounds of talks between the two nations, without a breakthrough. In 2008, in the fourth round both sides agreed to a joint map of the area based on a joint survey. 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 under the bilateral Simla Agreement all bilateral disputes should be resolved without the intervention of third parties.
The resolution by the 1968 tribunal, which demarcated the boundaries between the two nations, Pakistan claims that the creek was included as part of Sind , thus setting the boundary as the eastern flank of the creek. Pakistan lays claim to the entire creek as per paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Sind Government Resolution of 1914 signed between the then Government of Sindh Division and Rao Maharaj of Kutch.
India refutes Pakistan's claims because in 1908, when the dispute arose between the Sind Division and Rao Maharaj, this whole area was under the legal jurisdiction of Bombay Presidency of British India including Sind division and the territory of Rao Maharaj. The Sind Division was separated from the Bombay Presidency only on 1 April 1936 when it became the Sind Province. The Government of Bombay Presidency conducted a survey in 1911, and awarded a dispute resolution verdict in 1914, containing two contradictory paragraphs. Paragraph 9 of the verdict states that the border between Kutch and Sind lies to the east of Sir Creek, whereas paragraph 10 of the verdict further qualifies that "since Sir Creek is navigable most of the year. According to international law and the thalweg principle, 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." The text of the resolution suggests that the resolution was based on thalweg principle. India supports its stance by citing the thalweg doctrine in international law. The thalweg legal principle states that if the border between two political entities is stated to be a waterway, without further description (e.g., a median line, right bank, eastern shore, low tide line, etc.), the boundary follows the thalweg of that watercourse, in particular the boundary follows the center of the principal navigable channel of the waterway (which is presumably the deepest part), if there are multiple navigable channels in a river, the one principally used for downstream travel (likely having the strongest current) is used. When Thalweg principle is applied, the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) supports India's position, which "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."
India further 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. 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 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.
Economic reasons of dispute
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.
Pakistan built LBOD canal between 1987 and 1997 to collect agriculture saline water and industrial effluents generated in the area located on the left side of the Indus main river. LBOD canal discharges the saline and contaminated water into the Sir Creek for disposal to the sea. LBOD is the better way to send the unwanted saline water without contaminating the fresh water available in the Indus River. LBOD construction is in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty (Article IV) causing material damage (i.e. inundating the creek area exposed during the low tide) to India. Thus Pakistan has economic interest in keeping the dispute alive and not settled as per international conventions. If India is physically holding (partially or fully) the water area of the creek, India can settle the LBOD dispute as per the arbitration procedure available in Indus Waters treaty.
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.
Miltary buildup and Terrorist alert
From June 2019, several newspapers started to report that Pakistan had rapid built up forces at Sir Creek and India swiftly responded likewise. After the 1999 Atlantic incidence, Pakistan deployed its 31st Creek Battalion headquartered at Sujawal responsible for the area from Haji Moro Jat creek in north to Korangi Creek Cantonment in Karachi in south. In 2019, Pakistan also deployed 32nd Creek Battalion headquartered at Gharo with the view to increase the troop strength to 3 brigades by deploying more infantry and amphibious battalions. Pakistan has procured 6 coastal defence boats for the coastal surveillance, and 4 of the newly acquired 18 marine assault crafts will be deployed in the Sir Creek. Pakistan is planning to buy 60 more naval ships including hovercrafts and offshore petrol boats. Pakistan has also set up 2 new marine posts west of Pir Samadhi Creek in the area of Bandha Dhora and Harami Dhoro. Pakistan also has 21st Air Defence unit and 3 marine units at Gwadar Port as well Jinnah Naval Base at Ormara. Pakistan has also boosted air defence with enhanced radar network, air defence missiles, radar operated guns, four Lockheed P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft and two ATR aircraft stationed at Pakistan Air Force's PAF Base Masroor in Karachi and PNS Mehran naval air base (see also PNS Mehran attack).
In 2016, India traced and killed 3 of the 10 suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists who had infiltrated India via Gujarat border to launch terrorist attacks Somnath temple on Maha Shivaratri were traced and 3 of those were killed. In 2018, India's BSF had caught 14 boats in Bandha Dhora and Harami Dhoro channels of the creek, each one of those is screened to ascertain if those are ordinary fisherman or terrorists because the Pakistani origin terrorists of 2008 Mumbai attacks had entered India after launching their boat from this general area of Pakistan. On 9 September 2019, After the abandoned boats were found by the Indian Army in the Sir Creek, India issued an alert regarding a potential terror attack.
- Indo-Pakistani wars and conflicts
- Rann of Kutch
- UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)
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