India has long coastline of nearly 7500 km. and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of nearly 23 lakh square kilometers and shares its maritime boundary with 7 countries (Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia).
Successful delineation of maritime boundary is very much important for the peaceful and friendly relations with the neighbors, national security, scientific explorations and sustainable exploitation of the marine resources of the EEZ, bringing clarity to fishermen and for maritime co-operation on various issues like piracy, disaster management, security cooperation, etc.
The issue of Sir Creek and therefore pending maritime boundary demarcation between India and Pakistan; fisherman issue of Sri Lanka are the two major maritime disputes in which India is involved at present, after it has successfully delineated its maritime boundary with Bangladesh in 2014.
India's maritime dispute with Pakistan involves the demarcation of boundary along Sir Creek. sir Creek will further provide the reference point for demarcation of maritime boundary.
Sir Creek is a tidal estuary which exist on the border of India and Pakistan (Gujarat state and Sind Province).The land boundary between the countries upto Western Terminus were fixed by UN Tribunal, but it left the boundary from thereon undemarcated. This has become a conflicting issue between the two countries.
The dispute is mainly 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.
As per the Pakistan views, boundary lies to the eastern flank of creek (i.e. creek part of Pakistan) and shows the agreement signed in 1914 between Government of Sindh and Rao Maharaj of Kutch to buttress its point.
On the other hand, India also used the same document and 'thalweg doctrine' to claim that boundary lies in between the creek. Thalweg doctrine says that, boundary line must be midway through a navigable channel. India also shows the 1914 document which says that, the creek is navigable during high tides and says that, pillars which were installed in 1924 were along the midcourse.
Pakistan counters India's claim by saying that, the creek is not a non-tidal river and thalweg doctrine can be used in case of non-tidal rivers only.
Another important point is that, Sir Creek frequently changes its course and this creates difficulty in demarcation of boundaries.
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.
What will be the benefits of earlier resolution of the issue?
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 will also help in determining the limits of (EEZs) and Continental Shelves.
The demarcation would also prevent the inadvertent crossing over of fishermen of both nations into each other's territories.
India has successfully demarcated its maritime boundary with Sri Lanka through 1974 and 1976 agreement. Inspite of that some issues have cropped up in recent regarding the fisherman and Kachchathivu island which has brought some confusion.
It is high time that all the stakeholders realizes the importance of early resolution of all the disputes and work in that direction. Success of various Indian initiatives like offshore Wind Policy is based on the successful demarcation of boundary which will help in overall regional development around the Indian Ocean.