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India, Pak make headway on Sir Creek
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 26
It was movement forward on the Sir Creek issue today, but in a typical India-Pakistan style.

At the end of the two-day talks at the level of Surveyors-General of the two countries, India and Pakistan today agreed on an early settlement of the land boundary in the Sir Creek area and the maritime boundary and to conduct a joint survey of the Sir Creek and adjoining areas and waters between November, 2006, and March, 2007.

It was decided also that:

  • Technical experts of the two sides would meet in Pakistan in August 2006 to work out the extent and modalities for the joint survey;
  • The hydrographers of the two countries, in the same meeting, would discuss modalities and propose options for delimitation of the maritime boundary.

These are the positive highlights of the Sir Creek talks. The flip side is even more interesting.

When the Indian side inquired about starting discussions on delineating the maritime boundary between India and Pakistan - as decided by the two countries in October 2005 - the Pakistani delegation said it did not have the mandate to do that. It was left to the technical experts meeting in August 2006 to discuss the point. If the Sir Creek dispute is resolved, it will come as a boon to fishermen from either side as they invariably but inadvertently cross into each otherís territory for lack of a properly delineated maritime boundary and rot in jail for months.

The Pakistanis took recourse to some diplomacy to make sure that New Delhi does not score any brownie points over its recent unilateral decision of releasing all 59 Pakistani fishermen. The Pakistani fishermen have already been released from the various jails they were lodged in and brought to Jodhpur from where they were to be transported to Pakistan via Munabao-Khokhrapar train.

The Pakistanis conveyed to their Indian counterparts at the Sir Creek talks today that the infrastructure at Khokhrapar was inadequate to take 59 of their nationals back. The Indians tried to argue, in vain, that it would mean additional bother and expenditure for the Indian Government to lodge the released prisoners till they are finally transported to their country.

Finally, it was mutually decided that the Pakistani fishermen would be released on May 29, Monday, from Wagah border. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Foreign Office announced the release of 71 Indian fishermen on May 30.

The assessment of Pakistan-watchers in South Block here is that mandarins in Islamabad delayed the transportation of Pakistani fishermen via Munabao-Khokhrapar train so that they make arrangements for the release of 71 Indian fishermen in the meantime.

India had made unilateral announcement of the release of 59 Pakistani fishermen to exert some moral pressure on the Pakistan Government.
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