Talks between India and Pakistan failed to make progress on the contentious issue of Sir Creek, despite the fact that the dispute over the estuary is described as one of the ‘most easily resolvable issues’ between the two South Asian neighbours.
“Both sides exchanged non-papers (proposals) in order to take their discussions forward, with a view to finding an amicable settlement of the issue,” according to a joint statement issued on Saturday, at the end of the two-day talks that began when an Indian delegation, led by Indian Surveyor General Subba Rao, arrived in Islamabad on Thursday.
The negotiations on the Sir Creek issue resumed after a four-year gap. In 2007, the two sides had conducted a joint survey of the 96-kilometre estuary that divides Pakistan’s Sindh province from the Indian state of Gujarat. Both India and Pakistan have contesting territorial claims but, in sharp contrast to Kashmir, the issue is not considered a political hot button in either country.
“The two sides exchanged maps outlining their respective positions. Both sides also marked their respective demarcations of the maritime boundary,” said one defence ministry official familiar with the negotiations. He also described the dispute as “one of the most easily resolvable” issues between India and Pakistan, which could lead to progress on other disputes.
Analysts say that a resolution of the Sir Creek issue could lead to progress on Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield in Kashmir, where thousands of troops are holed up in freezing temperatures that have killed more soldiers than fighting.
Both sides have agreed to discuss the delimitation of the international maritime boundary between the two countries and will meet at a ‘mutually convenient date’ to discuss the matter. India and Pakistan both frequently arrest fishermen for crossing the maritime border.
“The talks were held in a friendly and cordial atmosphere,” said Foreign Office Spokesperson Tehmina Janjua. “It is a positive move that bilateral talks made the headway in a constructive manner with a view of result oriented engagement between the two countries,” she told The Express Tribune.
However, both sides, when contacted, remained tight-lipped about any breakthrough. During the visit, Indian delegation also called on Pakistan’s Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Athar Ali.
The Pakistani negotiating team was led by Rear Admiral Shah Sohail Masood, another defence ministry official.
The Sir Creek issue had been discussed earlier this year, when Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman visited New Delhi in what was the first round of the composite dialogue after the 2008 Mumbai attacks scuttled talks between India and Pakistan.
The issue also came up for discussion when the two countries’ commerce secretaries met, as well as during the negotiations on water disputes.
The next round of the composite dialogue includes a visit by an Indian judicial delegation to Pakistan to discuss releasing prisoners from either country’s jails. (With additional reporting from Reuters)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.