Hundreds of Pakistani and Indian fishermen often find themselves in the midst of this unchartered territory and end up languishing in their neighbouring country’s jails, often for years. These men have minimal respite from their own governments. About 112 Indian fishermen and 18 boats were captured by Pakistan in the last fifteen days, while 21 Pakistani fishermen and two boats were seized by the Indian side. Often those who are captured also have their boats taken away by the authorities. Often dozens of people are dependent on the livelihood from one boat. Yes, the tense political stalemate is further decomposing the relationship between the countries, but should these innocent fishermen bear the brunt of this?

The dispute over Sir Creek can be traced back to 1908, when an argument broke out between the rulers of Kutch and Sindh. The issue was settled with a resolution that allowed Sindh ownership of the Sir Creek in exchange for foregoing its claim on Kori Creek. By law, decolonised sovereign states should have the same borders that their preceding dependent area had before independence, thus Sir Creek automatically fell into the Pakistani domain. In the 1960s, the dispute became an issue again when India rejected the demarcation. It argues that the thalweg of Sir Creek is the actual boundary of the river in accordance with the Thalweg Doctrine international law, which states that river boundaries between two states may be divided by the mid-channel if the two states agree.

Fishermen venture into this area even where the risks are high and return is not guaranteed as since the area is a contested territory and movement is limited, the number and quality of fish here is far superior to that found elsewhere. A majority of those who get caught are charged with terrorism or spying, depending on the political atmosphere between the two countries. The state mechanism and how the problem is handled takes its cue from the politicians and media, and right now, it’s a bad time. These fishermen are hardly the holders of the fate of the water dispute. This is an issue of petty corruption at the level of authorities and lack of concern at the level of the state. Imprisoned Pakistani fishermen in Indian jails have been there for two decades. The fishermen released by India have seen them and lived with them. This catch and release policy has to stop.