The Indian plan to put a boundary hedge in the undemarcated Rann of Kutch area, along 96 kilometres of the Sir Creek, has smuggling and drugs given as its excuse, but is really meant to change the ground reality. There may be some significance in the fact that the project will cost Rs 12 billion, but that is a matter between the Indian government’s contractors and anti-corruption authorities. What is really at stake is the fact that India is unilaterally going to install a boundary hedge, reinforced by barbed wire, on a line determined by itself alone. The dispute about where the boundary lies goes back to long before the Partition, about where the line between the princely state of Kutch and the Bombay Presidency should lie. The princely state was absorbed by India at Partition, while the province carved out of the Bombay Presidency, Sindh, joined Pakistan. The Sir Creek boundary gained in importance because, as it abuts the sea, will determine, under the Law of the Sea Treaty, where the two countries’ respective Economic Exploitation Zones (EEZs) lie. Because even the authorities are not agreed on where their respective EEZs lie, they are unable to advise fishermen accordingly, with the result that fishermen are constantly being arrested on both sides, for fishing in the other’s EEZ.

This decision should be a lesson to Pakistan, whose present government has bent over backwards to accommodate Indian wishes, including granting it Most Favoured Nation Status. India is not interested in solving disputes, unless the other country is willing to accept Indian terms. Even if negotiations are still going on, India would like to impose its own wishes, even on a matter as basic and as simple as where the border is supposed to lie. It is perhaps a paradox that the Sir Creek dispute is counted as one of the issues where the countries were accounted as being close at an agreement. However, India seemed intent on showing Pakistan the consequences of accepting Indian blandishments, and not insisting that India resolve the Kashmir dispute before going into the others.

India’s negotiations are thus exposed for what they are, a mere sop to international opinion, meant to stop any awkward questions being asked about Kashmir. The pity is that Pakistan is willingly playing along with this, to the extent of giving India whatever it wants. The government must insist on negotiating with India about Sir Creek as if no hedge is to be installed, because its main purpose is to have the dispute decided on Indian terms.