Fish­er­men in trou­bled waters

Enterprise - - Issue -

The coast­line of Pak­istan ex­tends 1,050 km (650 miles along the Ara­bian Sea, with the prov­inces of Sindh and Balochis­tan shar­ing 250 km and 800 km, re­spec­tively. Pak­istan’s Ex­clu­sive Eco­nomic Zone (EEZ) cov­ers an area of 196,600 sq. km. and its ter­ri­to­rial waters cover an area of 24,000 sq. km. As such, Pak­istan’s ge­og­ra­phy sup­ports an en­riched coastal econ­omy through fish­ing.

The gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan has re­mained in­volved with de­vel­op­ment plans for im­prov­ing the so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions of fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties. But there have been no sub­stan­tial agree­ments to end the or­deal of ha­rass­ment, tor­ture and ar­rests faced by the lo­cal fish­er­men on charges of tres­pass­ing sea borders be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia.

Most tres­pass­ing by Pak­istani and In­dian fish­er­men oc­curs along the con­sum­ing process ow­ing to the un­easy re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions.

Ar­rests of fish­er­men are so fre­quent that be­fore the cur­rent batch is re­leased, an­other has al­ready been ar­rested. The vi­o­la­tion of ter­ri­to­rial waters is com­mit­ted by fish­er­men as well as by the marine se­cu­rity forces of both coun­tries due to a vaguely marked bor­der.

A re­cep­tion was or­ga­nized by the Pak­istan Fish­er­folk Fo­rum (PFF) a lo­cal NGO, at Ibrahim Hy­deri fish­er­men’s colony in Karachi, in the hon­our of a three mem­ber In­dian del­e­ga­tion’s visit com­pris­ing peace ac­tivists to Pak­istan.

Ac­cord­ing to Ma­jeed Motani, fish­er­men do not get a good catch in waters close to the coast­line and have to sail into the deep sea and stay there for days. While sail­ing back, they are sud­denly sur­rounded by se­cu­rity forces’ boats. “We did not know whether we had crossed borders or were ar­rested from Pak­istani waters. There is no de­mar­ca­tion, so how you can know that you are cross­ing the bor­der while in the wa­ter,” says Motani.

The im­pact of ar­rests di­rectly im­pacts the coastal economies of both the coun­tries. Kavita Sri­vas­tava, an In­dian peace ac­tivist, talked about the plight of women who have been ren­dered des­ti­tute and chil­dren who have stopped go­ing to school af­ter bread earn­ers of the fam­ily were ar­rested by Pak­istani authorities.

The plight of fish­er­men from both coun­tries is fur­ther com­pli­cated as a re­sult of visa re­stric­tions and dif­fi­cult per­mis­sion pro­cesses. Even af­ter the com­ple­tion of their sen­tences, the fish­er­men can­not re­turn home, un­less there is a mu­tual ex­change of a fixed num­ber of re­leased prisoners be­tween the two coun­tries.

In the midst of ris­ing terrorism fears, the tres­pass­ing fish­er­men are con­sid­ered as pawns. When they are hauled in for ques­tion­ing in ei­ther coun­try, they are gen­er­ally in­ter­ro­gated by in­tel­li­gence agents who seem con­vinced that the men are spies. The fish­er­men are of­ten held for years with­out a trial un­der a ‘pris­oner of war’ sta­tus.

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts be­tween the gov­ern­ments of In­dia and Pak­istan on var­i­ous fronts need to bring the vary­ing na­tional coast­line of the In­dian state of Gu­jarat and the Pak­istani prov­ince of Sindh. Vi­o­la­tions oc­cur due to the ab­sence of a phys­i­cal and vis­i­ble boundary and ab­sence of nav­i­ga­tional tools in fish­ing boats used by the smaller fish­er­men. Hun­dreds of fish­er­men are ar­rested by the Coast Guards of both na­tions, but ob­tain­ing their re­lease is a dif­fi­cult and time- laws in the two eco­nomic wa­ter zones in har­mony with the UN Con­ven­tion of the Law of the Sea. A clear de­mar­ca­tion of the boundary be­tween both the coun­tries along with re­solv­ing dis­putes over claims of land and wa­ter ter­rain need to be ad­dressed on an ur­gent ba­sis. Lib­er­al­iza­tion of trade and nav­i­ga­tion for fish­er­men can lead to greater ben­e­fits for the economies of In­dia and Pak­istan

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