Fishermen in troubled waters
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