India, Pakistan exchange non-papers on Sir Creek

The non-papers – diplomatic parlance for negotiating texts informally circulated by countries to facilitate discussions without making any commitment to the contents – were exchanged as the two countries held their first round of talks on the Sir Creek issue in four years.

"Both sides exchanged non-papers in order to take their discussions forward, with a view to finding an amicable settlement of the issue. They agreed to meet again at a mutually convenient date," said a joint statement issued at the end of the two-day parleys.

The talks, held in a "friendly and cordial atmosphere", focused on the India-Pakistan land boundary in the Sir Creek area and the delimitation of the international maritime boundary between the two countries, the statement said.

Though the statement made no mention to a joint survey of the 96-km estuary conducted in early 2007, it is believed the two sides exchanged maps outlining their respective positions.

Pakistani sources claimed Additional Defence Secretary Rear Admiral Shah Sohail Masood, who led his country's side at the talks, told the Indian side that the joint survey should not be considered the basis for an agreement. The survey had not resulted in agreement on the boundary in any of the segments, Masood was quoted as saying by the sources.

The Indian side at the talks was led by Surveyor General of India S Subba Rao. The Indian delegation also called on Defence Secretary Lt Gen Syed Athar Ali. The talks on the Sir Creek issue, held at the Defence Ministry in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, were part of a bilateral dialogue process that was recently revived after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

During the last round of talks on the Sir Creek issue four years ago, the two countries made significant progress in resolving the dispute over the estuary in the Rann of Kutch separating India's Gujarat state from Pakistan's Sindh province.

At that time, Indian officials had said there was convergence "up to a great degree" over demarcating the maritime boundary based on maps finalised in the joint survey of 2007. Unlike the military standoff in the Siachen glacier, experts on both sides say a deal on the Sir Creek issue is "doable".

The talks on the Sir Creek issue followed parleys earlier this year between the Home and Interior Secretaries, the Commerce Secretaries and Water Secretaries, who discussed the Tulbul navigation project-Wullar barrage issue.

Indian members of a joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners visited Pakistan to discuss ways to speed up the release of prisoners held in each other's jails. An indication that both sides were close to clinching a deal on Sir Creek was also given in secret cables sent to Washington by the then American Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson in 2008.

The cable were about the talks between then US Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher and Mahmud Ali Durrani, the then National Security Advisor to the Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The cable released by WikiLeaks said: "Progress on Sir Creek was possible, although not for the moment on Siachen".

"On Sir Creek, Durrani said he believed the two sides were very close and that a deal was possible. He felt that politically both Pakistan and India were ready to support an agreement and that the 'contours' of an agreement had been worked out with the Pakistani military," it said.

The cable dated October 28, 2008 added that Durrani confirmed that former President Pervez Musharraf's National Security Advisor Tariq Aziz had agreed to continue his back-channel negotiations, but in a private capacity.

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