India-Bangladesh Maritime dispute in Bay of Bengal
It’s often said in Politics that it does not matter to be technically correct. I agree to that. Being diplomatically correct matters more than that. I saw one more example in the recent tension between India and Bangladesh over maritime dispute.
It all started when three Indian gas survey ships crossed the maritime boundary claimed by Bangladesh. I have already noted in my earlier blog that Bangladesh and India has taken two different approaches to demarcate their maritime boundary. India offers the equidistant principle and Bangladesh offers one based on equity. That actually resulted in an area of overlap between the nations. So far, neither party actually were interested in fishing in those troubled waters. As per UN conventions, all disputes needs to be listed by 2011. Neither party was at all interested to take it to UN either. Nor they agree to joint survey mechanism, that India follows with Pakistan (Sir Creek).
“During transit passage, foreign ships, including marine scientific research and hydrographic survey ships, may not carry out any research or survey activities without the prior authorization of the States bordering straits.”
The above laws indicate that in deed Indian ships can not survey in Bangladesh-claimed waters. At the same time, it notes prior to it at Article 15 regarding “Delimitation of the territorial sea between States with opposite or adjacent coasts”
“Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith.”
It is clarified that if no treaty exists otherwise (as in case of India-Bangladesh), the equidistant line should be considered as boundary. There are neither any historic title, nor special circumstances exist between these two countries. No official stay order was also issued from ICJ on this dispute. Hence, technically Indian claim gets priority over the Bangladesh claim since the former one follows the equidistant principle. Assuming that India did not intrude beyond the equidistant line (as claimed here), it is difficult to find technical fault from Indian perspective. There has been no official complain against India lodged in ICJ. A similar action by Myanmar few months back sparked enmity between the nations. The talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh is so far inconclusive. It should be noted that Bangladesh needs to file the claim to UN by July 27, 2011, a failure of which would enable India and Myanmar to go ahead with their lines of demarcation (equidistant line).
Tactically, Indians did better than their Myanmar counterparts. Indians chose a time when Bangladesh population, media and caretaker government would be busy with their election. So, they would be slow to respond. They will leave the disputed water within a couple of days and hopefully avoid any escalation of trouble. Next, they did not send warships as it was done by Myanmar. The aim was to survey and not to escalate tensions.
Having said all these, I want to emphasize that India was wrong in diplomatic line. Even if the equitable share option is rejected by India, a joint survey would have solved the problem an a more comforting fashion. Survey is only for knowledge and what I understand from the current proceedings, it would be a short and swift survey for preliminary estimates. A survey does not authenticate the party to “take away” the resources. Indian ships could actually taken a few Bangladesh officials with them and take them in confidence that it is in deed a joint survey. Along similar lines, a short survey can be permitted to Bangladesh also.For actually starting to “take away” resources, one should wait till 2011 when the maritime boundary is officially demarcated. For Bangladesh, a complain or a full-fledged case should be lodged at International Court of Justice (or Permanent Court of Arbitration) so that they can get a stay order to stop Indians to cross their claimed territory. If no complain is lodged, it does not qualify as a dispute and the default law applies.
Ignoring all lines of diplomacy in the beginning is one of the ways to create fault-lines instead of friendlier ties. In 21st century where we aim at resolving larger threats to our country such as poverty and terrorism, we must think twice before we decide. It’s often said that prevention is better than the cure. I hope Indian officials would remember that for Indian National interest.
It seems to me that tension is indeed escalating to an unaccepted level. It has been claimed from the Foreign Ministry sources that the ships are in fact Jamaican survey ships and they have license from the Government of India. From latest news, I got the statements from Indian High Commissioner.
“This is not a disputed area. We call it overlapping claims … we have a right, they have a right. … Bangladesh has offered this area for international bidding knowing full well there were overlapping claims. When negotiations are on, why did the Bangladesh government put it up for international bidding? … There is no chance of escalating tension. We always talk to each other.”
I only see a ray of hope in the last sentence. I believe the lack of talk led to this problem.
At last I got to know about the dilemma on the Bangladesh side. The interview (google cache) with Khurshed Alam on 28th November, the Maritime expert of Bangladesh clarifies that they do not have technical expertise to carry on a delimitation. He accepts that they got 10-12 million USD from foreign agencies in 1990 to survey and prepare maps of the region. But lack of expertise in technology and the maritime laws has prevented them to get fruitful result out of the charts and survey. He also accepted that the disputes with India and Myanmar are due to this unfinished maritime delimitation. I have posted a relevant portion of his interview in my bengali blog as well.