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Rann of Kutch 1965

India and Pakistan became engaged in a short but sharp conflict into Pakistani claimed-area in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965. After partition, Pakistan contested the southern boundary of Sindh, and a succession of border incidents resulted. They were less dangerous and less widespread, however, than the conflict that erupted in Kashmir in the Indo-Pakistani War of August 1965. Both armies had fully mobilised. Pakistan eventually proposed a ceasefire, which India accepted; an agreement was signed, and the forces disengaged. The Award by the Arbitration Tribunal vindicated Pakistan's position. India then shifted the center of gravity of operations to the Northern Areas.

Approximately 3,000 kilometers long, India and Pakistan's border traverses the Karakoram Mountain Range, meanders southwest through the cultivated plains of the Punjab and Rajasthan, and thence through the desert region of Sind. Ultimately, the border dips into the vast mud flats and marshlands of the Rann of Kutch, and finally into the coastal swamps on the Indian Ocean.

When the river Saraswati was flowing in the heart of Thar, the Rann of Kutch was a gulf of the Arabian Sea. The Saraswati, a great river rising from the Himalayan watershed, symbolically the most important during the Vedic period, is believed to have flowed south and west through present day Haryana-Punjab, Rajasthan, and southern Pakistan to exit through what is now the Rann of Kutch marshland. The Saraswati River has long since disappeared, probably due to geological changes. In mythology, Saraswati was a daughter of Brahma, the creator, and as a goddess is associated with speech, learning, wisdom, and the arts.

Normally a salt clay desert covering some 10,800 square miles, the Rann of Kutch becomes a salt marsh during the annual rains. Nestled between the Gulf of Kutch in India's northwestern state of Gujarat and the mouth of the Indus river in southern Pakistan, the region is home to Asia's last herds of wild asses. Patches of high ground become a refuge for wildlife during the wet season.

The mean annual rainfall is about 15 inches, most of which falls from late June to late September during the southwest monsoon. The area includes a central sandy upland ranging from about 100 to 250 feet above sea level ; a northern lowland of between about 50 to 125 feet altitude that slopes north to the Great Rann of Kutch; a belt of low buttes and discontinuous ridges ranging from about 200 to 275 feet above sea level; and southern lowland which slopes in a southerly to southeasterly direction from an altitude of about 125 feet to 25 feet or less near the Gulf of Kutch. Kandla Port and township lies on an estuary of the Gulf of Kutch in western India and in the eastern part of the State of Kutch.

The Little Rann of Kutch and its larger counterpart, the Great Rann of Kutch, to the north-northwest consist of large low-relief plains on the southeastern flank of Pakistan's Indus River delta. These plains are separated by hills of pre-Quaternary rocks. The Great Rann of Kutch is on the Pakistan/India border just east of the India distributary mouths. The Little Rann of Kutch is located between the mainland of Kutch, forming the northern border for the Gulf of Kutch and Kathiawar to the south.

The Ranns of Kutch are believed to have a structural origin that has controlled their location. Faults that influenced the alignment of the pre-Quaternary rock outcrops trend west- northwest. Another family of faults, of which the Gulf of Kutch may be an expression, trends north-northeast. The aforementioned outcrops are thought to be horst blocks cut into segments by the north-northeast faults, while the Ranns themselves probably represent grabens. These tectonic depressions were once shallow marine gulfs after the last postglacial rise in sea level. Changes in nearby river courses (Indus, Nara, and other rivers of the western part of the Indo-Gangetic plain) caused the Ranns to become infilled with deltaic sediment, and they are now essentially broad salt-covered supratidal areas (sabkhas) that are inundated only part of the year.

In lowland areas such as the Indus Delta to the west, the monsoonal cycle plays an important role in supplying water and sediment to the coastal plain. For the Ranns of Kutch, annual flooding by marine water and freshwater runoff from surrounding highlands occurs during the Southwest Monsoon, when marine water is forced up into the area by persistent strong winds. Including the Great Rann of Kutch, more than 30 000 km2 of lowlands are flooded annually. Most of this area is supratidal or above the normal high tide. However, when winds of the Southwest Monsoon, which blow from July to September, push marine water into the Gulf of Kutch and other estuary mouths along the coast under these conditions, salt water can be more than 2 m deep on the supratidal surface. During this same period, rainfall in the area is maximized when moisture from the Arabian Sea is transported inland. Annual rainfall over the Ranns of Kutch ranges between 20 and 38 cm/yr, most of which falls during the Southwest Monsoon months.

The area in dispute, extending out from the old fort of Kanjarkot, lies on the northern edge of the Rann of Kutch, a desolate area in Western India on the Arabian Sea. It is alternately salt flats and tidal basin. The area was admitted by both sides to be in dispute at the time of the Indo-Pakistani border negotiations of 1960. It was agreed at that time that further discussions would be held to explore the validity of the conflicting claims, and the two Governments agreed that pending further consideration of this dispute, neither side would disturb the status quo.

In the spring of 1965, Pakistani tanks (received from the United States as part of its Military Assistance Program) entered the Rann of Kutch. The memoirs of senior Pakistani officers later revealed that the deployment of this American-supplied armor had two objectives. The first was to entice Indian armor away from northern India, where an attack on Kashmir was planned for later in the year. The second objective was to see how strongly the United States would protest Pakistan's use of tanks it had provided, in clear violation of Pakistan's commitment. The United States did protest, but it was ignored.

The Indians became aware in January 1965 that Pakistani border police were patrolling below the Indian claim line. Pakistani patrolling south of Kanjarkot may have been going on for quite some time without the Indians knowing it. There was little doubt, however, that Pakistani occupation of Kanjarkot would have upset a long-standing status quo. When Indian patrols discovered that Pakistani posts had been established in area claimed by India, they accused Pakistan of aggression in the Rann of Kutch.

After India lodged a protest, it increased its own patrolling activity. In mid-February 1965, Pakistani forces dug themselves in around Kanjarkot, which may have been previously unoccupied, although President Ayub of Pakistan claimed that Pakistan had "long" occupied it. India moved large forces into the disputed territory during the months of January-April 1965, established forward military posts therein and carried out full-scale land, sea and air manoeuvers in its vicinity, thus forcibly demolishing the status quo. Both sides built up the forces available to them in the area, manned strong points, and shifted defense responsibility from border units to the army. The Indian response of occupying other posts near the frontier and, reportedly, building an airstrip nearby brought the latent crisis to a head.

During April 1965, a series of incidents has occurred with both sides blaming the other. The Pakistanis, enjoying a militarily superior position, moved forcefully against Indian outposts near the border fort of Kanjarkot and most recently staged a "preemptive" attack at Biar Bet, deeper within the disputed area. The Indians were mainly on the defensive but, according to Pakistan, had established outposts within undisputed Pakistani territory.

It was only on 08 April 1965 when the Indian forces attacked a Pakistan out-post at Ding in an endeavor to complete a military take over of the territory to present Pakistan with a fait accompli that the Pakistan forces went into action for the first time, and it was on 19 April 1965 after watching India's actions in the Rann of Kutch for three and a half months that Pakistan forces went into the disputed territory for the first time.

Both sides allege that the other employed armor. The Indians denied the charge and there was no immediate evidence to support it. Although firm proof was lacking, there were reports supporting the Indian claim that Pakistan has moved armor to the Kutch area and that it may be engaged in action. The unit concerned, according to the US Embassy in Karachi, was MAP-equipped. Casualties were reported by both sides, shooting continued between patrols and strong points, and public opinion - especially in India - had been aroused sharply. On 19 April Pakistan's troops in the Rann of Kutch held off from exploiting a favorable tactical situation, when after the capture of Biar Bet they were in a position to cut right through to the Indian forces on the 24th parallel and destroy from the rear the two Indian Brigades located in the disputed territory. Furthermore on April 30th Pakistan unilaterally ordered troops in the Rann of Kutch not to do anything that might aggravate the situation, which ultimately led to a de facto cease-fire.

In an atmosphere colored by India's military humiliation by the Chinese in 1962, strong public resentment over Pakistan's developing relationship with Peiping and the hurt feelings over the postponement of Shastri's visit, the already beleaguered Government of India cannot afford domestically to be gotten the better of by Pakistan in a military confrontation. The Indian Foreign Secretary told the US DCM that "the country is in no mood to take any more pushing in the Rann of Kutch and the GOI may be constrained to retaliate elsewhere, where conditions are more favorable to Indian forces". The GOI's domestic political discomfort is increased by aspects of the Kutch dispute which are analogous to the pre-1962 situation in Ladakh with China - e.g. the belated discovery by Indian patrols of foreign military posts in a neglected area of Indian-claimed territory.

Even before the activization of the Kutch dispute, the moderate Shastri government proved to be most vulnerable politically to charges of weakness and indecision. Pakistan's apparent utilization of U.S.-supplied MAP equipment in the dispute further complicates the situation domestically for the GOI by providing additional grounds for criticism to extremists of both the left and right who can exploit traditional Indian resentments over U.S.-Pakistan security agreements of the 1950's and India's acceptance in 1962 of more rigid constraints on the use of U.S. military equipment.

The Kutch dispute, occurring in an area of Pak military superiority, provided Pakistan with several opportunities. Diplomatically, it provided Pakistan an opportunity to damage Indo-U.S. relations, through the use of Military Assistance Program [MAP] equipment in a situation where there is some ambiguity over the justification of its use. Additionally, the Kutch dispute provides Pakistan, in the weeks just before Bandung II, with an opportunity to brand India as an aggressor in Afro-Asian eyes. This objective would be further advanced if Pak actions in Kutch cause India to retaliate elsewhere, especially if India should move into an area generally recognized as Pak territory. Domestically, the Kutch confrontation enables the GOP to score over India, despite India's overall military superiority, particularly in Kashmir and along the East Pak border. Finally, Pakistan undoubtedly calculated that India's response to the Kutch situation will lend a plausibility to the basic Pak contention that India would use its military strength enhanced by US military assistance to intimidate Pakistan and stick to an intransigent policy on Kashmir, rather than in combatting Communist China.

On June 30, 1965, India and Pakistan signed an agreement that ended the fighting in the Rann of Kutch. The agreement, which was facilitated through the good offices of the United Kingdom, was signed separately in Karachi and New Delhi. President AYUB of Pakistan issued a statement on June 30 welcoming not only the agreement relating to the Rann of Kutch, but also a second agreement signed by India and Pakistan which called for the withdrawal of troops from both sides of the entire border between India and Pakistan. President Johnson sent a personal message to British Prime Minister Wilson on June 30 congratulating him on his success in bringing the conflict to a peaceful solution.

The agreement signed by India and Pakistan called for the dispute to be settled on the basis of binding arbitration, by an arbitral tribunal to be established with the cooperation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. India subsequently appointed a Yugoslav arbitrator to the tribunal, Pakistan appointed an Iranian arbitrator, and UN Secretary-General U Thant chose a Swede as the chairman. The tribunal did not reach agreement on a final award until February 1968. The award gave approximately 10 percent of the disputed territory to Pakistan, including much of the high ground where the heaviest fighting took place. The award was reluctantly accepted by Pakistan, but bitterly resented in India, where it was generally felt that India had a strong case for sovereignty over the entire Rann of Kutch.

During the 1960s Pakistan's relations with the United States and the West had grow stronger. Pakistan joined two formal military alliances - the Baghdad Pact (later known as CENTO) which included Iran, Iraq, and Turkey to defend the Middle East and Persian Gulf against the Soviet Union. However, the United States adopted a policy of denying military aid to both India and Pakistan after the War of in 1965 over the Rann of Kutch. Since most Pak military equipment was MAP-supplied, while India was not dependent to any comparable extent on US sources, Pakistan was more heavily penalized by US withholding from both sides, and India could be emboldened if the Paks were relatively disadvantaged. Under the circumstances in Rann of Kutch, Pakistan would be forced to withdraw all its forces one sidedly, since they mainly MAP-supplied, while India was not thus handicapped.

The Pakistani assessment was that India was demoralised after being defeated by China in 1962; after Nehru's death, the Indian political system was subject to great uncertainties; the people of Jammu and Kashmir had been alienated from India; international community would not oppose Pakistani military intervention, as India showed unwillingness to change its stand on Kashmir during the 1962-63 talks; and Pakistan's marginal success in the Rann of Kutch confirmed its assessment of Indian Army's vulnerability. When Pakistan launched 'Operation Gibraltar' later in 1965, the expectations were that India would respond militarily only in areas where Pakistan had launched military operations. The 1965 war in purely operational and military terms was a draw with no decisive military victory for either side. It was in politico-strategic terms and policy objectives that Pakistan was defeated.

These southern hostilities were ended by British mediation, and both sides agreed to refer the case to binding international arbitration in order to limit tensions and removea nuisance to relations. Consequently, the Rann of Kutch Tribunal Award was concluded. On February 19, 1968, the Indo-Pakistan Western Boundary case tribunal award bolstered India's claim over 90 percent of the Rann while conceding remaining 10 percent area to Pakistan. Both sides accepted the award of the Indo-Pakistan Western Boundary Case Tribunal designated by the UN secretary general. The tribunal made its award on February 19, 1968, delimiting a line of 403 kilometers that was later demarcated by joint survey teams. Of its original claim of some 9,100 square kilometers, Pakistan was awarded only about 780 square kilometers. Beyond the western terminus of the tribunal's award, the final stretch of Pakistan's border with India is about 80 kilometers long, running west and southwest to an inlet of the Arabian Sea.

In August 1999, a Pakistani surveillance aircraft was shot down by the Indian Air Force in the Rann of Katch.

Unfortunately, there was no ruling on the demarcation of Sir Creek, a disputed area that remains a source of irritation. The Indo-Pak boundary finally runs through the low-lying, tabletop, salty waste lands called the Rann. A variety of creeks jut out like fingers from the body of the Indian Ocean into the marshy flatlands of the Rann. The alignment of the international border here is also disputed and is commonly referred to as the Sir Creek issue. The Sir Creek dispute involves defining the international boundary along the Sir Creek, a 100-km-long estuary in the saline wetlands of the Rann of Kutch between the state of Gujurat in India and the province of Sind in Pakistan.

The dispute predates the creation of India and Pakistan and stems from a dispute between the British Indian State of Bombay and the Princely State of Kutch in the first decade of the 20th century. The princely state of Kutch and Sindh had their first falling out about the creek back in 1910s. Though they reached an agreement, the devil lying in detail was hard at work even then. By 1925, the dispute was back again, this time in the form of a gap between the agreement's text and its implementation on the ground. Like everything else that characterises their bilateral ties, in 1947 India and Pakistan inherited the dispute from the pre-partition days.

Because of a rich delta, Gujarat has the best fishing, and the Gulf of Kutch has the best fish known in India. The waters of the Indus delta at the Arabian Sea are considered good for fish breeding. This lures the Indian fishermen to enter into Pakistan's territorial water for a better catch. Sir Creek is the scene of numerous arrests of fishermen after they stumble into either the disputed areas or the territory on the side of the border other than their own. The woes of these fishermen, after they are caught, are very well known. The two countries don't treat them as they should -- in accordance with the international laws. They are kept in confinement with no charge and offered no legal assistance. Complications ensued when it was noticed that Sir Creek had started to shift its course northwards towards Pakistan. The shifting of the courses of shallow creeks is a normal geographical phenomenon.

Sir Creek is one of eight major issues on the Pak-India composite dialogue agenda devised by the archrival South Asian nations for the peace process that they launched back in 2004. The UN Convention on Law of the Sea required that all maritime boundary conflicts should be resolved by 2009, failing which the UN may declare disputed areas as international waters. The talks on Sir Creek under the fifth round of Pakistan-India Composite Dialogue were scheduled to be held on 2-3 December 2008 in New Delhi. However, in the aftermath of Mumbai terrorist attacks, India put a "pause" on the Composite Dialogue.



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