Poverty is usually seen as the prime factor driving crime and other illegal activities. This is as true at the sea as on the land. The crime of poaching in the seas leads to both depletion of marine life as well as hardship for coastal communities. More often than not, the poacher is nothing more than a poor individual trying desperately to make both ends meet. This is what drives maritime trespassing and poaching by Indian fishermen in Pakistani waters along the Eastern border.
The Indian coastal community is one of the most destitute in the world. Added to this is the scarcity of fish in Indian waters, due to various factors such as over-fishing and pollution, as compared to Pakistani waters which are rich in quality fish due to the proximity of Indus delta as well as an under-developed fishing sector. Combined with a corrupt Indian Coast Guard, which can easily be bribed, and the seth, controlling the fishing business, hundreds of fishing boats are sent into Pakistani waters to gamble a few (around a dozen boats or so) horas for a good catch by the rest. Frequently, these hapless souls are arrested and put into prison where they languish away from their loved ones due to an indifferent Indian government. At the most, the Indian government instead of doing something concrete merely fabricates propaganda to exploit the plight of these fishermen for geopolitical objectives.
A most recent example is an incident on 23rd September in which according to reliable sources a number of Indian boats had crossed well into Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone when a Pakistani Maritime Security Agency patrol boat warned them to clear the area or be apprehended. One of the Indian fishing boats while clearing the area also rammed into the PMSA boat.
Certain segments of the Indian media however twisted the incident into a diatribe against Pakistan which has often dealt softly with the poverty struck poachers on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with international law. Indian media claims of the PMSA boat ramming the Indian vessel as well as shooting at its crew do not meet facts on the ground. Indian behavior with maritime trespassers is opposite to Pakistani conduct as Indian forces often brutally attack unarmed boats without justification. A case in point is the December 2014 incident in which an unidentified boat was destroyed by the Indian coast guard, who initially claimed it “self destructed” but later on the videotaped boasting of a Coast Guard commander revealed that it had been deliberately destroyed against norms of international law.
While the Indian government acknowledges the issue of maritime trespassing by its citizens, it too largely plays no role. The passing of a bill in Indian state of Gujarat banning Indian fishermen from crossing into Pakistani waters seems to be a symbolic step to stifle internal protest over plight of the Indian fishermen. In the end, the deprived Indian fisherman is a pawn of the greed of the Indian security forces and the seeming indifference of the New Delhi government.
Jawad Falak is an MPhil student at National Defence University, Islamabad and is a resident research associate at Maritime Study Forum.