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Exploring Regional Solution for Fishermen disputes in South Asia

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Authors: Niroshika Sajeevani and Mohit Gupta

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] F [/yt_dropcap]isherman issue between India and Sri Lanka has been cause of worry for both the countries, it has not only severely impacted bilateral relationship between two close neighbor but also has adversely affected 500000 fisherman community living on both sides of borders.

It has become common to hear news of fisherman of one country entering into territorial water of other, and in consequence getting arrested, there boat getting confiscated. Some time even incidents of shooting on fisherman have been reported from both sides.

If we go into root of this fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka we can see that problem was born because agreement of 1974 and 1976 between India and Sri Lanka which demarcated maritime borders had not created any corporation mechanism between these two states on fisherman issue. Perusing similar agreement between other countries, it could be noted that there always exist joint mechanism for corporation; for instance in 2013 agreement signed between Japan and Taiwan has created joint fisheries committee. This committee is an institutionalized joint management mechanism created under the principle of equality that aims to maintain order in fishing operations and preserve the bio-resources in the agreement-designated zone as well as areas of mutual concern outside of the designated zone.

Through this article attempt is been made to explore solution for this long lasting problem, having a multi dimensional impact on sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, livelihood, and environment of the region.

Issue pertaining to fisherman is a regional in nature and warrant solution at regional level; there are four key reasons for holding this view. Firstly this issue concerns many countries of South Asia. Fishermen entering into other countries territorial water is not only witnessed between India-Sri Lanka, but it can also be seen between Sri Lanka Maldives, India-Pakistan, India-Bangladesh. Thus this issue is common concerns for many countries of the region, hence available regional mechanism could be triggered to effectively deal with it.

Secondly, this issue is posing challenge to the ecology of this region at large. Fishermen are using trawlers which had severe impact on marine ecosystem . It is because of use of this instrument by fishermen, fish density in Indian side of border with Sri Lanka has severely lowered. Thus unless effective mechanism is not found to address the issue, it will not take much time when all marine resources of the region would get exhausted. In 2006, the UNSG reported that 95% of damage to seamount ecosystems worldwide was due to bottom trawling, Use of this mechanized devices have been banned and regulated in various places.

Thirdly, this issue directly has trade implication across the world. This region owing to richness of its marine resources is one of the leading exporters of marine food across the globe. Thus if effective mechanism for settling this fishermen issue is not designed and regulated and mechanism for ensuring sustainable fishery is not adhered at earliest then not only economy of these countries effected but also trade at large at global level will be adversely impacted.

Fourthly, such issues has been successfully been dealt in past with the corporation of regional organization, for instance, European Union has entered into many fisheries agreement with countries of the region, they have come up with predetermined license fishing arrangement whereby fishermen of any country of the region can fish in the water of other country after adhering to the term of this license permit agreement. Thus similar corporation can be envisaged through regional organization existing in the region.

South Asian Association for Regional Agreement (SAARC) could be used as a forum to address this problem. Even though the SAARC regional arrangement is criticized to be failure due to mutual distrust, geo political factors, and ethnic atrocities the SAARC Charter has potential enough to address the persistent regional issues like illegal fishing across borders. Objective of SAARC Charter of promoting the welfare and quality of life , accelerating economic growth and opportunities for individuals to realize their potential , contributing towards mutual trust and to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social and technical fields , are directly linked to address issue related to poor fishermen community of the region.

The Council of Ministers is main decision taking body in this organization. As per Article IV (c) of SAARC Charter, council of Ministers can take decision on new areas of cooperation. Accordingly, regulating fishery industry can be identified and decided as new area of the cooperation in the region. Since main reason for engaging in illegal fishing are economic vulnerability, unawareness of fishermen about the maritime boundary, ignorance of the consequences of illegal fishing and harmful ecological effects of using trawlers, hence awareness building programmes could be organized through the Action Committee under SAARC .

Moreover joint patrolling is another mechanism that could be adopted to deal with the issue. Australia and Indonesia currently follows this method to combat against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Thus Action Committee of SAARC could facilitate joint patrolling within the Indian Ocean water while defending the territorial integrity of the respective country.

Beside this, Foreign Fishing License Scheme could also be promoted through SAARC for providing legal permit for the fishermen to enter into another state’s territorial water. Introducing vessel tracking devices in fishing boats to determine the location could be another suggestion that can be promoted through this organization. SAARC can also propose Regional Guidelines on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices (IUU), in 2008, the EU had came up with such Regulations to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU .

Beside SAARC, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) is another important sector driven cooperative organization through which issue could be addressed. As per Article 6, fishery is one of the areas of economic cooperation listed. Fisheries Expert Group Meeting which was held in Thailand in 2001, the members agreed to adopt “Ecosystem-based Fishery Management in the Bay of Bengal” . Further, BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat Outcome Document of Goa in 2016 also identifies, “cooperation in sustainable development of fisheries in this region” as an important dimension. Thus, BIMSTEC is another potential regional arrangement through which issue could be handled.

Finally it could be said that this fisherman issue has given great opportunity to regional forums like SAARC and BIMSTEC to show that they are potent enough to peacefully resolve issue having adverse impact on unity and mutual trust among the members. These regional organizations therefore must harness this opportunity and should thereby come forward to contribute in developing a long-lasting atmosphere of corporation and association among countries of the region.

(*) Niroshika Sajeevani, practicing Advocate at Supreme Court of Sri-Lanka and Mohit Gupta, practicing Advocate at Allahabad High Court

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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South Asia

The sizzling “Political Matrix”; What will happen now?

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Politics in Pakistan is unfortunately leaving scars that will fade away not that easily. Islamabad today is wrapped in thick political clouds since past few weeks. These last few weeks have altered all assumptions and calculations in the national political matrix.  While the political landscape today is sizzling with intensity, aggression and strain the economy is shattering every day.  Who is to blame for? What will happen now? And will sanity prevail?

The entire edifice of the “conspiracy mantra” which even made PTI commit violation of the constitution stands demolished today. It was one of the worst advices Imran khan could ever get from his party among the list of many others. Sadly he made his entire politics captive to this conspiracy myth.  But today no one questions them on the impact it had on our foreign policy. US today feels betrayed, Saudis not ready to give aid, Chinese worried about their stakes and it continues.  So diplomatically this conspiracy mantra has damaged Pakistan like anything.

Imran Khan’s followers see nothing wrong in what he says and what he does. They absolutely reject all the facts, all the logics and embrace the rhetoric which is fuelling more today with a greater intensity. Imran khan is leading this campaign more aggressively. Khan very well knows that bringing large crowds to Islamabad will have an impact only if there is some kind of aggression.  The leaders on different occasions already hinted towards an aggressive March. He very well realizes that the figure of 2.5 Million is unrealistic but keeping in view the size of Islamabad, 0.1 Million crowd will even be perceived as a bigger crowd. So can he force the early elections at this stage? How will the government react to it? For instance let’s accept this narrative that the pressure of crowd aids PTI in getting an early election call and PTI wins it. So now what next? How will you deal with the mighty US? The economy is already sinking. You need aid to feed it but no one is providing you that. Then how will you stop dollar from going above 200? How will you provide relief from the soaring fuel prices when you won’t have money for a subsidy even? Forget about one lakh jobs and 50 lakh houses.

From the past few weeks we haven’t heard any PTI leader telling any economic plan or any diplomatic plan to revive relations. How will you deal with the IFI’s, World Bank & IMF when they’re all US controlled and as per your narrative you won’t accept “Amreeka ki Ghulami” or USA’s dictatorship.

So now what options the present regime has? The government would of course like to stop this building dangerous momentum of “Azadi March”. They would not like any big clash in Islamabad which results in bigger mess and chaos. The PDM government also has a much bigger fish to deal with, the same sinking economy. They came into power with this narrative to fix economy as former Premiere was unable to do it.  The key cabinet members made more than two different official visits.  The instructions are coming from London today as a decisive power so who will run the government? Who will run the system? Will the IMF aid? What will be the upcoming budget about? This upcoming budget is a bigger risk for this government along with an already announced to Long march call. Khan has already played a dangerous narrative especially with the blame of another conspiracy being made about his Life.   

The stakes, the narrative and the politics of every party is at risk today.  But above that, Pakistan is at risk. The dread is in the air. The end of May will be heated ferociously in Islamabad, whether politically or meteorologically.

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South Asia

Sri Lankan economic crisis and the China factor

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After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 seems to be a Herculean task (Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated, that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel and petrol to the people).

 The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities have brought ordinary people on the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives (the Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice first last month and then earlier this month). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation by President Gottabaya Rajapaksa but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe)

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-west and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out, that the PM had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true, that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the Island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan which witnessed a change last month where Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan, also faces daunting economic challenges.  Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $ 10 billion on May 6, 2022 and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Shehbaz Sharif ever since taking over as PM has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China and the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart alluded to the same, with Pakistan’s Foreign office in a statement released after the conversation between Bhutto and Wang Yi said:

 “underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation”.

 Yet, China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives such as Saudi Arabia and UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of 1.59 billion USD) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives, this is the second such attack after 2021. China in recent years had also indicated to Pakistan, that it was not happy with the progress of the China Pakistan Economic (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka as well as the challenges which Pakistan is facing is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. US, Japan and western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

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