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Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK

World: South Asia

The disputed Sir Creek

By South Asia Analyst Alastair Lawson

The shooting down of a Pakistani naval aircraft by Indian fighter planes took place in a remote area along the border that divides the two countries.

Much of the land between the Pakistani province of Sindh and the Indian state of Gujarat is either marshland or desert that neither side sees as being militarily important.

The area where the Pakistani aircraft was shot down lies north of the tropic of cancer in a hot and sparsely populated area.

This inhospitable terrain - famous on the Indian side for its high quantities of salt - was the scene of heavy fighting between India and Pakistan in 1965.

Disputed boundary

An area of water with access to the sea, known as Sir Creek, is still disputed between the two countries.

[ image: An Indian official points out the crash site]
An Indian official points out the crash site
Both Islamabad and Delhi cite the Sir Creek issue as an outstanding bilateral dispute that needs to be resolved.

It is perhaps because the area has been the scene of fighting in the past that both sides still patrol their respective sides of the border, even if the area is not regarded by either country to be strategically significant.

The area has only been in the news in recent years because fishermen from both countries have inadvertently crossed the maritime border.

Tension over Kashmir

However the recent fighting in Kashmir has meant that the military in Pakistan and India have been on a heightened state of alert.

India in particular is eager to stamp out what sees as efforts by Pakistan to launch incursions into its territory. However there is little prospect that this area will see the same sort of military build up that has taken place in Kashmir.

Even so, the international community will be watching the latest clash between India and Pakistan with unease, as last year both countries successfully carried out nuclear weapons tests.

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