Monday, November 15, 2010

ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICES : Why not the Pakistan Sea?

That every nation has the government it deserves does not right now aptly apply to Pakistan since it has, to all intents and purposes, a non-government incapable of doing what it was elected and is paid to do.

Amidst the massive loss of life from north to south and the suffering of countless innocent deprived citizens, to offset the national and international negativity besetting us and to give a little light relief (with water being most topical) here is a suggestion put to our itinerant son-in-law president when and if he can spare a moment from his party politicking and travels.

In October 1973 (so many years ago) when I met the president’s father-in-law, the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, I put it to him that it was high time we named the sea around us as the Pakistan Sea. “Good, very good,” said he, his acquisitive eyes lighting up. “I’ll have the proposal examined — we must delve deep. Write to me.”

So write I did: “My research shows that invariably oceans, seas, bays, inlets, isthmuses are named by discoverers, explorers, navigators, cartographers or users. They either bear their name of that of the land or country upon whose shores they lap. I send herewith a list of oceans and seas which bear the names of countries, places or men.

“It is time that the sea around us is known as the Pakistan Sea. Why should our coast be on the Arabian Sea? The simplest way would be to instruct our naval cartographers to print Pakistan Sea in the admiralty charts they compile — PN charts PAK 4, 5, 6, 11, 15, 16, 18. Later on, others charting the same sea will follow suit. Usage would then take over.”

This resulted in a summons to Islamabad from our then foreign and defence secretaries who both wished to know how our sea had come to be called the Arabian Sea. They were provided with notes received in reply to my enquiries from the director of the International Hydrographic Bureau at Monte Carlo, from the chief of the Reference Department, Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress and from the keeper of the Map Room at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Space precludes a reproduction of these notes but all indicated that the north-west area of the Indian Ocean had been known as the Arabian Sea for many centuries, first appearing on a map of the Indian Ocean as Mare Arabicum et Indicum in 1596.

The term ‘Arabian Sea’ developed from the important seaborne, but coastal, trade from Arabia and East Africa along the south-east coast of Arabia. The 12th century Islamic geographer, Sahrif al-Idrisi had noted that the sea along the north-west coast of India was known as the Bahr al Larwi, named after Lar, the ancient name for Gujarat.

The foreign secretary asked why we would want another war with India, why upset the Indians. Why on earth would India be upset, I countered, it has the third largest ocean of the world (65,526,700 sq km) named after it.

He then asked why upset the Saudis? Why should they be upset, I said, not a wave of the Arabian Sea laps against an inch of the Saudi coast — it was the users, the Arabs and the Indians, who had named the sea centuries before Pakistan was even a glint in Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s eyes.

How about the English Channel, known to the French as La Manche? And the Iranian Gulf, known as the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf which many maps now playing safe refer to as simply The Gulf.

The defence secretary treated the discussion as a joke but subsequently, at the end of 1973, wrote to me shooting down the proposal on the grounds that “we are bound to create alarm and bring about adverse political repercussions in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. By merely printing the words ‘Pakistan Sea’ in our admiralty charts will have no impact and if we announce it publicly it is unlikely to succeed”.

He cited the example of the earlier efforts of President Soekarno of Indonesia who had decided “to name the sea surrounding his islands as the ‘Indonesian Sea’ but his efforts bore no fruit.”

This was not compatible with our case. Soekarno’s efforts to rename the Malacca Straits were linked with his confrontational policy towards Malaysia and the Philippines. Freedom of the Straits was involved, as were drilling rights.

End of matter — then. Now, in the midst of turmoil, strife and international opprobrium, can Pakistan not assert itself in some safe way? At the Law of the Sea Convention in 1982 an area of 240,000 sq km of sea was demarcated as Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, over which we exercise full economic rights. Who can object to this portion of the sea being named the Pakistan Sea? Our Arabian friends could be won over — no loss to them. There is no question of the elimination of the Arabian Sea. It can be written in next to the Arabian Peninsula, below the 20th parallel.

Our naval might being what it is, with more flag officers to its name than ships, no one in their right mind would credit us with aggressive designs.

All that is needed is an imaginative man (surely one can be found) to instruct our naval cartographers and the Surveyor General of Pakistan to map in ‘Pakistan Sea’ within the demarcated 240,000 sq km of our EEZ.

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