THATTA: Although the United Nations agreed to extend Pakistan’s ‘territorial shelf’ in the Arabian Sea by 150 nautical miles last year, the government has yet to start follow-up action to benefit from this unprecedented development.
The UN made the decision after going through a scientific study conducted by a team comprising the Navy’s hydrographers and civilian oceanographers over the past 20 years.
Senator Karim Khuwaja, who is the convener of a sub-committee of the Senate’s standing committee on planning and development, told Dawn that he had come to know about the issue during a recent visit by the committee’s members to Thatta’s coastal area.
On March 19 last year, he recalled, the UN Commission on the Law of Sea had announced that Pakistan’s ‘territorial shelf’ had been extended from 200NM to 350NM.
The ‘territorial shelf’ is a natural growth of the land under sea belonging to a littoral state. The shelf is usually spread over 200NM, but if a country can prove on the basis of scientific data that its territorial shelf extends beyond that limit, the world body is competent to allocate to it the additional portion of land.
According to a documentary, “Khushhali Kay Nayay Ufaq” (New Horizons of Prosperity), the deposit of soil and minerals into the Arabian Sea carried by River Indus over hundreds of years had brought about an expansion in the country’s territorial shelf.
A team of Pakistan Navy’s hydrographers, in collaboration with the ministry of science and technology and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), started work on a project to collect data on the shelf extension in 1995. It took the team over 20 years to complete the job. So far no other country in South Asia has been able to get its territory extended.
The country’s coastal belt is spread over 1000 kilometres from the Sir Creek, in Thatta district, to Jeewani, Balochistan, and the sea limit to 200 nautical miles. With the extension of the territorial shelf, the sea limit has consequently expanded to 350NM — equal to 290,000 square kilometers.
According to the documentary, the data obtained by the territorial shelf extension project has opened new vistas of sub-sea research and raised fresh questions. The initial indicators of resources lying under Arabian Sea show that mineral resources worth $24 million are hidden under the part of the seabed which Pakistan has exclusive right to explore.
But the PML-N government seems to have done nothing to exploit this opportunity, deplores Senator Karim Khuwaja. With the extension of the country’s territorial shelf, he says, the government should have started working on a project to take advantage of the development and lay basis of a structural plan in this regard. But there is no indicator that such a project has been undertaken.
Not only this, he added, the labour of love by the team behind Pakistan’s success in getting the territorial shelf extended by UN had not been acknowledged. He called for conferring suitable national awards upon Commodore Zafar Mansoor Tipu, the judge advocate general of Pakistan Navy; Commodore Muhammad Arshad, hydrographer of the navy; and Dr Asif Inam, director general of the continental shelf project and a director of the NIO.
The shelf extension, Senator Khwaja said, also reminds us of the need for continuous and regular flow of Indus water into the sea, a natural phenomenon required to maintain ecological balance of the area which is unfortunately termed wastage by the unaware and vested interests.