India - Pakistan Relations

India Pakistan relations UPSC

In this article, you can read about several issues concerned with India’s relations with its neighbour Pakistan.

Composite Dialogue

The Composite Dialogue between India and Pakistan from 2004 to 2008 addressed all outstanding issues. It had completed four rounds and the fifth round was in progress when it was paused in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008. Amongst its achievements can be cited several Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) related to peace and security; enhanced people to people contacts through bus and train services; the revival of the Bilateral Joint Commission after 16 years; setting up of the Judicial Committee to look into the humanitarian issue of civilian prisoners/fishermen held in each other’s jails and growth in bilateral trade by 550% between the year 2003-04 and 2007-08 from US$ 344.59 million to US$ 2.23 billion.


The main factors which have contributed to the strained relations between the two countries are –

Siachen Glacier: There have been demands for the withdrawal of Indian troops from Siachen. However, Siachen holds strategic importance for India and India has refused to agree to the demand. It was suggested to make it a demilitarized zone. India and Pakistan almost managed this in Nov. 1992. The agreement on Siachen was in the mutual withdrawal of troops from new positions, the creation of a “zone of complete disengagement,’ and the delineation of a “zone of peace and tranquility”. The process broke down before a formal treaty could be agreed to.
Tulbul / Wular Project: The issue was between India and Pakistan. It relates to a barrage to be constructed by the J&K on the Jhelum just below the Wular lake. The object of the barrage is to allow navigation over a distance of around 20 km, between Wular lake and the Kashmir town of Baramulla.
Sir Creek Problem: Sir Creek is a 60 km estuary in the Rann of kutch. The Rann of Kutch lies between Gujarat on the India side and Sindh on the Pakistan side. The main problem arises between India and Pakistan because of the boundary live which divides Sir Creek.
Arms Race: Developed nations led by the USA have expressed their concern over the dangerous arms race going on in the Indian subcontinent. India conducted her first nuclear test in 1974 after that Pakistan has been secretly developing its nuclear capabilities.
Terrorism and Drug Trafficking: Pakistan has been trying a proxy war by supporting terrorist activities in Kashmir. India has often tried to draw the attention of the international community towards it. Kashmir remains the biggest issue of dispute between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir – The Root Cause of Clash: Before the merger, the state was attached by Pak-sponsored armed infiltrators. They were repulsed but a portion of Kashmir came under infiltrators. Today, the part of Kashmir is known as Pak occupied Kashmir (POK). During the conflict, the matter was raised in UNO by India. The UN-appointed commission called the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan to restore peace and arrange for plebiscite in Kashmir. However, it failed to bring the desired result.

In favour of Kashmir, Pakistan argues that Kashmir is predominantly a Muslim populated state and according to ‘Two Nation Theory’, its natural place is in Pakistan. It further says that all three major rivers of Pakistan – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab – originate in Kashmir. So the health of Pakistan’s agriculture depends on Kashmir “being a part of Pakistan’. India counters Pakistan’s argument by saying that it never accepted Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Moreover, more Muslims are living in independent India than in Pakistan. India decided to refer the Kashmir question to the security council of the UN in the year 1948. It requested the security council to ask the Pakistan government to sort out the difficulties. Pakistan demanded that Kashmir accession to India was illegal. The resolution affirmed the right of the Indian army to defend the state. The security council resolution could not be implemented because both India and Pakistan failed to comply with its conditions.


Terrorism remains our core concern in the relationship with Pakistan and has been repeatedly raised with Pakistan, including at the highest level, whereby India has consistently urged Pakistan to fulfill its repeated assurance given to us not to allow the territory under its control to be used for supporting terrorism directed against us or for any other anti-India activity. More recently, during the meeting of the Indian PM with the Pak PM, PM underlined our terrorism concerns and stressed that it was imperative to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice.

Trade Normalisation

To build the confidence of the business community on both sides, representatives of various trade regulatory bodies of India met, in India and Pakistan, representatives of leading chambers of commerce and industry of Pakistan and discussed matters about trade regulations, standards, labeling, and marking requirements. The two countries have initialed three agreements, viz., Customs Cooperation Agreement, Mutual Recognition Agreement, and Redressal of Trade Grievances Agreement.

Trade Infrastructure

The Home Minister of India, in the presence of, among others, the Commerce Ministers of India and Pakistan, and the Chief Ministers of the states of Punjab of the two countries inaugurated the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari on April 13, 2012. The Attari ICP represents vastly improved infrastructure to facilitate trade and travel. Spread over 118 acres, it contains a passenger terminal measuring 9,600 sq mts, a dedicated cargo terminal measuring 4,700 sq mts, and separate import and export warehouses measuring over 10,000 sq mts, apart from over 50,000 sq mts of parking space for trucks, and an equally large area for future expansion. In recent months, various segments in Pakistan have spoken in favour of opening more land trade routes with India, including Munabao- Khokhrapar.

Other Initiatives

Industry representatives and officials from the two countries have held discussions on trade in electricity and also trade in petroleum products and Liquefied Natural Gas. Officials of the central banks of both countries have also met to discuss cooperation in the banking sector, inter alia, by opening branches of two public sector banks in each other’s country. Pakistan welcomed India’s recent decision to allow investment from Pakistan (notified by the Government of India in July 2012). Pakistan has also expressed appreciation for India’s support for getting approved the EU trade concession package for Pakistan by the General Council of WTO.

Recent Developments (May 2013) – Dealing With SINO-PAK

Indira Gandhi once said that she could visualize a time in the future when India and Pakistan would have normal, even friendly, relations but she did not have the same hope for relations with China because, she said, it was essentially an expansionist power. How do recent events validate her instinct and analysis? As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is universally acknowledged that it is the military establishment which is most opposed to normalizing relations with India; indeed, it appears to have a vested interest in keeping India-Pakistan relations tense. Friendly relations with India would seriously undermine the raison d’être for the inflated size of the armed forces. They would lose control over the security policy, over Afghan and Indian policy as well as control over the nuclear arsenal. In other words, the military establishment would become an adjunct of the civilian government, thereby losing not only its pre-eminent position but also its self-cultivated image of being the only institution that can safeguard and save the people, in effect, from themselves. It might also lose at least a part of its economic empire. Thus, for the Pakistan military, it makes sense not to normalize relations with India.

Consensus for détente

On the other hand, going by the election manifestos of major political parties in Pakistan in the run-up to the May 11 elections, there seems to be a growing consensus among politicians for détente with India. Their manifestos not only did not contain anti-India rhetoric; they also indicated a willingness to promote peace with India. The party of incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even went to the extent of declaring that it will open the transit route for trade between India, Afghanistan, and beyond through Pakistan. Since winning the election convincingly, he has reiterated his desire to work for better relations with India, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warmly reciprocated. Imran Khan’s party also spoke of progressive detente with India. This trend needs to be noted and welcomed in India. It suggests that the political mainstream might be ready to stand up to the military in case the latter came in the way of normalizing relations with India. Whether it can do so will remain to be seen, but at least it has made public its intention to do so. Mr. Sharif has declared that he will be the ‘boss’ and that civilian supremacy will be asserted. If that happens, the possibility of normal relations between the two countries can certainly be entertained. Indians tend to lurch from euphoria to hostility in reacting to developments in neighbouring countries. We need to wait and watch. Does this mean that Pakistanis have finally accepted that India has no evil designs on their country and that they have nothing to fear from us? Opinion polls in Pakistan have suggested that India is not on the top of their list of most worrisome subjects. The realization that the country is being torn from within by forces nurtured by their agencies seems to have dawned on them. The business lobbies — and Mr. Sharif is a businessman — are certainly interested in opening trade and investment opportunities on a reciprocal basis. Pakistan has not kept the deadline of implementing the promised Most Favoured Nation status to India but one may expect this to happen given the declared intention of all parties to do so post-election. By and large, most people in Pakistan have reached the sensible conclusion that China, their all-weather friend, is not going to bail them out and that the best, perhaps the only, salvation for their fast-collapsing economy is to ride piggyback on India’s vast economy. The big question of how they tackle the terrorist outfits acting against India from Pakistani territory will remain.

Increasing aggression

China, by contrast, has become much more aggressive, and not just towards India. Having secured two decades of peaceful growth, China is now ready, it feels, to take on the world. Confirming this assertiveness are its actions in the South China Sea, Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and its unwillingness to discuss water issues with neighbours. China is more than willing to exploit its greatly enhanced clout in the global economy to press its interests. It vigorously pursues its ambition to have the Yuan accepted as an alternative currency in international trade. It scored an important success by concluding a deal with Australia to trade directly using only the Yuan and the Australian dollar, bypassing the U.S. dollar. As far as India-specific actions are concerned, there are any number of examples of China’s difficult attitude, as indicated by the deployment of several thousand PLA personnel in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its intrusions across the Line of Actual Control. The most important indication of China’s true assessment of India’s importance for it is the suo moto statement of President Xi Jinping that the border problem will not be solved any time soon, making it clear that it certainly will not be resolved during his 10 years in office. Hence, the reported statement by a Chinese official in Delhi that China would like to focus on reaching an agreement on the ‘framework’ for the settlement of the border issue needs to be noted. China will continue to make noise about the need for the two countries to cooperate in the international arena on issues such as climate change, but it remains firmly opposed to India’s aspiration for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (it would have been preferable for India not to have had any reference to this matter in the final declaration of the BRICS summit in South Africa than to have agreed to the most unpalatable formulation as finally agreed). This is what a Chinese scholar thought of India way back in 1903: “Indians have generally not cared if their territory is lost … Chinese determination is stronger than the Indian … we can foresee that Chinese accomplishments will certainly surpass those of the Indians.” Has anything changed? The comparison with Pakistan and China brings out an interesting aspect. For many years, we in India had been asking Pakistan to follow the example of our relationship with China, in which both countries took a conscious decision to keep aside the core issue of the border for the time being and concentrate on other aspects of bilateral relations that offered scope for cooperation to mutual benefit. Trade-in particular was identified as offering a huge potential for expanding bilateral relations. This has happened, although the trade is heavily lopsided in China’s favour. What is more, China is gobbling up our precious natural resources such as iron ore which we ought to be preserving for use in our steel plants. It was the expectation at least on our part that increased economic relations would create conditions propitious for the two countries to deal seriously and pragmatically with the border problem. In this, we have been sadly mistaken. Pakistan, on the other hand, insisted that there can be no progress on any of the bilateral issues so long as the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir was not resolved. It is premature to draw definitive conclusions, but about a year ago, Pakistan relented and agreed to move forward on trade before the core issue was settled. It agreed to grant India MFN status, apparently with the military’s consent, even in the absence of any progress on the Kashmir issue.

An interesting debate

What is the better approach? Settle the core issue first and then normalize, or normalize and then tackle the core issue? This is not just an academic question. Those arguing for the former would in effect suggest a standstill in bilateral relations since the core issues are not going to be resolved, given the inflexible and politically difficult positions of all sides. Those in favour of the latter approach in effect would be reconciled to an indefinite status quo since there would be no incentive to tackle the core issue. The debate needs to be joined.

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