India-Pakistan Relations: Evolution, Challenges & Recent Developments

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The India-Pakistan relations has often afflicted by cross-border terrorism, ceasefire violations, territorial disputes, etc. In 2019, the bilateral relationship was rocked by several tense events like the Pulwama terror attack, Balakot airstrike, scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, etc. Improving bilateral ties is vital for both sides, as it would mean stabilisation of South Asia and the improvement of economies of both the nations. However, the political will to mend the relationship in the current juncture seems to be absent on both sides.

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This topic of “India-Pakistan Relations: Evolution, Challenges & Recent Developments” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


  • Following the partition of British India, two separate nations, India (dominated by Hindus) and Pakistan (dominated by Muslims) was formed.
  • Despite the establishment of diplomatic relations after their independence, the immediate violent partition, wars, terrorist attacks and numerous territorial disputes overshadowed the relationship.
  • Since independence in 1947, both countries have fought three major wars, one undeclared war and have been involved in armed skirmishes and military standoffs.
  • The dispute over Kashmir is the main centre-point of all these conflicts except for the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, which resulted in the secession of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
  • Several efforts were made to improve the bilateral ties, which were successful in de-escalating tensions to a certain extent.
  • However, these efforts were hampered by frequent terrorist attacks and ceasefire violations.

What are the wars and conflicts that were fought between India and Pakistan?

Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-48

  • It was the first of the four Indo-Pakistan Wars fought between the two newly independent nations.
  • This war was fought between the two nations over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that was under the control of Maharaja Hari Singh.
  • Fearing a revolt within the state and invasion from Pakistan, Maharaja Hari Singh made a plea to India for assistance. Assistance was offered by the Indian government in return to his signing an Instrument of Accession to India.
  • The war resulted in India securing two-thirds of Kashmir, including Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.
  • Pakistan controls roughly one-third of the state, referring to it as Azad (free) Kashmir.

Indo-Pakistan War of 1965:

  • The Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 initiated following the culmination of skirmishes that took place since April 1965.
  • Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar was launched to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to hasten insurgency against India.
  • India retaliated by launching a full-scale military attack on West Pakistan.
  • This war resulted in thousands of causalities on both sides and witnessed the largest engagement of armoured vehicles and the largest tank battle since World War II.
  • The war ended after an UN-mandated ceasefire was declared following diplomatic intervention by the USSR and the US, and the subsequent issuance of the Tashkent Declaration.

Indo-Pakistan War 1971:

  • Since independence, Pakistan was geopolitically divided into two major regions, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, which is dominated by Bengali people.
  • Following the launch of Pakistan’s military operation (Operation Searchlight), a genocide on Bengalis in December 1971 and the political crisis in East Pakistan, the situation went out of control in East Pakistan.
  • India intervened in favour of the rebelling Bengalis population.
  • Indian army invaded East Pakistan from three sides and the Indian Navy imposed a naval blockade of East Pakistan, leading to the destruction of a significant portion of Pakistan’s naval strength.
  • After the surrender of Pakistani forces, East Pakistan became an independent nation of Bangladesh.

Kargil Conflict:

  • During the winter of 1998-99, the Indian army vacated its posts at high peaks in Kargil Sector in Kashmir as it used to do every year.
  • Pakistan Army made use of this opportunity to move across the line of control and occupied the vacant posts.
  • The Indian army discovered this in May 1999, when the snow thawed.
  • This led to intense fighting between Indian and Pakistani forces.
  • Backed by the Indian Air Force, the Indian Army regained many of the posts that Pakistan had earlier occupied.
  • Pakistan later withdrew from the remaining portion because of the international pressure and high causalities.

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What are the territorial disputes between India and Pakistan?


  • Due to political differences between the two countries, the territorial claim of Kashmir has been the subject of wars in 1947, 1965 and a limited conflict in 1999 and frequent ceasefire violations and promotion of rebellion within the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The then princely state remains an area of contention and is divided between the two countries by the Line of Control (LoC), which demarcates the ceasefire line agreed post-1947 conflict.

Siachen Glacier:

  • Siachen Glacier is located in Northern Ladakh in the Karakoram Range.
  • It is the 5th largest glacier in Karakoram Range and the 2nd largest glacier in the world.
  • Most of the Siachen Glacier is disputed between India and Pakistan.
  • Before 1984, neither of the two countries had any permanent presence on the glacier.
  • Under the Shimla Agreement of 1972, the Siachen was called a barren and useless.
  • This Agreement also did not specify the boundary between India and Pakistan.
  • When India got intelligence that Pakistan was going occupy Siachen Glacier, it launched Operation Meghdoot to reach the glacier first.
  • Following the success of Operation Meghdoot, the Indian Army obtained the area at a higher altitude and Pakistan army getting a much lower altitude.
  • Thus, India has a strategic advantage in this region.
  • Following the 2003 armistice treaty between the two countries, firing and bombardment have ceased in this area, though both the sides have stationed their armies in the region.

Sir Creek Dispute:

  • Sir Creek is a 96 km estuary in the Rann of Kutch.
  • Rann of Kutch lies between Gujarat (India) and Sindh (Pakistan).
  • The dispute lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between the two countries.
  • Pakistan claims the entire Sir Creek in accordance with a 1914 agreement that was signed between the Government of Sindh and Rulers of Kutch.
  • India, on the other hand, claims that the boundary lies mid-channel as per a 1925 map.
  • If one country agrees to the other’s position, the former will lose a vast amount of Exclusive Economic Zone that is rich with gas and mineral deposits.

Water disputes:

  • The waters of the Indus Rivers begin mainly in Tibet and the Himalayan Mountains in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir (Indian side).
  • They flow through the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Sindh etc., before draining into the Arabian Sea through the Pakistani side.
  • The partition led to conflict over waters of the Indus basin as it was in such a way that the source rivers of the Indus Basin were in India.
  • Both sides were at odds over how to manage and share these rivers
  • Until the signing of the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, the arrangement to share east and west-flowing rivers were ad hoc.
  • The Indus Waters Treaty is the water distribution treaty signed between India and Pakistan, brokered by World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development).
  • According to the treaty, three rivers, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas were given to India for exclusive use and the other three rivers, Sindh, Jhelum and Chenab were given to Pakistan.
  • This treaty failed to address the dispute since source rivers of Indus Basin were in India, having the potential to create drought and famines in Pakistan.
  • Last year, Modi Government had stated that India would no longer allow its share of river waters to flow into Pakistan in response to the Pulwama terror attack.
  • According to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, India can exploit rivers under its control without disturbing the flow or quantum.
  • India plans to divert its three rivers to the Yamuna.

What are the other areas of contentions?

Cross-Border terrorism and ceasefire violations:

  • Cross-border terrorism has been an issue since independence.
  • Despite the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement post-Kargil Conflict, there have been regular ceasefire violations from the Pakistan side of the border since 2009, leading to the death and injury of security forces and civilians on both sides.
  • The Modi Government’s massive armed retaliation to Pakistan’s ceasefire violations led to a rise in the number of infiltrations of terrorists from across the LoC.
  • Subsequent incidents of 2016 Pathankot attack and Uri attack resulted in the ceasing of any effort to undertake bilateral talks between the two countries, with Indian Prime Minister declaring that “talks and terrorism cannot go hand in hand”.
  • This was followed by surgical strikes by Indian Army across the LoC to target the terror infrastructure in PoK.
  • India’s current stand is that it will not undertake talks until Pakistan tackle cross-border terrorism.
  • Pakistan, in contrast, is ready for talks but with the inclusion of Kashmir issue.

Kulbushan Jadhav case:

  • Kulbushan Jadhav, a retired Naval Officer was arrested near the Iran-Pakistan border in Baluchistan region by Pakistan.
  • Pakistan accused him of espionage and spying. He was sentenced to death by Pakistan’s military court.
  • India states that Jadhav was a retired Naval Officer who was in Iran on a business trip and was falsely framed by Pakistan.
  • India, for many times, demanded consular access of Jadhav, which was rejected by Pakistan, citing national security.
  • This led to India approaching International Court of Justice (ICJ) and stating that Pakistan was violating Vienna Convention by denying Consular Access.
  • The ICJ asked Pakistan to review Jadhav’s death sentence and allow consular access.

Were the past Confidence Building Measures between India and Pakistan successful?

  • Since the Partition, India and Pakistan have signed many agreements to generate confidence and reduce tensions.
  • Perhaps the most notable among them are Liaquat-Nehru Pact (1951), Indus Waters Treaty (1960), Tashkent Agreement (1966), Rann of Kutch Agreement (1969), Shimla Accord (1972), Salal Dam Agreement (1978), and the establishment of the Joint Commission.
  • Except for the Joint Commission, all the others were the products of either a crisis or a war that necessitated a logical end to the preceding developments.
  • Though CBMs are efficient tools to improve inter-state relations, trust between the two sides is vital for its success.
  • CBMs are difficult to establish but easy to disrupt and abandon.
  • Some continue to be successful while others are abandoned.

Major Achievements:

Some of the confidence-building measures taken to improve Indo-Pakistan relations are as follows:

Military CBMs:

  • Agreement on the Prohibition of Attack against Nuclear Installations and Facilities was signed in 1988 and ratified in 1990. The first exchange took place on January 1, 1992. As per the Agreement, India and Pakistan exchange the list of their nuclear installations to prevent attacking each other’s atomic facilities. This practise has been followed to date.
  • Agreement on Advance Notification on Military Exercises, Manoeuvres and Troop Movements were brought into effect in 1991. This agreement played a crucial role in deescalating the tensions on both the sides of the LoC.
  • A communication link between Pakistan Maritime Security Agency and the Indian Coast Guard was established in 2005 to facilitate the early exchange of information regarding anglers who are apprehended for straying into each other’s waters.
  • A hotline between Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both the countries have been in effect since 1965 and was used in an unscheduled exchange to discuss troop movements and allay tensions in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks.

Non-military CBMs:

Most of these CBMs focused on improving people-to-people interaction. Some of the significant ones that more or less withstood the test of times are as follows:

  • Delhi-Lahore Bus Service was initiated in 1999. It was suspended in the aftermath of the 2001 Indian Parliament Attack. The bus service was later resumed in 2003 when bilateral relations had improved. This service was recently suspended in 2019 in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution.
  • Samjhauta Express that was launched following the signing of the Shimla Agreement connects Pakistani city of Lahore and the Indian town of Attari. It had been suspended frequently, but due to negotiations, it was restarted. In 2019, it was suspended after the revocation of the special status of Kashmir.
  • Weekly Bus Service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad was initiated in 2005. It has withstood the test of times and still operational.
  • India extended humanitarian aid to Pakistan in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake. Pakistan too had earlier provided relief in the aftermath 2001 Gujarat Earthquake.

Failures in the CBM process:

  • Although there are hotlines connecting both military and political leaders in both countries, they have been scarcely used when required the most. The absence of communications has led to suspicions and accusations of misinformation.
  • There is a disproportionate emphasis on military CBMs and inadequate recognition of several momentous non-military CBMs.
  • Governments of both sides often use CBMs as political tools to win over specific constituencies, which can be very damaging in the long-run. Public conciliatory statements, which are meant to be CBMs, can have the opposite effect if they are insincere.

What was the progress made in 2019?

  • The year 2019 has in many ways, set the tone, tenor and tempo of how 2020 will pan out between India and Pakistan.
  • Early last year, the Pulwama suicide bombing carried out by the Pakistani terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) led to the death of 40 CRPF personnel. This was the starting point of the steep decline in relations.
  • Within a few days after the incident, India’s fighter jets targeted a JeM terrorist camp, not in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), but in Balakot in the Pakistani Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This led to retaliation from Pakistan.
  • This incident led to a paradigm shift to the traditional India-Pakistan tensions.
  • Later that year, the amendment and hollowing out of Article 370, scrapping of Article 35A, the bifurcation of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories stunned Pakistan.
  • This move effectively killed whatever remained of the bilateral ties post-Balakot airstrike.
  • Pakistan responded by expelling the Indian High Commissioner and suspending all trade between the two countries.
  • Trade had already fallen steeply after India withdrew Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status and imposed a 200% import duty on Pakistani goods earlier that year post-Pulwama.
  • However, within days, Pakistan was forced to allow the import of medicines from Indian to provide relief to its patients who were affected due to its suspension of bilateral trade with India.
  • Amid the post Article 370 breakdown, Pakistan went ahead with the Kartarpur Corridor. Even this move is seen with mistrust by many due to Pakistan’s support to the Khalistani movement.
  • Furthermore, any progress in the diplomatic ties in the political front is going to be difficult because of Pakistan military’s dominance in the country’s foreign policy. Any progress made has often led to a terror attack or ceasefire violation.
  • In the current situation, the prospects for meaningful engagement between the two nations remain bleak and the best that can happen is that the diplomatic relations are fully restored, trade is opened up and easing of travel between the two nations.

What can be the way forward?

Reforming Pakistan’s political structure:

  • Despite the democratic elections in Pakistan, the military wields the real power in the country. This holds true especially on matters of defence, national security and foreign policy.
  • Pakistan’s military is the most dominant national political institution, the primary decision-maker and the chief overseer of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.
  • People’s needs on the aspects of health, employment and education are not prioritised while the military decides on its foreign policies with other nations, leading to the Pakistani economy feeling the brunt of the radical decisions by the military.
  • Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), consisting for personnel from Pakistan Armed Forces, is often accused of supporting and training separatist militant groups operating in Kashmir and other parts of the country like North-East India.
  • This makes it highly difficult for India to undertake diplomatic relations with Pakistani government since it is not the decision-maker in the country.
  • Thus, a strong political reform in Pakistan, the one that focuses on the welfare of the Pakistani nationals is vital to improving its relations with India.

People-to-people relations:

  • Propaganda is currently being used by both sides through the media to justify each other’s stand on conflicting issues.
  • This is creating misconception, hatred and stereotyping among the people of both countries.
  • This method is also used for political gains of both nations, with least consideration towards people’s welfare and the need for peace.
  • Steps must be taken to facilitate travel between the two countries, ease up visa regimes, provide security for tourists, set up student and faculty exchanges, and invite professionals, intellectuals and artists to events to promote the bilateral ties.

Promote trade:

Steps that can be undertaken to improve bilateral trade include:

  • Remove non-tariff barriers and bureaucratic hurdles that are currently impeding trade.
  • Cut down duties
  • Improve customs clearance procedures
  • Proportionate trade is beneficial for both sides and is possible through the right government policies.

Promoting soft diplomacy:

It is the ability of the country to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction towards its political values, culture and favourable foreign policy. Measures that can be taken to promote soft diplomacy include:

  • Use of Indus Waters Treaty to promote hydro diplomacy. Both nations can come together to construct Water Grid between their territories to address the water problems in the region.
  • Cultural diplomacy can be used through the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other cultural aspects to strengthen bilateral ties, enhance the socio-cultural cooperation and promote the individual national interest.
  • Promotion of Cricket diplomacy i.e., the use of cricket as a diplomatic tool to overcome differences between the two countries.

To a certain extent, soft diplomacy improved the people-to-people relations between the two countries and eased the tensions on both sides.

Cooperation to address common issues:

  • Being neighbours, both India and Pakistan face similar problems that are currently plaguing the region.
  • For instance, recently, Pakistan has sought to import chemicals from India to fight the imminent locust attack.
  • India too is a victim to locust attack.
  • Thus, such similar problems like climate change and natural disasters can be dealt with through cooperation from both sides.
  • This can significantly improve the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.
  • Social issues like child marriage, illiteracy, disease, discrimination, exploitation, unemployment and poverty are also an issue of common importance for both the nations, which the countries can use to improve their relations and coexist with each other.


South Asia has not yet progressed despite it having the potential to ensure fast-paced economic growth and development. This is mostly because of the differences and tensions between India and Pakistan. Improved India-Pakistan relations can ensure the addressing of any threat the subcontinent may face in the future. Cooperation and coexistence through trust can ensure an establishment of peaceful and prosperous South Asia.

Practice Question

Terrorism and decisive military response have plagued the India-Pakistan bilateral ties. What can be done to improve diplomatic relations? (250 words)

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