India-Pakistan Relations: Notes for UPSC Civil Services

India-Pakistan relations is one of the critical topics in the International Relations syllabus of UPSC Mains. Pakistan’s importance as India’s neighbour does not arise from its utility value but from its nuisance value in the South Asian region. The Foreign Policy of Pakistan is solely guided by their hostility towards India. In their pursuance of the hostility, they have become a military state. Its education system has been poisoned by Zia-ul-Haq with hatred for India and Hindus. Having engaged in multiple conflicts with India over the years, they have realised that they cannot counter India in an open war. So they have adopted a military doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’. This doctrine has become the driving force behind Pakistan’s state policy of terror. The primary reason why Pakistan is single-mindedly hostile towards India is its own identity crisis

Read Previous Lesson: India-China Relations for UPSC Civil Services

Pakistan’s Search for Identity

The origin of Pakistan lies in the Two Nation Theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The ‘Two Nation Theory’ states that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations with their own traditions, culture, food habits, beliefs etc. and therefore, they cannot live together in one nation-state.  Naturally, this is contradictory to the secular foundation of Indian constitution. India became a secular nation with an unparalleled diversity. It zoomed ahead of Pakistan in terms of economic development, social indicators, human development and global importance. A prosperous India is obviously a question mark on the Two Nation Theory and hence on Pakistan’s existence too. Thus, Pakistan is politically compelled to keep trying to prove the theory correct by destabilising India and holding it back, even at the cost of its own prosperity.

In reality, Pakistan has no raison d’être other than it being not-India. In their quest to prove that they are not Indian, they have ruined their education system which glorifies the foreign invaders who plundered undivided India including even Pakistan. In the process, the military has taken over the governance and diverts lion’s share of the budget to itself.

This has hindered their socio-economic development. To project itself as important as India in the global affairs, Pakistani military has enhanced its nuisance value in the region. It harbours and trains terrorists who disrupt peace in Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh. Terrorism is their state policy and is used to gain strategic importance in Afghanistan and foment violence in Kashmir.

Pakistan is also audacious enough to arrogate to itself the responsibility of championing the cause of Muslims in India. Their state machinery is engaged in falsely projecting that Muslims are oppressed and treated as second class citizens in India and hence Jinnah’s theory was correct. ISI’s propaganda wing Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) is devoted to conduct information war with fake news. 

In a nutshell, Pakistan’s identity crisis coupled with India’s progress has frustrated the short-sighted elite of Pakistani military and government. Their constant struggle to justify their  separate existence has blinded them to the real needs of their own people. They have drawn India into needless conflicts in a hope to hold our economic progress but have failed. Thus, now they are investing in terrorism and information war against India.

History of Indo-Pak Relations

When India was partitioned, the princely states were given the choice to join either India, Pakistan or remain independent. Contentious issues came with Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. Sardar Patel handled Junagarh and Hyderabad with iron hand. Pakistan did not see much opportunity in those two states as Junagarh was predominantly Hindu and Hyderabad was not geographically contiguous with Pakistan. However, Jinnah believed that Kashmir would fall in his lap given Kashmir’s geographical location, religious affinity and economic relations with Pakistan.

1947-48 Indo-Pak War

When Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, vacillated over the status of Kashmir, Jinnah grew impatient. In October 1947, he sent tribal raiders supported by Pak Army to take control of Kashmir. Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India and India sent troops to Srinagar and successfully defended the capital. The war-front during at the time of the ceasefire became the ceasefire line and Pakistan gained control of one-third of Kashmir.

1965 Indo-Pak War

This was second attempt by Pakistan to forcefully occupy Kashmir. They were equipped with arms by the USA and the UK and they assumed that India would be weak after the political void created by Nehru’s death. They also miscalculated that they would get support from Kashmiri Muslims. India put Pakistan on the defensive in Kashmir and went on offensive in Punjab, reaching up to Lahore. Finally, both nations agreed to a ceasefire and met at the Tashkent under the mediation of the USSR.

Tashkent Declaration 1966

This agreement was signed on 10th January, 1966 between India and Pakistan in Tashkent (now in Uzbekistan) with the mediation of the USSR. The objective was to restore normal  and peaceful relations between the two countries and to promote friendly relations between their people.

Salient Points of Tashkent Agreement

  • As per the UN Charter, not to have recourse to force and to settle their disputes through peaceful means.
  • Both sides to withdraw their armies back to pre-war positions, declare ceasefire.
  • Non-interference in the internal affairs of each other.
  • Repatriation of Prisoners of war (PoW).
  • Restoration of economic and trade relations, communication, diplomatic relations and cultural exchanges.

This agreement did bring in peace but it did not last long as Pakistan went back to its ways. The declaration is also criticised in India for not clinching a no-war pact and letting go of Haji Pir pass which was strategically important for India. However, Pakistan also had control over Indian territory in Kashmir and hence it was give and take.

1971 Indo-Pak War

Bengali nationalism in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) trumped the ‘Two Nation Theory’ and demanded freedom from Urdu and Punjab hegemony imposed by West Pakistan. The ruling elite of West Pakistan committed war crimes and genocide of Bengalis in East Pakistan. Many Bangladeshi refugees fleeing from Pakistani military led oppression poured into West Bengal and Assam, causing a crisis. India was drawn into the war when Pakistan launched airstrike on Indian airbases. In merely 13 days, Pakistan surrendered with 93,000 troops becoming PoWs. 

Shimla Agreement 1972

This agreement was signed between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi in the aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pak War. 

Salient Points of Shimla Agreement

  • Both countries to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations. (This is referred to by India whenever a third party like USA is invoked to mediate in Kashmir issue).
  • The ceasefire line of 17 December 1971 was converted into line of control (LOC) between India and Pakistan. Neither party called unilaterally change the status of the LOC.
  • Mutual respect for each other’s national unity, territorial integrity, political independence and sovereign equality.

India’s objective was to achieve lasting solution to Kashmir issue and if not then at least prevent Pakistan from internationalising it. It also aimed to achieve peaceful relations and not push Pakistan into humiliation by pulling as Versailles on them. But a military coup in 1977 led by General Zia-ul-Haq negated all of this.  He acquired sophisticated arms from the USA and made USA look the other way while Pakistan developed nuclear weapons. They achieved de facto military power parity by becoming nuclear power. It allowed them to take the war to Indian territory through terror proxies. The generous agreement given by a victorious India to a crushed Pakistan in the hope of peaceful and cooperative relations was dishonoured by the latter. 

Kargil War 1999

Tensions grew in the relations after both the nations conducted nuclear tests within a span of two weeks in 1998. While Indian government was offering olive branch to Pakistan to normalise relations through Lahore Declaration, Pakistan backstabbed by infiltrating and capturing certain points across the LoC in Kashmir. India went into offensive and recaptured the area. Pakistan lost face in the world as it was rebuked for instigating war between two nuclear armed nations.

Recent Terror Attacks

Any hope for normalisation of relations between the two countries in the near future has been dashed as Pakistan continues to provide logistical and financial support terrorist activities in India and orchestrating major terrorist attacks like 2008 Mumbai Attack, 2016 Pathankot Air Force Station attack and the dastardly 2019 Pulwama car bomb attack. The public opinion in India has also majorly shifted against any normalisation. These attacks are often timed when India engages with the civilian government in Pakistan. It is a way for Pakistani military to show that they are the de facto political power in Pakistan and any normalisation will be derailed as it goes against the interests of Pakistani military.

Other Major Issues in India-Pakistan Relations

Though Kashmir is is the major thorn in the relations of India and Pakistan, there are other contentious issues too. Let us understand them one by one.

Indus Water Treaty

The Indus Water Treaty (IWT), brokered by the World Bank, was signed in 1960 between India and Pakistan. It is the guiding principle behind the water sharing formula of Indus and its tributaries between the two countries. It is cited as the model and most successful water sharing agreement in the world.

Salient Features of Indus Water Treaty 

  • All the waters of the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi) shall be available for the unrestricted use of India.
  • Pakistan shall receive all the waters of the Western Rivers (Jhelum, Chenab and Indus) for unrestricted use and India should lead flow all the waters of the Western Rivers.
  • However India is allowed to use water from the Western Rivers for the following purpose, without materially affecting its usage by Pakistan:
    • Domestic Use
    • Nono-Consumptive Use
    • (iii)Agricultural Use
    • (iv)Generation of Hydro-electricity
  • Permanent Indus Commission was set up.

Even though India is allowed to use the water of Western Rivers, it has not done so. However, in recent times, due to Pakistan’s excesses committed through the terror proxies, India has been forced to rethink about utilising the water of these rivers. Also, due to the growth in population and consequent rise in water demand, time has come for India to review the Indus Water Treaty. In the past, India had initiated the Tulbul barrage on Jhelum which was suspended in 1987 after Pakistan protested. Pakistan also protested against Kishanganga Hydroelectricity Project and went to Permanent Court of Arbitration (Hague) but it was commissioned in 2018.

Future Course for India on Indus Water Treaty

India has always disassociated water issues and security issues in the past but Pakistan is testing India’s patience. While India had always held its end of promises under various treaties, it has not been able to bargain peace in Kashmir. Since the signing of IWT, the population in J&K has multiplied and so has the water demand. However, withdrawing from the IWT unilaterally may not be a feasible route because:

  1. It will harm India’s global reputation as a nation that respects international law and thus its ambition to have a say in global affairs (e.g. permanent seat in UNSC) could be damaged.
  2. India’s other neighbours might turn skeptical and it will make them further suspicious of India. As it is, they view India with great suspicion.
  3. China would get an excuse to block the Brahmaputra waters that may spell doom for Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
  4. It could initiate water wars and further destabilise the South Asian region.

Thus, the best recourse for India would be to maximise its capacity to use Western Rivers of Indus system by building adequate infrastructure. It has valid reasons for doing so and is also allowed to do so under the IWT. Though it may take a long time to build such infrastructure, it may be the best choice. Any short term confrontational solution will only do more harm than good to India’s interests. 

India should project this as a welfare project for the people of Kashmir and seek support of Pakistan which proclaims itself to be pro-Kashmir. Surely, it would put Pakistan in a tight spot as they can neither agree to water usage by India and nor openly deny the Kashmiris their welfare and prosperity.

Siachen Glacier

Siachen is regarded as the world’s highest, deadliest  and costliest battlefield. The importance of Siachen lies in the fact that it overlooks both Pakistan and China. India holds the Saltoro Ridge line along the PoK. Siachen glacier region was occupied by Indian Army through Operation Meghdoot by pre-empting Pakistan’s move to do the same. 

 More than the dual threat of Pakistan and China, defending of Siachen is made difficult by  the extreme weather where temperature can reach -60°C and there are frequent avalanches. Both Indian and Pakistani armies suffer non-combat casualties. India has lost about 900 soldiers while Pakistan has lost 2000 since 1984. Maintaining the army in the region costs India Rs 5 crore a day. Military presence and movement also disturbs the unique and pristine ecosystem there. 

Considering all the human, financial and environmental costs of militarisation of Siachen, both the countries have held many rounds of talks to demilitarise the region. But due to the complex nature of Indo-Pak relations and the distrust between the two countries, there has been no decision on the matter yet.

Sir Creek Dispute

Sir Creek India-Pakistan Issue
Sir Creek Issue: Bone of Contention between India and Pakistan

Sir Creek is a 96-km long water channel in the marshlands of Rann of Katch. It forms the maritime boundary between India and Pakistan but the position of the boundary line drawn over the waters is disputed by both the countries. Pakistan claims the entire Sir Creek to be part of its Sindh provide while India says that the boundary drawn in 1925 actually divides the estuary equally along the length. The pillars built in 1924 along the mid-channel support India’s stand.  

Sir Creek is one of the richest fishing grounds in Asia and it is believed that it may have rich hydrocarbon resources like natural gas, petroleum etc. Therefore, none of the two countries are letting go their claims and the status quo is maintained.

Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir

Since the 1949 ceasefire and Pak’s occupation of a portion of Kashmir, they have changed the demographic nature of PoK by settling Punjabis and people of other ethnicities in PoK. India was under no obligation to maintain the demography and political geography in its part of J&K. Despite this, it was maintained by India for a long time. 

In a landmark move, the Parliament of India reorganized erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state into two union territories namely, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh on 5th August, 2019. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 acknowledged the distinct culture of Ladakh and freed it from the shackles of Kashmir politics that held back its development. It also created crisis in Kashmir-centric Pakistan as at one go, the large territory of Ladakh was disassociated from the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s frustration showed in its desperate attempts to push terrorism and failed effort to gather international support against this move by India. India has impeccably gathered international support for its position that the reorganisation is its internal matter.

Future course of India-Pakistan Relations

Pakistan’s never ending struggle to prove itself un-Indian and its attempts to prove itself equal to or better than India has never let the relations to get normal between the two countries. The lack of true democracy and the successive toothless civilian governments have proved that bilateral engagement  with the civilian government would be rendered fruitless by the machinations of the Pak military. Pak military’s self-interest in keeping hostilities with India alive will also not let the relations be normalized. 

Historically, Pakistan has shown disregard for treaties, whether it be Tashkent Agreement or the Shimla Accord.  Hence, engaging with them on the diplomatic table will have limited effects. Due to the power parity brought by nuclear arms and pressure by international powers, engaging with Pakistan in a battlefield is also not an option. This was proven when in the aftermath of 2001 Parliament attacks, India mobilised its forces on the western border but fell short of declaring a war. Therefore, India has changed the way it deals with Pakistan.

Isolation of Pakistan

India has been trying to internationally isolate Pakistan and has been successful to some extent. The 2016 SAARC summit in Islamabad was cancelled after India led the other SAARC nations to boycott Pakistan in the aftermath of attack on Indian Army camp in Kashmir. India has also pursued regional groupings like BBIN and BIMSTEC which exclude Pakistan. Pakistan has been lately struggling to gather international support for its Kashmir narrative. However, given the geo-political importance of Pakistan and support of a powerful China, this strategy may have only limited effect in the near future.

Global Consensus against Terrorism 

India has been leading the efforts to develop global consensus against terrorism and condemnation of Pakistan for its state-sponsoring of terrorism. In the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of States Council meeting a declaration was made condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. This was a huge embarrassment for Pakistan as it is also a member of the SCO.

Even the USA, European Union and the BRICS have called out Pak-based terrorists as security concerns.  The surgical strikes by India not only destroyed terror havens in PoK but also exposed Pakistan as a rogue state that harbours and trains terrorists. A major success was the declaration of Azhar Masood as a global terrorist by UNSC in 2019, despite repeated defending by China. Finally, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has moved to blacklist Pakistan for financing terror and if done, it will break the backbone of the terror funding network of Pakistan.

Bringing Pakistan’s Domestic Politics into the Picture

Pakistan’s own crimes against Baloch, Sindhi and Pashtun origin people by Punjabi dominated government and military had gone largely unnoticed for a long time. Systematic killings and disappearances of Baloch, MQM and Pashtun activists have created extreme resentment in those people against the state of Pakistan. India should fund academic research on such subjects so that there is greater scholarly debate in the West on them. This information warfare coupled with countering ISPR propaganda on social media will be effective in putting pressure on Pakistan.

Military Action against Terror Infrastructure

The successful surgical strikes eliminating terror havens in PoK clearly signalled to Pakistan about the changed nature of response to terrorism. India will no longer wait for farcical investigations of terrorist attacks emanating formats soil by Pakistan. Pakistan realizes that the nuclear deterrence won’t save them from consequences of terrorist attacks sponsored by them. It has called out Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.

Support to Democratic Movements

Though subdued, Pakistan has a significant voice within its population that demands civilian control on government and retreat of the military from that space. India must provide logistical and intellectual support to amplify such voices. A truly democratic government is more likely to engage with India rationally than the current set up and hence is likely to foster better relations. 


  1. Terrorist activities and mutual distrust have clouded India-Pakistan relations. To what extent the use of soft power like sports and cultural exchanges could help generate goodwill between the two countries? Discuss with suitable examples. (UPSC 2015)
  2. The situation today is far different to that prevalent fifty years back when the Indus Water Treaty was signed.” Highlight the complexity of the current challenges on both sides of the border in this regard. Do you think that a review of the Treaty is in India’s best interests? (UPSC 2012)

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