India-Pakistan Relations – Part One: The Legacy of Partition

20 October 2016 Lindsay Hughes, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme Download PDF

Key Points

  • The relationship between India and Pakistan is predicated almost entirely upon the nature of their partition.
  • Pakistan sees itself as not having received its full share of territory.
  • Many in India saw themselves as having lost sizable regions due to the separation of Pakistan from Hindu-dominated India.
  • Current events have left an already poor relationship between them even in an even worse state.
  • India should, nevertheless, work to re-structure the relationship by re-calibrating its efforts to isolate Pakistan internationally.


Recent news articles in the Pakistani media claimed that a Pakistani journalist had been barred from leaving the country. Cyril Almeida, the journalist, had reported that the Nawaz Sharif Administration in Islamabad had ‘informed the military leadership of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state.’ The travel imposition on Mr Almeida was widely objected to by the Pakistani media and the travel ban was eventually lifted.

The travel ban on Mr Almeida was neither, of itself, new nor especially harsh; journalists in Pakistan work in very dangerous conditions, as Syed Saleem Shahzad found to his cost. It was, rather, the news that Mr Almeida was reporting upon that earned him a travel ban. He had reported that the civilian government had warned its military leaders that the country would be further isolated internationally by countries such as India and the United States unless the military – in fact, the Army – ceased its strategy of using “asymmetrical force” – Kashmiri and Pakistani insurgents –  against targets in militarily and economically more powerful India.


The report brought into the open several aspects of the political-military nexus in Pakistan. The first is the apparent lack of control that the civilian government in Islamabad has over the Army. This, however, has been readily apparent for some decades now. The various military coups aside, a classic example of the Army formulating foreign policy would be the Kargil conflict with India in 1999. In the spring of that year, then Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf, sent soldiers of the Pakistani Army across the international border with India, the Line of Control, without informing the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Worse, when Sharif met President Clinton privately and the President informed him that Washington was aware that the Pakistani Army was making its nuclear arsenal ready, Sharif was taken by surprise because he was unaware of this development. In the event, Musharraf seized control of the country and Sharif went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Another aspect of the Almeida report was that the civilian government was now prepared to tackle the issue of control of foreign policy. Apart from demonstrating that there was now a growing rift between the Administration and the Army, the report showed that the Administration felt confident enough to bring the matter to a head. It was the Army’s meddling and its actions that had led Pakistan to become isolated internationally. According to Almeida’s report, the Army acquiesced, giving the Administration a decisive victory. That report stated that Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar, the Director-General of the all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the Army’s intelligence unit, would travel around the country and inform local ISI commanders that they were not to intervene if and when local police forces acted against militant groups. This substantiated suspicions that the Army not only worked with militant groups but also protected them from law-enforcement agencies.

In short, the Pakistani Army worked independently of the elected Government of Pakistan and did not appear to be accountable to Pakistani citizens or it, a complaint India has made on several occasions. To better place the reasons for the Army’s actions in context, however, one must turn to history.

Pakistan, which came into being by the partition of British India in 1947, was perceived by its founding fathers as a land of the pure, a homeland for the sub-continent’s Muslims. By basing its identity on a theological foundation, Pakistan effectively drew a distinction between its Muslim population and India’s Hindus. It came as no surprise, then, that the relationship between the two was adversarial from the start. India and Pakistan have fought three wars and an undeclared one – the Kargil conflict – and New Delhi has witnessed an ongoing insurgency in Kashmir that it suspects is fuelled by the Pakistani Army. In the perceptions of the Indian Government, the Indian military and the Indian public, Pakistan is an implacable enemy that will not rest until it has defeated India in one way or another, and preferably completely. Pakistan, for its part, sees India as an intractable foe that refuses to let Islamabad complete the task it set out to do: to liberate all Muslims in the sub-continent, especially the Kashmiris, from the yoke of Hindu rule. So seemingly ingrained has this thinking become on both sides that both tend to forget or disregard the fact that both countries share a common pre-independence history, culture, languages and religions.

Pakistan holds bitter memories of the Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress’s opposition to the idea of a partitioned India before both countries became independent. A major outcome of this opposition was that the Muslim League, which had demanded a separate state for its Muslim constituents, did not acquire the total territory it sought. The leader of the Muslim League, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was, moreover, soon cast as a villain in the Indian narrative; it apparently did not matter that until he was supplanted in the Indian National Congress by Hindus such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Jinnah was portrayed as a shining example of how Muslims and Hindus could co-exist in peace.

The heightened emotion felt in Pakistan due to the perceived betrayal was exacerbated by events in Kashmir soon after independence and later. As a previous FDI paper noted:

… after becoming independent, the Pakistani Army used armed tribesmen from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (now known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), to invade Kashmir in October 1947 in an effort to coerce the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir into acceding to Pakistan. This stratagem was more or less employed again in August 1965, when the Pakistani Army used over twenty-five thousand soldiers, dressed as Kashmiri locals, to cross into Indian-administered Kashmir. The Pakistani Army was, to its surprise, fought to a standstill on both occasions. The leaders of the Army then turned the Kashmiri issue into one of “national security” to legitimise themselves and their forces.

Apart from legitimising the Army, the Kashmir issue had a major outcome: it gave rise to apprehensions in Pakistan that India wanted to either balkanise it or, worse, re-integrate it into a Hindu-dominated state. The perception that the sub-continent’s resources were inequitably distributed and the disproportionate sizes of their respective populations added to the general sense of having been duped out of its rightful share and, inevitably, enhanced mistrust of all Indian actions. The 1971 Indo-Pakistani War that saw the creation of Bangladesh saw this reasoning cemented in the Pakistani narrative and, especially so by the Pakistani Army, which has smouldered with resentment at having been defeated or fought to a standstill by a perceived inferior enemy in each of the four major conflicts that have occurred between the two. As Dr Fair argues, in its view of history, the Pakistani Army remains victorious as long as it can thwart India’s goal of regional hegemony; any degree of acquiescence is to admit defeat. This thinking underlines the import of Almeida’s report.

India has its own issues regarding Partition. There was a strongly-rooted mindset among some Indian nationalist groups that the Indian leadership at the time should not have allowed the country to be divided. That thinking has mostly evolved to one that demands that those Indian Muslims who do not accept India in its totality ought to be deported to Pakistan. This would include Kashmiris who call for a separate state. The vast majority of Indians, however, recognise the fact that the sub-continent has been divided but are concerned about their security. They wish to be left to carry out their economic revival and not have to be worried about threats to their safety.

It is this thinking that saw the Modi Administration initially reach out to Pakistan in order to re-cast the adversarial relationship. Mr Modi invited Mr Sharif to his inauguration as Prime Minister and the two visited each other’s countries. This bonhomie ended, however, in the wake of attacks upon Indian military and civilian targets since then. Those saw Modi take a hard line against Islamabad and overtly work towards isolating Pakistan internationally. The attack, allegedly by Pakistan-trained fighters, on a military camp in Uri, India-administered Kashmir, saw calls among Indian nationalists and, worryingly, large segments of Indian society for retaliatory attacks on Pakistan. The increasingly-strident calls for retaliation saw the Modi Administration authorise a “surgical strike” on “terrorist launch pads” in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. While India claimed to have carried out strikes on six targets in this strike and hinted at further strikes if those were warranted, the greater damage to Islamabad grew out of New Delhi’s attempts to isolate Pakistan internationally. The bilateral relationship has, equally, reached new lows.

Pakistan’s actions have seen a diminution in its standing with the US and even with some of its allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. India’s growing economy accounts to a large degree for this reversal. After slowing to below five per cent during the second term of the Manmohan Singh Administration, India’s economy has grown to over 7.5 per cent in the first two years of Modi’s. His emphasis on economic growth, coupled with his determination to modernise India’s armed forces and wean it away from its overwhelming dependence on Russian systems, has resulted in a definite turn to the US. This has seen Washington, in turn, take precautions not to upset India by being seen to support or assist Pakistan at India’s cost. In this light, it is easy to see why Washington refused to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter aircraft, no matter their stated reasons. It is interesting to note that Washington, simultaneously, gave Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer of those aircraft, the green light to initiate discussions with New Delhi to manufacture the aircraft in India. Saudi Arabia, similarly, has turned towards India, which seeks to purchase more energy products to fuel its growing economy.

Despite these trends, India must exercise caution in carrying out its goal of isolating Pakistan. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state; no matter that India may have called Pakistan’s nuclear threat on this occasion by carrying out its strikes against militants on Pakistani territory, repeatedly doing so could cause Islamabad to react forcefully to perceived insult. The situation could easily get out of hand. If that were to happen, it is not inconceivable that the Army could threaten nuclear strikes. Repeated strikes against militants in Pakistan could, moreover, witness another military coup against the elected government in Islamabad and an increase in such strikes against Indian targets. That situation could also spiral out of control.

If India is to take action against the threats to its sovereignty that emanate from Pakistan, it needs to recognise that it is the Pakistan Army that is the ultimate perpetrator of these attacks and work with Nawaz Sharif to ensure the Government of Pakistan controls the military and the country’s foreign policy. This is not to imply that New Delhi ought to absorb the attacks upon its interests; by all means, take the necessary precautions to protect life and property, even adopt a take-no-prisoners approach against the militants who attack India on its soil but re-calibrate the approach to isolating Pakistan in its entirety. Rather than tarring all of Pakistan’s institutions, target the military and, within it, specific individuals who formulate military strategies including the so-called asymmetric-warfare approach. The Asif Ali Zardari Administration was, in the second decade of this century, the first since 1947 to complete its full term in office. India should, therefore, work with Pakistan’s political leaders to ensure this trend continues. It has also shown, as Almeida reports, that it has the courage to stand up to the military. It stands to reason, therefore, that if India wishes the attacks upon its territory to cease, it could do so by supporting Nawaz Sharif’s government. This could lead to Pakistan’s economic revival, a change in its mindset – from adversarial to commercial – in its perception of India and, hardly least, a military that is, finally, answerable to the elected government of the Pakistani people.

It would take a great deal of courage on the part of the Indian leadership to bring about such a change in its thinking. Doing so could, however, remove to a very large extent, the threat that hangs over its citizens and its economy. It could witness renewed economic and commercial ties between the two countries and also renewed and better relations between Pakistan and the US and Saudi Arabia. An economically energised Pakistan could bring about a regional resurgence that could see both India and Pakistan move closer to reaching their potential.

The next part of this study will examine the security relationship of the two countries.



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