India-Pakistan Relations – Part Two: The Security Vector

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

Key Points

  • The India-Pakistan relationship is viewed primarily in military terms.
  • This is a consequence of the two having waged three declared, and one undeclared, wars upon each other.
  • The relationship remains toxic despite the initial goodwill generated by the current leaders towards each other.
  • The adversarial relationship could be mitigated over time if the Prime Ministers of the two countries are able to use their genuine personal relationship to challenge the status quo.


As the first part of this study demonstrated, the partition of colonial British India into India and Pakistan left virtually all parties involved dissatisfied with the outcome. This dissatisfaction eventually gave rise to the adversarial relationship that the two countries have today. This view is so strongly held on both sides of their common border that, whereas national security is more commonly perceived in several paradigms elsewhere in the world, in this instance it is viewed almost completely in military terms. This perception completely overrides more commonplace notions of national economic development and demographic well-being on both sides of the border. Both countries appear to engage in tactics that are designed purely to denigrate the efforts or achievements of the other.

The partition of India was a violent affair; lives and property were wantonly destroyed and any notions of friendly ties that the leaders of either side may have entertained or even spoken about were soon cast aside. This occurred for many reasons, including the idea in Pakistan that India could never accept an independent Pakistan as an equal and would, consequently, plot to either subjugate it or re-integrate it into a Hindu-dominated greater India. India, on the other hand, saw the demand of Indian Muslims as a betrayal of the struggle for independence and their common, shared history. These distinctly opposing perceptions helped create the turmoil of the years following partition.


Pakistan was formed, as was previously noted, on the basis of religious ideology: it was created to provide a “homeland” for the millions of Muslims in Hindu-dominated, colonial India. One of the demands of the Muslim leaders was to have Pakistan consist of those regions of India where Muslims were in a majority. This included Kashmir.

There was, however, a complication in that case. While Kashmir had an overwhelmingly Muslim majority, its ruler, the Maharaja Hari Singh, was not. He was given time to decide whether his princely state would accede to Pakistan or remain with India. In an effort to coerce him into acceding to Pakistan, the Pakistani Army used armed tribesmen from the country’s North-West Frontier Province (now known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) to invade Kashmir in October 1947. Singh turned to New Delhi for help. Recognising the danger of losing Kashmir and the opportunity that Singh’s plea for assistance provided to be able to retain Kashmir and demonstrate to the world that Hindus and Muslims could indeed live together in a secular India, the Indian leadership sent its troops into Kashmir. Despite being aware of this, the Pakistani leadership was convinced (and remained so for a long time) that India either would not resist armed force or did not have the means to resist their fighters in any case. This belief proved incorrect and the Pakistani personnel were fought to a standstill.

This incident, which came soon after the trauma of partition, further cemented the Pakistani perception that India would do anything it could to re-integrate it. Finding itself in a military stalemate, the Pakistani Army decided upon another tack: its leaders persuaded the Pakistani Government to take the matter to the newly-formed United Nations. The UN Security Council deliberated on the claims and counter-claims of both countries and eventually passed Security Council Resolution 47 of 21 April 1948. This resolution stated that India must hold a plebiscite to allow the Kashmiri people to determine if they wish to accede to Pakistan or remain with India. It is worth examining a primary condition of the resolution in light of Pakistan’s subsequent claim that India has not conducted the mandated plebiscite. It is correct that India has not held a plebiscite in and on Kashmir. The Pakistani leaders fail to mention, however, that Clause 1 (a), under sub-heading “A. Restoration of peace and order”, of the Resolution states that:

  1. The Government of Pakistan should undertake to use its best endeavours:

(a) To secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purpose of fighting, and to prevent any intrusion into the State of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the State.

India claims that Pakistan has not complied with the terms of the resolution, that it has neither withdrawn its non-Kashmiri personnel from the region nor has it stopped providing them with arms and training that they may use to carry out attacks on Indian targets. India claims that it cannot hold a plebiscite until Pakistan complies with these conditions. In any case, New Delhi claims, the Simla Agreement signed by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 2 July 1972 in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan War of 1971 and which was ratified on 28 July 1972 and came into force from 4 August of the same year, put an end to any claim Pakistan may have had to Kashmir. Resolving to ‘put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations and work for the promotion of a friendly and harmonious relationship and the establishment of durable peace in the subcontinent’, Clause 4 of the Agreement states that:

  1. In order to initiate the process of the establishment of durable peace, both the Governments agreed that:

(i) Indian and Pakistani forces shall be withdrawn to their side of the international border.

(ii) In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the cease-fire of December 17, 1971 shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line.

(iii) The withdrawals shall commence upon entry into force of this Agreement and shall be completed within a period of 30 days thereafter.

While, in India’s perception, this has negated any and all Pakistani claims to Kashmir, Pakistan sees the Security Council resolution a betrayal by the international community and its institutions. The frustration of not being able to gain a military advantage over India was exacerbated in 1971 when India helped Bangladesh to become an independent state and, simultaneously, negate the two-front threat that Pakistan had posed until then. The people of East Pakistan, ethnic Bengalis for the most part, had grown dissatisfied at being, in their perception, exploited economically and politically by people of a different ethnicity situated thousands of kilometres away in West Pakistan. The situation came to a head when the Awami League, a nationalist Bengali party won 167 of 169 parliamentary seats in the general election in March 1971 and that victory was ignored by the leaders in West Pakistan. A violent suppression of Bengali nationalism followed, prompting the leader of the Awami League, Mujibur Rehman, to declare independence from West Pakistan on 23 March 1971.

Pakistan’s President, Mohammed Yahya, sent West Pakistani troops into East Pakistan to restore West Pakistani authority. The Army began a series of savage measures to eradicate all ideas of Bengali nationalism. Seeing an opportunity to bifurcate Pakistan, Indira Gandhi began providing assistance to the Bangladeshi resistance, the Mukti Bahini. The Army’s repression, in the meanwhile, saw an estimated (at the time) ten million refugees flood into India. Indira Gandhi, using the economic hardship posed to India as a reason, decided to send Indian troops into East Pakistan to protect the Bengalis. In reality, she saw the opportunity to use the civil war as an instrument to break up Pakistan. It was at this juncture that the Pakistani Army leaders made a major error. Despite sustaining heavy losses to Indian troops, they claimed regular victories against them and made the knowledge of these “victories” public through the West Pakistani media. When they were eventually forced to capitulate publicly to the Indian army in Bangladesh, the Pakistani Army leaders found they had not only lost the war to India but simultaneously lost the goodwill of the people of West Pakistan, who had, until that point in time, viewed the Army as the defenders of their country. While the Pakistani Army would, from that point, gain the support of the people for periods of time, it would never again enjoy the total and loyal support of the Pakistani people. India was portrayed, once again, as a treacherous country that had one goal: to re-integrate Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that US President Richard Nixon, who had a notoriously poor relationship with Indira Gandhi, determined that India was now in a position to send its troops into rump Pakistan and sent a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and its attendant strike force into the Bay of Bengal. This was intended to signal to India not to send its troops into Pakistan. This is more than likely because Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, had initiated steps to use Yahya as an intermediary to establish a relationship with China in Washington’s Cold War against Moscow. India recognised the signal and withheld its troops from attacking Pakistan. The Pakistani perception that the US would prove to be a staunch ally has also played a part in creating much rancour in Islamabad in very recent times as the India-US relationship has grown ever closer.

It is arguably the Pakistani Army’s notion that it is either above being accountable to an elected government in Islamabad or that it ought to be in charge of formulating the country’s foreign policy that is the main contributor to poor India-Pakistan relations. The Kargil episode, which came close to bringing the two neighbours to all-out war, is an example of this. In the northern spring of 1999, Pervez Musharraf, then Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistani Army, sent troops across the Line of Control, thus violating the Simla Agreement, and captured strategic positions in Indian-administered Kashmir. An undeclared war ensued before Indian troops eliminated their Pakistani counterparts and re-took the positions. The Clinton Administration named Pakistan as the violator in this instance. Nawaz Sharif, then the Prime Minister, flew to Washington in July, desperate to brief President Clinton on Pakistan’s perspective of the situation. He was taken aback, however, when the President informed him that the Army was in the process of preparing its nuclear forces for deployment. It is telling that the Prime Minister was not aware of the Army’s intrusion into India or that its nuclear forces were being prepared for deployment.

In a similar vein, it is the Army’s use of non-conventional forces that is responsible for much of the animosity between the nuclear-armed neighbours. As a previous FDI article noted:

A study published by the London School of Economics in 2010 found that Taliban leaders were in no doubt that they were managed by the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence organisation, which is a part of the Pakistani military. That belief is substantiated to a large degree by more recent events. Towards the end of July 2015, Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security announced that Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had died in a hospital in Karachi in April 2013. After Afghan President Ghani came to power in 2014, he attempted to amend the fractious relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and, to that end, sought a meeting with the Taliban leadership in Pakistan. It was reported that the Taliban delegates travelled to the meeting at Murree from within Pakistan. The same report indicated that the Pakistani Prime Minister’s advisor, Mr Sartaj Aziz, had admitted previously that Pakistan wielded a degree of influence over the Taliban. As Mr Aziz remarked, ‘We have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here. So we can use those levers to pressurise [sic] them to say, “Come to the table”.’ In May of [2016], Mullah Mansour (also spelled Mansoor), the leader of the Afghan Taliban, was killed in a drone strike while he was travelling through Baluchistan, allegedly with a Pakistani passport. This led the Pakistani Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to complain that the US had ‘put Pakistan in a difficult position’. It is quite possible that he was not referring solely to the diminished influence that Pakistan now wielded over the Taliban.

India has, for its part, made use of every opportunity to hinder Pakistan. Pakistan has long complained that Indian agents are at work in Balochistan to bring about the secession of that province from the rest of Pakistan. Pakistan complains that India is trying to Balkanise Pakistan. The recent strikes by Indian forces on alleged terrorist training camps in Pakistan in retaliation for what New Delhi claims was a strike by Pakistan-based militants on an army camp in Indian-Administered Kashmir and the subsequent threat by India to review the terms of the Indus Water Treaty between the two countries, Pakistan complains, does little to help formulate a good relationship.

There some truth to this claim. It must be recalled, however, that the relationship between Prime Minister Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, began on a note of optimism and good-will. Mr Modi invited Mr Sharif to his inauguration ceremony in New Delhi, the two leaders visited each other’s country and Mr Modi made an unscheduled visit to Pakistan to visit Mr Sharif on the occasion of the latter’s grand-daughter’s wedding while on his way back to India from Afghanistan. The initial goodwill generated by these visits and their growing ties were, however, given short shrift by the actions of the Pakistani Army in virtually every instance. This is likely because, in broad terms, in the minds of the Army leaders, any increase in goodwill between the two countries could herald a corresponding decrease in their very raison d’être. It is for this very reason, therefore, that Pakistan’s political leaders must reclaim the sole right to define, frame and conduct their foreign policy entirely. India, for its part, must recognise the difficulties that the political leadership faces in carrying out the business of government and ought to work with the political class to bring about lasting democracy in Pakistan.

The current relationship has returned to its usual adversarial stance because of recent events. If, however, the two leaders could set aside their political differences and once again begin to work towards enhancing their personal and bilateral relationships, economic ties between the two countries could flourish and potentially reach US$10 billion from the current US$3 billion. That could go a long way towards normalising their bilateral ties. The elected Government of Pakistan would need to work towards re-acquiring the sole right to formulate foreign policy and, in the process, remove the ever-present threat of a military coup. The Government of India, for its part, must recognise the constraints under which the Pakistani Government works and find ways to support it in its efforts.

It would take much courage and perseverance on the part of both countries to bring about this change but the potential rewards for India and Pakistan would be well worth the effort and risks inherent in doing so. As enticing as this prospect may appear to be, though, it is difficult to see it eventuating under the current circumstances in the domestic policies of the two countries.



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