International Rivalry (India / Pakistan) Essay Sample

International Rivalry (India / Pakistan) Pages
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The India Pakistan rivalry is one of the most enduring geo political rivalries in the world. Almost six decades after the two countries attained independence from colonial rule they are still embroiled in a bitter conflict which has assumed more complexity with the passage of time. Developments like international terrorism, nuclearization of both countries and the rise of India as a global economic power have elevated the Indo Pak issue from a regional conflict to one having global implications. Furthermore their proximity to Iran, China and Afghanistan means that no global power can ignore their geo strategic importance.

To understand the conflict between the two countries and delineate its causes it is imperative that we take a holistic view of the issue and not treat it as simply a political feud. In the ensuing pages an attempt will be made to analyze the relations of the two countries in light of events both political and sociological. While religion was not a divisive force in India during most of its history it was one of the major forces behind the Pakistan movement and in light of recent developments has assumed even greater importance in understanding and resolving this conflict. Thus no discussion on this issue will be complete without discussing the religious history of the two countries. This paper will attempt to discuss in length the various issues which have precipitated the rivalry, their historic/social and religious roots and how they have escalated and de-escalated over time in response to the actions of the two countries. The final section will attempt to critically analyze the efforts of the two countries to resolve their issues and try to predict a trajectory for future events.


There are a number of theories that are used to explain the roots of the Indo-Pak hostilities. Some attribute the rivalry to a simmering undercurrent of antagonism which had been effectively controlled by the British military and bureaucracy through a divide and rule policy but which boiled over when there appeared the slightest chance for self-governance. Others link it to key historical events in Indian history like the successful coup of Aurangzeb against his brothers or the Battle of Plassey. Still others give it a sociological dimension claiming demographic factors to be a key division. Listed below are some such explanations. It must be noted that this list can never be exhaustive neither can any theory exclusively claim to explain the divide between these two nations. Instead one should try to view the issue on a holistic level where a combination of sociological, religious and political factors conspired to create a divide which has still not been bridged after six decades.


There is a school of thought that holds the view that the Hindu-Muslim synthesis

Achieved by Indian civil society (as the Muslim rulers settled down in India adopting India as a home) was fragmented by the extremist Islamic orthodoxy of Aurangzeb’s rule from about 1658 to 1707. There have been speculative theories as to what would have happened had Shahjahan’s eldest son Dara Shikoh succeeded to the Mughal throne

Rather than Aurangzeb, who killed his elder brother and usurped the throne. Historians have speculated that Dara Shikoh would have revived and continued the patterns of governance initiated by his great grandfather Akbar the Great, policies which were followed to some extent by Dara’s grandfather, Jahangir. Muslim assertiveness and Hindu

Resentment dating from the period of Aurangzeb bore the seeds of Hindu-Muslim antagonism, according to these theorists. Some theorists also point to the Battle of Plassey as a critical juncture in the history of the sub-continent.


Another school of thought explains Hindu-Muslim antagonism as follows. The British to a large extent wrested political power from Muslim rulers in different parts of the country. Consequently, Muslims were neglected and deliberately subjected to discriminatory treatment in the initial period of British rule, whereas Hindus were favored with opportunities to participate in the lower levels of administration and to become incrementally involved in economic and commercial activities. This enabled Hindus to become the more prosperous and progressive partners of the power structure of British India till the first decade of the 20th century. From being the rulers of

India, the Muslim community became a comparatively backward and politically powerless segment. This theory also focuses on demographic factors, for instance Hindus were traditionally a business oriented community and thus found it easier to blend in with the colonial forces, the Muslims on the other hand either belonged to the feudal and related classes or were artisans. This divide was accentuated by the policies of the British as the merchant class thrived under their policies.


Then there is the view that mainstream Indian politics, which in its initial phase was dominated by the urbanized English-educated middle class, was devoid of religious or communal overtones. But by the middle of the second decade of the 20th century, religious identities became resurgent, which ultimately led to the Hindu-Muslim divide,

Partition and the creation of India and Pakistan.

Religion has often been singled out as the main cause of the schism which is misleading to some extent. While communal tensions were not unheard off, generally, the two communities had always lived harmoniously. The Muslim rulers especially the earlier Mughal emperors treated both communities equally. Akbar removed the jizya tax and even promoted a syncretic form of Islam which he called Din-e-Elahi. Hindus formed a critical element of his durbar including his famed Navratnas Birbal, Tansen and Todar Mal and he had Hindu wives.

Later Sufism became an important mechanism in ensuring communal harmony. Many local saints were supported by certain sections of the population, determined by their locality, profession or social position and irrespective of religion. For example Khwaja Khijr was the saint of all those related with water hence boatmen and water-carriers both Hindu and Muslim sought his patronage. Hazrat Daud or King David was the patron saint of blacksmiths. So while religion did play a role in the partition it was by no means the sole motivator for partition.

Ideological / Political for Post partition conflict

The explanations offered above have important shortcomings: none can account for the post-independence history of conflict between India and Pakistan. What factors, then, explain the four Indo-Pakistani wars in particular and the tense relationship in general? The following explanation attempts to provide a political and ideological explanation for this rivalry.

The first element underlying the Indo-Pakistani friction is the fundamentally divergent ideological commitments of the dominant nationalist elites in the Indian and the Pakistani anti-colonial movements. This issue is closely tied to the second factor, the irredentist / anti irredentist relationship between the two states.

At one level Pakistan was created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia, as Jinnah saw it, the people of South Asia were already divided into two nations, one Hindu and the other Muslim. But beyond that vision, it is not entirely clear whether Jinnah had an explicit conception of the state that he wanted to create. Some evidence can be gleaned from his first speech to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan, in which he sought to relegate the religious affiliation of Pakistan’s citizens to the private sphere. His successors, however, failed to implement his vision of the religiously neutral but Muslim majority state. For the purposes of state construction his successors saw Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state construction his successors saw Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state, although not a theocracy. The precise connotations of what it meant to be a Muslim state, however, remain the subject of contestation within Pakistan.

The basis and the evolution of India’s state-building were relatively more straightforward. The predominant strain of the Indian nationalist movement was secular. In addition the post independent India’s constitutional dispensation helped create a secular state that challenged Jinnah’s ‘two-nation’ hypothesis. Any success of India’s secular polity would crush the very foundation on which Jinnah built his state. In effect, the underlying basis of the Indo-Pakistani conflict is really an argument about the fundamentals of state construction. A secular state based on civic nationalism is antithetical to those who believe in primordial conceptions of identity as a viable basis for state-building.

The second factor underlying the origins of Indo-Pakistani conflict is Pakistani’s irredentist claim to Kashmir. As the homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, Pakistan sought to incorporate the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir into its domain. Pakistani leaders forcefully stated that they sought Kashmir’s merger into Pakistan to ensure the latter’s completeness. India, committed to a vision of civic nationalism, sought to thwart this goal to demonstrate that all communities, regardless of their religious orientation, could thrive under India’s secular dispensation.

The force of this conflict started to decline in the aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Once it had been demonstrated that Pakistan could not hold together its two wings on the basis of religion alone, Indian and foreign critics could correctly argue that Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir on the basis of religious fraternity was in fact chimerical.

By the same token, however, India’s claim to Kashmir began to decline, as well, starting in the mid-1980s. During the latter part of that decade, despite the absence of any significant constitutional changes, India’s secularism went into decline. In attempts to deal with more assertive minorities and simultaneously appease the misgivings of segments of the Hindu majority, India’s politicians frequently departed from their professed commitments to secular practices. For example, during particular electoral campaigns in the early 1980s, especially in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made veiled communal references in Campaign speeches. Her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi on the other hand, in an attempt to court the Muslim vote, overturned an Indian Supreme Court judgment which had granted alimony to an indigent Muslim woman. These actions contributed to a steady erosion of the secular features of the Indian state.

Consequently, for Pakistan after 1971 and India after the mid 1980s, their pristine commitments to particular visions of state construction had dramatically declined. Thereafter, the two sides sought to hold on to Kashmir out of the imperatives of statecraft and little else. India feared that relinquishing its claim to Kashmir would set off an internal domino effect, in which other disaffected minorities would demand to secede from the Indian union. For its part, Pakistan, the abject loser in the 1971 war, remained unadjusted to its diminished status in the subcontinent.

These two factors explain the overall state of hostility between Indian and Pakistan, but they do not by themselves explain the outbreak of the four Indo-Pakistani wars. While they can be seen as predisposing conditions for conflict the immediate precipitants of war in the region, on the other hand, were all opportunistic events: in each case, one or other parties saw significant opportunities at critical historical junctures to damage the other’s fundamental claims either to the territory of Kashmir or to the larger project of state construction.

These opportunistic triggers were augmented by false optimism arising from chauvinist nationalism which has repeatedly led the two nations to underestimate each other on their relative military might, willingness and their alliances. While Pakistan’s autocratic history provided fertile ground for such grandiose misconceptions, India too was not immune, where powerful chauvinist elements sought to demonize Pakistan. Such propensities could contribute to military tensions and possibly prompt another war in the subcontinent.

Kashmir: Cause or Effect?

The partitioning of British India was decided upon as a last resort once it became clear that securing the agreement of the Hindu and Muslim leaders on the political structure of an undivided India faced nearly insuperable obstacles. The portioning itself was set in motion following acceptance by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leaders respectively of the Indian National Congress and Muslim League of the Mountbatten Plan, in it Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India spelled out the rules which were to govern the transfer of power to the two separate entities: India and Pakistan.

The 565 princely states formed a peculiar issue in the partition process. With the end of colonial rule they were technically free to accede to either of the two newly formed states or to become independent. Lord Mountbatten urged all states to accede to one or the other country evaluating two criteria: geographical contiguity to the two countries and secondly the wishes of their people.

Under these criteria the accession of a majority of the princely states to India was a certainty as only a few states like Bhawalpur lay in Pakistan. A number of states in India had Muslim rulers but they acceded to India based on contiguity and Hindu majority. Only Hyderabad and Junagadh whose Muslim rulers were reluctant to join the Indian Union posed a problem. Both were however annexed by India bas…

But while the choice was straightforward for most states there was an exception – Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir was territorially contiguous to both India and Pakistan, although its link to Pakistan was more pronounced with close trade, transport and commercial links with areas of western Punjab and NWFP. The population of J&K was 77 Muslim reinforcing its compatibility with Pakistan. However this case was complicated by two factors: the predominance of the NC, a Kashmiri regionalist movement with ties to elements in the Indian National Congress and secondly the Hindu ruler of Kashmir who retained the legal authority to decide the issue of accession. Preferring Kashmir’s independence over accession to either India or Pakistan, he delayed making a decision until after Britain’s withdrawal.

Meanwhile a local insurgency sparked up against the Maharaja in the northwestern part of Kashmir. A simultaneous invasion by tribal forces from Northern Pakistan forced the Maharaja to flee to Jammu in October 1947. There he received a commitment of military assistance from India in exchange for signing the “Instrument of Accession”. The beleaguered Maharaja signed the instrument on the 26th of October 1947 ceding to the government of India jurisdiction over defense, foreign affairs and communications. The following day Lord Mountbatten replied, accepting accession, but noted that once law and order had been restored and the “invader” expelled the accession should be ratified by “a reference to the people”. This particular event has remained contentious and experts are divided about whether the Maharaja signed the instrument willingly or under Indian duress. Following his signing the agreement to accede to India and the approval of Kashmir’s undisputed leader of the time, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the Indian forces intervened and managed to partially evict the invaders. Jinnah’s decision to send in Pakistani troops escalated the conflict to a short war between the two countries, which lasted till the end of 1948.

A ceasefire agreement was reached between the two states under the auspices of the United Nations, which cam into effect on January 1, 1949. A ceasefire line was established dividing Kashmir, with nearly two thirds of the state under Indian control and the rest under the governance of Pakistan. The ceasefire line was monitored by a UN observed mission until 1972 when it is renamed the Line of Control, and has been actively manned by the armies of the two states. Three major wars have been fought over the control of the territory along with a minor one as recently as 1999 without settling the issue.

The Kashmir issue remains a critical hurdle in the way of peace between the two countries. Both India and Pakistan claim it to be an integral part of their territory and neither party is willing to relent on the matter. However, Kashmir is only one facet of the rivalry between the two states, or rather a visible manifestation of a conflict that has deeper roots grounded in both pre-partition politics and sociological conditions and the differences in the post-partition societal and economic development of the two countries.

Possible Way Forward

A number of proposals have been made to resolve the Kashmir issue:

1) Acknowledging the current Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir as the international border between the two countries and allowing interaction between the people on the two sides.

2) Follow the UN resolutions and conduct a plebiscite.

3) Work out a standstill agreement and place the territory under UN supervision until a plebiscite or referendum is conducted to ascertain the wishes of the people.

4) Both the states renounce their claim to the territory to make it an independent state.

5) Divide the region between the two countries with the Kashmir valley given to Pakistan with Jammu and Ladakh to be governed by India.

However except the first solution the others will not be acceptable to one party or the other. The strategic environment of the J&K region has undergone profound changes over the past 20-30 years, the nuclear ambitions of the two states coupled with the anarchic situation in neighboring Afghanistan and its spillover in Pakistan has made the problem more acute for both states. Rhetoric apart, the option of an independent Kashmir might not appeal to either country. The option to cede Muslim dominated areas to Pakistan too might have unforeseen implications especially for India as it might compromise its ability to control Jammu and Ladakh and may even compromise its internal unity.

Another solution repeatedly voiced and formalized through UN resolutions is that of conducting a plebiscite to let the Kashmiri people decide their own future. That this has never actually happened is not very surprising. Firstly, as a prerequisite Pakistan was required to withdraw its forces from the territory which they had occupied. Secondly, it was clear that India would only conduct the plebiscite when it was confident of attaining a majority in its favor. Since Pakistan refused to comply with the first condition it gave India reason not to renege on its commitment to hold a plebiscite.

It will be safe to say that what started as a territorial dispute for the two countries has transformed into a question of the ideological basis of their national identities. For Pakistan the acquisition of Kashmir will be a reaffirmation of the two nation theory while for India giving up Kashmir will be detrimental for its territorial unity.  It is therefore imperative that both countries realize the fact that this issue can only be resolved through diplomacy and negotiations with the ultimate aim of providing meaningful autonomy to the region and by probably converting the LOC into a permanent international border.

Other Disputes

Siachen Glacier

The conflict over the 76-kilometer long Siachen Glacier is not a declared war but goes back to 1984 and is the longest-running between their armies. Both have lost hundreds of lives in that remote and uninhabited region, not to military action but to the harsh climate, dangerous altitude and treacherous terrain. The climate and terrain also make the monetary costs exorbitant.

Given the high human and financial tolls, and because the territory is of little strategic value, India and Pakistan have held a series of negotiations to resolve the dispute, but in the absence of political will these have achieved little, though they came close in 1989 and 1992. At the defence secretary-level talks in June 1989, an understanding was reached to work toward a comprehensive settlement.

However, it was not operationalized. In November 1992, agreement was almost reached

Which envisaged mutual withdrawal and redeployment? But the proposed settlement fell victim again to mutual mistrust. With relations on the mend, the two sides have observed a ceasefire in the Siachen region since 25 November 2005, although there are periodic accusations of violations. The composite dialogue has made little progress in resolving

The conflict, however, and the tenth round of defence secretary-level talks on 24 May 2004 ended in a stalemate.

Pakistan insists that India accept the 1989 understanding for an unconditional, mutual withdrawal to pre-1984 positions.18 India wants troops positions authenticated and

Delineated before such a withdrawal and has ruled out a prior pullout, concerned that Pakistan could move into the vacated territory. Pakistan believes India would use

The delineation of ground positions before withdrawal to legitimize its claim over the disputed territory.

Despite the mutual desire to end this costly and futile conflict, lack of trust continues to inhibit progress. To overcome this, the two sides could, with international assistance, identify and institute a regime of monitoring technologies and verification procedures, which would enable them to disengage and demilitarize the region with confidence.

Sir Creek

India and Pakistan have failed to agree on delimiting their land and maritime boundaries in the Sir Creek region. Sir Creek runs for 100 kilometers along the Rann of Kutch, a

Marshy area between India’s Gujarat state and Pakistan’s Sindh province. Pakistan insists that all of it falls within its territory while India claims that the boundary should be drawn in the middle of the creek. The maritime boundary would determine nautical rights over a 300-kilometre stretch of the Arabian Sea, which is potentially rich in oil and gas.

Since both countries are parties to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, they have obligations to reach a negotiated settlement. Although Part XV of the convention provides a formal mechanism for the settlement of disputes, it has yet to be invoked. Bilateral negotiations have been unsuccessful for years. Though a part of the composite dialogue, the issue is no closer to resolution with the two sides merely agreeing, at the end of talks in May 2006, to conduct a joint survey of Sir Creek and the adjoining region.

Water Disputes

The Indus is located in northwest India and Pakistan and is one of the most important rivers in the world. The main river Indus is about 2,000 miles long. Its two principal tributaries from the west, the Kabul River and the Kurram River, together are more than 700 miles long. The five main tributaries from the East, the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej, have an aggregate length of more than 2,800 miles. From their origin in the Himalayan snow belt to their end into the Arabian Sea, the Indus Rivers carry 90×160 acre-feet of water and cover a drainage area of 450,000 square miles. The Indus and the eastern most tributary, the Sutlej, both rise in the Tibetan plateau. The Kabul and the Kurram rise in Afghanistan. Most of the Indus basin lies in Pakistan and India, with about 13 percent of the total catchment area of the basin situated in Tibet and Afghanistan.

The Indus system comprises the main river Indus and its major tributaries: the Kabul, the Swat and the Kurram from the west; and the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej from the east. The main river of the system, the Indus, rises north of the Himalayas

The Indus system of rivers had been used for irrigation since civilization began in the area. Sporadic conflicts were not uncommon, but were resolved through locally available means. Things started to change in the middle of the nineteenth century due to sizable works on the waters of the Indus system. The dispute on the Indus water began long before the independence of India and Pakistan. The dispute started in the form of inter-state differences between the Punjab, Sind, Bahawalpur and Bikaner. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the dispute became an international issue between east Punjab (In India) and west Punjab (in Pakistan) and was exacerbated by the fact that the political boundary between the two countries was drawn right across the Indus basin, leaving India the upstream and Pakistan the downstream riparian on five of the six rivers in the Indus system. Most of the water rich headwater went to India and Pakistan was left as the water-short lower party. Moreover two important irrigation headwork’s, one in Madhopur on the river Ravi and one at Ferozepur on the river Sutlej, on which two irrigation canals in west Punjab had been completely dependent for their supplies, were left in Indian territory. India was therefore given the physical capacity to cut off vital irrigation water from large and valuable tracts of agriculture land in West Pakistan. India, which had large areas that needed irrigation, claimed the right to devote to its own use the waters from all six of the rivers as long as they were flowing outside Pakistan territory. Even if India’s claim were not to be enforced to the prejudice of Pakistan’s historic use, the quantum of water available to Pakistan for the development of new uses would be substantially curtailed.

The partition of India and Pakistan had not dealt with the waters of the Indus. Indeed, where the British act of parliament was passed on July 18, 1947, the boundary between the two new dominions was not demarcated and so it was impractical to deal with the allocation of waters. To remedy the legal vacuum created by the partition, the chief engineer of east Punjab (India) and west Punjab (Pakistan) singed a Standstill agreement on December 20, 1947 providing, inter alia, that until the end of the current rabi crop, on march 31, 1948, the status quo would be maintained with regard to water allocation in the Indus basin irrigation system. The authorities in east Punjab refused the renewal of the agreements upon expiration and on April 1, 1948, halted the supply of water to several canals in Pakistan territory. The real reason for the misunderstanding is hard to determine, but deliberately or inadvertently, west Punjab until the expiry date of the agreement on march 31, 1948 had not taken initiative to negotiation any further agreement.

On April 1, India discontinued the delivery of water from the Ferozepur headworks to Dipalpur canal and to the main branches of the Upper Bari Boab Canal. While Pakistan criticized the incident and called India’s action “Machiavellian duplicity”, India relied on the fact that the agreements had simply lapsed and stated that the proprietary rights in the waters of the rivers in East Punjab continued to be vested in East Punjab (India) , and that west Punjab (Pakistan) could not claim rights to any share of those waters. In this situation, one option for Pakistan was war, and there were many who advocated for it, but it would have been an error for Pakistan because it could hardly use the Bari Doab, where all the strategic advantages were held by India. Authors have noted that a declaration of war by India might have led to the extinction of the new state. Pakistan could not face the Kharif season without water for 5.5 percent of its cropland.

So Pakistan opted for restoration of the canal waters. India remained firm and waned recognition of their rights to all of the waters in the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi) and they wanted Pakistan to pay for such water supplied by the Indians until such time as Pakistan could find replacement. India proclaimed its purpose to use all the water in the eastern rivers, but because this was not immediately possible, Pakistan would have time to develop alternative supplies. Moreover, India claimed that Pakistan’s agreement to pay water dues in the Standstill Agreement of December 1947 was tantamount to recognition by Pakistan of India’s proprietary rights. Pakistan on other hand, insisted that these payments had been for the costs of operating and maintain the irrigation works not payment for water that belonged to Pakistan by rights of prior allocation.

Following extensive discussions in an Inter-dominion conference held in New Delhi on May 3-4 1948  a new agreement was signed on May 4 1948. Under the terms of that Agreement, East and West Punjab recognized the necessity to resolve the issues in the spirirt of goodwill and friendship. However consistent with the conflicting rationales of the two countries the combination of a series of decisions and actions led to Pakistan’s denouncement of the gareement in 1950. It took almost a decade and participation  by the world bank  to formulate another solution for the problem. Finally after much deliberation the Indus Waters Treaty was signed on September 19, 1960 by field Marshall Ayub Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Indus Treaty is the longest agreement that has been honored by both the parties, even if it is a far from optimum solution it is still an achievement considering the fractious relationship and a past and future replete with unsucessful attempts at reconciliation. But depite the Indus Tresty water still remains a disputed issue between the two countries be it in the form of Wullar barrage, or Baghliar dam. Although the Indus Water treaty contains legal dispute resolution mechanisms all these issues are highly politicised beacause they are linked to Kashmir .

Water along with Kashmir forms the crux of the Indo-Pak rivalry. Going forward the water issue may overshadow, or even accentuate the Kasmir problem. Ninety percent of Pakistan’s irrigation depends on the rivers originating in Kashmir. Kashmir’s waters have been naturally regulated by Himalayan glaciers; however experts estimate that at the current rate of climate change these glaciers might be gone by the year 2035.  The effects of this are already being felt in Pakistan as recurring shortages have created critical shortfall in the staple crops of the country.


“Abdul Gaffar sits on his hospital bed, drinking sweet syrupy tea from a plastic cup. “I’m feeling good,” he says, smiling.

Abdul is from the Pakistani city of Karachi and he is among the growing number of Pakistanis with serious heart conditions being referred to the Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital – in the southern Indian city of Bangalore”

The above is an excerpt from a BBC news item from February 2010. Abdul Gaffar is not the only Pakistani patient to have received treatment in an Indian hospital, despite relations being highly strained following the 2008 Mumbai attacks an undercurrent of fraternity still persists between the people of the two nations. The divisive rhetoric of the politicians’ aside, generally, the people of the two countries have always expressed a desire to mend their relations. Be it on the cricket field, a movie set or through individual acts like that of Abdul Gaffar there are enough reasons to be sanguine about the future relations of the two countries. Unfortunately these bright spots are overwhelmed by a plethora of problems, mostly political, that has little to do with the people of the two countries but are more the constructs of power brokers on either side whose future is inextricably linked with the sustenance of this rivalry.

The International Dimension 

The last two decades have seen a wave of events memorable only for their brutality and the chaos they wrought on a global scale. The sub-continent has been among those most affected by this tumultuous era. In the post cold war world, international terrorism has become the major concern of the world, a shadowy enemy harboring designs as nefarious as any megalomaniac from the past but amorphous yet organized enough to thwart all attempts to eradicate it. India and Pakistan with their critical geo-strategic position can form the most formidable bulwark against this threat, the alternative, while highly plausible is too dreadful to even contemplate. Bordered by three of the more influential (in a broad sense of the word) countries of the world in the form of Afghanistan, China and Iran, Pakistan and India have an undeniably critical role to play in the future of not only the region but perhaps the entire world. However, they can only assume this role if they can put an end to the internecine feud that has plagued them for the past 60 years.

The international community has an important role to play in the normalization of relations between the two countries. The US has a vested interest in the resolution of this problem, as instability in Pakistan and India can have a number of adverse implications for it. Foremost among these is the thorny issue of the nuclear status of the two countries. While the two countries have always maintained that nuclear power is a strategic deterrent and used only to maintain the balance of power in the region, the Talibanization of Afghanistan and its subsequent links with Al Qaeda have lent a new dimension to this issue.

Already fragile and often teetering on the brink of failure, Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the anarchy in its Northern Areas and its proximity to Afghanistan have catapulted it to the top of the list of potential flashpoints. The safety and safeguard of its nuclear arsenal has become the top priority of international policymakers. At the same time it is imperative that attention is also given to the human and economic development of the country, as it is fast become a breeding ground for extremists.

India on the other hand is undergoing an era of unprecedented growth. However as has been seen in the past, the paths of the two countries are so inextricably intertwined that individual growth is susceptible to regional conditions. The attack on the Indian Parliament and the Mumbai attacks of 2008 were grim reminders of this fact. A war, even conventional, at this moment can undo decades of good work. It is therefore even more important for India to try and work out a peaceful solution. The international community too needs to reevaluate its policies for the region. The world has changed significantly since the Cold War, as have regional politics, courting only one of the two nations will only intensify the schism between them.

Possible Solutions – Efforts towards Peace

It would be very naive to assume that there can be a simple or quick solution to this problem. A rivalry which has persisted for more than six decades, undergone a number of transformations and gravitates wildly between amity and hatred cannot be ended in a few days or even a few years. It will require a persistent effort from both sides, and their allies and all those who directly or indirectly have an interest in the future of the two countries.  Moreover these efforts will need to address the problem from a variety of angles, a political solution by itself will be not be enduring if not supported by measures aimed at fostering economic and social cooperation. Above all it will require an unflinching commitment on the part of the leaders and civil societies of both countries. A few suggestions in this regard include:

The recognition that the only route to reconciliation is through diplomacy and dialogue. This dialogue should be persistent and unconditional and completely immune to the variations in the relations between the two countries. Moreover it should be conducted in a transparent manner with accountability to the people of the two nations. Further the leaders and political parties of both countries should support the process unequivocally, refraining from any remarks or actions that could impede the process.

Confidence building measures like the resolution of enduring disputes like Sir Creek and Siachin can act as a starting point and reinforce the dialogue. A demilitarization of the border too can be an effective step in this regard. Release fishermen and political prisoners languishing in jails on either side of the border.

The two countries should work jointly on combating the menace of terrorism which is not only equally detrimental to their individual progress but also imperils their relations. The two countries should avoid blaming each other without substantial proof and instead try to cooperate through intelligence sharing and enforcement.

Work out a solution for the Kashmir problem, perhaps the most critical issue of all, in line with the aspirations of the people of the region. As a starting point people from the two sides should be allowed to move freely to either side and there should be gradual demilitarization of J&K.

Water resources should be jointly managed for the benefit of the people of both countries. The Indus water treaty should be reviewed and improved upon in the light of the changed circumstances.

In the past there have been occasional cultural exchanges but the effort has been limited due to strained relations. It is important that free flow of knowledge and cultural exchange is encouraged in both countries with the aim to alleviate the misperceptions and differences created by the propaganda and jingoism inherent in the media and literature of both countries. Journalists, artists and intellectuals should be allowed to travel freely throughout the two countries to quell misunderstandings and foster friendship.  Even more importantly sporting ties in general and cricket in particular needs to be revived as soon as possible.

Extend economic and trade links with preferential treatment for each other. The volume of illegal trade is ample evidence of the demand in both states, but political barriers remain an obstacle to normal trade relations.

At the very least, the countries must make a commitment to contain their nuclear ambitions with an ultimate aim of channeling their expertise for public benefit.

The suggestions noted above are not unique or novel in any way. They have been proposed and debated in one form or the other on a range of forums. Over the years intermittent work has been done on enforcing them through policies and reforms but there still remains a critical dearth of political will on both sides. Hopefully, the multitude of threats both internal and external and a wish for peace and prosperity will eventually convince them to rise above their differences and ambitions for the greater good of the region.

Work cited

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Lars Blinkenberg, India-Pakistan The History of Unsolved Conflicts:, (1998)

Sumit Ganguly, Conflict Unending: India – Pakistan Tensions since 1947, 2002

Mahmud Ali Durrani, India and Pakistan: The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace, (2001)

Ataur R. Khan, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh: Conflict or co-operation?, (1976)

Another dicey conflict. ( Pakistan again trading threats), An article from: The Register-Guard (2005)

Mahmudul Huque, The role of the United States in the India-Pakistan conflict, 1947-1971: Quest for stability, (1992)

Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh, (1991)

Ian Talbot, The Partition of India (New Approaches to Asian History), (2009)

Sumit Ganguly, India as an Emerging Power, (2003)

Iftikhar Malik, The History of Pakistan (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations), (2008)

Selig S. Harrison, Paul H. Kreisberg, Dennis Kux, India and Pakistan: The First Fifty Years, (1998)

Yasmin Khan,The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan,(


Abraham Eraly, The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India’s Great Emperors,Abraham Eraly (Author)

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Dominique Lapierre, Larry Collins, Freedom at Midnight ,(2009)

Aitzaz Ahsan, Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan,(1997)

John Keay, India: A History, (2001)John Keay (Author)

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