Canberra, 03 June 2014

[This is an edited and abridged version of a Public Presentation that I gave to the Faculty of Art at the University of Western Australia, at their invitation, on 20 May 2014]

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I start my presentation, I must thank the Faculty of Arts of the University of Western Australia, the organisers of this Public Lecture, for their kind invitation to address this gathering on the topic of India-Pakistan Relations. I must also add a caveat that while I am a student of international politics, my area of expertise is not South Asia. However, since India is where I was born and lived for the first 43 years of my life, I have an enduring interest in the developments that take place in the sub-continent and have obviously formed my own opinions regarding evolving events.


To start with, it has to be understood that the relationship between India and Pakistan, for ease I will refer to it as Indo-Pak relations in speaking, has been always strained by a number of historical and political issues. Further, it is defined in a fundamental manner by the violence that accompanied the partition of British India into the two separate nations of India and Pakistan in 1947. The Kashmir dispute that emerged almost immediately after the declaration of independence and numerous other wars, military conflicts, skirmishes and cross-border encounters have exacerbated the situation. More than sixty years after partition, the nations’ still have not been able to find palatable, peaceful and holistic solutions to the major issues that divide them while the relationship continues to verge on the brink of disaster through the myriad minor pinpricks that linger and fester.

In August 1947, the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan gained independence from British rule. India declared itself a secular nation, with a Hindu majority but containing a large Muslim population; and Pakistan became an Islamic Republic with an overwhelming Muslim majority. The fundamental reason for the creation of Pakistan was the fear expressed by the Islamic community leaders that without a separate homeland, the Muslims would be swamped within a Hindu majority state and their identity subsumed. The British while sanctioning the partition, true to form, also gave the 650-odd princely states with whom they had bilateral treaties, the freedom to choose the nation they wanted to join and also the right to exercise the option to remain independent as sovereign states if they so desired. The argument for this approach was that the treaties that bound the states together to form British India, some of them centuries old, were only valid while Great Briton ruled the nation. Therefore, when they were handing over power to nations that were newly created, the ruling princes had the option to decide the fate of their own kingdoms. An interpretation of the treaties by the letter of the law and not by the spirit of the time, if ever there was one. In the wake of this British decision, the choices made by some of the princes were to have a direct and long lasting impact on India-Pakistan relations.
The partition of the sub-continent displaced nearly 13 million people from both sides of the new border and the estimated loss of life in the violence that followed varies from anywhere between half a million to one million people. The relationship between the nations never recovered thereafter and has been plagued with hostility, mistrust and mutual animosity.

Historical Background

There are three particular episodes that occurred immediately after the 1947 partition that I want to touch upon, and which I believe had a direct impact on the development of the future relationship between the two newly minted nations.

The Junagadh Dispute

First is the Junagadh Dispute. In 1947 Junagadh, now part of the State of Gujarat, was a Hindu majority State ruled by a Muslim Nawab, Mahabhat Khan. On 15 August, when independence was declared, the Nawab acceded to Pakistan and was accepted by Pakistan. India claimed the accession to be illegitimate since Junagadh did not have any contiguous border with Pakistan and therefore could not maintain direct communications with it. However, Junagadh did have an open coast which was fairly close to the ports in Pakistan, a fact that was ignored in the Indian argument. Since the state was geographically surrounded by India, the Nawab felt unsafe and fled to Karachi, while Indian forces annexed Junagadh’s three main principalities. Subsequently, in December a plebiscite was conducted in which 99% of the people opted to stay with India.

The Kashmir Conflict

Soon after independence war broke out between India and Pakistan over the status of Kashmir. Kashmir was a Muslim majority state ruled by a Hindu Maharaja, Hari Singh. The king wanted his country to stay independent and become the ‘Switzerland’ of Asia. Accordingly he offered a ‘Standstill Agreement’ to both the countries—India refused to consider it and Pakistan accepted the offer. Soon after this, in October 1947, Pakistani irregular forces supported by the Army invaded Kashmir in what was called ‘Operation Gulmarg’. The Pakistani forces captured most of the mountainous regions to the north west of the State and had reached about 100 kilometres from the capital, Srinagar, when the Maharaja—under some pressure and in a state of panic—signed the instrument of accession to India on 26 October.

Indian troops were airlifted on 27 October and managed to initially stop the invaders’ further advance and then evict them from the Srinagar valley completely. It is reported that the Pakistani irregular forces stopped on their way to capture Srinagar to loot, pillage and rape, which provided a window of opportunity for the Indian military forces to airlift the necessary troops. Since the only airfield available at that time was at Srinagar, its capture by the Pakistani troops would have been catastrophic for the Indian effort. History may well have been different. Subsequently a UN-arbitrated ceasefire, agreed by both the nations, was put into effect. It was decided that the Line of Control (LoC) would be maintained as the de-facto border on a temporary basis till a permanent solution could be worked out. The North-Western Kashmir remained under Pakistan control and has been variously called Azad Kashmir, meaning Free Kashmir, and Pakistan Administered/Occupied Kashmir. Today the State continues to remain divided at the LoC. Although the peace process was facilitated by the UN, India remains adamant that this is a bilateral issue and must be resolved accordingly whereas Pakistan’s stance is that only a plebiscite and a third party (preferably the United States) arbitrated solution is likely to work. The two nations went to war in 1965 and then again 1999, primarily over the Kashmir issue. Even during other wars and conflicts, such as the 1971 Bangladesh War, Kashmir has tended to become a bone of contention. The status quo persists while tensions at the LoC and skirmishes across it continue unabated.

The Bengal Refugee Crisis

In 1949 the outbreak of communal violence in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, generated more than one million refugees fleeing to India. The Indian Government took up the matter with Pakistan and the issue was resolved through diplomatic means with the two Prime Ministers playing leading roles in diffusing the crisis. However, a majority of the refugees stayed behind in India, refusing to go back to what they feared would be further violent persecution. Although a peaceful ‘solution’ was arrived at in 1949, this solution only addressed the tip of the iceberg. The whole issue of communal violence against religious minorities in East Pakistan would erupt at a much later stage and have a much different end-result.

The Contemporary Situation

In my opinion there are five outstanding issues on which the nations do not see eye-to-eye—Kashmir, terrorism, Siachen, Sir Creek, and water issues. There has been an on-going water dispute regarding the implementation of The Indus Waters Treaty. The River Indus is the lifeline of Pakistan and meets almost the entire water requirements of the nation. Ironically, the Indus and its five main tributaries rise in India and flow through India. Considering that a number of strategists agree on the point that the next major conflict could be about control and availability of water rather than energy resources, it is not surprising that Pakistan feels anxious about any Indian initiative that could potentially affect the flow of the Indus. However, the good news is that so far, all emerging issues regarding the water treaty has been amicably resolved through concerted diplomatic efforts. Needless to state that it will require only one wrong move on either side for this benign situation to change dramatically.

In examining the current situation I am not covering the major wars of 1965, 1971 and the Kargil Conflict of 1999 in any detail. The 1980s saw tensions reach a boiling point over the nuclear issue as well as the stand-off in the Siachen Glacier. India controls 80 per cent of the Glacier and also holds most of the high ground. Sporadic violence erupts there and both the nations blame the other for the violation of existing ceasefire conditions. The Siachen Conflict has been protracted and there does not seem to be any will on either side to even examine solutions. In the 1990s the nations came very close to a war that also included overt threats of the use of nuclear weapons. The indication given by Pakistan that tactical nuclear weapons could be used if the conflict was not going in their favour was met with a direct statement from India that if such a situation came to pass, the retaliation would be immediate and massive. Fortunately neither country pushed the other into an irretrievable situation nor did further escalation in the war of words take place, and what could have become a catastrophic war was avoided.

In 1999, when the Indian Prime Minister was on a historic good-will visit to Pakistan, the Pakistan Army infiltrated across the LoC and captured some high points in the mountain ranges around Kargil. These areas were tactically very important and also had strategic significance in terms of controlling the approaches to some parts of the Kashmir valley. This led to a dramatic escalation in hostilities with Indian forces gradually moving the invaders out, at great cost in men and resources. Two points came out of this brief but intense conflict. One, was the clear understanding that the democratically elected Government of Pakistan did not call the shots as far as the foreign policy of the nation was concerned and that the Pakistan Army was the decision-making body in all aspects of national governance. Second was that this episode left the Indian Government with a feeling of having been betrayed and set the bilateral relationship back by at least a decade, if not more. The nascent improvements that had been made came to naught, wiped out in one stroke by the wilfulness of the Pakistan Army.

In 2001, terrorists considered to be supported/linked to the extremist elements within Pakistan attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. Although the damage caused and lives lost were minimal, the psychological impact on the Indian ethos was considerable and there was the implicit threat of war that was raised almost immediately. The little consideration that was being given to improving relationship after the 1999 Kargil War was put on the backburner, and the dialogue was restarted only in 2004. Even then the climate was rather cool and progress, if at all any, minimal. Then came the 26 November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India’s commercial and financial capital. There were no doubts, at least in the Indian mind, that this was an attack coordinated by the Pakistan ISI, the military intelligence department. A large number of people were randomly killed and finally the terrorists who were holed up in a five-star hotel in Mumbai had to be ousted by the Special Forces. India provided proof to the Pakistan administration of the involvement of their citizens, but there has been a reluctance to initiate any action against them in that country. This lack of official response has created a great deal of angst within the Indian polity and negatively impacted the bilateral relationship. In the past few years there have been some overtures being made towards restarting the dialogue, but I am afraid that there has been only limited progress.

In order to analyse the future direction that India-Pakistan relations will take, it is necessary to examine the fundamental factors that drive the political process and governance in both the nations. I have chosen three main points for each and will explain them briefly. This analysis will show the commonality of the factors that affect both the nations and also highlight the differences in the influence that they have on each.

Fundamental Factors – Pakistan

2013 was the year of transition in Pakistan. For the first time in its history one democratically elected government had completed its full term and more importantly, a newly elected government had taken charge in an almost seamless transition of power. The question now being asked is whether or not democratic traditions will take root and change the pattern for the political future of the nation. The nation and the newly elected Government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif face a number of challenges of varying intensity and importance. I will highlight only three major challenges that I believe will be critical in determining the future direction of the country—the economy, internal security and relations with India.

The Economy

The economy of Pakistan is currently in the doldrums. In the past one year it has, for the first time in 55 years, recorded a growth rate less than 3 per cent. The nation is reeling under a US$ 13 trillion debt and more than 50 per cent of the tax revenue of the nation is currently spend purely on debt servicing. It has less than one month’s financial reserves to meet the day-to-day expenditure of the country. Under these circumstances, the nation is in dire straits is perhaps an understatement. Pakistan needs foreign investment, loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and rapid privatisation of the public sector units that have become a tombstone around the neck of the national economy, if it is to come out of this disastrous situation.

Even in this catastrophic situation the decision-making bodies do not seem to understand, or care, about the difficulties the nation would face if the challenge is not met and addressed on a war footing. There is a sense of an ostrich-like optimism that seems to be all-pervasive in the nation, oblivious of all the challenges that it is facing. Getting the economy back on track, no easy task, is going to be one of the biggest challenges that face the Nawaz Sharif Government.

Internal Security

Internal law and order has deteriorated considerably in the past one-year after this Government came to power. The Talibanisation of the socio-political entity of Pakistan, which was covert for a long time, has finally come out in the open and is being carried out overtly almost across the entire nation. The voices of moderation, which could be heard as a far cry in the wilderness even as late as a few years back, are now completely silent. This does not auger well for the future of the nation. The Government has indicated that they would not mind arriving at a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, whereas the Army believes that only military action will curb the downward spiral into religious intolerance and fundamentalism. The Army and the ISI are at odds with the Government’s initiative to arrive at a mutually agreeable and peaceful solution and according to some reports the Army brass is at odds with some elements of the ISI itself that support the religious radicals. From a purely outside point of view, a peaceful solution involving the Taliban seems a far cry from reality.

This brings me to another equally important point that will have a direct impact on the internal security of the nation. The new Government has claimed that that civilian control of the Army has been achieved. This is far from true. While it is understood that actual civilian control of the Armed Forces of a democracy, asserted and obeyed, is a prerequisite for any other development to take place, it has not been achieved in the case of Pakistan. The Army has its own agenda and is unlikely to give up its powerful role in determining the foreign policy of the nation. The Army, as it stands today and if the recent activities are any indication, will not be content under civilian control. They have been in power for so long that it will not be voluntarily given up. If the civilian administration is strong enough, then it is more than likely that confrontation is looming not far ahead.

The future course of action in containing the internal security issue will depend almost entirely on the Army’s inclination to accept civilian directives and if so to what extent this control would run. At the moment, the Army continues to be a major and critical influence in all higher level decision-making in the country. This is unlikely to change.

Even after one year of Nawaz Sharif’s ‘democratic’ rule, Pakistan remains a divided polity with an ineffective media and rampant sectarianism. Internal security is particularly vulnerable to the violence generated by fundamentalist factions and the Government, at least for now, seems to be far too paralysed to do anything about it. The entire nation has now become vulnerable to religious extremism. There is another downside related to this situation. The economy needs an injection from the outside to survive and this will not come when the security situation is volatile. This is almost the vicious cycle that will have to be broken if any progress is to be achieved either in the security or economic sphere.

Relations with India

Nawaz Sharif has voiced the opinion that he wants to improve relationship with India; he had done so even in his previous tenure as Prime Minister, a position from which he was unceremoniously removed and sent into exile by the Army. He has said all the politically correct things so far, but is yet to show any substance in following up the talk with deeds. There is no doubt that the Pakistan Army is cool towards improving relationship with India. There are historical reasons for this, as I mentioned earlier. Equally important is the fact that the Pakistan Army fears a decline in their relevance to national security if relations with India improve. This is also directly linked to funding worries, since at present a large percentage (some say as much as 30-40 per cent) of the GDP is spent on the military forces. This concern has made the Army take an almost directly opposed view to that of the Civilian Government of the day regarding India-Pakistan relationship. The Army still has supremacy in deciding the foreign policy and internal security issues and the Nawaz Sharif Government will find it hard to curtail these extra-constitutional powers that the Army currently exercises. A clear indication of the Army’s discomfiture or annoyance at the Civilian Government’s overtures towards India is the increase in the incidents of border violation across the LoC in Kashmir.

The Pakistan Army also faces another acute problem. The ISI, which is the intelligence arm of the Army, has at times played a rogue role and is even today suspect of not being fully under the Army control, but almost an independent entity by itself. More worrying is the fact that some of the militant organisations functioning within the country were at some time in the past supported by the ISI and in certain cases created by them. That these militants have turned rogue is a point of chagrin to the ISI, but nevertheless a harsh reality. This situation accounts partially for the divergence of views in the Government and the Army regarding the Pakistani Taliban.

The positive sign that can be seen is that at least overtly, the Pakistani Army is seen to be more reticent in involvement in socio-political issues as compared to past decades. With two successive democratically elected governments coming to power, and the erstwhile military dictator Pervez Musharraf being tried in court, the idea of the Army being a ‘government in waiting’ is somewhat receding.

Even if the situation looks better than before, the improvement is unfortunately miniscule. There is a lack of continuity in the policy towards India that has been pursued by successive governments—both military and civilian. In particular, Nawaz Sharif has to exorcise the ghost of the Kargil Conflict of 1999 that took place during his previous truncated Prime Ministerial tenure. Whether he was responsible or not, rightly or wrongly, this is the baggage that he carries. Unless this baggage can be shed there is unlikely to be any forward movement in the bilateral relationship.

Before I move on to looking at challenges that India faces, it is necessary to underline the interconnection between the three fundamental points that I have chosen to analyse regarding Pakistan. Unless internal security can be assured to an acceptable level, relationship with India is not going to improve, since the rogue and radical elements of sectarianism will continue to create and exacerbate cross-border incidents, which will in turn adversely affect bilateral relations. A reasonably good relationship between the nations is a precondition for stability, without which the economy will not be able to come out of the current imbroglio. One leads to the other—for better or worse.

Fundamental Factors – India

If 2013 was the year of transition for Pakistan, 2014 is the year of reckoning for India. After years of drift and lack of governance the Indian public has emphatically voted for stability, growth and opportunity. The age old bane of India, caste-based politics, was conclusively thrown out of the window as was the Indian National Congress, which has ruled the nation for most of its independent existence. I will not go into any further details of the recent political developments in India as it is outside the scope of this presentation. However, it is pertinent to note here that there is a deep seated feeling, almost a conviction, in India that in Pakistan the Army still calls the shots as far as foreign policy, especially in relation to India, is concerned. The anger and anguish at the lack of action against the people who perpetuated the Mumbai terrorist attacks on 26 November 2008 is almost palpable and seen as a demonstrated lack of true interest on the part of Pakistan to improve relations. No Indian Government, irrespective of its political inclination, will be able to make much headway in its relationship with Pakistan unless this particular hurt to the national psyche in India is effectively smoothened. This is the reality of the time. The new Government in India also face similar challenges to that confronting its counterpart in Pakistan. I have chosen to examine the same three fundamental priority issues—the economy, internal security and cross-border terrorism that is closely related to relationship with Pakistan—in this analysis since they are intertwined with the bilateral relations of the two countries.

The Economy

The Indian economy, once touted as the awakening of a slumbering elephant, and many other such metaphors, seems to have gone back to sleep. The growth rate has dropped to a mere 5 per cent. This growth rate is something that most European nations will kill to achieve, but in the Indian context it can be, and quite often is, considered close to stagnation, the indication of a catatonic economy. To make matters worse, inflation is high and subsequently investor confidence has been on the wane. The litany of woes does not end there; corruption has percolated up to the highest places and seeped down into the lowest levels—becoming endemic in society. Add to this the icing on top, a lack of accountability from a non-performing Government and the recipe for disaster is ready.

Some analysts have stated that the underground economy in India is now larger than the national economy, or at least as large. No state economy can withstand so many different assaults and the Indian economy is facing a clear and dangerous attack on its integrity. The new Government will have to attend to this mess as the first priority before any other steps can be initiated to drive the nation to a leadership role in the region. Perhaps the only silver lining in this bleak scenario is that the new administration is going into governance with its eyes open and aware of the great responsibility that has been thrust on them.

Internal Security

Almost throughout the entire period of its independent existence, India has faced some form or the other of internal security challenges. However, the intensity and spread of the Maoist rebellion that is rocking the country today far exceeds anything that the nations has had to withstand in a long time. This time it seems as if some inner core of the nation has been seized and is being held to ransom with the nation unable to respond effectively. There is a very large and almost visible swath of land that goes from the north to the south that is currently engulfed in Maoist rebel activities. So far the Government’s responses have been weak and inadequate.

The rebellion has been termed all sorts of things and a number of people and organisations have been pointed out as instigators or perpetrators. The Indian Government however is still reluctant to term it an insurgency, and a virulent one at that, and deal with it accordingly. The wound is deep and festering on the national polity, and excising it is the only viable option. Whether or not the new Government will have the political will to take stern action is yet to be seen. The previous Congress-led coalition proved unequal to the effort. The underlying fact is that unless this rebellion is stamped out through concerted counterinsurgency measures, it will be extremely difficult to improve the economic backwardness that is one of the fundamental causes of the insurgency itself.

The other issue is long-standing and as yet without an end in sight—the security issues emanating from the restive State of Jammu and Kashmir. The displacement of the local Hindu Pandits from the State and the overtly anti-India stance assumed by a number of Islamic religious leaders have not been well received by the rest of the nation. On the other hand the high-handed manner in which the internal security forces conduct business in the State is less than optimum to win popular support. On top of it, whether correctly or not, there is a tendency within India to blame anything that goes wrong in Jammu and Kashmir as being Pakistan orchestrated, supported or organised. This is a situation waiting to explode. No Government can afford to ignore the powder keg that is Kashmir and hope that the challenge will go away. It is not likely to walk away by itself.

Cross-Border Terrorism

India blames Pakistan of indulging in cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and of maintaining training camps for jihadis (religious combatants) within the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Once again the truth could lie somewhere in between. It is a fact that in 2013 alone there were more than 150 instances of ceasefire violations across the LoC. In September 2013, on the eve of very high-level talks between the two Prime Ministers, ‘militants’ crossed the border and beheaded eight Indian soldiers. This provides a sort of confirmation that the Pakistan Army is still making all the decisions of importance and that the civilian government of the nation has not been able to bring them under control. It is also certain that the Pakistani Army does not want any tangible move towards normalisation of relations with India to take place.

The new Indian Government has expressed a desire to re-examine the provisions of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that provides Kashmir with a number of special status arrangements. It also wants to start a national debate regarding the status of the entire Kashmir issue from a security point of view and this spooks Pakistan. Further, the current Government, when in opposition, has always advocated a zero tolerance policy towards terrorism, which could mean a much tougher stand on cross-border activities than has been adopted by India so far. It is certain that any action taken by Pakistan across the LoC in the next few months will invite immediate and extreme retaliation. However, it must also be mentioned here that at least for the moment Pakistan does not loom large in the Indian political canvas or for that matter in the people’s minds. Even so, hundreds of years of common history and geographical proximity cannot be just wished away. Pakistan will continue to remain a focal point for Indian foreign policy.

Afghanistan – The Elephant in the Room

The activities of both India and Pakistan in Afghanistan is gradually taking on all the characteristics of a proxy war between them. This will only worsen as the US and NATO forces start to draw down and stop combat operations in the theatre. Pakistan’s attitude to India has been shaped by its fear of an envelopment if India becomes too powerful an influence in Afghanistan. This is not an impossibility. I am sure that Pakistan is equally well-versed in the famed ‘Mandala Theory’ that was first put forward by Chanakya in his treatise The Arthashastra, to be rightly concerned about being sandwiched between a powerful India, which it considers and old enemy, on one side and an Indian proxy on the other. I am sure no nation would want this to happen to them. India, at least overtly, states that its interests in Afghanistan are pragmatic and above petty politics with Pakistan. India harps back to the historical and cultural links that it shares with Afghanistan and states that a stable Afghanistan is essential for greater regional stability, especially of South Asia, which is its real concern. India has signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement for post-conflict nation building with the Afghan Government, which also makes Pakistan nervous about what it perceives as India’s ‘real’ intentions. India is also mindful of the fact that Afghanistan’s mineral deposits would come in handy for its ever expanding requirements and that Afghanistan will also be a lucrative market for Indian goods and services. While these are all laudable and strictly legitimate reasons for assisting Afghanistan, one must not forget that no nation ever does anything completely altruistic; there is always a hidden agenda and something to gain for itself. India is no exception.

Post-US troop withdrawal, there are high chances of a civil war breaking out. Of course this will depend on a number of disparate factors. However, it is worth considering what roles Pakistan and India will play if such a scenario eventuates. At the moment it looks as if they will be arraigned on opposite sides of the equation—which would only bring further strife to an already buckling nation. This situation is also fraught with the danger of escalation of hostilities beyond Afghanistan. Stability of the entire region will depend on both India and Pakistan displaying a hitherto undemonstrated maturity and the ability to pursue agendas that are complimentary to each other. I am also sufficiently cynical to understand and articulate that such a cooperative approach is not a possibility under the prevailing circumstances.

The Elections in India

The results of the elections in India came out only four days ago, and although the party that will form the next Government is clear, it is difficult to provide a clear analysis or predict the repercussions of this election result would be on India-Pakistan relations. However, some possible trends are easily identifiable and can be projected forward to arrive at an approximate situation that would eventuate. I have identified three major factors that are bound to influence the future of bilateral relationship of the two nations.

The first is that the new Government will be initially focused on domestic issues and would like to maintain status quo in the foreign policy sphere, especially within the region. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come to power on an election promise of making India ‘stronger’ with all the nuances that this term brings with it. Therefore, the Government can be expected to take a much tougher stand on all security issues and would not be willing to negotiate from any position other than one of strength. That is what the people of India would expect, and I am pretty certain that is exactly what they will get. I have mentioned this earlier, and I reiterate, that any aggressive move by Pakistan in the LoC or other border areas will be met with extreme reaction. Under these circumstances escalation, that may not have taken place during the rule of the Congress-led Government for the past ten years, is highly probable.

The second factor stems from the first, when it is taken forward into the operational sphere. In the future, cross-border terrorism is almost certain to be met with force and even hot-pursuit, which means that the countering force would cross the border onto the other side in pursuit of the perpetrators. This is most likely in the Kashmir region where the terrorist training camps are located fairly close to the LoC. Subsequent escalation from these actions would once again depend on a number of factors, some of which might just wheel out of control. That the BJP Government would resort to ‘hot-pursuit’ is almost certain in my mind, the further developments form it are the ones that cause worry since their consequences can be far reaching.

The third factor is the revision of the Indian Nuclear Policy that the BJP has stated as one of the agendas that it will pursue. While this re-examination is not aimed at changing any of the current strategies that India has adopted, I believe that a policy revision will be undertaken to make the Indian stance of ‘no first use’ less rigid. This would have the dual effect of bringing in a certain amount of flexibility to the policy and also exerting pressure on Pakistan to also declare and sign a ‘no first use’ policy, which it has so far not ratified. I do not think that India will at any stage use nuclear weapons unless it is under extreme pressure and has already suffered a nuclear attack, but it will definitely look to shoring up assurances that such a situation does not come to pass.
From a point of view of India-Pakistan relations, I cannot think of any other areas that will be affected immediately on the new Government assuming power. However, I must add that the new Government should not be taken for granted—one cannot forget that after a gap of thirty years, the Indian public has given a clear majority mandate to one party to reclaim the greatness to which India was supposed to have been marching, at least in the mind of the average Indian.

New Dawns – Old Sunsets

The track record of India-Pakistan relations is dismal and disappointing. In a purely academic sense this situation is reminiscent of the age-old rivalry ridden relationship between various nations that constituted the Indian sub-continent before they were forcefully gathered into a single entity called India by the British. In some ways it does seem the logical progression of old enmities, jealousies and bitter competitions. The long history of the sub-continent is one extended tale of battles fought and won, of vengeful acts that destroyed both the perpetrator and the recipient, and needless wars that weakened and finally destroyed large and prosperous kingdoms. In the beginning of the 21st century, when both India and Pakistan have no doubt realised the futility of continuing on the current mutually-destructive process in their relationship, it is worth examining whether or not an opportunity exists to alter the course of the collective destiny of the peoples of both nations; and if so, to identify the challenges to achieving a sustainable breakthrough in the bilateral relations. In order to keep within the time available to me I have chosen three challenges that in my opinion, will be sticking points that will diminish any initiative to normalise relations between the two nations. They are the differences in the ruling ethos, the role of the military forces and the LoC in Kashmir.

Differences in the Ruling Ethos

There is a sharp difference in the ruling ethos of both the nations that is visible even to an untrained observer. This in turn alters the perception of the people regarding what is acceptable and what is not in terms of the socio-political sphere and could over a period of time create a very clear divide in understanding the political dimension of the relationship between the nations.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for more than half of its independent existence, with the first coup taking place in 1958. However, contrary to popular belief, this contempt for democracy is not the creation of the military alone. From 1951-58, bureaucrats turned politicians who rule the country had displayed scant regard for democratic traditions and institutions. Their unruly rule was one of the stated reasons for the Army to initiate the coup, to clear up the mess and stabilise the country. Of course, that is the reason all armies that take over the governance of their country claim, but in Pakistan’s case perhaps there was an iota of truth in it. Irrespective of whether they were ruling or not, the Pakistan Army has always been part and parcel of the power structure of the country and this situation is unlikely to change in the near-term. In a somewhat simplistic explanation of this situation, it can be said that the Army still controls the primary agenda and decides on major actions that the country will undertake. The democratically elected Government, at least for the time being, is a convenient façade for the Army to function behind and also have as an expedient whipping boy if things do not pan out as per the Army’s plans.

India on the other hand has developed into a chaotic democracy with a population of over 1.2 billion people. The people do not want to re-enact the policy paralysis that had enveloped the decision-making body in the past few years and this has been demonstrated by the decisive rejection of the incumbent Congress-led Government at the recent elections, the results of which were announced on 16 May. Policy paralysis and pure ‘lip service’ to improving the economy is no longer a viable option for any elected government. Further, the people’s need is clearly for economic progress and stability rather than being pampered to in terms of caste/religion/economic status-based schemes that at best deliver only partially. There is an urgency to the people’s demand to reinvent the past greatness of the nation and reach back to the glorious past that school text books in India tend to overemphasise.

Perhaps equally important is the public dismay at the gradually declining security situation—brought about through forces within the nation and from external threats. They are unwilling to dismiss any external interference in the nation, in any sort of manner, overt or covert as a one-off and now demand concrete and visible action from the Government. Neither are they willing to let the Government of the hook in terms of responsibility for lapses in security. Accountability in all aspects of governance has become the first priority of the voting public. This also includes vociferous demands to respond to the emergence of an economically and militarily assertive China. In more ways than one India is at the crossroads, from which it can move on to success and regional leadership or slink back into obscurity. This recently elected BJP Government has the best chance to grasp this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and create history. The world is obviously watching.

Superimposed on these two clearly different styles of governance in the two nations, is the role of religion. On the one hand Pakistan has become more islamised than ever before and on the other, India seems to have had enough of caste-based and minority-pampering politics. There could not be a greater divide between two countries than the visible religious ethos in Pakistan and India. I believe that this religious difference will play an even greater role in India-Pakistan relations than it has before the recent Indian elections. To a certain extent the divide has now become unbridgeable.

The Role of the Military Forces

The military forces of India and Pakistan both play an important and critical role in any confidence-building measures that the nations undertake. The Indian military was taken by surprise at the timing of the Kargil intrusion by the Pakistan Army—at a crucial time during a concerted effort by the politicians of both the nations to improve bilateral relations. This was followed almost immediately by a military coup that replaced the democratically elected Government with a military dictator and junta. Although it has been 15 years since these two unsettling episodes, the Indian military forces still view any overtures by their Pakistani counterpart with a great deal of cynicism. To an extent the Indian military is paranoid in terms of not trusting the Pakistani Army, and not without reason, considering the activities of the ISI. This is not a situation that is conducive to improving relations.

In the past few decades, the Indian military forces have played a major role in containing internal security challenges. They have been used almost across the entire nation, at some time or the other, to stabilise situations that had gone beyond the capability of the policing apparatus to control. They have been actively involved in counter-terrorism activities in Kashmir while also patrolling the volatile border areas in the Siachen Glacier, the North-East frontier and the long coastline against infiltration. The terrorist activities in Kashmir is now being seen by the Indian population as a diversion to the main goal of economic development and accordingly there is an increasing resentment against what is perceived as the inaction of the Government to contain it. A combination of these factors have given the Indian military an increased role in security issues and made it more assertive in the debate on national security. Conversely, the Pakistan Army, which has so far dictated terms to the Government when it was not itself the Government, seems to be taking a step back in the face of the fledgling democratic movement that is taking root in that country. Both these developments make for interesting viewing from the outside. However, military to military confidence building in the India-Pakistan context is a far cry at the moment.

The Line of Control in Kashmir

2013 has been a year of skirmishes across the LoC and this provides an indication that the Pakistan Army is still in control of the Pakistan side of the agenda as far as India-Pakistan relations are concerned. A complete thaw in the relationship would go against the vested interest of the Pakistan Army and therefore minor cross-border incursions are likely to continue, at least for the time being. The recent volatility at the border will take at least a year to calm down if no more major incidents happen, and even then it is easy to upset any kind of fragile understanding that could be developed. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistan Army would be better served if they concentrate on the internal security issues facing their nation, rather than attempting to keep the elected Government on tender hooks. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the scheme that the Army is pursuing. As it was said in a recent article, the Pakistan Army is all about maintaining the institution [of the Army] and not about upholding the constitution.

The Indian political decision makers, as well as the Army are becoming more rigid in their policy stance on Kashmir and to the possible solutions that could end the current status quo. There are also claims of human rights violations by the Indian Army in the enforcement of internal security in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. While these are only few, they cannot be discounted and should be taken as an indicator of the frustration being felt by the security agencies engaged in a never-ending conflict. Religious support, both external and internal, to the separatist movement in the State, while anathema to the larger Indian polity, is also a worrying development for India. However, there has not been any focused attempt at solving the challenge or diffusing the increasing tension. It is more than likely that the Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism across the LoC will continue for the foreseeable future and it carries with it the distinct potential to erupt uncontrollably.


I have consciously titled this last part of my presentation, new dawns – old sunsets. The two nations suffer a deficit of trust for any improvement to take place in the near-term. With two new Governments in place and barring any adventurous initiative by one or the other, bilateral relations between the nations are likely to stay at the same point for some time, while both governments assess their way forward. I also fear that in the meantime, like Kashmir, Afghanistan could also develop into a point of bilateral contention and gradually become a long-drawn challenge with no tangible answers. This would have detrimental effects not only on India-Pakistan relations but also on the overall stability of South Asia.
In addressing this forum I would have very much liked to say that India-Pakistan relationship is on the upswing, but sadly all pointers are in the other direction. I am not a pessimist by nature, but I fear that the one step forward, two steps back approach that we have so far witnessed will result in the two warring states moving into increasingly rigid positions based on ethno-religious divisions, from which neither will be able to create the necessarily flexible environment so critical to achieve any modicum of rapprochement. A sad but true situation.

Thank you. I will now answer questions if there are any.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2014]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)


  1. our current new Govt will be moving towards a more stern opinion in regards to our relation with our neighbor but it seems it is also walking towards a “one step forward two step backward approach”

  2. I
    Nicely written Sanu da,
    I guess the fundamental issue is that the military-political elite in Pak still view relations with India as a zero-sum game (India’s gain is Pak’s loss and vice versa). In contrast the Indian political elite do try to point out the impact of gains from trade that might benefit both countries. The real issue is that as Pak continues to spiral downwards economically – it is a country with one of the largest fertility rates in the world, a huge youth bulge and faces an endemic scarcity of natural resources – in particular water. There is no evidence that the pak elites understand how precarious the situation is. This unfortunately has grave long-term implications for India. Standard game theoretic analysis suggests that as a failing state – it will have much less to lose in a future conflict, thereby lowering the threshold for a potential nuke exchange. I guess for India – the strategy has to be “talk softly but carry a big stick” 🙂

    some minor editorial quibbles in your article. You’ve stated Pak’s external debt to be $ 13 trillion. That can’t be correct – that is equal to the US GDP.
    Second – you’ve said the Pak armed forces appropriate almost 30-40 per cent of Pak’s GDP. That too I think would be unlikely. Perhaps you mean 30-40 per cent of Pak revenue.
    Third – you said that India did not agree to the standstill agreement with Hari Singh in Kashmir – is this correct? I thought India abided by the standstill agreement and pak did not.

    However, these minor quibbles should not detract from the thrust of your argument. Which I completely agree with.



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