India – Pakistan Relations

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Context: “We have a global strategic partnership with India. I have also spoken about the deep partnership we have with Pakistan. These relationships in our mind are not zero-sum. We do not view them in relation to one another,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference on Monday when asked about the recent outburst against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in New York.

Relevance: Prelims- Current Affairs of National and International Importance.
Mains- GS-2; India and its neighborhood- relations.

India-Pakistan Relations


  • India and Pakistan share linguistic, cultural, geographical, and economic links but due to political and historical reasons, the two share a complex relationship. 
  • The India-Pakistan relations are one of the most complex associations that India shares with any of its neighboring countries.
  • In spite of the many contentious issues, India and Pakistan have made significant strides in reducing the “trust deficit” over the past few years.
  • In keeping with its “Neighbourhood First Policy”, India desires normal neighborly relations with Pakistan.
  • India’s consistent position is that issues, if any, between India and Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally and peacefully, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.
  • The onus is on Pakistan to create such a conducive environment.
  • It has been made clear that India will not compromise on issues relating to national security and will take firm and decisive steps to deal with all attempts to undermine India’s security and territorial integrity.

Background of the India-Pakistan Relations:

Ever since India’s independence and the partition of the two countries, India and Pakistan have had sour relations.  A brief timeline of the relations between the two countries is discussed below:

  • The Composite Dialogue between India and Pakistan from 2004 to 2008 addressed all outstanding issues. It had completed four rounds and the fifth round was in progress when it was paused in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008.
  • Then again in April 2010, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gillani on the margins of the SAARC Summit, spoke about the willingness to resolve the issue and resume the bilateral dialogue. 
  • In 2011, after a meeting between the Foreign Ministers of both countries, the bilateral ties were resumed on issues including:
    • Counterterrorism & Humanitarian issues 
    • Economic issues at Commerce 
    • Tulbul Navigation Project at Water Resources Secretary-level
    • Siachen at Defence Secretary-level
    • Peace & Security including Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)
    • Jammu & Kashmir
    • Promotion of Friendly Exchanges at the level of the Foreign Secretaries.
  • Cross-LoC travel was started in 2005 and trade across J&K was initiated in 2009.
  • India and Pakistan signed a visa agreement in 2012 leading to the liberalization of bilateral visa regimes between the two countries.

Latest Developments in the India- Pakistan Relations:

  • In 2019, Article 370 of India’s Constitution, was scrapped, which gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Following this, bilateral relations faced a severe blow. It was followed by Pakistan expelling the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad and suspension of air and land links, and trade and railway services. 
  • Pakistan had downgraded its diplomatic relations with India, reducing the presence of diplomatic staff in the Indian capital, and severed trade links following New Delhi's decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.
  • India, on February 15, 2019, withdrew its Most Favoured Nation Status to Pakistan.
  • There was no forward movement in bilateral ties in 2020 due to the mistrust between the two countries, especially on the Kashmir issue.
  • The only positive development recorded since then has been the restoration of a crucial ceasefire agreement on the highly volatile Line of Control (LoC) in February 2021, which kindled a frail feeling for more such steps in days to come. The ensuing months, however, showed that it was yet another mirage.
  • This year also saw no improvement in bilateral ties as India accused Pakistan of cross-border infiltration and re-activation of terror-launching pads near the LoC. Pakistan, however, alleged that India supported terrorist groups in the country.
  • Foreign Minister Bilawal resorted to a personal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and slammed the RSS after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told a UN Security Council meeting that the “contemporary epicenter of terrorism” remains very much active and called for collective action to tackle them. Though Jaishankar did not name any countries, it was apparent that he was making a veiled reference to Pakistan.
  • In a strong condemnation of Bilawal's remarks, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi said the Pakistan foreign minister's “frustration” would be better directed towards the masterminds of terrorist enterprises in his own country” that has made terrorism a part of their “state policy”.

Areas of Conflict Between the two Countries:

  • Cross-border Terrorism:
    • Terrorism emanating from territories under Pakistan's control remains a core concern in bilateral relations. India has consistently stressed the need for Pakistan to take credible, irreversible, and verifiable action to end cross-border terrorism against India and fulfill its assurances, given to India at the highest level in January 2004 and reiterated several times, that territory under its control would not be allowed to be used for terrorism against India in any manner.
    • India has repeatedly called upon Pakistan to bring perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously. However, there has been no progress in the ongoing trial of the Mumbai terror attacks case in Pakistan even after all the evidence has been shared with the Pakistan side.
    • It has also been emphasized that India will continue to take firm and decisive steps to protect its national security. Following the cross-border terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on 18 September 2016 and continued incidents of terrorist infiltrations, the Indian Army conducted surgical strikes at various terrorist launch pads across the Line of Control, based on specific and credible inputs, and inflicted significant casualties to terrorists and those providing support to them.
  • Indus Waters Treaty:
  • The IWT was signed by the then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then-Pakistani President Ayub Khan. Brokered by the World Bank (then known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), the negotiations for the agreement went on for nine years.

    Ever since the partition of India in 1947, the Indus River had been a bone of contention between the four countries through which it runs – India, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan. The river originates from Tibet.

    India had blocked water to Pakistan for some time in 1948 but later restored it after the ceasefire. In 1951, Pakistan took the matter to the United Nations (UN) and accused India of cutting the supply of water to many Pakistani villages.

    On the recommendations of the UN, the World Bank came up with this agreement in 1954. It was eventually signed on September 19, 1960.

    Indus Waters Treaty – Provisions in Brief

    • The treaty spells out conditions for water-sharing of the River Indus and its five tributaries.
    • India got control over the three eastern rivers, which are Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej.
    • All the waters of the Eastern Rivers shall be available for the unrestricted use of India until the arise of any unwanted situation.
    • Pakistan got control over the three western rivers, which are Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum.
    • A Permanent Indus Commission was set up by the United Nations for resolving any disputes that may arise in water sharing, with a mechanism for arbitration to resolve conflicts amicably.
    • According to the treaty, India can use the water from the western rivers for domestic, non-consumptive needs such as storage, irrigation, and also the generation of electricity.
    • The treaty gives India 20% of the water from the Indus River System and the rest 80% to Pakistan.
    • In executing any scheme of flood protection or flood control each country(India/Pakistan) will avoid, as far as practicable, any material damage to the other country.
    • The use of the natural channels of the Rivers for the discharge of flood or other excess waters shall be free and not subject to limitation by either India or Pakistan, and neither of the countries shall have any claim against the other in respect of any damage caused by such use.


    • The 115th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) was held on August 29-30, 2018 in Lahore.
    • The Indian delegation was led by the Indian Commissioner for Indus Water (ICIW), while the Pakistan delegation was led by the Pakistan Commissioner of Indus Water (PCIW).
    • In the two-day meeting, both sides discussed the Pakal Dul Hydroelectric Power Project (HEP), Lower Kalnai HEP, and reciprocal tours of Inspection to both sides of the Indus basin.
    • Subsequently, a delegation led by PCIW inspected Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai, Ratle, and other hydropower projects in the Chenab Basin on January 28-31, 2019.
    • Still, new issues of contention regarding the same continue to rise every now and then.


  • Trade and Commerce:
    • India accorded MFN status to Pakistan in 1996. A Pakistan cabinet decision of November 02, 2011, to reciprocate remains unimplemented.
    • In August 2012, India announced a reduction of 30% in its SAFTA Sensitive List for non-Least Developed Countries of SAFTA [including Pakistan], bringing down tariffs on 264 items to 5% within a period of three years.
    • However, Pakistan continued to follow a restrictive trade policy toward India.
    • In the aftermath of cross border terror attack in Pulwama, India, on 15 February 2019 withdrew Most Favoured Nation Status to Pakistan.
    • India also hiked customs duty on exports from Pakistan to 200% on 16 February 2019.
    • Subsequently, as part of its unilateral measures, Pakistan suspended bilateral trade with India on 7 August 2019.
    • There are two major routes via which trade commenced between the two countries:
      • Sea Route – Mumbai to Karachi
      • Land Route – via Wagah Border through trucks.
    • List of Products India Imports from Pakistan:
      • Raw jute
      • Hides and skins
      • Fish including dried fish, poultry, and eggs
      • Betel leaves & nuts
      • Spices like coriander and methi seeds
      • Honey
      • Books and periodicals, and newspapers
      • Cinema films
      • Cement
      • Saltpeter
      • Machine Tools
      • Bicycles and spare parts
      • Surgical Instruments
      • Sports goods
      • Wood and timber of all sorts, other than hardwood.
    • List of Products India Exports to Pakistan:
      • Coal
      • Fire bricks
      • Lime and Lime Stone
      • Mica and Bauxite
      • Pigments and dry colors
      • Dyeing and tanning substances
      • Drugs and medicines, including Ayurvedic and Unani Medicines
      • Millboard and strawboard
      • Machinery and Millwork
      • Electric instruments apparatus appliances Electric cables and wires, Fluorescent electric tubes, Electric insulation material, Accumulators, and batteries
      • Sanitary ware
      • Essential oils
      • Tea, Coffee, Sugar
      • Spices
      • Fresh Fruits.
    • Trade Agreement between India and Pakistan: The two countries had signed a Trade agreement that was mutually beneficial for both:
      • Article I – exchange of products shall be done based on the mutual requirement of both countries, ensuring common advantages.
      • Article II – With regard to the commodities/goods mentioned in Schedules ‘A’ and ‘B’ attached to this Agreement, the two Governments shall facilitate imports from and exports to each other’s territories to the extent permitted by their respective laws, regulations, and procedures.
      • Article III – The import/export shall take place only through commercial means approved by both sides.
      • Article IV – With respect to commodities/goods not included in Schedules ‘A’ and ‘B’ export or import shall also be permitted in accordance with the laws, regulations, and procedures in force in either country from time to time.
      • Article V – Each Government shall accord to the commerce of the country.
      • Article VI – There are a few exceptions for Article V.
      • Article VII – The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade must be followed.
      • ArticleVIII – Border trade shall be allowed for the day-to-day requirement of commodities.
      • Article IX – For proper implementation of the agreement, meetings can be done every six months.
      • Article X – The Trade Agreement between the two countries was effective from February 1, 1957.
  • People-to-People Relations:
    • There are 275 Indians, including fishermen presently believed to be in Pakistan’s custody. However, Pakistan has acknowledged the custody of 262 of them. As a result of persistent efforts, India has been successful in securing the release and repatriation of 2133 Indians, including fishermen, from Pakistan’s custody since 2014. 
    • A delegation of fishermen’s representatives and officials from the State of Gujarat visited Karachi in March 2015 for the release of 57 Indian fishing boats. The government of India has persistently taken up the matter of release of 1100 Indian fishing boats believed to be in Pakistani custody.
    •  In October 2017, India suggested to Pakistan to revive the mechanism of the Joint Judicial Committee which looks into humanitarian issues of fishermen and prisoners in each other's custody.
    • India has suggested to Pakistan to also address the issue of mentally unsound prisoners. Pakistan responded positively, in principle, to the proposal in March 2018.
    • While India has reconstituted the Judicial Committee and the proposed visit of a team of medical experts to examine mentally unsound prisoners, Pakistan has not responded despite repeated reminders.
    • The visit to religious shrines between India and Pakistan is governed by the Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines signed between India and Pakistan in 1974. The protocol provides for three Hindu pilgrimages and four Sikh pilgrimages every year to visit 15 shrines in Pakistan while five Pakistan pilgrimages visit 7 shrines in India.
  • Kartarpur Corridor:
    • The Government of India on 22 November 2018 formally conveyed to the Government of Pakistan that it would initiate the Kartarpur Corridor on the Indian side and urged Pakistan to build a corridor with suitable facilities in its territory from the international border to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan to facilitate easier access and smooth passage of Indian pilgrims throughout the year. The Government of Pakistan on 22 November 2018 concurred with India’s proposal.
    •  An Agreement between India and Pakistan for the facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Pakistan, was signed on 24 October 2019 in order to fulfill the long-standing demand of the pilgrims to have easy and smooth access to the holy Gurudwara.
    • The Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Agreement, inter alia, provides for visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims as well as Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders, from India to the holy Gurudwara in Pakistan on a daily basis, throughout the year.
    • Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on 9 November 2019 on the occasion of the 550th birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and flagged off the first group of pilgrims to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.
    • Around 44,000 pilgrims have already visited the holy Gurudwara using the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor since its inauguration.
  • The Kashmir issue:
    • This is one of the most sensitive issues between India and Pakistan and has been a major cause of the sour relations the two countries share. 
    • Article 370 gave Jammu and Kashmir a special right to have its own constitution, a separate flag and have their own rules, but in August 2019,  the Article was scrapped off and J&K now abides by the Indian Constitution common for all.
    • It was given the status of a Union Territory and this move of the Indian Government was highly objected to by Pakistan due to their longing of owning Kashmir entirely.
  • China Factor:
    • China, who has always considered Pakistan as its younger brother, has always helped it by providing it with the military, economic and technical assistance.
    • China has assisted Pakistan in setting up nuclear power plants and in various infrastructure projects.
    • China also has a free trade agreement with Pakistan which makes  China the 3rd largest trade partner of Pakistan.
    • China has also in the past provided Pakistan with scientific expertise in its nuclear programs which has helped Pakistan to counter the nuclear threat from India which itself has successfully conducted several nuclear programs and has a considerable amount of nuclear firepower.
    • In return, Pakistan has been critical in improving the relations of China with Muslim nations and America while providing China access to its coastal line to augment trade with middle east nations and have a more strategic role in Indian Ocean waters against India.
    • Hence, both these nations have helped each other to curtail India’s emergence as an economic and military superpower.

Possible Way Forward for the Relations between the two Countries:

  • Half a decade has passed since the severe breakdown of India-Pakistan relations.
  • Today, Pakistan is embroiled in an internal crisis that needs a savior. Not just Pakistan, at present, other states in South Asia are also suffering from economic and governance crises.
  • These acute regional crises have increased India’s space for maneuvering in South Asia. 
  •  In the critical scenario where China is withdrawing its immediate, if not absolute, interest from the region, India should not exclude Pakistan in its ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy
  •  It can afford to take constructive diplomacy and chances with a “forward-looking strategy”.
  •  It will send a message that India is not acting hegemonic but instead is cooperative even with a staunch adversary, to other South Asian states.
  • Terrorism is one of the pertinent issues of South Asia which cannot be resolved without having a regional dialogue with Pakistan, a “sorcerer’s apprentice” of terrorism.
  • The recent discussion and debates on improving trade relations between the countries, particularly in Pakistan, have revived prospects of development in India-Pakistan relations.
  • Of course, reopening trade with India could bring a tremendous amount of relief to Pakistan’s inflation-hit economy, but, according to Arvind Vermani, the former Economic Advisor, Government of India, it is going to be “a shared benefit” because “there is huge deadweight loss involved in routing trade through other countries”.
  •  Also, according to the World Bank Study (2018), the potential for trade between the countries, which is currently below USD 300 million, is USD 37 billion
  • There is a prevailing narrative in Pakistan that India wants to weaken, destroy or convert it into a satellite. However, it is untrue. India fears Pakistan’s “instability more than its strength” – because- nothing could be more alarming than the specter of the financial collapse of its nuclear-armed neighbour-cum-nemesis. Also, India’s establishment sees Pakistan as an enormous mess that one would not like to inherit.
  • The relationship between India and Pakistan is cyclical; it goes a little up and then hits the ground. In Pakistan, the Army, most of the time using the “Kashmir dispute”, pulls the thread of the government whenever things between India go up for settlement; it helps the former maintain its relevance despite knowing, but not accepting, the asymmetric nature of the rivalry.
  • Trade is one of the reasons why Pakistan cannot sustain its resentful policies; geoeconomics or economic interests compel it to restart trade with India. Also, Pakistan’s worsening relationship with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and growing extremism limit the former’s geoeconomic objectives; the most critical is the delay in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is sowing frustration in both parties.
  • At this moment, India must respond to Pakistan’s signs for improvement in relations generously, along with strong messaging that the latter has to stop funding and nourishing terrorism, despite knowing the unchangeable nature of the revisionist state that keeps on undoing the efforts; because South Asia, at present, is having various crises inflicted by the pandemic COVID-19.
  • If India does not take the lead and include Pakistan in its strategic sight, the region cannot respond to various crises collectively that will ultimately aid China in furthering its strategy of ‘cooperating and combining with small to attack the big’ in the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Conclusion:

     Maintaining stability in the South Asian region is in India’s interest, as investors would not invest in an unstable region. Moreover, engaging with Pakistan will give India a geographical way to resume its engagement with Afghanistan and resource-rich Central Asian states. At last, extending a hand to Pakistan will provide an opportunity to India to balance China’s expansionist policy, which has become obvious since the Galwan crisis. 

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