The Legacy of Nehru-Liaqat Pact

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Context: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted a no-war pact with Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. The mere fact that it was actually discussed measures for us the “normal” goodwill that existed despite the years of quarrelling during the Pakistan Movement.

Mains: GS I- Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.


  • Much of the India-Pakistan relationship is characterized as an implacable, and unrelenting, enmity.
  • There are a number of reasons to support such a depiction.
    • India and Pakistan have entered into three full-scale wars, border skirmishes take place almost daily, and both pursue their diplomatic spats thoroughly and with zeal.
    • They point out each other’s’ shortcomings at the United Nations, and they spend vast sums of money on maintaining armies on the border in the preparedness of an attack.
    • The Kashmir issue is the biggest strain in the relationship. 
  • Immediately after partition too, there were deep constraints in the relationship between the two countries. 
  • This could be seen from not only in the eruption of the Kashmir dispute but also in often bitter wrangling over the division of assets, over water, numerous border disputes, as well as over the migration of minorities. 
  • But both nations worked out mechanisms for cooperation.
    • The motivation sprang from an imperative that was deeply seated in the logic of both nation-states: in order to carve out an independent and viable existence, it was necessary for the two to come to agreements on the fallouts from the partition (1948-52).  
    • This period saw India and Pakistan facilitating a transfer of populations, rationalising bilateral relations after the violence of Partition, sorting out canal-water issues and evacuee property disputes without the venom you see between them today.
  • The Nehru Liaquat Pact of 1950 was one of those agreements in series and it laid the foundation for the framework of international relations in those times.


Nehru-Liaquat Pact, 1950
  • The Nehru-Liaquat Pact, also known as the Delhi Pact, was a bilateral agreement signed between India and Pakistan in order to provide a framework for the treatment of minorities in the two countries.
  • It was signed by the former PM Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan the former PM of Pakistan in Delhi in 1950.
  • It was signed in the backdrop of large-scale migration of people belonging to minority communities between the two countries in the wake of attacks by the majority communities in their respective territories.
  • The prospect of enormous and unregulated numbers of migrants streaming across the eastern boundary line posed a philosophical question to two nation-states eager to demonstrate complete control over the boundaries.
  • The mass migration of minorities Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists in Pakistan, and Muslims in India led to a serious refugee crisis.
  • In 1950, as per some estimates, over a million Hindus and Muslims migrated from and to East Pakistan amid communal tension and riots such as the 1950 East Pakistan riots and the Noakhali riots.
  • This agreement was the outcome of a mutual necessity for both governments to regulate the unchecked movement of minority population across the border.
  • The treaty was an outcome of six days of talks sought to guarantee the rights of minorities in both countries after the Partition of India and to avert another war between them.
  • According to the pact, India and Pakistan would be accountable to one another for the treatment of minorities in their countries. 

Key takeaways of the pact:

  • refugees were allowed to return unmolested to dispose of their property
  • abducted women and looted property were to be returned
  • forced conversions were unrecognized
  • minority rights were confirmed

Key Provisions of the Pact: 

  1. The Governments of India and Pakistan solemnly agree that each shall ensure, to the minorities throughout its territory,
    1. complete equality of citizenship, irrespective of religion,
    2. a full sense of security in respect of life, culture, property and personal honour,
    3. freedom of movement within each country and
    4. freedom of occupation, speech and worship, subject to law and morality.
  2. Members of the minorities shall have equal opportunity with members of the majority community to participate in the public life of their country, to hold political or other offices, and to serve in their country’s civil and armed forces.
    • Both Governments declare these rights to be fundamental and undertake to enforce them effectively.
  3. It noted that “The Prime Minister of India has drawn attention to the fact that these rights are guaranteed to all minorities in India by its Constitution”, and
    that “The Prime Minister of Pakistan has pointed out that similar provision exists in the Objectives Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan”.
  4. Also, “Both Governments wish to emphasise that the allegiance and loyalty of the minorities is to the State of which they are citizens and that it is to the Government of their own State that they should look for the redress of their grievances.”
The legacy of Nehru-Liaquat Pact
  • Both India and Pakistan needed to assert complete sovereignty from the other in order to function as viable entities in their own right, in their respective foreign policies in the changing international context.
  • In order to be able to pursue their separate agendas, therefore, the two governments consistently undertook acts of cooperation and compromise, which would allow them to get disentangled from each other.
  • The two states cooperated over relief and rehabilitation, evacuee property while helping each other seal the border. Such a deep-seated need for cooperation moreover, meant that the cooperation in the bilateral relationship was as integral as the violence.
  • Indo-Pak animosity has made a lot of people suffer over 72 years, defying wisdom and stultifying growth in the region.
  • A lot of it had to do with history, but a lot is also due to the inability to reconcile state identity with the needs of modern times.
  • History-writing became polarised along narrow nationalisms till the two couldn’t even discuss what estranged them.
  • But Nehru-Liyaqat pact made it possible that the two countries signed multiple agreements after that- examples including Indus Water Treaty, 1960,  Shimla Pact, 1972. 
  • The spirit behind the Nehru-Liaquat pact is also underlined in India-China's Panchsheel Agreement where both sides agreed on respecting the other nation's sovereignty and adopted a policy of non-interference which working out a way to coexist peacefully. 
  • Respect to nation-states sovereignty was also reflected in India co-founded NAM. 

The International Context- establishment of the refugee regime by India and Pakistan:

  • When the Nehru–Liaquat Agreement was inked, challenges arising from the hasty redrawing of state boundaries, and the ensuing “evacuation” or forced migration of minorities to other territories were very familiar terrain indeed to several governments across the globe.
  • There were questions on-
    • how governments should confront the challenges posed by enormous transfers of the population after a partition;
    • what framework to apply for a viable definition of minority rights; and
    • how much the state ought to be responsible for the upholding of a universally held definition of human rights of its citizens.
  • Therefore, the two states strengthened themselves and asserted their legitimacy as participants in the international order by looking at the question of inter-dominion migration through the lens of refugee policy and governmental response.
  • Both India and Pakistan had, in fact, asked that their refugee populations be taken into account when the mandate of the United Nations Refugee Convention was being drafted.
    • India and Pakistan created an independent refugee regime after being thwarted in their efforts at influencing the shaping of the United Nations Refugee Convention.
    • The United Nations’ definitions of refugees were narrower than what either India and Pakistan could accept and concentrated mainly on the plight of European refugees left stateless in the aftermath of World War II.
  • Nonetheless, India and Pakistan tried to resolve the question of inter-dominion migration with the post-war definitions of “refugee rights.”
  • This reflected an attempt by both India and Pakistan to occupy a distinct space as separate nation-states in a global dialogue about refugee rights.


  • The minorities regime in India and Pakistan was constructed not only out of the politics of South Asia in the first half of the 20th century but was also given its specific shape in the context of a global conversation about nationalism, exclusivism and paradoxically enough, internationalism.
  • Nehru and Liaquat were defining the Indo-Pakistani relationship as one that was admittedly tense, but one that could also be negotiated in inherited frameworks of international relations, and the emphasis they placed on the paramount capacity of the nation-state.

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