Since their independence in 1947, India-Pakistan relations have sustained mutual animosity towards each other. The bloody partition that caused the death of over a million and displaced over 15 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs across borders has left a lasting imprint on the two countries.
India and Pakistan fought three major wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971, and the 1999 Kargil conflict. Since 1998, the two countries have acquired nuclear weapons, consequently leading to the fear of escalation in the Indian subcontinent.
Since 2014, India-Pakistan relations have undergone turbulent shifts. India’s initial enthusiasm for dialogue with Pakistan was transformed into confrontations before being put on the back burner. For his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, Mr. Modi invited the then-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, to New Delhi.
In 2015, Mr. Modi paid a surprise visit to Lahore, where he hugged Mr. Sharif. Modi’s visit had fueled hopes in both countries that the two nuclear-armed neighbours might finally make progress in their bilateral dialogues.
Come 2016, the India-Pakistan relations had taken a U-turn. The increased terror attacks on Indian military personnel in Uri and Pathankot in 2016 and Pulwama in 2019 suddenly worsened the peace prospects between the two countries.
In both these instances, the Pakistan-based terror outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed, took credit for the attacks. In response, the Indian military conducted a “surgical strike” in 2016 and an “air strike” in 2019 on Pakistan by crossing the Line of Control.
Come 2019, Mr. Modi’s government in India abrogated Article 370, which revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, causing a perpetual standstill in the Indo-Pak peace process. The abrogation of Article 370 stripped away statehood and abolished its separate constitution, the state flag, and the autonomy in internal administration. New Delhi’s step had further irked Islamabad.
For Pakistan, Kashmir has remained “the unfinished business of partition”, which India disagrees with. Since the political elite in Pakistan is multifarious—with the military, civilian leadership, and Islamic clergy collaborating and competing with each other—there is always an interest in pushing forward the Kashmir claim.
Soon after New Delhi’s policy of abrogation of Article 370, Islamabad staged a diplomatic protest by downgrading its relation with India and suspending all bilateral trade with India.
In recent years, the issue of Kashmir and cross-border terrorism have continued to dominate India-Pakistan relations. As a result, the two countries have not actively pursued peace today. The pursuit of peace is not only inconsequential to the political elites in India and Pakistan but also detrimental—for now.
Therefore, the nuclear-armed neighbours have shown no political will or appetite for forging peace, which Happymon Jacob has referred to as the “age of minimalism” in India-Pakistan ties.
More importantly, diplomatic interactions between both countries have become a rarity in recent times, with the exception of the odd cold shoulder when forced to meet. The most recent meet between the two nations occurred at the SCO Summit held in Goa, India, where India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, exchanged barbs over cross-border terrorism and Kashmir.
The relations between India and Pakistan have reached a diplomatic stalemate, as it benefits their ruling elites—domestically. India and Pakistan are now more aware of the complexity of the conflict and the need for prolonged efforts at cultivating peace. To do so, both countries would need to negotiate peace. But bargaining peace may seem counterproductive for the ruling elite, as the typical average voter may treat it as eliciting weakness in the face of an adversary.
Moreover, it is convenient for both nations to harbour animosity towards one another in national and international settings. By doing so, the ruling elites seek to accrue political leverage in the eyes of their respective voters.
For instance, the 2019 Indian parliamentary election campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the Indian Air Force raid on the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.
In Pakistan, public opinion is shaped around the Kashmir rhetoric. If India claims Kashmir to be an integral part of its territory, Pakistan seeks to champion the Kashmiri cause in its domestic agenda. Kashmir has remained a critical political agenda for Pakistan since 1947 as it helps define its Muslim identity, all the while, India maintains that Kashmir would strengthen its secular character.
One year after India revoked Article 370, Khan’s administration in Pakistan presented a new map that changed Kashmir’s previous designation as disputed territory to “illegally occupied by India”.
Political elites in Pakistan have adopted a combative stance towards India about Kashmir in order to appeal to the domestic audience. Since taking office, Shehbaz Sharif, the new prime minister of Pakistan who replaced Imran Khan, has cautiously offered to hold “serious and sincere” talks with his counterpart Narendra Modi.
Pushing forward Mr. Khan’s policy on Article 370, Mr. Sharif has added, “talks can only take place after India has reversed its illegal action of August 5, 2019; without India’s revocation of this step, negotiations are not possible”. He is aware that any attempt to reach a peace agreement with India without properly addressing the Kashmir issue runs the risk of receiving negative popular reception at home.
As Pakistan and India gear up for their respective parliamentary elections in 2023 and 2024, the rhetoric of hostility towards one another, the issue of terrorism, and Kashmir are likely to gain momentum. It would be detrimental to Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP in India to begin peace negotiations with Pakistan, which have little prospect of success.
In contrast, the Modi-led BJP may further bolster his 2024 campaign by sweeping a tirade against Pakistan. Similar campaigns against India’s Kashmir policies may be spear-headed by Imran Khan (who is currently facing trial in a corruption case) and Shehbaz Sharif in Pakistan.
For now, the likelihood of lasting peace between India and Pakistan appears slim. Therefore, conflict is cheap, and peace is expensive in India-Pakistan relations.
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