Chapter two - India and Pakistan: The new dominions

Chapter two - India and Pakistan: The new dominions

‘The past must be buried’[1]

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, 1947


2.1        This chapter provides a brief background to the current issues surrounding nuclear testing in India and Pakistan. It gives an account of the formation of the Indian and Pakistani states following independence from Great Britain in 1947, the animosity between India and Pakistan, and the border dispute in Kashmir that continues to plague relations between the two countries. This chapter also places Indian–Pakistani rivalry in a broader context, briefly outlining their relationships with other key nations. Discussion of these relationships is developed further in later chapters of the report.

India and Pakistan - Nationhood

2.2        The stroke of midnight on 14 August 1947 heralded the formal transfer of power by Britain to the two newly formed dominions of India and Pakistan. The Indian Independence Act, which was passed by the British Parliament on 18 July 1947, provided for the setting up of the independent dominions of India (predominantly Hindu), and Pakistan (predominantly Muslim) from 15 August 1947. Inter alia, the Act provided that:

2.3        The division of British India into separate countries was based on the ‘two nations’ theory, which held that the Hindus and Muslims were two distinct nations and therefore should have their separate homelands. Partition on the basis of religion was intended to avert the threat of civil war between Hindus and Muslims on the subcontinent. With optimism for the future, the Pakistani leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah expressed the hope that India and Pakistan would co-exist in peace. In a farewell message before leaving Delhi he stated, ‘The past must be buried. Let us start afresh as the two independent sovereign States of Hindustan and Pakistan.’[3] Communal disturbances, however, which had already erupted before partition, warned of deep discord in the new dominions.

2.4        In the months prior to the granting of independence, clashes between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims resulted in the loss of many hundreds of lives. Communal fighting continued into August with a rising death toll. After partition, a mass migration of people - of Muslims from East Punjab to Pakistan and of Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab to India - took place amidst rioting and much bloodshed. These disturbances took many months to settle and in some regions residual tension continues to brew and, on occasion, rises to the surface.

2.5        Despite the religious/ethnic basis for partition, the societies of both nations have not been, and are not, homogenous. A diversity of ethnicity, language, culture and religion has created problems of governance in both countries over the years.


2.6        Indian society is particularly diverse. Since Independence, India has prided itself on being a secular and democratic state with the ability to accommodate many religious minorities.[4] This diversity has, however, contributed to internal instability, with a number of groups within India seeking some form of autonomy.

2.7        Kashmir has long been an area where militant groups have fought against Indian rule, and this conflict, which has been the main source of tension and friction in relations between India and Pakistan, is addressed in a later section of this chapter. Another area of conflict is Punjab. Between 1987 and 1992, over 15,000 people were killed in separatist violence in the Punjab.[5] Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh guard in 1984 and, although militancy has lessened in more recent times, tensions still exist.

2.8        In other parts of India, smaller dissident groups have sought some form of autonomy. In the north-east, there have been clashes between Indian security forces and militants from a range of ethnic and religious groups. In the south, Tamils have lent support to Tamil Tigers fighting in nearby Sri Lanka and, at times, there has been talk of a separate Tamil state on the mainland.[6]

2.9        A large Muslim population (over 110 million people in a total population of 950 million) has increasingly become a focus of rising Hindu nationalism in India. Anti-Muslim riots have resulted in many deaths, the most well-known incident being the attack on the mosque at Ayodhya in 1992, following which about 1,200 people were killed.[7] The rise in Hindu nationalism has most recently been evidenced by the success of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at elections in March 1998.


2.10      Pakistan was conceived as a separate state for the Muslims of British India. It was created to accommodate people who wanted a country of their own because they adhered to a faith different from that of the majority of the population. Pakistan came into being as two distinct and geographically unconnected territories or two wings, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, separated by over two thousand miles of Indian territory. Although Pakistan was established in the name of Islam, religion proved to be a shallow foundation for sustaining its frontiers and for holding the two halves together. In 1971, the eastern wing broke free from the Pakistani Union to form the independent country of Bangladesh.

2.11      Pakistan is also a nation encompassing a diverse society, and where tensions have often arisen as a result.  Although founded as a Muslim state (with 97 per cent of the current population being Muslim), conflict between rival Islamic factions has been a cause of escalating violence in recent years. In 1997, hundreds were killed in sectarian disturbances involving the Shiah and Sunni communities.[8]

2.12      Having ruled Pakistan for many years, the military[9] remains a powerful institution within Pakistan’s political framework and, according to many commentators, still exercises considerable influence over recent and current civilian governments. Unlike India, where the military has not intruded into politics, uninterrupted civilian government in the future is not a foregone conclusion.

Conflict between India and Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute

2.13      The relationship between India and Pakistan since their creation in 1947 has been one of bitter rivalry, marked by three wars and a constant state of military preparedness.[10] A continuing dispute over the territory of Kashmir has been a major source of tension.

2.14      The conflict over Kashmir goes back to the partition of British India, when the semi-autonomous ‘princely states’ integrated with either one of the newly created states of India or Pakistan. At the time of the transfer of power from the British, the princely state of Kashmir, with a large Muslim majority but ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, delayed acceding to either India or Pakistan, leaving its future undecided. Within weeks of India and Pakistan gaining independence, there were signs of growing tension between them over the territories of Jammu and Kashmir.

2.15      From the middle of September 1947, India began to receive reports of armed raiders moving into the western parts of Jammu Province. The Indian Government believed that the invaders came mainly from the tribal areas to the north-west of Pakistan and passed through Pakistani territory to attack Kashmir. Furthermore, it argued that Pakistani nationals as well as tribesmen were taking part in the raids.[11]

2.16      By October, the invaders had made rapid progress and threatened to overrun the Vale of Kashmir. The Maharaja appealed to India for military help and requested that the Jammu and Kashmir State be allowed to accede to the Indian Dominion. On 27 October 1947, New Delhi officially announced that Kashmir had acceded to the Dominion of India and that India had accepted the accession.[12] Meanwhile, India intervened in Kashmir and by the end of 1947 had halted the tribesmen’s advance toward Srinagar and forced them back to Uri, which is near the Pakistani border. Fighting, nevertheless, continued.

2.17      In January 1948, the Indian Government informed the United Nations Security Council that it had no other option but ‘to take more effective military action in order to rid Jammu and Kashmir State of the invader’.[13] In bringing the matter before the United Nations, India declared that it would abide by the verdict of the people in the territory. By the end of 1948, the Indian forces had taken control of the greater part of Kashmir. The invading tribesmen, nonetheless, held their ground in territory adjacent to the Pakistan frontier in the West Punjab, and in north-west and north-east Kashmir.[14]

2.18      The United Nations established a commission which obtained from India and Pakistan an agreement to a ceasefire, a withdrawal of troops, and a plebiscite under which the people of the disputed territories would decide their future.[15] The ceasefire took place but the demilitarization did not take effect nor was the plebiscite held. Kashmir has remained a disputed territory divided by a ceasefire line ever since. For Pakistan, the fact that Muslims form the majority of Kashmir’s population was strong justification for the territory to have been transferred automatically to the Muslim state of Pakistan.[16]

2.19      Over the years, sporadic skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces across the ceasefire line in Kashmir forewarned of serious conflict. By 1964, the number of clashes greatly increased. In May of that year, members of the United Nations Security Council expressed the hope that India and Pakistan would resume discussions in the near future with a view to settling their disputes by negotiation, particularly over Jammu and Kashmir.[17] That hope soon faded. A crisis in Indo-Pakistan relations developed when large scale fighting between their armed forces broke out on 5 August 1965. On 4 September, the Security Council expressed concern at the deteriorating situation along the ceasefire line in Kashmir and called upon India and Pakistan to have all their armed personnel withdraw to their own side of the line.[18]

2.20      Heavy fighting continued despite repeated demands from the Security Council for a ceasefire to take effect.[19] Although a ceasefire in Kashmir finally came into force on 23 September, relations between India and Pakistan remained tense and repeated clashes took place.[20] Finally, on 10 February 1966 in Tashkent, the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan agreed to withdraw all their armed personnel to the position they held prior to August 1965 and to observe the ceasefire terms on the ceasefire line.[21] They resolved to restore normal and peaceful relations between their countries and to promote understanding and friendly relations between their peoples. The leaders agreed to move further ahead in establishing good relations by agreeing ‘to consider measures toward the restoration of economic and trade relations, communications as well as cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan, and to take measures to implement the existing agreements between India and Pakistan.’[22]

2.21      The promise of better relations that was the basis of this agreement was short lived. Although East Pakistan had a larger population than West Pakistan, the people from the east felt that they did not receive a fair share of power or privilege. Growing tension between West Pakistan and East Pakistan intensified following general elections in 1970. Despite obtaining a majority of seats, the Awami League, which drew its support almost entirely from East Pakistan and with no influence in West Pakistan, was prevented from forming the central government.[23] An angry wave of political militancy built on years of mounting resentment swept through East Pakistan. This widespread agitation and unrest was met by a massive and brutal military crackdown. This military action finally led to a full-scale civil war between East and West Pakistan in March 1971.[24]

2.22      The disturbance escalated to such an extent that Indian forces intervened. The theatre of war was no longer confined to East Pakistan,[25] as fighting between India and Pakistan broke out on India’s western border with Pakistan and along the ceasefire line in Kashmir. On 6 December 1971, India announced that it had recognised the provisional government of Bangladesh in East Pakistan, which further damaged relations between India and Pakistan. During this month, the United Nations Security Council demanded that hostilities cease in all areas of conflict.

2.23      India secured a decisive military victory over Pakistan. In East Pakistan, Pakistani forces surrendered on 16 December followed soon after by a ceasefire on the western front. A final resolution to the war was reached in the Simla Agreement signed by the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President in July 1972. Both leaders agreed that the basic issues and causes of conflict, which had bedevilled the relations between the two countries for the last 25 years, would be resolved by peaceful means. In turning to the ongoing conflict in Kashmir they agreed that:

In Jammu and Kashmir, the line of control resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line.[26]

2.24      Despite this clear statement of intention and notwithstanding the numerous attempts to improve relations, India and Pakistan have yet to establish a relationship with some degree of normalcy.

2.25      Since 1984, India and Pakistan have been engaged in military conflict over possession of the Siachen Glacier at the northern end of the 500-mile-long Line of Control (LOC) that separates Indian-controlled and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.[27]

2.26      Following a major uprising against Indian rule by Kashmiri Muslims in 1989, tension between India and Pakistan has increased markedly.[28] Clashes along the LOC have been characterised by constant cross-border mortar, sniper, and heavy artillery firing. This continuing conflict has resulted in the loss of over 20,000 lives. It was estimated in 1996 that over 200,000 Indian troops were deployed in Kashmir.[29] A small United Nations peacekeeping force has been monitoring developments on the cease-fire line/LOC since 1949, and currently comprises 45 military observers.[30]

2.27      Both India and Pakistan believe they have valid claims to Kashmir. Pakistan questions India’s claim to Kashmir, and has persistently pressed for implementation of the 1949 United Nations’ resolution calling for a plebiscite of the Kashmiri people. India holds that Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947 was legal, and that developments since then have only confirmed that Kashmir remains part of the Indian Union.  It is worth noting that for many Kashmiris full independence from both India and Pakistan is the desirable goal.

2.28      Resolution of the Kashmir dispute faces significant obstacles. Both India and Pakistan have strong domestic political motivations for maintaining their existing stances on Kashmir. For both, control of Kashmir is a validation of their existence.[31] Pakistani nationalists see their nation, created as a Muslim - homeland, as incomplete without Muslim - majority Kashmir. No Pakistani Government can afford to appear half - hearted in assisting Kashmiri Muslims in their fight against Indian control.[32] For India, giving up Kashmir would challenge its secularist ideology and, perhaps more importantly, would send encouraging messages to other separatist groups in the Indian Union. As Kashmir is an area of strategic importance to India in maintaining the security of its border with China, its loss would also be considered by India to be detrimental to its security interests.

2.29      Although attempts have been made over the years to find a solution to the dispute, little progress has been made. Agreements were made between Indian and Kashmiri leaders in 1952 and 1975, but their provisions are no longer relevant or acceptable to the stakeholders in 1998.[33]  While Pakistan seeks to internationalise the issue and pursue a solution at a multilateral level, India strongly resists external involvement in what it sees as an internal matter, and will only consider a bilateral solution. The ‘international community’ has come to accept India’s position on Kashmir, with the United Nations Security Council removing the Kashmir issue from its agenda in 1996.[34] Nevertheless, Kashmir’s relationship to India and Pakistan remains a most divisive issue for the two countries.

2.30      Control of the whole area of Kashmir, with a population of around 8 million people, is now split between India (roughly 45 per cent), Pakistan (35 per cent) and China (20 per cent).

2.31      In the meantime, the consequences of ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan are considerable. As already noted, there has been substantial loss of life. Significant harm has been done to the economies of the two countries, with both spending large sums on military equipment. For India particularly, there has been the high cost of maintaining large security forces in a constant state of combat readiness.[35]

2.32      The hostility between India and Pakistan has retarded trade between the two countries and hindered other commercial links. Overland trading routes along their 1,500 kilometre border remain underdeveloped, and the success of the regional trading organisation (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – SAARC) has been limited.[36]

2.33      These two countries with their acrimonious history, punctuated by periods of armed conflict, are locked into a cycle of arms competition, which has taken them down the nuclear weapons path. For over half a century they have been living in an uneasy security environment of mutual distrust and hostility. Apart from the three wars in past decades, Pakistan and India have also edged toward the brink of war at least twice since the mid 1980s - once in the winter of 1986–87 and again in the Spring of 1990 - sparked by on-going conflict in Kashmir. Some analysts suggest that the fear of nuclear weapons use held both countries back from provoking outright war.[37]

2.34      In 1985, 1988 and again in 1990, Indian and Pakistani leaders, in an attempt to improve their historically tense relations, agreed (among other initiatives) not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities. On the matter of nuclear power, one account in 1985 reported:

The leaders agreed to launch ‘technical talks’ to reassure each other about the peaceful nature of their nuclear programs.[38]

2.35      Subsequent talks at officials and ministerial levels have failed to make real headway in easing the tension between the two countries. Clearly the instability in South Asia has serious ramifications, not only for the region but also for the world community.

2.36      Although India has established a nuclear weapons program, it also has a strong record as a staunch advocate for nuclear disarmament. During the 1950s, when nuclear weapons testing took place above ground, India took the lead in seeking to have such activities banned. In 1954, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and, in the interim, for an agreement to halt experimentation with nuclear weapons. The objective was ‘to snuff out nuclear weapons research and development’.[39] Eleven years later, India, along with a small group of non-aligned countries, proposed the idea of an international non-proliferation agreement ‘under which the nuclear weapons states would agree to give up their arsenals provided other countries refrained from developing or acquiring such weapons’. Even though India has championed the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, it has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the grounds that they favour the five nuclear weapon states, ‘the haves’, and discriminate against non-nuclear weapons states, ‘the have-nots’.[40]

The Broader Picture: India and Pakistan and their friends and foes

2.37      Whilst the rivalry between India and Pakistan is important in understanding the background to their development of nuclear capabilities, it is no less important to recognise that the foreign policies of both nations have been and are still very much influenced by broader international complexities. India, as a large and populous nation, has sought to play a significant role on the regional and international stage. At the same time, Pakistan has sought to advance its interests by aligning itself with larger powers, especially the United States and China.

India and China

2.38      India and China have had a long-standing dispute over the demarcation of part of their border, which is still unresolved. In 1962, tension mounted between the two neighbours, with India accusing China of incursions in Ladakh and the North-east Frontier Agency. The Chinese matched these allegations with denials and counter charges that the Indians were responsible for border violations and forays into Chinese territory. Heavy fighting broke out in October 1962 and the Chinese, who outnumbered the Indians, advanced to ‘within striking distance of the Assam plains...before suddenly halting their offensive and announcing a ceasefire’.[41] For India, this war brought demoralising defeat.

2.39      The proximity of China, a large and militarily powerful nation, is a source of great concern for India. Several submissions received by the Committee referred to India’s fear and apprehension of Chinese aggression. [42]  The 1962 war with China, followed by China’s first nuclear test in 1964, heightened India’s security concerns. This anxiety is deepened by ongoing border disputes, especially in the area of neighbouring Tibet, which has been occupied by Chinese military forces since 1950. The presence in India of Tibet’s leader in exile, the Dalai Lama, is an ongoing source of friction in the India–China relationship. India has expressed concern at what it sees as ‘encirclement’ by China, with not only the Chinese military deployments in Tibet to the north, but also Chinese activities and alliances with neighbouring Pakistan to the west and Burma to the east.[43]

2.40      The India–China relationship was improving in recent years, with the implementation of measures designed to avoid military clashes along their border.[44] Agreements were signed in 1993 and 1996, which included an undertaking to reduce troops and maintain peace along the line of control that divides Chinese and Indian forces, in particular in the Aksai Chin region in north-eastern Kashmir.[45]  Despite this progress, however, India has remained wary of China’s intentions. Immediately prior to the nuclear tests, the Indian Defence Minister referred to China as India’s main security threat, and some have interpreted India's nuclear tests as a response to this threat.[46]

India and the USSR

2.41      In the Cold War years, India developed good relations with the Soviet Union. Soviet security concerns over China, which was developing links with Pakistan, contributed to the Indo–Soviet Friendship Treaty of 1969. India received increased military assistance from the USSR, and Soviet aid to Pakistan was stopped. Since about 1990, with the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, India has had to adjust to a changing global situation, and has lost a reliable source of economic assistance and military equipment. It has also lost an ally in its adversarial relationship with China and Pakistan.[47]

India and the United States

2.42      The end of the Cold War has also affected relations between India and the United States. The United States, previously suspicious of India’s links with the Soviet Union, has more recently been encouraging the opening up of India’s formerly quasi-socialist and inward-looking economy. At the same time, however, China has also been opening up its economy to global markets, and an increasingly friendly relationship between China and the US has been of concern to India. India itself has been looking towards moving closer to the United States and seeking to achieve pre-eminence in the region. India has sought recognition in the international community of its position as a large and long-standing democracy.

Pakistan and the United States

2.43      In parallel with the developing Cold War relationship between India and the Soviet Union, Pakistan developed friendly ties with the United States, which was concerned about Soviet expansionism. A Mutual Defence Agreement was signed in 1954, and Pakistan has received large grants from the United States in military and economic aid over several years.  The relationship has, however, been an uneasy one, cooling at times (for example, during the 1965 and 1971 wars with India), and warming at other times. The high point of the relationship was during the 1979–89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when Pakistan was seen as a frontline state against Soviet expansionism.[48]

2.44      In recent times, the Pakistan-United States relationship has been affected by the Soviet departure from Afghanistan, and United States’ displeasure at Pakistan’s continued development of its nuclear weapons program. Aid was suspended in 1990 under the Pressler Amendment (to the Foreign Assistance Act), which requires, as a prerequisite for aid, an annual certification by the United States President that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear device. The President was unable to provide the necessary certification that Pakistan did not have a nuclear device.  Relations between the two countries continued to deteriorate after the Pressler Amendment was enacted and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan grew. A $650 million sale of F-16 aircraft was blocked, and the issue remains a bone of contention between the two countries. The aircraft remain parked in an Arizona desert, and the US has returned only $150 million of the $650 million Pakistan has paid.[49]

Pakistan and China

2.45      A friendly relationship between Pakistan and China since the mid-1960s has been a significant factor determining developments in the region. The Committee received several submissions pointing to Indian disquiet at Chinese military aid to Pakistan, and in particular, concerns over Chinese assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.[50] 


2.46      A complicated web of issues and factors surrounds the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests in May 1998. At the heart of the issue is the intense rivalry between these two states and the on-going dispute over Kashmir.  Irrespective of the significance of this bilateral relationship, it is only a part of a wider matrix of interrelationships involving other states, including the United States, China and the former Soviet Union.  An understanding of the security situation in South Asia has to take account of this wider matrix.

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