Strategic Forecast 2020

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Strategic Forecast 2020
India-Pakistan Relation: Will it get worse in 2020?

  Dhruv Ashok

CWA Brief, February 2020

Four trends will determine the course of India-Pakistan relations in 2020: Pakistan’s increasing peace overtures and India’s rejection of these overtures, Cross LOC raids, Diplomacy by Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor


India Pakistan relations have been rocky since the creation of both nations in 1947 has been rocky, where the two nations engaged in four wars.  Kashmir has been a bone of contention between the two nations and has been an unresolved boundary dispute. Terrorism targeting India by groups based on Pakistani soil is another issue which has further strained the relationship between the two countries. Despite many positive initiatives taken, India – Pakistan relations have steadily deteriorated with some core issues sticking out such as cross border attacks in Kashmir by Pakistan based groups in 2016 and 2019 and India’s military response to these terror attacks in the form of surgical strikes against terrorist camps on the Pakistani side of the border led to escalated military tensions along the Line of Control. The Indian government’s removal of  Kashmir’s special status by abrogating article 370 of the Indian constitution and downgrading it’s status to a union territory has led to Pakistan downgrading diplomatic ties with India by expelling the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan and not allowing Pakistan’s newly appointed high commissioner to assume his post in New Delhi. 

Another issue that has adversely affected India Pakistan relations in recent times has been the case of Kulbushan Jadhav an Indian national in Pakistani custody whom the Pakistani authorities accuse of fomenting violence in Pakistan’s Balochistan province as an agent of India’s external intelligence agency RAW, India however refutes Pakistan’s allegations and has taken the issue to the International court of justice arguing that Jadhav is an Indian businessman who has been kidnapped from Iran by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.  Another important aspect which will have a bearing on India Pakistan relations are civil-military relations in Pakistan as historically the Pakistani army has been a key player in determining relations with India. This is important in the current context as in June 2019  the Pakistani government appointed Lieutenant-general Asif Munir as head of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency the ISI who is known to have hardline views towards India and also because of the current Army Chief General Bajwa’s tenure extension. Another issue that has had an impact on India Pakistan relations in recent times has been the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the recent opening of the Kartarpur corridor between India and Pakistan allowing Sikh pilgrims to visit Sikh holy sites in Pakistan is a positive development in relations between the two countries. 

This essay will examine the following four trends in India- Pakistan relations:  Pakistan’s increasing peace overtures and India’s rejection of these overtures, Cross LOC raids as a trend in India- Pakistan relations, Increased diplomacy by Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir rather than terrorism due to FATF pressures, How Punjabi component will play a role in India – Pakistan relations in 2020 due to opening of the Kartarpur corridor? And how these trends are likely to develop in 2020

Major Trends in 2019

Pakistan’s Peace Overtures and India’s Rejection 

Pakistan’s use of Islamist militant proxies in Kashmir and elsewhere in India has created a strong perception among Indian officials that Pakistan is an untrustworthy negotiating partner. Previous attempts by India’s political leadership to initiate dialogue with Pakistan have been hampered by militants operating from Pakistani territory for example during the 2000s, a series of talks known as the composite dialogue process came close to resolving the Kashmir issue but were derailed by the 2008 Mumbai attacks carried out by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar e Taiba. Similarly, when Modi came to power in 2014, he too also tried to mend fences with Pakistan by inviting Pakistan’s then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony. In December 2015 Modi also made a surprise visit to Lahore where he exchanged greetings with Nawaz Sharif and attended his daughter’s wedding however this positive momentum in relations was disrupted by the January 2016 Pathankot airbase attack by the Pakistan based militant group Jaish e Mohammed. This was followed by the terror attack on an Indian military base in Uri in September 2016 also perpetrated by the Jaish e Mohammed which resulted in surgical strikes by Indian troops targeting terror launch pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the latest Pulwama attack and the subsequent Balakot strike on Jaish e Mohammed Training facilities has further strained relations. Pakistan’s lack of action against perpetrators of terrorism on its soil has made the Modi government adopt a hardline stance with regard to dialogue with Pakistan and reject any offers by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to restart dialogue between the two countries and this position of the Modi government has been further hardened following the abrogation of article 370 in August 2019 and the need to prove to the BJP’s domestic support base in India that Modi will walk the tough talk unlike his predecessor Manmohan Singh who was perceived as being weak in face of terror attacks by Pakistan based groups due to his decision not to militarily retaliate against Pakistan following the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Increase in cross LOC raids in India Pakistan relations

The rising insurgency in Kashmir following the killing of a local Hizbul Mujahidin commander Burhan Wani in late 2016 and then the subsequent Uri attack the same year which led to surgical strikes across the border by the Indian army further strained India Pakistan relations. From the time of the surgical strikes in 2016 to the airstrikes against Balakot in February 2019 in response to the attack against a Central Reserve Police Force ( CRPF) convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama district on 14 February, the violence between the two armies along the Line of Control as well as in the Kashmir Valley has increased drastically.  The year 2018  was the bloodiest since 2003, in terms of ceasefire violations along the LOC in which Pakistan accused India of violating the 2003 ceasefire agreement 2,350 times and India claimed that Pakistan fired across the LOC 2,140 times (Jacob, 2019). The Kashmir insurgency is also intensifying. While only three local boys had joined the ranks of the militancy in 2013, in 2018 the figure went up to 200 (Jacob, 2019). Terrorist infiltrations from the Pakistani side of the LOC as well as terror attacks in Kashmir have also spiked. All this is in sharp contrast to what happened in 2003, when the Indian and Pakistani armies under directions from the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, decided to bring an end to the heightened levels of violence on the LOC and so an informal ceasefire was declared along the LOC between the two armies. The following year, the new Indian government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to strengthen the peace process with Pakistan. The result was that there were only four ceasefire violations in 2004, as compared to 5, 767 the year before the ceasefire was agreed to and there was also a general reduction in violence from 2004 onwards (Happy Moon Jacob, 2019, para 4). Fifteen years since the 2003 ceasefire there is perhaps the return of violence in all it’s forms inside the Kashmir valley and on the LOC. Apart from deadly Jaish e Mohammed terror attack in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district ceasefire violations along the LOC have also taken place in 2019 for example on 20th October 2019 Pakistan complained that Indian troops engaged in unprovoked and indiscriminate shelling across the LOC killing a Pakistani soldier and injuring nine civilians( D Suba Chandran, 2019, para 3). On the Indian side, the Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat stated that Indian troops hit three terrorist launch pads along the LOC in Tangdhar and Kieran sectors. According to General Rawat, this attack was in response to prevent any further infiltration from the Gurez, Tangdhar, Uri and Macchil sectors ( D Suba Chandran, 2019, para 3)

Use of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan 

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was established in 1989 by the ministers of its Member jurisdictions is an intergovernmental body. In an effort to combat money laundering, along with other threats to the financial system, the FATF has devised legal and regulatory mechanisms. In other words, the FATF t serves as a policy-making body, which puts forth recommendations to prevent the proliferation of terrorist financing. The FATF body also collaborates with international stakeholders to prevent the international financial system from being misused. The FATF has a list of 40 recommendations for all countries and based on the compliance of the countries in fulfilling the 40 recommendations the FATF lists countries in 3 separate lists. Firstly, there is the white list which is for countries which are largely compliant or 50 per cent with the 40 parameters. Greylist has nine countries including Pakistan which are working with the FATF on improving their compliance on these 40 parameters. In the FATF’s eyes, Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorist financing of numerous terror groups including the Lashkar e Taiba and Jaish e Mohammed which target India. 

The FATF is divided into various subdivisions such as the Asia/ Pacific Group( APG) on Money Laundering which monitors Pakistan progress on the 40 parameters every 3 months. In October 2019 the APG came out with a report which stated that Pakistan is compliant with only 1 out of the 40 parameters. At its Paris Prelinary meeting in October 2019 the FATF on the basis of the APG report had to decide whether Pakistan should remain on the Grey list or be demoted to the Blacklist which currently has North Korea and Iran both of whom are considered to be non- compliant with the FATF’s 40 parameters. Countries within the FATF are divided as to whether Pakistan should be placed in the Blacklist. India believes that since Pakistan has failed to curb the finances of anti-India groups like the Lashkar e Taiba it should be placed in the blacklist whereas China believes that doing so would result in the Pakistani government has little incentive to curb terror financing. The FATF on October 16th, 2019, decided to keep Pakistan on its Grey list till February 2020. The FATF directed Pakistan to take extra strict measures to eliminate terror funding and money laundering. The final decision in this regard will be taken by the FATF in February 2020. So as of 2019 Pakistan has avoided the being placed on the blacklist and facing further international isolation however being on the Grey list impacts Pakistan and it’s economy in the following ways: Pakistan will be under intense scrutiny by the FATF and its members which could be a major setback for the country as it has been trying to improve it’s image globally. Being on the FATF grey list could dent Pakistan’s economy as it would make it harder for foreign investors and companies to do business in a country that is blamed for funding terror activities.  Also being on the FATF greylist could make borrowing from International debt markets harder and costlier for Pakistan which in turn might reduce  Pakistan’s credibility in the international market and finally being on the FATF grey list might have an impact on Pakistan’s exports and imports as Pakistan’s exports of rice, cotton, marble, clothes, onions and other items will suffer a lot, causing huge loss to producers and also accessing funds and goods from the international market would become tougher. All of this could become worse for Pakistan if it is placed on the FATF’s blacklist which could result in severe sanctions and lack of financial assistance from the IMF and other international financial institutions which could be disastrous for Pakistan given its dire economic crisis. All of this has so far had an influence in the restraining Pakistan ‘s army and ISI from intensifying its use of terror proxies to carry out large scale terror attacks in India following the abrogation of article 370 by the Indian government and has resulted in Pakistan adopting a more a diplomatic approach so far in trying to win support for its case diplomatically on the Kashmir issue which has resulted in only China, Turkey and Malaysia supporting Pakistan whereas the rest of the international community and the US have accepted India’s position that Kashmir is an internal issue of India due to India’s stronger political and economic position.

Importance of Punjab in India-Pakistan relationship

The opening of the Kartarpur corridor allows Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the holy Darbar Sahib in Pakistan. For New Delhi, this was important to respect the sensitivities of the Sikh community and give a fillip to societal interactions between India and Pakistan. The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur is considered to be the second holiest site for Sikhism and was built to commemorate the site where Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life. In Pakistan civilian government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the army led by general Asif Bajwa have been speaking in different voices even on routine administrative matters pertaining to the Kartarpur corridor. Just days ahead of the inauguration ceremony of the much-awaited corridor, an official video released by the Pakistan government on the corridor featured Sikh separatist leaders, such as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his military adviser Shabeg Singh, who were killed during Operation Blue Star in 1984.  There are concerns in the Indian security establishment that the Pakistan Army would try to revive the Khalistan movement and use the corridor to develop leverage with the Sikh community. 

Forecasts for 2020 

Strained India Pakistan  Relations 

India‘s change of Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status by abrogating article 370 and it’s bifurcation into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh has made it difficult to have a dialogue with Pakistan at least in the short term. Also with the abrogation of Article 370 India considers Kashmir as an internal issue and that there is no need to discuss the issue with Pakistan anymore which would be difficult for any Pakistani government civilian or military to accept as Pakistan ‘s official position has been that Kashmir is the unfinished business of partition. Domestic political pressure is likely to force Tehreek-e-Insaaf ( PTI) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan to adopt a hostile stance towards India. On the Indian side Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP will reap political dividends by having fulfilled their long-standing pledge in their election manifesto to repeal Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. A stronger domestic political base is likely to lead to a hardening of the current BJP government’s stance towards Pakistan.

Terrorism as the destabilising factor 

Militant activities in Jammu and Kashmir by terror  groups based in Pakistan  such as the Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen whom India believes  receive Pakistani state support pose the risk of triggering further military clashes between the two countries similar to what happened in February 2019 following the Pulwama terror attack. However, the possibility of a full-blown military conflict is highly unlikely, given the nuclear capabilities of the two countries.

Kartarpur Corridor 

The opening of the Kartarpur corridor is significant confidence-building measure between India and Pakistan given the current tense relations between the two countries . Another reason why this is significant is that it has brought about the Punjab factor in India Pakistan relations which till then had been dominated by the issue of Kashmir and cross border terrorism from Pakistan . The very fact that this took place shows the significant influence that the overseas Sikh diaspora in Europe and North America have this was evident by a statement issued by the US State Department supporting the opening of the Kartarpur corridor. 

On the Indian side many speculate that the BJP government agreed to the opening of the Kartarpur corridor so as not to offend the religious sentiments of Sikhs in India ‘s Punjab state and who form a significant electoral base for the BJP as the BJP’ alliance partner the Shiromani Akali Dal governs Punjab as well as to deny support to overseas pro-Khalistan sympathisers in the US who demand that a referendum held in 2020 to determine whether Indian Punjab should remain a part of India or secede to become an independent Sikh homeland. On the Pakistani side there is speculation that the Kartarpur corridor is an attempt by the Pakistani government to improve Pakistan’s image as a tolerant state that is accepting of minority rights in spite of its poor record in this regard  as well as to show India in bad light internationally  by reminding the world that despite being the world largest democracy India suffers from a lack of political liberalism due to the recent rise of the BJP’s  Hindutva’s ideology which has led to mobs lynching Muslims in various parts of India and that this also may be a tool used by the Pakistani army and ISI to revive the Khalistan movement by radicalising visiting Sikh pilgrims. It is now up to the political establishment in India and the military establishment in Pakistan how they want to use the Kartarpur corridor as a peacebuilding measure or as a tool to whip further anger and hostility.

Ceasefire violations will make India-Pakistan relation 

Ceasefire violations have frequently taken place between the Indian and Pakistani armies along the line of control particularly since 1989 with the outbreak of the insurgency in Kashmir. Since then the Indian army has accused the Pakistani army of providing covering fire for militants to infiltrate into the Indian side of the LOC. In 2019 following the Pulwama terror attacks and Balakot strikes ceasefire violations have increased along the LOC  with both armies using heavy weapons as well as commando raids and this trend seems to continue in 2020 as well.


  1. (2019) FATF’s Grey List: Implications for Pakistan. Retrieved from
  2. Rupali Pruthi  (2019). Pakistan in FATF Grey List till February 2020: Explained. Retrieved from
  3. Happy Moon Jacob, (2019). After Balakot : India-Pakistan Relations Heading Nowhere. Retrieved from
  4. D. Suba Chandran, (2019). Azadi March, Ease of Doing Business in Pakistan, LoC clashes and the Agreement on Kartarpur. Retrieved from cent 20Thisper cent 20Week&recordNo=99

Dhruv Ashok is an MPhil Scholar from CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru

This essay was published at the NIAS Quarterly on Contemporary World Affairs, Vol 2, Issue 1, January-March 2020  

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