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CWA # 54, 12 September 2018

GP Debate
India, Imran Khan and Indo-Pak Relations

  Young Scholars Debate

Young Scholars in South Asia respond to the following Four questions on India-Pakistan relations

  1. Is improving India-Pakistan relations is an immediate priority for Imran Khan, the new PM of Pakistan?
  2. Even if Imran wants to invest in improving relations with India, will his military allow the same?
  3. Is the present Establishment in India interested in improving relations with Pakistan?
  4. What could be a Pakistan strategy for India?

Hely Desai

School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU), Ahmedabad

Not much is presumably going to alter in Pakistan's approach towards India. With internal conflicts far from resolved, India is not a primary priority for the new administration, or even close. Further, for the new Prime Minister, a first-priority should be the Deep State wherein mapping a diplomatic approach contingent to India would be arduous. The pit-stops in the economic agenda are also likely to aggravate in the near future. Pakistan may continue its best to avoid another painful IMF bailout package and another restructuring hazard, with China at its helm.

Further, with the American catastrophe in Syria, and its ramifications on Af-Pak, Mr. Khan’s priority would be to set precedence in domestic politics and then Afghanistan.

 Prime Minister Imran Khan taking the office may make less to none deviation to Pakistan’s approach towards India, in turn not making any positive or negative implications with its ties to India. It’s policies majorly controlled by the military, are less likely to take advantage of the low hanging fruits. Previous efforts to normalize ties with India, by former minister Nawaz Sharif were apparently vetoed and shot down by the Army.

If the past is any sort of prologue, we shouldn’t hold our breaths. Previous efforts by Nawaz Sharif in the 90s and then PM Modi in 2015, lead to military attacks in Kargil and Uri respectively. The current establishment in India is less likely to prioritize improving ties with Pakistan, considering its previous encounters. A regime change may not have a major impact on Indo-Pak relations, considering the high stakes vetos are usually called by the Deep State.

 Also, a better Pakistan policy would help the economic growth of the country further strengthening the regional cooperative network. To pigeonhole Pakistan policy would be irrational. Indo-Pak concord is an indispensable facet of Indian security. Starting cross border services, bilateral talks, milking the cricket-factor for all its worth, may initiate advances towards a greater good.


Manushi Kapadia

International Relations and Political Science, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU), Ahmedabad

India’s relationship with Pakistan has been a complex one since the partition. Both the countries have been using violent means to define their political, economic and military strengths. Countries have been into wars and even tried to have peaceful relations through diplomatic tools which have always led more destruction due to different governmental systems and India has suffered many terrorist attacks. In this changing world order both the countries have admired to have peaceful neighborhood and tried to resolve the conflicts but those attempts have never been reached to a conclusion.

The changes in governments in both the countries have brought little ray of hope for improvement in Indo-Pak relations but also leaves us with burning questions as follows:

India being a neighboring country with larger population, huge trade opportunity and stable economy India will always be a priority state to Pakistan. As Pakistan’s economy is not stable we can speculate that holding animosity with India is not going to be beneficial on trade factor. It is a crucial decision to make for Imran Khan whether to only rely on China for trade purposes or also to include its other neighboring country India. China pumping lots of money may sideline India’s importance to Pakistan but it can never be forgotten as the countries will be on tussle on issues like water disputes, possession of Kashmir, territorial claims and many more.

 Military plays very crucial role when it comes to improving relations with India. They have always been reluctant and aggressive even when both the countries have taken step forward for improving the relations. Nawaz Sharif was one of the PM of Pakistan who constantly made efforts to advocate friendly relations with India but on the contrary, Pakistan’s military has never approved of it.

Even when Modi and Nawaz’s Sharif agreed to the bilateral talks the military repeatedly bombarded Indian borders and cross-border terrorism was into practice.

When it comes to the new PM, Imran Khan it has been considered that he’s favored by the military as well. In recent months of his power, no powerful stand has been taken regarding the improvement of relations with India but it can be interesting if he can change minds is military personnel for improving relations with India.

 With the onset of Modi government in 2014, there was a few times where India took a leading step for improving the Indo-Pak relations. Even though he comes from anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan and especially RSS mindset of promoting Hindutva he has played the major role in bringing change in Indo-Pak relations. Head of the government of both the states have tried personal gestures as well as diplomatic gestures to bring both the states close but what India has got as the return is the terror attack on Uri and followed by that Indian military went for a surgical strike. After that incident, Pakistan was busy with elevation preparation and India has lost its interest in the neighbor. With the coming elections in India, Modi government has been keeping its way away from Pakistan and Indo-Pak relations which gives a clear picture that both countries have started focusing on domestic progress and international cooperation rather than focusing on the immediate neighborhood.


Gayan Gowramma

Project Associate, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

India –Pakistan relation will not be of any major priority to Imran Khan. His main priority would be improving Pakistan as a country. Imran Khan will also have to regain the trust factor with US with especially China involving in Pakistan’s internal factors. In this scenario having talks with India lies far behind. He also has to make himself stable to carry out any such talks as he needs the support of the people and also the army which is the crucial part.

Even though Imran Khan decides to have a good relation with India keeping in mind he coming from a different background unlike the other Prime Ministers, the Pakistani Army would not be in his favour. The Military in Pakistan is considered above all. The wounds of partition, terrorism against India, and the water conflicts are all still fresh in their minds. The military-civilian relationship and as said Military being involved in these issues and also military being a major player in policy making towards India: the relation between the two countries leading into a positive one is unlikely.

Looking at the past it is likely that India will not be ready to have talks with Pakistan. India has been trying to avoid Pakistan in every means especially with the trading route. India invested in Chabahar port and did not proceed with the TAPI pipeline project mainly due to this reason. If India and Pakistan both try to take steps in putting up talks to solve the issue there will be question of how long this is going to last. Talks have taken place in the past but there has not been any fruitful result so far.


Suraj Ganesan

Intern, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

 As discussed, Imran Khan cannot afford to prioritize India-Pakistan relations as his party does not have a stronghold in the Parliament. He will first look to strengthen his position before tending to any other issue. Next up will be looking at the Pakistan-Afganistan and the Pakistan-US relations. With pressure from the US to stop funding and blocking an IMF bailout, he will have to look into those matters before thinking about the India-Pakistan relations.

If history is any indication, Imran khan will not be given leeway by the military to take any major decisions about the India-Pak relations. Any final say will reside with the military alone. The fragile relations between Pakistan and the United States, does put a slight pressure on Pakistan to normalize relations with India than fight on two fronts. But any such improvements from the Pakistani side will only happen with the complete willingness of the military. 

While destabilizing China's influence in the region could facilitate India to normalize relations with Pakistan, any such effort might come only with Pakistan showing a real interest.

While India is already adapting to jumping over Pakistan and building relations with countries further East, a complete sidelining would not be ideal. A good strategy will be to sideline certain issues such as Jammu-Kashmir and the nuclear problems and work on building stronger ties in other areas such as trade. We can slowly approach the bigger and more tense problems.


Shuchi Shah

School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU), Ahmedabad

As the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, improving India-Pakistan relations is not the first priority for Imran Khan. There are certain internal issues like winning a majority in parliament and strengthening the economy that would be the priority. Although in his speeches he repeatedly states his intention of improving relations with India, the policies and actions taken by the government will be the real indicators of the intent.

Assuming that Imran Khan wants to better the ties between India and Pakistan, the military will not allow him to do so. The military is the backbone of Pakistani politics and is known to overpower politicians that make an extra effort to better relations with India. 

As far as India is concerned, the government seems to have moved beyond Pakistan and has been giving more importance to Afghanistan and the outer circle of neighbours through BIMSTEC, Act East etc. We have started moving towards attaining the larger goal of being part of the global political scenario. 

India has already begun to look beyond Pakistan. However, being an immediate neighbour, Pakistan will always be part of India’s foreign policy; complete sidelining would be unattainable with a country that we share a border with. 


Harini Madhusudan

Project Associate, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

This is Imran Khan s first time as Prime Minister. He is already facing allegations of rigging the elections. His top priority would be to gain the trust and approval of his citizens. Hence, any move towards India Pakistan relations at this point would prove counterproductive and may not be a successful effort.

The Pakistani military wouldn’t want it unless there is something from India that is essential for them. It wouldn’t make sense for Imran Khan s government to improve relations with India at this point. Firstly because, US India are showing positive military behaviour while the US has started to be hostile towards Pakistan. It would indicate a sense of mistrust. Secondly, weighting the costs and benefits of the present situation, Pakistan would have a lot to lose (make promises on dealing with terrorists, meet a few of India's demands..)  in order to initiate engagements with India and that is not in favour of the Pakistan Military.

It doesn’t seem to be interested. The present government in India has not shown an intention of trying to improve relations with Pakistan, in fact it hasn’t spoken of Pakistan for a while now. After the ‘surgical strikes,’ Kulbhushan Jadav and a few other border related violence made the news, the government doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything further. This could be mainly because they don’t want to draw unnecessary attention from the world community and also because they might be avoiding it before the 2019 general elections. Also since most of the current government’s actions were strongly PR behaviour, improving India Pakistan relations might not have sounded public relations- friendly.

Sometimes, ‘no interaction is better than bad interactions.’ Given the present day social media behaviour and the unwanted hate that emerges out of even the slightest of things... It is entirely okay for governments to not interact and focus on other things instead. Imran Khan has already shown some positive signs with the video that went viral on selling away all expensive but unwanted vehicles and making a school out of the PMs house or even the sapling event. These are impressive. India also has been doing some positive work with focusing on the Act East Policy and other stuff.

Ignoring India Pakistan relations might not cause any harm at the moment and that may be good. I am not sure about Pakistan's strategy for India but Pakistan seems to be strongly focused inwards.

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