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The 1947-1948 India-Pakistan war: What do we see today?

By Tanvee Shehrawat

The Indo-Pak war of 1947 can be traced as the origin of a long-standing border dispute between two countries who share a bitter antiquity. Relations hitched with barbs, India and Pakistan continue to struggle with questions that emerged over 75 years ago. The article aims to deconstruct and understand this seemingly stagnant parley from a vantage point, thereby seeking to evaluate the spillovers of the conflict today.

The 1947-1948 Indo-Pak war cemented the issue of Kashmir as a bone of contention between the neighbours, which would frequently come up to strain inter-state relations. The geopolitical significance of Kashmir owes itself to the strategic location of the state, situated right at the helm of the South Asian subcontinent. Undoubtedly, India and Pakistan share a painful history and the events of the 1947-48 war serve as a focal point of influence in determining policy decisions in both countries. The immediate consequence of the war also manifested itself in unintended consequences resulting from a heightened territorial dispute. The conflict opened up the region to third-party intervention leading to a mutually reinforced security dilemma. This paved the way for arms acquisition and rivalry and deepened the Hindu-Muslim communal divide while enabling a long legacy of failed negotiations and an absence of understanding between the two countries. 

After Partition, the political history of Pakistan and India echoes of rivalry and unmitigated confrontation. To date, the relations have not fully recovered from the first conflict over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Partition wounds continue to be quintessential to this cause, contributing significantly to the perpetual hostility between the two nation-states. The trauma carried over into the mindsets of those who took over the new governments and have yet not fully disappeared. 

Immediate Consequences

The pattern of conflict leading up to the Kashmir dispute is still with us. India continues to control its part of Kashmir, and tensions with Pakistan over its alleged instigation of violence in the region using proxies places the balance at a shaky intersection. Thus ensues unintended consequences for both nations. The use of intermediaries has given space to non-state actors who act independently, adding to the extremism that threatens the entire region. It also fuels support within Pakistan for groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose activities undercut peace efforts between Pakistan and India.

The war-like situation opened up the region to external intervention, and Pakistan regularly brings up the issue of Kashmir in UN meetings. Kashmir was now broken into two parts; one under the administration of Pakistan and one under India. The pair of nations accused each other of initiating the war and demanded to have control over the entire territory of Kashmir, thus commencing a blame game that would last decades and culpability would be shifted off nations shoulders to the other as and when deemed convenient. Meanwhile, the UN passed a resolution to decide the final status of Kashmir through a plebiscite, and both countries agreed to it. However, the plebiscite has never taken place due to micro-aggressions and insecurity on behalf of both parties and Pakistan’s refusal to withdraw all forces from Azad Kashmir. Pakistan and the US signed a defence deal in May 1956, which further pushed away from the possibility of negotiation or cooperation between the two countries.

The Turbulent Path to an Unlikely Peace: Spillover consequences

The history of Indo-Pak ties has followed two tracks following 1947: one is that of recurrent tensions and conflicts and systematic efforts for a peace dialogue. The two countries showed the maturity to sit together and resolve the disputes peacefully through their initiatives or third-party efforts. The conflict started in 1948 and came to an end due to an UN-sponsored ceasefire on January 1, 1949. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on January 9 1949, to decide the future of Kashmir through a plebiscite. Both India and Pakistan accepted the resolution, which provided a detailed mechanism to settle the Kashmir dispute. However, the consensus on the terms of the plebiscite was absent due to the overbearing consequences of the war. Some of these consequences opened up pathways for negotiations, while some deepened the wounds from the war.

How Pakistan perceives India to be a threat goes back to the causes of Partition. Pakistan disputes with India over territorial claims only heightened Pakistan’s insecurity. Pakistan also suffered relative security handicaps in South Asia’s geopolitical environment, where India was a dominant player assuming a central role owing to its size and geography. Kashmir’s dispute also made it essential for the countries to pace up arms acquisition because it would lay the foundation stone for conflict between the two countries for years to come. It was only in 1972 that The Shimla Agreement acknowledged that Kashmir was an unsettled issue that could be possibly overcome with negotiated settlement and bilateralism. The Kashmir dispute continues to be a significant irritant in Indo-Pak relations since the Partition, deepened with the 1947-48 war. The conflict has a historical political legacy of dominance and conquest attached to it that dates back to the Hindu-Muslim rivalry in the sub-continent over the centuries. The conflict has led to three wars over Kashmir, in 1947, 1965 and 1999. The issue of Kashmir remains the world’s most significant and most militarised dispute.

Pakistani Identity: The issue of Kashmir has come to form a large part of Pakistani identity not just in domestic politics but also in their foreign policy. Feelings of hate and “othering” of  Muslims by Hindus and vice versa trickled down to the masses, and the issue of Kashmir was no longer limited to just people in Kashmir. For people from all parts of Pakistan and India, Kashmir became a question of national interest.

External Involvement: The bilateral efforts have produced only limited results despite several such measures. The UN-sponsored initiatives have also been unsuccessful, and its resolutions on Kashmir have still not been implemented. 1947-48 shaped Pakistan and India’s security perceptions and policies. This was more amplified for Pakistan, as it was a relatively weaker state in its military capabilities. The security dilemma that became observable is that while India is the perceived cause of Pakistan’s insecurities and its extra-regional affairs, these affiliations are the ones that also trigger India’s insecurity. This, alongside a host of other factors discussed previously, could have possibly initiated the arms race between the neighbours in the years which followed 1947. India views Pakistan’s military links with external powers to disrupt its pre-eminence in South Asia. Hence it is not a surprise that Pakistan’s military alliances with the United States of America and China have led to increased tensions among the two nations. 

Arms Race:  The 1947 invasion orchestrated by Pakistan may have secured Azad Kashmir for them, but they seek to change the status quo to tilt more in their favour. The border dispute unravelled right after the Partition and struck both countries at their most vulnerable. This meant that they had to prepare for any such future conflict. Unlike broader measures such as expenditure, missile tests probably also mirror developments in the strategic environment that would tend to motivate arms-racing behaviour, even if they are merely conducted as part of a technology development effort. Both India’s and Pakistan’s missile programs pre-date their 1998 nuclear tests.

Bilateralism: Pakistan and India frequently indulged in bilateral efforts to address their issues. Such efforts have been successful at times but failed to resolve significant issues like Kashmir. The 1950 Nehru-Liaquat Pact was the first successful example of the bilateral track to address thorny problems. It helped address the issue of religious minorities because, under the agreement, the two sides decided to protect the rights of minorities after Partition. Through the bilateral channel, a significant effort to settle the Kashmir Issue was made in 1953. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru Pakistani and his Pakistani counterpart Mohammad Ali Bogra discussed Kashmir and sought to solve it through peaceful means. However, the first real comprehensive bilateral push to address the Kashmir imbroglio was only made in December 1962 when the foreign ministers, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Swaran Singh, held a marathon of six rounds of talks focusing on the central issues of Kashmir. The process was unsuccessful as the two sides could not agree on a formula to resolve Kashmir. Bilateralism is not limited to negotiations and territorial settlements either. In a 2011 poll, 74% of Indians and 70% of Pakistanis said improved relations between them were necessary. In the same survey, 67% Indians and 69% Pakistanis expressed support for more bilateral trade. The ceasefire along the LoC has enabled relations between the nations to develop from tourism, and bus services across the disputed region. India wants a complete suspension of terrorist activities and funding before undertaking any action to demilitarise. Conservatives in Pakistan felt that any act of cooperating with India’s demands would be an expensive concession to make for Pakistani Identity. Although both sides wish to resolve the issue, resistance from both sides comes from opposing standpoints as neither is willing to compromise.

The Way Ahead

Pak-India relations have been through many ups and downs since 1947. There have been wars and conflicts, but the two countries lean towards being open to negotiations. Unfortunately, the two sides have failed to transform the desire for peaceful coexistence into lasting peace and cooperation. India has charged that Pakistan has supported the distinctive fear-based oppressor organisations in Kashmir about a few events. On the other hand, Pakistan positively adheres to expanding ‘moral help’ to the separatists in Kashmir. Showdowns between Indian military services and furnished separatists have caused tremendous property loss, cash, and lives until this time. 

The impact of this conflict spills over into our present and will continue to guide the geopolitics of South Asia. It is mostly interesting to see the number of times the two rivals have sat down on the negotiating table, and yet consensus seems impossible. The consequences of the 1947-48 laid the foundation for a tumultuous inter-country relationship, and its far-reaching consequences still unravel .

Tanvee is a third-year undergraduate at Ashoka University, studying Political Science and International Relations.
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