Why have India and Pakistan been unable to resolve the sources of conflict in South Asia through diplomatic means?

How to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post, ISSN:
2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/journal/

India and Pakistan’s complex relations are as old as the countries themselves. The partitioning of India along with their independence in 1947 triggered what would become one of the most complex, intractable and vicious conflict of control over disputed land. The region heavily fought over, Kashmir, is host to valuable resources, strategic geographical sites and numerous potential economic benefits for any country involved. Neither country is willing to let go of what they consider their entitlement to the land. Over the years, a variety of factors contributed to the deepening conflict in the region; SAARCs failed agenda, Chinese involvement, nuclear proliferation and inheritance rights over Kashmir will be detailed as the core intractables preventing diplomatic resolutions in the intricately complex region. 

SAARC’s failures and the involvement of China 

The intergovernmental South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, established in 1985, has been hindered in its implementation of its agenda to promote peace, security and prosperity since it’s foundation. This hinderance is largely attributable to the complex relations between India and Pakistan, in which China plays a vital role. India as an increasing superpower has introduced competition to Chinese influence on a global scale (Rahman, 2004). Since India borders most of SAARC’s member states, trade, border crossing and energy agreements are only possible with the cooperation of New Delhi (Yousaf et. al, 2017). China refuses to accept India’s centric role with military might, economic strength and extensive territory and has leveraged itself as a strategic state by enhancing already strong Pak-Sino ties (Hafeez, 2016). 

China has emerged as Pakistan’s largest defence provider. The Pak-Sino military cooperation has expanded with China now maintaining significance in Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, so much so that the Pakistani nuclear weapons program is considered an extension of the Chinese one (Pant, 2016). This certainly strains the relationship in the SAARC community given India’s turbulent history with both China and Pakistan. 

Pakistan, India and the other SAARC members are caught in a vicious cycle of SAARC failures preventing effective dialogue in the region and the relationship between the states in turn prevent SAARC from working effectively. This was made clear when India pulled out of the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad, in response to increased terrorism in India believed to be on account of Pakistan (Yousaf et. al, 2017). According to SAARCs rules, if a single member state pulls out, the summit itself is cancelled; this further stalled any progression. 

Kashmir is a centre-point for political rivalry and militant action

Kashmir has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947 left two countries and additional terrain posing difficulty in defining its position in the region. While 80 percent of the Kashmiri population was Muslim, its Maharajah was Hindu.  The Maharajah failed to take sides, which resulted in Pakistani troop-backed Muslim rebels of the British Colonial Army attacking the Kashmiri state militia. The Maharajah fled to India, only then expressing the desire to become part of India. Indian military units had been immediately deployed to Kashmir to defend the territory, resulting in what is today one of the most heavily disputed territories in the world, with a separatist violence death toll of ca. 5000 in the last decade (CNN, 2020). The violence within Kashmir has further distanced any prospects of diplomatic negotiations. Pakistan acting as a front-line state both in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and in the post-9/11 war of terror, has witnessed extra regional powers pursuing their own interests by training and equipping thousands of Pakistani men (3). This saw an unprecedented rise in radicalisation in Pakistan and Kashmir subsequently, worsening the bilateral relations between Pakistan and India, as the latter has associated the indigenous struggle of the Kashmiri people with terrorism (Hafeez, 2016). China is considered a loyal ally to Pakistan in times India’s dominance seemed intimidating, to an extent that China has tacitly endorsed Pakistan’s strategy of utilising terror as a policy instrument to counteract India (Pant, 2016). 

Nuclear power poses more of a threat than a diplomatic power equilibrium 

The nuclear proliferation in India and Pakistan has both symbolised the mistrust in each other as well as expanded the mistrust between them. India became a nuclear state in 1974, with its military traditionally uninvolved in decisions surrounding nuclear facilities. Pakistan pursued a nuclear program in response to India, which was intended to be a strategic equaliser in the deterrence tactic of a cold war (Sagan, 2003). Contrasting to its counterpart, Pakistan’s military largely runs the nuclear weapons program (Perkovich, 1999). Despite the theoretical deterrence strategy in a nuclear arms race, the security dilemma of the region structured both countries’ political and military behaviour, each interpreting the defensive moves as constructions for defensive action (Hagerty, 1998). 

The aspiration for the deterrence strategy in the situation of nuclear states was undermined during the Kargil conflict. The organisational biases of the Pakistani army arguably sparked crises in the past and will continue to do so during future tensions. The dangers of both preventive and pre-emptive strikes if war is esteemed inevitable prevail, and nuclear deployments may well threaten deterrent forces on the enemy side (Sagan, 2003). 

Broader strategic consequences in Pakistan’s preventive approach and its dealing with nuclear arms became dangerously apparent after the December 13 terrorist attack against the Indian Parliament. Having received the warning from India to crackdown on terrorist activity coming from Pakistan, Pakistan feared an attack on their nuclear arsenal and moved it into an unsecure field. These actions make the arsenal more vulnerable to theft from Islamic militants, jeopardising the security of India, Pakistan and Kashmir (Sagan, 2003).


All things considered, the sources of conflict themselves between India and Pakistan have been the sole reason resolution through diplomatic means has failed. Having been established with undefined borders, the countries have been deprived of peace prospects. SAARCs regional integrational approach has been its own worst enemy, displaying itself as a weak intergovernmental entity compared to three nuclear powers bordering each other. Both sides have seen it as essential to their own existence to maintain Kashmir as “theirs”, with claims for occupation ranging from ethno-demographic importance to the containment of terrorism. The conflict today seems as unsolvable as it ever was, and most probably as it will ever be. 


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Rahman, A. (2004) SAARC: Not Yet a Community. Available at: https://apcss.org/Publications/Edited%20Volumes/RegionalFinal%20chapters/Chapter9Rahman.pdf 

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Yousaf, A. and Ahmad, M. and Shah, Z. (2017) ‘SAARC Summit and Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: An Analysis’, Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan, vol. 54, no. 2 

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