The Indo-Pakistan Wars

The Wagah border between India and Pakistan.Editorial credit: mimmikhail /
The Wagah border between India and Pakistan.Editorial credit: mimmikhail /

India and Pakistan share a long history that dates back to their time under British rule. For nearly 200 years, India fought for its independence from England, first from the East India Company and later from the British Raj. During the 1940s, the Muslim-dominated area of British India joined the fight, beginning the Pakistan Movement with the hope of creating a sovereign Muslim state. On August 15, 1947, independence was won, and British India was separated into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

These new political borders could not be completely established according to religion, leaving many Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India. Violence among religious groups broke out, leading to a giant wave of migration as people moved to the countries corresponding with their religions. Additionally, independence left behind some territories still under the rule of Indian monarchy, called princely states. These territories became points of contention between the newly developed sovereign nations. The majority of the Muslim-dominated princely states chose to join Pakistan, and Hindu-dominated princely states joined India, with some exceptions. All of these events have helped to form the often hostile relationship between India and Pakistan.


Shortly after gaining independence, India and Pakistan went to war in what is called the First Kashmir War. The conflict began over the Muslim-populated, but Hindu-ruled Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu. The king, Hari Singh, chose to exercise his right to remain free. His majority Muslim population violently rebelled and demanded to join Pakistan. In October of 1947, Pakistan sent troops to the area in an attempt to gain control of the state. When the violence became too much for the king to control, he requested military aid from India. As a condition of the support, King Singh agreed to accede Jammu and Kashmir to India.

Pakistan refused to recognize Jammu and Kashmir as an Indian state. They continued fighting for territory, capturing some cities and forcing out Hindus. Indian forces kept up the defense as well, taking back control of some areas and securing others. When a ceasefire was finally established in January of 1949, India had control of Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir Valley; Pakistan had control of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The Indo-Pakistan War of 1947 was the first of many wars between India and Pakistan.


The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 was instigated by several events. First, in 1956, India regained control over the Rann of Kutch region in the Indian state of Gujarat. Then, in January of 1965, Pakistan sent troops to patrol an Indian-controlled region, believing the local population wanted to be out of Indian control. This move was followed by attacks on both sides in April of the same year. With tensions high, Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar in August of 1965 and began invading the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. India responded with a full military attack in West Pakistan. Although this war only lasted for 17 days, it resulted in thousands of deaths. The war was the largest grouping of troops since independence and the largest tank battle since World War II.

The United Nations mandated an end to the war after the US and the Soviet Union initiated peace talks. Both India and Pakistan, however, claimed to have won the war and felt that the US and Britain had not supported their positions. This led both countries to create stronger ties to the Soviet Union and China. In January 1966, India and Pakistan signed the Tashkent Declaration, a peace treaty, in which they agreed to return conquered territories, remove troops, and return to the borders established in 1949.


The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was the first war between the countries that did not involve fighting over the Kashmir region. At this time, the Dominion of Pakistan was divided into West Pakistan and East Pakistan (initially East Bengal). These two regions were separated by the larger nation of India. East Pakistan felt exploited by West Pakistan, which held the majority of political power. In March of 1971, an East Pakistan political party won the election, and West Pakistan chose not to recognize the results. This decision led to political unrest in East Pakistan, and West Pakistan responded with military force. The Bangladesh Liberation War began with East Pakistan declaring independence as Bangladesh.

Due to the violence in Bangladesh, many of its residents sought refuge in India. The Prime Minister decided to intervene in the civil war, supporting an independent Bengali state. Some say this decision was prompted by the past relations between India and Pakistan, others say it was to reduce the number of refugees. India began supporting rebel troops in Bangladesh, in response, Pakistan attacked an Indian military base in December of 1971. This attack was the official start of the war.

After two weeks of fighting and losing West Pakistan territory, the Pakistani troops in Bangladesh surrendered. This surrender effectively established the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The war resulted in the highest number of casualties of any Indo-Pakistani conflict.


The Indo-Pakistani War of 1999, also known as the Kargil War, took place between May and July. It began when Pakistan sent troops across the Kashmir border to join rebels in the Indian district of Kargil. India retaliated with a significant military response. The Indian army, together with the Air Force, recaptured the majority of the Kargil district. Facing international opposition, Pakistan was forced to withdraw its invasion over the rest of the district. Many countries criticized Pakistan for starting the conflict, and its already weak economy suffered further due to the threat of decreased international trade.

1. Current Relations Between The Two Nations

Today, India and Pakistan continue to have strained relations. Both countries spent the latter part of the 1990s in a nuclear arms race. They are currently cited as having one of the world’s most dangerous borders. Military members from both countries continue violence across the border, with incidences in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Recently, civilians and security forces have been involved in increasing violent conflict throughout the Kashmir Valley, beginning full force in July of 2016. This area continues to be Muslim-dominated although under Indian control. Attacks have been made against public establishments and police stations; the unrest has led to over 7,000 civilian injuries and at least 70 deaths (some estimates are as high as 90 deaths). The attacks against Indian forces have been increasingly carried out by fedayeen militants, rebels willing to sacrifice their lives.


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