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India and Pakistan's troubled history

February 27, 2019

Tensions have escalated between India and Pakistan after New Delhi launched airstrikes in Pakistani territory. DW takes a look at the turbulent history between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

An Indian official adjusts the Pakistani flag prior to delegation levels talks at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India on 25 February 2010.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/epa/H. Tyagi

Bloody partition (1947): The two neighbors have shared a tense relationship ever since the British divided the Indian subcontinent in a secular but mainly Hindu India and Muslim-majority state of Pakistan. The partition sparked riots and communal violence across the region and led to one of the largest human migrations in history.

The escalation of Kashmir conflict (1947-48): India and Pakistan contested Kashmir — a Muslim-majority kingdom ruled by a Hindu Maharaja — even before their independence from Britain. But the dispute escalated after Kashmir ruler Hari Singh acceded Kashmir to India in return for New Delhi's help to ward off attacks by an army of Pakistani tribesmen. The developments led to the first full-blown war over Kashmir between the two countries.

UN resolution (1948): India dragged the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations Security Council, which passed a resolution calling for a referendum to decide the status of Kashmir. But the Security Council made the referendum conditional to the withdrawal of Pakistani troops and reduction of Indian military presence to the minimum to maintain law and order in the region. The war ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire but Pakistan refused to withdraw its troops. A ceasefire line effectively partitioned Kashmir with both sides controlling parts of the erstwhile kingdom but claiming it in its entirety.

Indo-Pakistan War (1965): Despite several attempts to solve the Kashmir dispute and deescalate tensions, the two neighbors fought their second war over the contested region. The brief war ended with yet-another UN-mandated ceasefire. Both sides returned to their previous positions.

War over Bangladesh (1971): India and Pakistan fought their third war, this time over East Pakistan. The conflict ended in a defeat for Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh.

Simla Agreement (1972): Following Pakistan's surrender in the 1971 war, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met and signed an agreement in the Indian hill town of Simla. The ceasefire line in Kashmir is designated as the Line of Control (LoC) and the two parties agree to resolve the dispute through negotiations.

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto meet in Simla in 1972.
Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto signed the Simla Agreement in 1972Image: imago/ZUMA/Keystone

Armed resistance in Kashmir (1989): A pro-independence insurgency gathered momentum in India-administered Kashmir following disputed state elections. The insurgency escalated over the next decade, partly fanned by a violent crackdown by Indian troops. India accused Pakistan of supporting the insurgents by providing weapons and training. Pakistan denied this claim.

Kargil conflict (1999): The two neighbors, by now nuclear powers, entered into an armed conflict after militants from across the LoC took control of key strategic positions in India-administered Kashmir. India drove the militants out but blamed Pakistan for supporting the incursion. The diplomatic gains made after a historic meeting in Lahore between the prime ministers of the two countries were eroded and India broke off relations.

A map of disputed Kashmir region

Indian Parliament attack (2001): Tensions between India and Pakistan reached a new high after a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. India blamed Pakistan-based terror outfits for the attack and deployed troops on its borders with Pakistan. Islamabad reciprocated. The standoff ended after an international mediation.

Ceasefire (2003): The two sides agreed to a ceasefire along the LoC. The ceasefire is still in force but the two countries have blamed each other for occasionally violating it.

Mumbai's Taj Hotel after a terrorist attack
India broke off all talks with Pakistan after attacks in Mumbai that New Delhi claimed was sanctioned by Pakistan's intelligence agency.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Mumbai attacks (2008): Armed gunmen launched several attacks in India's financial capital of Mumbai, killing more than 150 people. India blamed Pakistan for the attacks. But Islamabad vociferously denied the Indian assertion that Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror outfit behind the attacks, was sanctioned by Pakistan's intelligence agency. India broke off all talks with Pakistan after the attacks. New Delhi continues to maintain that "terror and talks" can't go together.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif greets Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Lahore.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi tried to usher in a new era of peace.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Handout

Surgical strikes (2016): Efforts by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to relaunch talks came to an abrupt halt after an attack on an Indian army base by a Pakistan-based terror outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed. India retaliated to the killing of 19 soldiers by launching "surgical strikes" on alleged terror camps on the other side of the LoC. Pakistan denied India's claims.

India bombs targets in Pakistan (2019): India conducted airstrikes on an alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Pakistan's Balakot. The attack came just days after the terror outfit claimed responsibility for killing 40 Indian soldiers in a suicide attack in Kashmir. A day later, Pakistan said it downed two Indian jets in retaliation.

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Ashutosh Pandey
Ashutosh Pandey Business editor with a focus on international trade, financial markets and the energy sector.@ashutoshpande85