History of Conflict in India and Pakistan

By Abby Pokraka, Program Analyst

The history between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, is inextricably linked. The countries have fought a series of wars since gaining their independence from Great Britain in 1947, largely over the Kashmir region, to which both countries lay claim.

India became a nuclear power in 1974, and Pakistan became a nuclear power in 1998.

Neither country has used nuclear weapons in conflict, but many experts fear that the ongoing crisis could escalate beyond conventional weapons use.

Here is a brief history of the conflict between the two countries.

August 1947: Following the end of British rule, British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan. The provincial division was based on Hindu and Muslim majorities, which caused mass migration for those that did not live in the majorities. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in communal violence resulting in an atmosphere of hostility that has remained for decades. The Jammu and Kashmir regions have been disputed since partition, with Pakistan and India both claiming ownership.

October 1947 – January 1949: The first Indo-Pakistani war began following an invasion of Kashmir by armed tribesmen from Pakistan. Kashmir turned to India for military assistance and in return agreed to hand over powers of defense, communication and foreign affairs, acceding to India. A ceasefire was arranged on Jan. 1, 1949 and a ceasefire line was established – now called the Line of Control.

August 1965: The second Indo-Pakistani war was sparked by a series of clashes across the India-Pakistani border. Hostilities broke out in August when Pakistani soldiers crossed the Line of Control into Indian-administered Kashmir in an attempt to start an insurgency against India (Operation Gibraltar).  The war ended in January 1966 when officials from India and Pakistan signed a declaration affirming their commitment to peace.

December 1971: When India and Pakistan became their own countries, Pakistan was split into two parts – East Pakistan and West Pakistan. The third Indo-Pakistani war took place when Pakistan erupted into civil war, pitting West Pakistan against East Pakistan, who demanded independence. Millions of east Pakistanis fled to India, and quickly the West Pakistani army surrendered. East Pakistan earned independence on Dec. 6, 1971 and changed its name to Bangladesh.

May 1974: India successfully tested its first nuclear weapon, code named “Operation Smiling Buddha.” It took place on the army base Pokhran Test Range, close to its border with Pakistan.

July 1989: Armed resistance against Indian rule began in Kashmir when Muslim parties complained that the 1987 elections were rigged against them. Some citizens demanded independence while others wanted a union with Pakistan. Pakistan supported the movement, calling for the issue to be resolved by the United Nations. India called for Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism. Since 1989, several new radical Islamist groups have emerged, shifting the movement from a nationalistic and secularist one to an Islamic one. The insurgency has continued until present day.

May 1998: India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear tests. India’s underground nuclear test was conducted near its border with Pakistan. In response, Pakistan conducted six tests. The international community condemned India and Pakistan for the testing, and urged the two nations to stop their nuclear weapons programs.

May 1998: India adopted a No First Use (NFU) policy, meaning the state would not use nuclear weapons unless it was attacked with a nuclear weapon first. Despite questions around the policy, India remains faithful to the NFU doctrine.

May 1999: After nearly 30 years, India launched air strikes against Pakistani-backed forces that had entered Indian-administered Kashmir. As fighting increased toward a direct conflict between the two nuclear states, Pakistan’s troops were put on high alert. At least 38,000 people fled their homes on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

December 2001: Five armed terrorists entered the Indian Parliament building and opened fire, killing nine people. India blamed Pakistani-backed Kashmiri militants for the attack, which led to a massive buildup of troops along with Indo-Pakistani border.

February 2007: Blasts in two coaches of the Samjhauta Express killed 68 people, most of them Pakistani nationals. The train was created in 1994 as a goodwill measure to help families who were separated during the 1947 India-Pakistan partition. This came at a time when relations were improving between India and Pakistan.

November 2008: Ten Pakistani men associated with the terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba stormed various buildings in Mumbai and killed 164 people using automatic weapons and grenades. Only one of the 10 gunmen survived, and was executed in 2012.

February 2019: Pakistani-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out a suicide car bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir which resulted in the deaths of over 40 members of India’s paramilitary forces. India retaliated with air strikes across the Line of Control, and Pakistan shot down an Indian aircraft and captured a pilot. These actions significantly increased tensions between the two nuclear states but two days later, the Indian pilot was released and tensions relaxed.