Indo-Pak Relations in 2019
Tilak Devasher, Consultant, VIF

Indo-Pak relations have been on a rollercoaster for the past seven decades. Will 2019 be any different?

Four factors are likely to define how Indo-Pak relations will shape in 2019: The role of the Pakistan army and its perception of India; Imran Khan’s predilections; existing bilateral issues like Kashmir, Mumbai attackers’ trial, SAARC summit, Kartarpur corridor, support to terror etc., and the shape of Pakistan’s economy.

Role of the Pakistan Army and Perception of India

Despite Imran Khan’s assertion of being on the same page as the army1, the reality is that the army continues to call the shots on Pakistan’s India policy. In implementing such a policy it has developed and honed terror as the key instrument. There are no indications of such a policy being jettisoned.

Two significant aspects of the Pakistani narrative on India that are likely to dominate in 2019 are, first, to increasingly accuse India of fomenting terrorism. As Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi put it, “Pakistan shall never forget the mass murder of more than 150 children in a Peshawar School, the terrible Mastung attack and many others that have links with terrorists supported by India.”2 Second, no rapprochement is possible till after the Indian parliamentary elections in April-May 20193 since electoral rhetoric would demand an anti-Pakistan approach rather than pursuing dialogue. Many analysts do not discount the possibility of further deterioration in relations for political advantage ahead of the elections.4

Imran Khan’s Predilections

While in the opposition, Imran Khan had resorted to slogans like “Modi ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai” (Modi’s friend is a traitor), to discredit Nawaz Sharif. Hence, his assertion that Pakistan will take two steps if India takes one needs to be treated with caution. After becoming the prime minister, his tweet when India cancelled a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, cannot be forgotten: "Disappointed at the arrogant and negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture."5 Gestures like inviting Indian friends to his oath-taking ceremony and laying the foundations of the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims would need to be seen in the light of his basic attitude.

Bilateral Issues

There is no change in Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. Apart from full-spectrum support to terrorism, Pak diplomacy will continue to be based on the biased report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In fact, the Foreign Minister has urged the UN to constitute a Commission of Inquiry to probe the situation in Kashmir.6


Despite the passage of a decade, no progress has been made against the perpetrators of 26/11. The mastermind Hafiz Saeed continues to roam freely in Pakistan.

Support to Terror

There are clear indications that Pakistan’s attitude towards terrorism had not changed after Imran Khan became the PM.7 Despite Pakistan being grey-listed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a presidential ordinance promulgated by the previous government that amended the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 to include global terrorists listed by the UN like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIH), offshoots of the banned Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT), was allowed to lapse by the present government.8

Hafiz Saeed apart, Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and head of the United Jihad Council (UJC) operates with impunity in Pakistan. Addressing a press conference at Muzaffarabad on 27 October 2018, Salahuddin suggested that only a state-wide armed struggle could bring India to the table: “I wish every Kashmiri take[s] up arms against India, including my own children.”9

Kartarpur Corridor

The goodwill that was generated in the opening of the Kartarpur corridor was squandered away by the Pak Foreign Minister claiming the move to be a ‘googly’.10 This strengthened the impression of using the opportunity to propagate the Khalistan narrative with the Sikh pilgrims. It was also seen as an attempt to initiate bilateral talks when Pakistan was under different kinds of international pressures.11

Despite this, operationalizing the Kartarpur corridor would provide an opportunity for the two sides to engage in bilateral discussions.

SAARC Summit

Pakistan is keen to host the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that has not been held since 2016 due to its sponsorship of terrorism. India is unlikely to agree to a summit in Islamabad so long as its concerns about terrorism emanating from Pakistan are not met.


Pakistan’s economy is on a slippery slope. The immediate issues of concern are balance of payments and the plunging foreign exchange reserves. An approach to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its tough conditionalities seems to have become inescapable even though Saudi Arabia, China and UAE have pitched in with dollar deposits.

Under these circumstances, the army and Imran Khan would do well to read World Bank’s latest report, ‘A Glass Half Full: The Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia.’ According to it if there were better relations between India and Pakistan, bilateral trade could reach $37 billion from the present about $ 2 billion. As The News put it, improving trade might be the first step needed to normalise political relations between the two neighbours.12 Such sane advise is, however, unlikely to be taken.


For 2019 to be a better year for Indo-Pak relations, the pre-requisites would be: The Pakistan army changing its mindset about India; accepting that Kashmir cannot be won by military force (the policy of Kashmir bazor Shamsheer” – Kashmir by the Sword13) or by using terrorists; and, rebuilding itself as a regional trade and transit hub instead of a terrorist hub.

With India growing economically and bolstering its defence and internal security, it can choose to ignore Pakistan. Engaging with Pakistan against the backdrop of its continuing support to terrorists in Kashmir is no longer acceptable. This shift in Indian attitude cuts the ground under Pakistan’s strategy centered on creating sufficient violence in the Valley to force India to engage in peace talks.

It is only when Pakistan stops chasing mirages would there be a possibility of any progress in Indo-Pak relations. As of now, this seems a remote possibility in 2019.

(Tilak Devasher is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Author of ‘Pakistan: Courting the Abyss’ and ‘Pakistan: At the Helm’, he is currently a Consultant with the Vivekananda International Foundation.)

  1. Ahmad Faruqui, ‘Imran’s moment has arrived’, The Daily Times, 03 December 2018., accessed 28 December 2018.
  2. Mohsin Raza Malik, ‘Terrorism: Blame thy neighbour’ The Nation, 02 October 2018., accessed 28 December 2018..
  3. Shafqat Ali, ‘No talks before elections in India: Qureshi’, The Nation, Nov 15, 2018.
  4. Imran Khan needs plan B on India, Kamran Yousaf in The Express Tribune, 01 October 2018., accessed 28 December 2018.
  5. ‘Small men tweet’ not directed at Modi: Imran’, The Nation, 30 November 2018,, accessed 04 December 2018.
  6. Sabah, ‘Talks with India best option to resolve all issues: Qureshi’, The News, 08 October 2018,, accessed 04 December 2018.
  7. ‘Imran Khan’s minister shares stage with 26/11 mastermind Hafiz’, The Times of India, 02 October 2018, accessed 04 December 2018.
  8. ‘Banned groups’, edit in Dawn, 27 October 2018,, accessed 28 December 2018.
  9. Murtaza Shibli , ‘Seventy years of accession’, The News, 03 November 2018,, accessed 28 December 2018.
  10. ‘Imran bowled a 'googly' at India with Kartarpur corridor, says FM Qureshi’, The Express Tribune, 29 November 2018,, accessed 03 December 2018.
  11. Malik Muhammad Ashraf, ‘Opening the Kartarpur Corridor’, The Nation, 30 November 2018,, accessed 03 December 2018
  12. ‘The promise of trade’: edit in The News, 01 October 2018,, accessed 03 December 2018.
  13. Aparna Pande, ‘Who blocks India-Pakistan peace?’, 29 December 2018,, accessed 30 December 2018.

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