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Christopher Finnigan

June 10th, 2019

India and Pakistan: How treaties prevent the rivalry from devolving into war

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Christopher Finnigan

June 10th, 2019

India and Pakistan: How treaties prevent the rivalry from devolving into war

0 comments | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As tensions between India and Pakistan peaked during Pulwama crisis in February, the two nuclear-armed power managed to retreat from the brink of war. Aakriti Tandon (Daemen College, USA) and Michael O. Slobodchikoff (Troy University, USA) explain how the emergence of a cooperative rivalry through the use of treaties could function as a way to help the two countries deescalate conflicts and avoid war.

India and Pakistan have been a hot topic in the media as well as in policy circles since the February 14, 2019 terror attack in Pulwama, Kashmir that led to the death of 44 Indian paramilitary soldiers. India blamed Pakistan for providing funding, training, arms, resources and a safe haven to Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the attack. India launched airstrikes on a militant training camp in Balakot, located in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on February 29. Pakistan retaliated with airstrikes against Indian military instalments in Kashmir, downing an Indian fighter jet and capturing the pilot.

This is the first time that either side has aerially crossed into the territory of the other since the 1971 war that resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh. While both sides continue to be involved in numerous militarised disputes near the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed territory of Kashmir, the launch of airstrikes constituted major escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbours. While the airstrikes were a major escalation, the conflict did not escalate into war between the states as has often happened in the past. In fact, in an unexpected show of goodwill, Pakistan decided to return the captured Indian pilot to India, leading to rapid de-escalation of tensions between the rivals. Pakistan’s goodwill gestures provided an avenue for the two states to de-escalate the crisis and return to the status quo.

Why nuclear weapons do not explain de-escalation

Pakistan’s active pursuit of de-escalation vis-à-vis India can be attributed to several factors including the deterrence effects of nuclear weapons possessed by both states, a weak Pakistani economy that could collapse under the strain of war with India, pressure from external actors such as the United States, the UN and others as well as the timing of domestic electoral politics in India. While these arguments are crucial in understanding the Indo-Pakistan rivalry, they do not discuss the impact of institutions on the onset as well as recurrence of conflict. The existing network of bilateral treaties may be a means for the two states to manage their conflict. This argument explains the current de-escalation pursued by India and Pakistan at different points in the rivalry, which has prevented the breakout of war since the 1999 Kargil conflict.

Treaty network analysis

Treaty network analysis allows scholars the opportunity to not only identify how the treaties interact to create a regional order, but also to identify specific lodestone treaties, which serve as the foundation for all of the other treaties within the relationship. Treaty networks can also help illuminate the strength of a bilateral relationship and the likelihood that the relationship between two states would devolve into violent conflict – states with a high levels of treaty nesting are less likely to fight wars against each other.

Treaty nesting is a diplomatic technique that states use to tie treaties to previous treaties, thus strengthening cooperation between states. Since violating a treaty that is tied to other treaties is paramount to violating all treaties that are tied together, using treaty nesting as a diplomatic tool is an effective way in which to build cooperation even among traditional rivals.

India and Pakistan have signed a total of 44 bilateral treaties between 1947 and 2017.. Treaty A is considered to be nested under Treaty B (or have a tie with it) if it explicitly makes a reference to the earlier treaty within its text. A relationship is considered to have institutionalised cooperation when the total number of ties in the relationship is equal to or greater than the total number of bilateral treaties between the two states. It is considered to have ad-hoc cooperation when the total number of ties is less than the total number of bilateral treaties between the two states. Thus, by dividing the number of treaty ties by the number of treaties, one can determine the level of institutionalised cooperation within the dyads.

Beginning in the 1980s, India and Pakistan have been attempting to link new treaties to existing bilateral or multilateral arrangements thereby creating a dense network of ties. States that violate a nested treaty are not only violating a single treaty, but all other treaties that are linked to it. By nesting treaties, states increase the costs of violating a single treaty, thereby reducing the probability of treaty violation. By enhancing the probability of cooperation, treaty nestedness is likely to build trust in a bilateral relationship. While India and Pakistan are enduring rivals, they also continue to abide by many of the treaties they have signed.  In the figure below, we show how these treaties are tied together.  Each treaty is a square in the figure, and the size of the square indicates the importance of the treaty to the relationship.


Figure 1: Indo-Pak Treaty Network Map 1960-2017. Credit: Authors

Using cooperation scores below  Table 1, we can see that the India-Pakistan cooperation score is 0.4 in 1970 and jumps to 0.96 in 1980. The score hovers at the 0.88 level for a few years before climbing again in 2010 and crossing the threshold of 1 in 2011. Thus, we see a significant shift in the overall levels of treaty making and nesting between India and Pakistan in the 1970s. In 1971, India’s support for the East Pakistan’s quest for independence led to India and Pakistan fighting a war. India’s support for the successful Bangladeshi liberation movement soured diplomatic ties between the two neighbours.

After the end of the war, the two countries created a series of treaties to address bilateral relations, including the landmark Simla Agreement of 1972. The two countries also signed treaties for the resumption of trade, reset visa requirements, as well as resume telegraph and postal exchanges. As India and Pakistan attempted to restore diplomatic and functional ties in the aftermath of the second war between them, they created a number of nested treaties. While the network of treaties has not reduced or eliminated cross border violence between India and Pakistan, it does demonstrate the ability of states to find pockets of cooperation that can eventually spill over into other issue areas, thereby enhancing mutual cooperation. For instance, even as the cross-border conflict unfolded, India and Pakistani diplomats were holding joint discussions to provide Indian pilgrims access to the Kartarpur Sikh shrine located inside Pakistan.

Table 1: Cooperation Scores in the Indo-Pakistan dyad. Credit: Authors

India and Pakistan are currently in a transitory phase between ad-hoc (weak) cooperation and institutionalised (strong) cooperation. They barely cross the threshold of 1 in 2011, suggesting they are on the cusp of becoming ‘cooperating rivals’ i.e they are enduring rivals who have institutionalised cooperation to the point of developing conflict management capabilities that prevent the recurrence of violent conflict.

Cooperative rivalry

While the number of ceasefire violations (CFVs) between India and Pakistan has risen dramatically over the past few years, these heightened tensions have not escalated to a full-blown war between the nuclear-armed neighbours. The increased levels of cooperation through treaties and the use of treaty nesting in the Indo-Pakistani relationship may be serving a conflict management function by preventing CFV’s from escalating into violent militarised conflict.

An analysis of India- Pakistan treaties suggests that the two states are on the cusp of strengthened cooperation and are transitioning from a more traditional rivalry in which the states have often fought several wars to more of a “cooperative rivalry” in which the rival states create a high enough level of cooperation that enables them to resolve disputes before they escalate into war. Given that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, it is extremely important that India and Pakistan continue to tie future cooperation efforts to prior successful treaties to avoid potential disputes escalating into militarised conflict.

Should India and Pakistan continue to cooperate through treaties in areas that mutually benefit both states and tie those treaties to prior treaties, then it is likely that India and Pakistan will be able to effectively manage their rivalry and prevent the rivalry from devolving into war.  However a failure to do so may result in the return of traditional rivalry in which war is a distinct possibility.

This article gives the views of the author and not the position of South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image: Handshake. Credit: Pixabay, Kaz

The authors would like to thank both Alicia Rodriguez Castillo and Billy Hines for their help in reading and coding all of the treaties between India and Pakistan.

Aakriti Tandon is Associate Professor of Political Science, Daemen College, USA.

Michael O. Slobodchikoff is Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of Department of Political Science, Troy University, USA.

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Christopher Finnigan

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