The Aftermath of Pulwama: Impact on India-Pakistan Relations

By | February 26, 2019


This article reflects upon the repercussions that the recent attack on the CRPF personnel by terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has had or could have on foreign relations between India and Pakistan. It goes about analyzing its impact on various areas where the two nations battle it out on the international sphere: be it the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the World Trade Organisation, or even sporting ties.

The Attack: yet another Uri?

The attack in Pulwama on the 14th of February 2019 sent shockwaves across the nation. An explosives-laden vehicle crashed into a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy, resulting in an explosion that led to the martyrdom of more than 40 members of our forces, with several others being injured.

The attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama sent shockwaves across the nation.

An instant comparison was made to the terrorist attack in the Uri camp of the Indian Army, where 19 soldiers were martyred in the wee hours of 19 September 2016. This attack was ‘avenged’ with cross-border surgical strikes conducted on terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, less than 10 days after the attack.

While Pakistan obviously declined any responsibility for this attack and denied the occurring of the surgical strikes, the act of revenge was called a befitting reply to the act of cowardice. It was hoped that such sort of retaliation would serve as a deterrent for Pakistan from aiding the growth of terrorism-related activities from its soil.

Otherwise too, there were calls for India to stop the flow of water to Pakistan by unilaterally revoking the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). The government had suspended talks of the Permanent Indus Commission and had fast-tracked water projects to arrest the unutilized water.[1]

Since then, India had taken initiatives to call Pakistan out for its blatant patronage of terrorist activities, arguing that Pakistan acted as a safe haven for UN-declared terror entities like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa as well as international terrorists like Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed.

These efforts seemed to bear some fruit when Pakistan was put on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), along with decreasing financial aid by the United States of America. It is said that Pakistan could soon have to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), owing to the current state of its economy.

In light of the recent attack, calls for ‘revenge’ are being made this time around too. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it very clear in his speeches after the attack that a strong retaliatory measure is on the cards, with the armed forces being given a ‘free hand’ in deciding when to respond and how.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his address, stated that Pakistan would not hesitate in retaliating to any act of aggression committed by India in response to the attack. With both nations being nuclear-armed, the threat of any military exchange escalating to a full-fledged bilateral war (or even remotely-possible nuclear war) persists.

Pakistan currently enjoys some protection primarily from the People’s Republic of China, with Chinese investments in the Economic Corridor between the two nations and the building of the Gwadar port as a counter to the India-funded Chabahar port in Iran. Apart from economic assistance, China has also repeatedly blocked attempts in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), to designate Maulana Masood Azhar (founder of JeM) as an international terrorist.

International condemnation poured in from all across the world. The UNSC passed a strongly-worded resolution condemning the attack and even went to the extent of naming JeM in it.[2] All-weather ally China surprisingly did not exercise its veto to stop this resolution from being passed. This was followed by Pakistan stating that India was trying to ‘portray the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for self-determination as terrorism’, in a letter to the United Nations.[3]

The ‘Custom’ary Most Favoured Nation on Watery Turf

Acting almost immediately, India withdrew the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan under article I of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Each member of the World Trade Organisation was expected to grant this status to all its partners in international trade. It was envisaged as a non-discriminatory measure so that all nations are affected almost equally as a result of any trade policy that a nation undertakes. India could well justify the revocation of this status by invoking the ‘national security’ exception granted under GATT. Incidentally, Pakistan had never actually granted this status to India.

After withdrawing the MFN tag, India increased customs duty on all goods imported from Pakistan by a whopping 200 percent. The decision would considerably reduce imports from Pakistan into India. That being said, since India does not occupy a significant share in the volume of total exports from Pakistan, the move might not have any noticeable impact on Pakistan.

These economic moves were supplemented with Minister of Water Resources, Shri Nitin Gadkari, declaring that India would stop sharing its share of the Eastern tributaries (Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej) of the Indus with Pakistan, by announcing that the waters would be diverted to the needy farmers in Punjab and Haryana. Legally speaking, India is permitted to go ahead with such a move, because the IWT grants India the exclusive usage rights of these rivers. A total revocation of the treaty does not seem to be on the cards any time soon.

What these moves clearly indicate is that the government would not let these acts go unpunished whatsoever, and grab any opportunity whatsoever to make any relative gain in matters relating to Pakistan. Especially when these moves can be justified under legal pretexts, there exists very little scope for any international scrutiny whatsoever. The message this sends is that India would mostly use legal means in its fight against Pakistan-aided terrorism, especially when such moves are replicated on a larger scale. Their impact certainly appears to be inadequate in magnitude, but their symbolic value can hardly be undermined.

Battleground ICJ: Kulbhushan’s Quest for Justice

The arena shifted to The Hague, where the next hearing for the Kulbhushan Jadhav case had been scheduled in the International Court of Justice.

Jadhav, 48, a retired Indian Navy officer, was awarded the death penalty by a Pakistani military court on charges of “espionage and terrorism” after a closed trial in April 2017. India moved the ICJ in May 2017 for the “egregious violation” of the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by Pakistan by repeatedly denying New Delhi consular access to Jadhav.

It made news even before proceedings initiated. Pakistan’s Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan reached out to Ministry of External Affairs’ joint secretary Mr. Deepak Mittal to shake his hand as a mark of ‘courtesy’. In a symbolic gesture and a historic ‘snub’, the latter folded his hands to greet him with a warm Namaste instead.[4]

The act of ‘snubbing’ Pakistan with a polite Namaste made the news. Source: PTI

The two sides exchanged potshots at each other throughout the four-day hearing at the World Court. In heated arguments, Indian counsel Harish Salve pointed out the travesty of judicial procedure in the kangaroo military courts of Pakistan, which failed to meet any standards of due process in the trial granted to Kulbhushan Jadhav. At the same time, the denial of consular access despite 13 repeated requests was seen as a clear violation of the Vienna Convention.[5]

In response, Pakistani counsel Khawar Qureshi referred to Jadhav as an ‘instrument of India’s official policy of terror’. India took strong exception to the use of strong language in Pakistan’s rebuttal speech, with Salve remarking that ‘Humpty Dumpty has no place in this court’, insisting that sovereign states ought to be criticized in a language consistent with its dignity.[6]

The argument in the Court then shifted towards the criminal justice system of Pakistan and the otherwise lax attitude adopted by the Pakistani establishment in dealing with the issue of terrorism as a whole.

Proceedings are being watched keenly, especially because the verdict is particularly critical for how both countries manage perceptions on what either perceives as ‘terrorism’. What must be noted is the wide powers the ICJ exercises over matters of key importance such as these, especially when both nations have consented to accept its jurisdiction on a matter like this.[7] The court relies mostly on soft power and diplomatic pressure to enforce its decisions and non-compliance with its directions would be unfavorable for Pakistan, especially when it comes to improving its image on the issue of terrorism, and for international relations between the two nations.

The Typical Recourse: Suspending Sporting Ties

Sports came to be used as a tool to assert politics yet again. In the aftermath of the attack, a debate ensued on whether the government should allow India to engage in any sporting events where Pakistan participated.

Members of the Pakistan shooting team were denied visas for the ISSF World Cup to be conducted in Delhi, just days after the terror attack. In response to this, the International Olympic Committee suspended all further talks with India over the hosting of future sanctioned events, especially because non-participation of any country went against the Olympic Charter.[8] It recommended to all global federations that they ‘neither award nor hold’ sports events in India until they received written assurances from the government that participants from all nations will be guaranteed entry.

India stares at possible global isolation in sports, affecting its bids for the 2022/23 Hockey World Cup, 2030 Asian Games, and 2032 Summer Olympics.[9]

With the two sides expected to battle it out during the upcoming Cricket World Cup in May-July, there are calls for India to ‘give up its two points’ and forfeit its scheduled match against Pakistan. With India occupying a significant say in the affairs of the International Cricket Council (ICC), there were suggestions that India should either get Pakistan prohibited from participating in the World Cup, boycotting it for terror-related activities (as the ICC had done against South Africa for apartheid), or withdraw itself from the World Cup.

Either of these moves could lead to a great loss of revenue for the ICC, whose repercussions would be faced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

We need to ask why sports are brought up each time in the India-Pakistan debate. Does it serve as something that can divert the discourse from the real issues the two countries’ relations face? Or is it a matter of pursuance of policy where the Indian regime uses it as a mechanism to ‘isolate’ Pakistan through any manner possible?

While sport is seen as a powerful medium of issuing political statements (most notably the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute), such a recourse of boycott being employed over and over again seems to rob the value attached to such gestures.

What the Attack means for Affairs within India

A deep sentiment of animosity and resentment towards Pakistan prevails across the nation. It is being seen as another breach of faith, an act that led to the deepening of the cracks in relations between the two states. The ‘stab in the back’ has hurt relations, especially when it was hoped that last year’s regime change in Pakistan and calls for ‘better ties’ through trade would lead to an improvement in status quo.

The attack somehow led to attacks being reported on Kashmiris (particularly students) from all across the nation by fringe groups. There were even suggestions that some universities would stop admitting students from Kashmir in light of unhealthy exchanges in student discourse, with ‘anti-national’ posts and messages being circulated reportedly. The Supreme Court issued a notice to governments at the state and central levels, urging them to take prompt action to prevent incidents of threat, assault, and social boycott of Kashmiris. The Union Government has assured Kashmiris of total protection, but mass migration is being reported in the Valley.

Miscreants struck again, this time in Bengaluru, where a mob gathered around a branch of the famous ‘Karachi’ Bakery. Vandals questioned why it had been named after the Pakistan port city, thereby forcing its owners to cover the ‘Karachi’ part of its name. Owners took to Twitter to assert its ‘Indianness’ and to further clarify that the company was established by Khanchand Ramnani, a Sindhi who migrated to India during the Partition. The incident led to the arrests of nine members of the mob.[10] Such unruly displays of ‘patriotism’ are totally uncalled for and threaten to divide the nation at a time when it should be united against the evil of terrorism.


‘Absolutely Indian by heart’: Karachi Bakery, Indira Nagar, Bengaluru.

In the aftermath of the attack, the government swung into action and issued orders to withdraw the security cover accorded to top separatists (such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq) in the Valley. In addition, hardliner Yasin Malik was detained by the police yet again.[11]

Such developments are particularly relevant, given the Supreme Court’s hearing on the constitutional validity of Article 35A of the Constitution, which grants special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. The Central Government is reportedly reviewing its stand on the issue in light of the terror attack, hoping to seek an expeditious hearing on the issue. There are also rumors on the promulgation of an ordinance to scrap the impugned provision, which is key to the endurance of the special status given to the state under Article 370 of the Constitution.[12]

This move could lead to an unanticipated increase in the Centre’s powers in Jammu and Kashmir, with it being treated at par with other states. This could give much mileage to those rallying behind the idea of Kashmiri self-determination. But, it could possibly also lead to better integration of the state with the rest of the Union.

There are concerns that this could aggravate the already worsening unrest in the state. There are also complications over the operation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the state, especially if its special status is withdrawn.

One thing that remains clear is that probably war is not an option to tackle the issue of cross-border terrorism in the longer run. While a retaliatory strike and moves aimed at isolating Pakistan could assuage domestic feelings at this time in the short run, any permanent solution to the conflict should be as bilateral in nature as possible, without significant international involvement beyond mediation. Views of all major stakeholders must be considered and incorporated in a cooperative manner.

It is time that Kashmir is made the heaven as it was envisaged since the times of Jehangir: heaven without the threat of gunshots and insurgency looming in the minds of every Kashmiri.

By – Shikhar Aggarwal

National Law University, Delhi


[1] Debayan Roy, ‘Can India Unilaterally Revoke Indus Waters Treaty With Pakistan? News18 Explains’ (News 18, 22 February 2019) <> accessed 25 January 2019

[2] Shishir Gupta, ‘India defaming us based on a suspect video, Pakistan tells UNSC’ (Hindustan Times, 23 February 2019) <> accessed 25 February 2019

[3] Ibid

[4] FP Staff, ‘Kulbhushan Jadhav hearing: From ‘snubbed’ handshake to charges of ‘terror policy’, India, Pakistan battled it out at ICJ’ (Firstpost, 22 February 2019) <> accessed 25 January 2019

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] News18 Staff, ‘Kulbhushan Jadhav Case at ICJ: What Is At Stake For India’ (News18, 21 February 2019) <> accessed 25 February 2019

[8] Mihir Vasavda, ‘ISSF World Cup 2019: No visas to Pakistani shooters, India staring at international isolation in sports’ (Indian Express, 23 February 2019) <> accessed 25 February 2019

[9] Ibid

[10] TNN, “Karachi’ back on Bengaluru bakery’s board; nine held’ (Times of India, 25 February 2019) <> accessed 25 February 2019

[11] ANI, ‘J&K: Separatist leader Yasin Malik detained in Srinagar’ (Economic Times, 23 February 2019) <> accessed 25 February 2019

[12] TNN, ‘Govt may review its stand on Article 35A’ (Times of India, 24 February 2019) <> accessed 25 February 2019

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