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International armed conflict between India and Pakistan

Conflict type: International armed conflict

India and Pakistan are involved in an international armed conflict over the status of Kashmir.

The disputed status of Kashmir has been a source of conflict between India and Pakistan since the first Indo-Pakistan war in 1947.  In particular, since 2013 ceasefire violations and border skirmishes have increased. Therefore, the two countries continue to be involved in an international armed conflict.

For an international armed conflict to exist, there must have been a resort to armed force involving at least two states. The threshold for an international armed conflict is very low and does not require a certain intensity or duration. The existence of an international armed conflict is to be determined by the facts, not the subjective intent of the belligerents. For further information, see the Classification section.

Fighting between India and Pakistan

In the past, India and Pakistan fought three wars over Kashmir: the Indo-Pakistani war of 1947, the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, and the Kargil War in 1999. In 1971 India intervened against Pakistan in the Bangladesh Liberation War, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. In its aftermath, India and Pakistan concluded the Simla Agreement, which converted the cease-fire line from the 1949 Karachi Agreement See the 1949 Agreement Regarding the Establishment of the Cease-Fire Line in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.  into the Line of Control that continues to divide Kashmir into two parts, one part administered by India and another part by Pakistan. See the 1972 Agreement on Bilateral Relations between the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan (Simla Agreement). The status of Kashmir remains disputed. For a critical re-examination of the Kashmir question and an argument that the people of Kashmir are entitled to self-determination, see F. Nazir Lone, Historical Title, Self-Determination and the Kashmir Question, Brill Nijhoff, 2018.

An international armed conflict has a very low threshold: whenever there is resort to hostile armed force between two States, there is an international armed conflict. Hence, although there is no fully fledged war between India and Pakistan, there continues to be an international armed conflict between the two countries. In spite of the fact that the intensity of the violence has been fluctuating, since 2013 regular border skirmishes have continued and increased, See A. Bellal (ed), The War Report. Armed Conflict in 2014, OUP, 2014, p 31 ff. including after the conclusion  of a cease-fire agreement in December 2015. Following the killing of 19 Indian soldiers in September 2016 by armed groups allegedly linked to Pakistan, cross-border violence further increased between the two countries. During 2016, heavy shelling reportedly forced more than 35,000 people to flee and caused the death of at least 83 soldiers and civilians. Conflict Barometer 2016, Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, 2017, p 16.  In May 2017, heavy shelling from the Pakistani Army reportedly led to the evacuation of 1,700 people along the Line of Control. ‘Pak Shelling Dislocates 1,700 from LoC Areas’, The Times of India, 16 May 2017. For an overview of cease-fire violations, see Conflict Barometer 2017, Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, 2018, p 146.  Cease-fire violations have continued in 2018, notwithstanding the announcement of a cease-fire in May 2018. I. Dilawar and I. Marlow, ‘India, Pakistan to Implement Ceasefire After Kashmir Clashes’, Bloomberg, 30 May 2018; M. Abi-Habib and H. Kumar, ‘India and Pakistan Agree to Truce on Kashmir Border’, The New York Times, 30 May 2018. Throughout 2018, around 182 people were killed and more than 314 people injured on both sides, mostly in clashes between military forces. Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, Conflict Barometer 2018, p. 141.

On 14 February 2019, a suicide attack on a bus killed at least 42 Indian paramilitary troopers in Lethpora village near Awantipora in Pulwama district. R. Fareed, ‘Kashmir suicide attack kills dozens of Indian security forces’, Aljazeera, 14 February 2019. Jaish-e-Muhammed claimed responsibility for the attack. ‘Pulwama attack: what is militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed?’, BBC, 15 February 2019. India affirmed that Pakistani security agencies played a role in the suicide attack, while Pakistan’s Foreign Office denied the allegations and claimed that India reached that conclusion without conducting proper investigations. ‘Foreign Office again rejects Indian allegations about Pulwama attack’, Radio Pakistan, 17 February 2019. Following the attack, India launched airstrikes against a training camp of Jaish-e-Muhammed in Balakot, Pakistan. ‘Balakot: Indian air strikes target militants in Pakistan’, BBC, 26 February 2019. On 27 February 2019, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that their Air Force undertook strikes across Line of Control from within Pakistani airspace. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Government of Pakistan, ‘Pakistan strikes back’, 27 February 2019. On the same day, a spokesman for the Pakistani armed forces said Indian planes entered its air space and two jets were shot down. One of the aircraft fell on India’s side of Kashmir while the second came down in Pakistani territory, and its pilot was captured. ‘Timeline: India and Pakistan’s latest confrontation over Kashmir’, CNBC, 1 March 2019; ‘Saved from Pakistani mob, downed Indian pilot becomes face of Kashmir crisis’, Reuters, 27 February 2019. Later, Pakistan returned the pilot to India decreasing tension between the two states. M. Safi and M. Zahra-Malik, ‘Pakistan returns Indian pilot shot down over Kashmir in ‘peace gesture’’, The Guardian, 1 March 2019.

Throughout 2019, tensions between India and Pakistan remained high and use of force between the two countries was not uncommon as clashes continued along the cross-Line of Control. Notably, in April 2019 Pakistan claimed that Indian troops killed three soldiers and one civilian, while India alleged that five of its soldiers were killed by Pakistani fire. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, April 2019. In spite of fighting, in June Pakistani Prime Minister Khan offered to resume dialogue with India. However, Indian authorities rejected this possibility, specifying that no dialogue could take place unless Kashmir is ‘free of terror.’ International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2019. In any case, clashes continued in the following months. For instance, it has been reported that 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed on 10 October, and three civilians five days later. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, October 2019. In 2020, clashes across the Line of Control persisted, while both India and Pakistan engaged in an increasing hostile rhetoric. Armed confrontations have been reported every month, with June among the periods of most intense fighting. On 2 June, Pakistan urged foreign intervention in order ‘to end Indian forces’ killings and rights abuses in J&K.’ International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2020.

Tensions and clashes continued at the beginning of 2021. In February 2021, India and Pakistan reached an agreement to respect ceasefire along Kashmir’s LoC. Consequently, tensions eased in the following months as both parties respected the ceasefire. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Kashmir. However, since September 2021 tension heightened again. On 9 March 2022, India inadvertently fired a missile against Pakistan, hence fueling tension. The following month, the two countries exchanged reconciliatory messages. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Kashmir


Separatist groups in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)

In addition to the cross-border violence, armed groups contesting Indian authority have been active in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region since the late 1980s. While a number of these groups want accession to Pakistan, others demand the complete independence of the region. ‘Kashmir’s decade-high death toll a ‘warning sign’, The New Humanitarian, 11 June 2019. India claims that these groups are based in Pakistan and that they are supported by the latter. On the other hand, Pakistan firmy denies any involvement with the armed groups that undertake attacks in the zone controlled by India. Among the episodes of violence between the Indian government and the armed groups, one of deadliest attacks was carried out against an Indian Army base near the border with Pakistan in September 2016, leaving 19 Indian soldiers dead. H. Kumar and G. Anand, '17 Indian Soldiers Killed by Militants in Kashmir', The New York Times, 18 September 2016.

Following the killing of the leader of an armed group by Indian security forces in July 2016, a wave of unrests and protest began in Indian-administered Kashmir. In response to the escalation of violence, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner started monitoring the human rights situation in both Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In June 2018, the Office published its first report on the human rights situation in both areas between July 2016 and April 2018. According to the report, Indian security forces used excessive force in response to the protests. However, the perpetrators can enjoy impunity, especially due to special laws such as the 1990 Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, and the 1978 Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.  Moreover, armed groups operating in Indian-administered Kashmir were responsible for the killings of civilians, kidnappings and sexual violence. In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, according to the report, terrorism legislation was misused to silence activists and dissidents. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan’, 14 June 2018.

More recently, in February 2018 heavily armed militants attacked an Indian military base in the Jammu region. India maintained that the attacks were carried out by the Jaish-e-Muhammad, a militant group based in Pakistan, and reacted with surgical strikes against one of the armed group’s camps in Pakistan. S. Yasir and J. Gettleman, 'Kashmir Is Rattled by Bold Attack Near Fortified Airport', The New York Times, 3 October 2017; S. Yasir, ‘Militants Storm Indian Army Base, Killing Soldiers and a Civilian’, The New York Times,  11 February 2018.

In light of the increasing intensity of violence, in August 2019 India revoked the special constitutional status to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), which was granted by Article 370 of the Constitution.  Furthermore, around 300 Kashmiri politicians were arrested and the region was put under lockdown. On 6 August, the Parliament adopted the Kashmir Reorganization Bill, which divided J&K into two territories – J&K and Ladakh – and downgraded their status from ‘state’ to ‘Union Territories.’ Furthermore, between 2 and 5 August the Indian government ‘deployed tens of thousands of additional troops in J&K’ and imposed a communication blackout. Despite the imposition of a lockdown, on 9 August about 10,000 people demonstrated in Srinagar, which led to clashes with the police. International Crisis Group, Raising the Stakes in Jammu and Kashmir, Asia Report No. 310, 5 August 2020, p. 8. In spite of the lockdown imposed in mid 2019 and the measures adopted in 2020 to limit the new coronavirus pandemic, armed confrontations did not diminish between Indian troops and non-state actors operating in Kashmir. See, e.g., International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2020; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2020. In 2021, security operations and militant attacks continued and in 2022 militants increasingly targeted Indian armed forces. Therefore, state troops increased their attacks against fighters. For instance, in January 2022 they killed over a dozen members of the rebel groups. Violence further increased in the following months, with June 2022 marked as the most violent month of the year. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Kashmir.

India and Pakistan are party to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions. In addition, they are bound by customary international humanitarian law. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.

Last updated: Wednesday 19th October 2022