Indo-Pak Confidence-Building Measures 

Columnist Muhammad Irshad examines how trust can be built up between India and Pakistan.

Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are those steps or agreements on which the states agree with mutual benefit in mind, and states have faith that such agreement shall be obeyed by all the concerned. It could include diverse arrangements — such as hotlines, people-to-people exchanges, and prior notifications of military exercises — that can help reduce tensions and promote good neighbourly relations. These steps or agreements ultimately develop trust between the states and help in having peace and stability in the region.

The need for sustained dialogue to effectively address issues of regional security and to establish effective CBMs for stable relationship in South Asia cannot be overemphasized. In the backdrop of nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in May 1998, the two traditional regional rivals and their neighbours in South Asia and beyond are now, more than ever before, stakeholders in any efforts that would reduce tensions, build confidence and encourage regional cooperation. The political and economic stability of the countries of the region, individually and collectively, are dependent on the ability of the region to

develop sustainable, achievable and effective set and process of CBMs and institutionalized regional cooperation.

Since their respective nuclear tests of 1998, the volatile relationship between India and Pakistan is often referred to as the most dangerous potential flash point in today’s international system.  The nuclear tests finally demonstrated the highest costs of any future conflict between two neighbours whose past already reflects three major and two less widespread wars.  Any future conflict is more than likely to stem from the differences over Kashmir, an area claimed by both sides.  Furthermore, the likelihood of war increases if one adds the misunderstandings, the missed signals, and the involvement of non-state elements to the scenario of confrontation.  In other words, there is no dearth of reasons why India and Pakistan may go to war. Thus the urgent requirement of enforcing the existing CBMs, and devising new CBMs, ultimately leading to peace and stability of the region. 

India and Pakistan have in the past concluded bilateral agreements or arrangements to reduce risk of conflict. They have also been part of the initiative to institutionalized regional cooperation in the form of SAARC, which has agreeably achieved only limited, if any, success in promoting  regional stability. A central problem in utilizing CBMs is the difficulty in faithfully implementing the existing CBMs already in place. A review and rethinking of those CBMs that have not been implemented, or at best implemented with limited success only, and designing of alternative and effective set of  CBMs could be helped by a better understanding of experiences of successes and failures from other regions. Apart from initiatives at the level of state, it will be useful to examine the roles and contributions of non-state actors, especially the private sector, civil society groups and professional organizations, business communities, network of research and policy institutions in the light of experiences of regions where CBMs                                          have functioned more successfully than in this region.

The possibility of misconstrued perceptions or accidents could exacerbate the ongoing impasse over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and add to tensions along the sensitive, fragile and overly militarized Line of Control (LoC) that could precipitate an unintended, unwanted, nuclear exchange.  The development imperatives of both countries and the exorbitant costs of maintaining and supporting a large number of troops face to face on the Loc and also in the most inhospitable terrain of the Siachen Glacier region place an enormous strain on already stretched-to-the-limit financial resources.  Those resources could, and should, be invested in improving the lot of nearly a fifth of the world’s population.

A state of low intensity conflict exists between India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir, characterised by cross-border shelling and exchanges of gunfire as a daily occurrence. Therefore, proposing steps for increased nuclear transparency between these countries could easily seem futile to the casual observer. However, the Indian and Pakistani relationship is complex and works at many levels. The complexity of the Indian and Pakistani relationship provides glimmers of hope that progress can occur in some areas of interaction even while there are major setbacks in others.

For instance, in the summer of 1999, military conflict in the Kargil area of Kashmir intensified into a limited war involving a significant loss of lives, massive artillery battles and the use and loss of Indian fighter aircraft. A few days after this conflict had begun to intensify, the News Network International reported from Islamabad on June 1, 1999, that the Federation of Pakistani Chambers of Commerce and Industry had called for a relaxation of curbs on machinery imports from India. The Chamber noted in its proposals for the 1999-2000 trade policy that Pakistani manufacturers often import machinery from distant countries, paying more and waiting a far longer time for delivery than if orders had been placed in India.

Another glimmer of hope for progress in nuclear transparency is evident in the fact that in 1998, despite animosities being worsened by reciprocal nuclear weapons tests, Indian and Pakistani representatives worked collaboratively on nuclear safety issues within the Regional Co-operative Agreement for Research, Development and Training in Nuclear Science and Technology in Asia and the Pacific (RCA) framework of the IAEA. Historically, many Indian and Pakistani cooperative agreements have been actively pursued and have survived the tumultuous course of the past five decades.

When Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf, took control of Pakistan, the Indian government declared openly that they would not have any dialogues with military dictators. But ultimately, it was the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee himself who invited General Musharraf for dialogues in Agra (India).

Inspite of very high tension existing between the two countries, with their forces confronting each other on the borders, Pakistan has recently agreed to allow gas pipe line from Kazakhstan for India, which Pakistan feels shall be beneficial for her. The sale of excess electricity from Pakistan to India is also under discussion. All proving that even at the time of worst relations, CBMs can be initiated and pursued.

CBM Tools

Modes and means which help in better communication arrangements, give better transparency to the action of others or provide ways of giving satisfaction about the action of other states are known as “CBM Tools”. Their some details could be as follows:-

Communication, constraint, transparency, and verification measures are the primary CBM “tools”. These tools are designed to make the behaviour of states more predictable by facilitating communication among states and establishing rules or patterns of behaviour for states’ military forces, as well as the means to discern and verify compliance with those patterns.

Communication measures can help defuse tensions during moments of crisis. They can also be employed on a more regular basis, as consultative mechanisms designed to allow states to air grievances and ward off crises before they occur.

  • “Hotlines” such as those that exist between the United States and Russia, and between Indian and Pakistani sector commanders along the line-of-control in Kashmir, can provide reliable direct channels of communication at moments of crisis.

  • Regional communication centres can assist area states in conflict and crisis management. The European model of a communications and security centre, established by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), is being adapted to suit the Middle Eastern security environment.

  • Regularly scheduled consultations, like the annual meetings established between US and Soviet/Russian navies by the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), or those between chiefs of staff of the armed forces of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, can provide rare opportunity for direct military-to-military contact. Such forums allow parties to voice concerns and air any grievances they may have.

  • Constraint measures are designed to keep certain types and levels of states’ military forces at a distance from one another, especially along borders.

  • Thin-out zones, or limited force deployment zones, restrict the type and number of military equipment or troops permitted in or near a certain territory or boundary. Detailed provisions of the 1975 Disengagement Agreement between Syria and Israel established a demilitarized zone (DMZ) as well as an area extending 20 kilometers on each side of the DMZ in which forces and weapons were limited.

  • Pre-notification requirements included in the Stockholm Accord of 1986 placed constraints on military exercises by imposing longer lead times — 42 days for major military exercises and 1-2 years in the case of larger scale exercises — before activities subject to prior notification could occur.

  • Transparency measures are measures that states engage in to foster greater “openness” of their military capabilities and activities. Transparency measures merit a special focus as important first steps in the confidence-building process.

  • Pre-notification requirements of a certain time period for planned military exercises or troop movements of an agreed upon level also help make a state’s military intent more transparent. Notification mechanisms can also be applied to missile tests. Near contentious borders, this type of transparency measure can help eliminate fears that an exercise may be part of preparations for war.

  • Data exchanges detailing existing military holdings, planned purchases, military personnel and budgets can clarify a state’s current and projected military capabilities and provide advance notice of destabilizing arms build-ups. Data exchanges can take place bilaterally or multilaterally.

  • Voluntary observations of another state’s military exercises provide first-hand access to that party’s equipment and operating procedures.

  • Verification measures are designed to collect data or provide first hand access in order to confirm or verify a state’s compliance with a particular treaty or agreement.

  • Aerial inspections enable parties to an agreement to monitor compliance with force deployment limitations in restricted zones, to confirm data exchanges on the disposition of military forces, and to provide early warning of potentially destabilizing activities.

  • Ground-based electronic sensoring systems, manned or unmanned, can also verify states’ compliance to agreed restrictions on equipment deployment or troop movements.

  • On-site inspections, challenge and routine, can help verify that states are complying with agreements. Inspections may be carried out by third parties, opposing parties, or jointly.

Strengthening Confidence-Building Measures in South Asia

A look at the history of relations over fifty years shows that India and Pakistan have in fact moved forward on CBMs even as state-to-state relations remained poor.  In order to demonstrate this fact, the following section highlights past agreements, on confidence building measures between India and Pakistan.

Military Hotlines

Following the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, a dedicated communication link, or “hotline,” between the Pakistani and Indian directors general of military operations (DGMOs) was established. In December 1990, India and Pakistan agreed to reestablish the DGMO hotline and to use it on a weekly basis, if only to exchange routine information. At the February 1999 Lahore Summit, India and Pakistan agreed to review all existing communication links with a view to upgrade and approve the DGMO and other hotlines.


The DGMO hotline has been used intermittently. However, during periods of tension, important information has not been communicated over the hotline in a timely fashion. During a serious regional crisis in 1987, the DGMO hotline was not used nor was the hotline used during another major crisis in Kashmir in the spring of 1990. Use during the Kargil conflict was sporadic and unreliable. The DGMO hotline is used once a week at an assigned day and time. Some skirmishes and stand-offs have been diffused by contact over this hotline.

Hotline between Prime Ministers

The first hotline was installed in 1989 by Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi. In November 1990, Indian Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif re-established the hotline to facilitate direct communication. In May 1997, Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and Sharif pledged to reinstate the hotline. At present such an arrangement does not exist but can be activated at a very short notice.


Nawaz Sharif used the hotline to express his interest in further developing bilateral ties with Chandra Shekhar. Prime Ministers Sharif and Gujral spoke on the eve of the revived Foreign Secretary talks in June 1997 to reaffirm their commitment to the dialogue process. They also used the hotline during a period of particularly severe skirmishes and heavy artillery fire along the Line of Control (loc) in Kashmir in October 1997, and during the 1999 conflict over Kargil. Nonetheless, the repeated re-establishment of the Prime Ministers’ hotline suggests that its use has been intermittent, at best. Even now it can be activated at a short notice.

Declarations on Non-Use of Force, Bilateral Resolution of Differences

The 1966 Tashkent Declaration, facilitated by the Soviet Union, formally concluded the 1965 Indo-Pak war. It stipulated that “relations between India and Pakistan shall be based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the other.” The 1972 Simla Accord which followed the 1971 Indo-Pak war obliges both countries to renounce the use of force as a means of settling outstanding disputes. In addition, both sides agreed to resolve their disputes in bilateral fora.


Implementation has been weak. Many in South Asia believe that Indian and Pakistani intelligence services have been actively involved in cross-border acts of terror. Neither the Simla Accord’s letter nor spirit has been implemented. Pakistan argues that India refuses to negotiate the final status of Kashmir while India argues that Pakistan, by seeking third-party mediation of this dispute, is acting contrary to the Simla Accord. The 1999 conflict on the LoC over the Kargil region has further damaged the credibility of declarations renouncing the use of force.

Military Exercises

An Agreement on Prior Notification of Military Exercises  was completed in April 1991. Notification is required for exercises comprising two or more divisions in specified locations. Near the loc, notification is required for any exercises involving division level or above. Troop manoeuvres directed toward the international border are proscribed. Exercises at the corps level must be held forty-five kilometers away from the border. At the division level, exercises must be held twenty-five kilometers away from the border. No military activity is permitted within five kilometers of the border.


This agreement has mostly been honoured. Most troop movements of concern, such as those involving special forces, would fall outside the purview of this agreement. Pakistan did complain that India while conducting one of its biggest exercises, code named “Brass Tack”, failed to give a timely warning to Pakistan. On some other occasions, division-level exercises have not been pre-notified.

Non-intrusion of Air Space

An Agreement on the Prevention of the Violation of Airspace, signed in April 1991, and entered into force in August 1992, stipulates that combat aircraft are not to fly within ten kilometers of foreign airspace. Unarmed transport and logistics aircraft are permitted upto 1,000 meters from the border; flights within this range for supply or rescue missions are permitted if advance notice is given.


There are periodic claims by both countries that the airspace agreement has been violated. In the Siachen Glacier region, where rules of engagement are more aggressive, helicopters have been shot down.

Non-Attack of Nuclear Facilities

An Agreement on the Non-attack of Nuclear Facilities was signed by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 1988. It was ratified by both countries and implemented in January 1992. The agreement requires an annual exchange of lists detailing the location of all nuclear-related facilities in each country. The measure further pledges both sides not to attack the listed facilities.


Though lists of nuclear facilities have been exchanged each year, the definition of nuclear facilities to be declared is unclear. When lists were first exchanged in 1992, each side reportedly left off some facility.

Bilateral Accord on Chemical Weapons

A Joint Declaration on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was concluded in August 1992. Both countries agreed not to develop, produce, acquire, or use chemical weapons.


When the government of India joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), it declared having chemical stocks as well as production and storage facilities for the express purpose of dealing “with any situation arising out of possible use of chemical warfare against India.” However, to the surprise of Pakistan government, there was a big difference in the lists of chemical weapons possessed by India as per the list given to Pakistan and to the international community on joining the CWC. Pakistan did not declare any chemical stocks, production, or storage facilities when it joined the CWC.

Non-Harassment of Diplomatic Personnel

In November 1990 the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries worked out a code of conduct to protect diplomatic personnel, guaranteeing them freedom from harassment.


This code has often been violated in both letter and spirit. Diplomatic personnel are often harassed by intelligence services in both countries, and reciprocal expulsions of diplomats occur periodically. India is known to have seriously beaten many Pakistani diplomats, and in the wake of the nuclear tests in May 1998, an Indian diplomat in Islamabad, found near Pakistani nuclear installations was badly beaten by a security guard.

Indus Water Treaty Accord

On May 4, 1948, (Even before the actual partition of Indo-Pakistan) the Inter-Dominion Accord entered into force.  The waters of the Indus River — the lifeline of West Pakistan — were divided and a mechanism was set up for compensation to India by Pakistan for the share of water released.  While the matter was not considered resolved, a working solution was found while the search for a more permanent solution continued. The more permanent solution was worked out ultimately in 1960 with the help of World Bank.


Included in this permanent solution was the division of the waters of the Indus, adjudicated eventually with the help of the World Bank. The agreement awarded the three eastern tributaries of the Indus to India and the western three were awarded to Pakistan.  A programme for the joint development and operation of the Indus Basin river system was initiated. Careful arrangements were made to build canals and storage dams to divert waters from the western rivers and to replace the supply lost to Pakistan from the eastern rivers.  It was remarkable that India and Pakistan worked with the World Bank and its appointed engineers to fashion an agreement that did not rely on the principle of historical usage of the waters of the Indus basin.  Instead they found an equitable way to resolve the issue permanently. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India and President Ayub Khan of Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in Karachi, Pakistan, on September 19, 1960.  This treaty has served as the ultimate CBM, surviving many downturns in the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Although this treaty was not touched or violated during the various Indo Pak wars and conflicts, however, lately, Pakistan has complained that India is violating the treaty by constructing a dam in the upstream, which is against the spirit of the treaty.  


The track record of CBM implementation in South Asia is spotty, at best. Both India and Pakistan assert that trust is lacking and is the key ingredient to improved relations, but neither country has chosen to generate trust through CBMs voluntarily negotiated. Now that nuclear dangers and regional instabilities have grown, India and Pakistan might do well to implement existing CBMs properly. New nuclear risk reductions measures might also be considered in bilateral negotiations.

The recent Indian act of bringing all its forces on Pakistan’s borders on the pretext of an attack on its Parliament by suspects belonging to Pakistan, has been a serious blow to all the CBM efforts. Some consider this Indian act, necessary for holding elections in the Indian held Kashmir, but mostly it is considered to an act of slowly crushing Pakistan’s weaker economy, though relatively India is suffering more. In the same breath, India stopped the “Samjuta express” train between India and Pakistan, and also banned the overflight of civilian aircraft between the two countries. Through this act Pakistan international Airlines had to divert its about 18 flights, whereas the Indian Airlines had to divert about 114 of their flights.

Even in the recent situation, India is constantly blaming Pakistan for one reason or the other. Pakistan seriously denies all such allegations and feels that India has unjustly adopted the role of blaming Pakistan, where the Indians have taken for themselves two kinds of roles, one blaming Pakistan and second giving judgment that Pakistan is wrong. All Pakistani effort to have neutral observer deployed for verification of various allegations have met with a big “NO”. Pakistan feels in such kind of environment, enforcement of CBMs is not possible, and thus the situation is getting tense everyday. Though through the efforts of many western countries, particularly, America, the chances of war has been reduced, but the two countries are still far from a point of trusting each other.

In a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries at the Lahore Summit in 1999, both countries agreed to pursue a list of confidence-building measures, which included measures aimed specifically at nuclear risk reduction. While the Kargil conflict and the amassing of troops on Loc have since stymied any progress on these issues, the measures enumerated in the Memorandum indicate common ground between India and Pakistan and highlight areas where future agreements may be possible. (As Pakistan rightly insists), the two countries should consider seriously about having dialogues, or else they are inviting the third parties to help in negotiations (which India does not like).