Home » Strategic Choices: Will Pakistan-India Normalize Relations in 2024? 

Strategic Choices: Will Pakistan-India Normalize Relations in 2024? 


The year 2024 began with hopes of normalization of relations between Pakistan and India, the two arch-nemeses in South Asia. These hopes were based on the assumption that following general elections in Pakistan and India – in February and June 2024, respectively – both countries would revisit their bilateral relationship, which was disrupted as a consequence of India’s abrogation of the autonomy of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state in August 2019. Pakistan reacted by downgrading its relations with India, halting trade, and recalling its high commissioner from New Delhi. 

In the aftermath of Pakistan’s elections on February 8, Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) was elected as the prime minister on March 4. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Sharif a chilly congratulatory message, to which Sharif replied with an equally terse response. This was despite the fact that the PMLN, which is led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz’s brother, is widely known to be an advocate of improving relations with India, including with the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

On March 23, Pakistan’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar stated in a press conference that his country was “seriously considering resumption of trade with India,” after the Pakistani business community expressed its eagerness to this effect. However, the Pakistan Foreign Office retracted this proposal after India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, criticized Pakistan for its “industry level” support to terrorism.

What are the future prospects of Pakistan-India rapprochement, and what factors are impeding the normalization process? 

First, Pakistan holds the position that until the Indian government restores the pre-August 5, 2019 statehood of J&K, talks cannot proceed. Pakistan’s policy on this issue is largely driven by domestic political considerations. The Kashmiri lobby and opposition parties would render any political government and the military highly unpopular among the public’s eyes should Pakistan move forward to normalize ties without progress on the Kashmir issue. 

However, on December 11, 2023, the Indian Supreme Court affirmed the Indian government’s decision to bifurcate the former state of J&K into two union territories, further solidifying the post-August 5, 2019 status quo. Any progress on the issue looks extremely unlikely.

The strategic community in Islamabad is adamant about not unilaterally resuming trade and diplomatic relations with New Delhi. It cites India’s aggressive attitude toward Pakistan in the recent past. For instance, in January of this year, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Syrus Sajjad Qazi allegedly accused India of indulging in targeted killing of two persons in Pakistan. 

Likewise, in February, India diverted the water flow from the Ravi River to the Shahpur Kandi Barrage in Jammu and Kashmir for irrigation purposes. Pakistan is highly concerned that the diversion of waters from the Ravi could damage the water levels of various cities, including Lahore. 

Further, in March, India stopped a Pakistan-bound ship from China at Mumbai’s Nhava Sheva port, claiming that it was carrying a dual-use shipment, which Pakistan vehemently rejected. These Indian actions are largely viewed by the strategic community as a deliberate provocation, and lower the chances of rapprochement. 

India, on the other hand, believes that any future normalization initiative largely hinges upon the powerful Pakistani military establishment. Pakistan’s generals could withdraw from such an initiative at any time, thereby causing embarrassment to India. This has been proven from the numerous policy U-turns taken recently by the Pakistani government. 

A glaring example was the retraction of a statement by Shehbaz Sharif. In an interview given to Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV on January 16, 2023, the PMLN leader called for “serious and sincere” talks with India. However, the next day, Sharif’s office retracted his statement by saying that talks can only take place after India revokes its August 5 decision on J&K. 

The Foreign Office’s retraction of Dar’s recent statement on resumption of trade further solidifies India’s suspicion that the military does not support – and will overrule – any outreach from the civilian leaders. India believes that the current ruling dispensation in Pakistan, comprised of many diverse political parties, is fragile and could easily buckle under pressure from the military establishment, and accept their demands. 

Second, India seems determined to benefit from Pakistan’s weaknesses, especially its dire financial situation. Pakistan is facing a large budget deficit and its debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 77 percent. As of late February, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves amounted to a meager $7.9 billion, which is sufficient to cover imports for only three weeks. The country is also scheduled to pay back $24 billion in foreign debt and debt servicing by the end of June 2024. 

As Pakistan battles an inflation rate of around 40 percent, India believes that Pakistan would benefit more from trade with India, which could bring down prices of food products. Therefore, India is not in a hurry to restart any trade with Pakistan. 

With such weak economic indicators, India believes that Pakistan would largely remain introverted, focusing on domestic political and economic stability. Moreover, an intensification of security threats on Pakistan’s western border region from two burgeoning insurgencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces would mean that Pakistan is not in a position to offer a threatening posture to India on its western border. In other words, India believes that time is on its side given Pakistan’s various crises, and is in no rush to reach a diplomatic breakthrough.

Third, in the foreign policy domain, India has been able to make strong inroads into Pakistan’s traditional allies in the Arab world, particularly the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, thereby isolating Islamabad. Pakistan can no longer court the GCC’s support against India, as was the case in the past decades. 

In addition, India has found a way to isolate Pakistan within South Asia by hamstringing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at the expense of strengthening the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, which consists of almost all the South Asian countries except Pakistan. Since November 2014, when the last SAARC summit was held in Nepal, the organization has been largely defunct. 

India’s regular vitriol against Pakistan as the “world’s terrorism factory” – despite the fact that terrorist violence in J&K has seen a steep decline from 3,401 incidents in 2003 to a mere 44 incidents in 2023 – seems to keep any prospects of resumption of bilateral talks on the backburner while also discouraging any international effort to either mediate the J&K dispute or even discuss the normalization of relations between the two rival countries. 

Is There Hope for Re-engagement?

India is currently buoyed by its growing economic and political stature in the global arena. Its confidence is largely driven by the West’s desire for India to act as a bulwark against the rising China. Whether India would fulfill such wishes is another debate, but New Delhi is cleverly capitalizing on those hopes by strengthening itself in comparison to its rivals, including Pakistan. 

However, changes in the regional geopolitical calculation may coerce India to heed calls of normalization with Pakistan.

First, India has historically faced a two-front threat emanating from its borders with China and Pakistan in the north and west, respectively. India’s tensions with China on its northern border have intensified since both sides clashed militarily in 2020. An increased militarization of the northern border would constrain India to divert resources from its western border with Pakistan. Such a strategic move would necessitate some kind of a rapprochement with Pakistan to ward off a security threat from its western border and allow India to focus its energies on the northern front. 

Second, the changing dynamics of South Asia could make India rethink its current policy. During the past 10 years, India has been able to exert a strong influence on the South Asian countries located to its east and south, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. This has led to a reduction of Pakistan’s influence in South Asia. A glaring example is the non-holding of the SAARC Summit in Pakistan, which was scheduled for 2016, when India was able to exert influence on other South Asian countries to boycott the event. 

However, the domestic political situation is gradually changing in these smaller South Asian countries. A major factor in this political dynamic is the growing ingress of China, which is trying to woo these countries toward itself. Maldives is a prime example: a pro-China government took root in the presidential election in September 2023, which saw pro-India incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih losing to pro-China Mohamed Muizzu

In the case of Bangladesh, though the Awami League party led by Sheikh Hasina recently forestalled an anti-India opposition from taking power by allegedly rigging the recently-held general elections in January, the domestic mood in Bangladesh may see a political change that would be detrimental to Indian interests. Angry at India’s perceived support for Hasina and her party, there are growing calls to boycott Indian products within Bangladesh, using the same “India Out” language that Muizzu adopted in Maldives.

Nepal is another example. A pro-China political alliance took power in Kathmandu in March 2024. Similarly, India’s efforts to establish relations with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan are fraught with uncertainty.

Most importantly, the prospects of a revival of violence in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be ignored, given the fact that new violent outfits, such as the Resistance Front, are springing up in the aftermath of revocation of J&K’s statehood. India’s decision to open up J&K for outsiders to claim residency and profit from development projects – and its simultaneous clamp down on local political parties and leaders – is only going to strengthen the public resistance. 

An increase in violence may throw into disarray India’s ambitious vision “Viksit Bharat 2047.” Any future resurgence of violent groups will only complicate India’s efforts to protect its frontiers in the north and west, which may necessitate India’s engagement with Pakistan.


Both India and Pakistan face significant common challenges, ranging from poverty to environmental issues such as global warming and water scarcity. Despite these shared challenges, historic baggage, mistrust, and strident political narratives will impede both countries from entering into a constructive dialogue for resumption of a trade and diplomatic relationship.

Given the existing hostility between the two countries, rapprochement remains a distant possibility. Instead, a tense standoff between New Delhi and Islamabad will likely continue to undermine the peace and stability of South Asia. 

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