Pakistan pursues a policy of peaceful neighborhood, based on mutual respect, sovereign equality and mutual benefit, with all countries of the South Asia region. A country-wise overview of Pakistan’s relations with the South Asian countries is as follows:
Being an immediate neighbor, Pakistan shares its longest border with India. Owing to historical reasons, extensive social and linguistic linkages also exist between Pakistan and India.
Right after the independence in 1947, both countries established diplomatic relations by appointing High Commissioners in their respective capitals. Notwithstanding ups and downs in bilateral relations, both sides have so far signed 49 agreements and MOUs.
Pakistan desires to have good-neighborly relations with India. It believes in peaceful co-existence. Ithas consistently advocated constructive engagement and result-oriented dialogue with India to resolve all outstanding issues, including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. However, India’s retrogressive actions have vitiated the environment and impeded the prospects for peace and cooperation. Pakistan believes that the onus remains on India to take the necessary steps to create an enabling environment conducive for meaningful and result-oriented dialogue. In that context, the reversal of India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August 2019 in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) would be of critical importance.
Notwithstanding difficulties in bilateral relations, the then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, visited India to attend the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers meeting on 4-5 May 2023. The visit carried significance as a Foreign Minister of Pakistan travelled to India after a gap of over a decade. The decision demonstrated Pakistan’s pragmatic approach though India was not willing to engage with Pakistan.
The last structured engagement between Pakistan and India was the ‘Composite Dialogue’. It included eight segments, covering peace and security including Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wuller Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism measures, narcotics control, humanitarian issues, and people-to-people exchanges. The last round of the Composite Dialogue was held in 2012. The dialogue was revived in December 2015. However, it could not take off.
Pakistan is acting in a mature fashion despite belligerent rhetoric by the Indian side.In the interest of regional peace,it is upholding the ceasefire on Line of Control, which was agreed between Pakistan and India with effect from the midnight of 24-25 February 2021.The ceasefire is largely holding despite intermittent violations by the Indian side, including two incidents of civilian killings in 2023.
In addition to the Kartarpur Corridor, which allows visa-free access to GurdawaraKartarpur Sahib, the visits of Indian pilgrims to Pakistan continue under the Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, 1974.
In 2023, Pakistan has,so far, released and repatriated 486 Indian civilian prisoners and fishermen. It also secured release and repatriation of 68 Pakistani prisoners and fishermen from India. In 2021-22, Pakistan allowed supply of around 40,000 MT Indian wheat to Afghanistan through land route, as a humanitarian gesture. Pakistan also decided to send its Cricket Team to India for the ICC Cricket World Cup despite India’s refusal to send its Cricket Team for the Asia Cup, hosted by Pakistan.
Pakistan – Sri Lanka diplomatic relations were established in 1948. The bilateral political relations are marked with cordiality as the leadership of both countries interacts frequently in bilateral and multilateral context. Both sides also cooperate with each other at the multilateral fora, especially United Nations.There is robust defence cooperation between the two countries.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka have institutionalized mechanisms of dialogue including Bilateral Political Consultations and Joint Economic Commission.
Sri Lanka was the first country with which Pakistan signed a Free Trade Agreement. The annual volume of trade remains around half a billion US Dollars. Pakistan offers development assistance to Sri Lanka under Special Assistance Program for South Asia.It also offers sizeable educational and training facilities to the students and officers from Sri Lanka. Buddhism also forms a historical linkage between the two countries.
Pakistan and Bangladesh established diplomatic relations in December 1975. Bangladesh remains Pakistan’s largest trading partner in South Asia as volume of bilateral tradehovers, annually, around 800 to 900 million US Dollars. Pakistan hosts a large number of the people of Bengali origin. Owing to shared history and common faith, the people-to-people relations are of fraternity and goodwill.
Pakistan and Bangladesh have institutionalized mechanisms of dialogue such as Bilateral Political Consultations and Joint Economic Commission. They also cooperate on various multilateral fora, including United Nations and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Nepal and Pakistan have maintained warm and friendly relations. They established formal diplomatic relations in March 1960. Both sides have institutionalized mechanisms of dialogue such as Bilateral Political Consultations, Joint Economic Commission and Joint Business Council. Pakistan offers development assistance to Nepal under Special Assistance Program for South Asia as well as Pakistan Technical Assistance Program.
Nepal hosts the SAARC Secretariat. It remains the current SAARC Chair Both Pakistan and Nepal have been playing active role in SAARC which is a reflection of their shared desire to promote peace and progress in South Asia.
Pakistan established diplomatic relations with Maldives in 1966, following the latter’s independence on 26 July 1965. Bilateral relations are characterized by cordiality, mutual respect and commonality of interests ever since.There is immense goodwill between Pakistan and Maldives at the public level.
Pakistan, over the years, has contributed to and invested in several development and welfare projects in Maldives. The Parliament building of Maldives is a gift by Pakistan, constructed at a cost of US $ 4.27 million. Inaugurated in 1998 in the presence of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, the building is a living monument of the friendship between the two countries.
Both sides maintain a mechanism of Bilateral Political Consultations.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)was founded on 8 December 1985. Pakistan remains committed to the principles and purposes of the SAARC Charter. It has actively contributed to the SAARC activities and processes. Pakistan believes that the SAARC has the vast untapped potential of regional development and cooperation among countries of South Asia.
Islamabad was to host the SAARC Summit in November 2016; however, India boycotted the Summit. The revival of SAARC processes could contribute to boosting socio-economic development in South Asia.