The Geography of India and Pakistan: Cause for Conflict?

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We attribute conflict and political turmoil to a variety of factors depending on our own personal perspectives, the views of our governments, and the ideologies of the parties involved, but rarely do we attribute political conflict to physical or geographical features of the lands and how that factor affects the people and countries in question.

Now, I’m not saying that geography is the sole reason why the world experiences conflict; rather, it is one of many other factors that contribute to wars, political distrust, and a variety of other social ills that serve to cause problems interpersonally and internationally. Not only have geographical formations affected where we choose to live but, in some cases, has also been a factor when it comes to nation building and the drawing of borders. Historically speaking a river, mountain range, or an ocean could keep different people groups separated from each other, leading to a lack of knowledge about the other group and contributing to social factors that cause conflict.

In the modern world of air travel and the internet communications and travel are much more accessible to more people, and yet there are places in this world where the inhabitants still choose not to (or are unable) to move from place to place because of geography. In the case of India and Pakistan (as well as many other nations around the world) there are conflicts, both past and present, which have arisen because of geography.

Location maps showing the location of Pakistan (green) and India (orange) in the world.
Location maps showing the location of Pakistan (green) and India (orange) in the world.

In this article I will explore the ways in which geography and physical land formations have contributed to the conflict between India and Pakistan since their creation as separate entities in 1947. To simplify a complicated topic and not go too far down the rabbit hole of history, India was partitioned by the British Empire in August of 1947 which created what we now know as the nations of India and Pakistan. The northern part of Pakistan is an area called Kashmir, which is a disputed zone and has been at the heart of the India-Pakistan conflict since 1947. Both nations claim it as their own while many of the Kashmiris continue to lobby for an independent state of their own.

The India-Pakistan cease-fire line runs from the rocky Karakoram Pass to a point approximately 130 kilometers outside of Lahore to the northeast. The United Nations organized this line after the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947-48 after the partition sent the two countries reeling. Refugees in India and Pakistan were displaced and contributed to the crisis of identity the two new nations were facing. The north/south border between India and Pakistan is convoluted and highly disputed as certain regions within the Pakistani and Indian states align more closely with those on the other sides of the border.

The geography of India and Pakistan includes the Himalaya Mountains and the Indus River as their defining features; both areas contain high mountain areas and river lowlands near the Indus River. India, due to its size and proximity to the ocean also has lowlands in its southern regions and the Thar Desert in its western half. Both countries share similar geographical features as well as some cultural practices but contain a wide variety of indigenous people groups.

The Indus Waters Treaty has minimized the conflicts over water that India and Pakistan have had in more recent years, although in the past there have been conflicts over the use and flow of the Indus River from India into Pakistan. As the populations of both countries grow and the climate continues to change we’ll have to see how each country chooses to react to a potential water shortage.

In the case of India and Pakistan the drawing of border was done by the British, who despite their extensive lingering in the region likely paid little to no mind of the cultural and political divides that existed well before India and Pakistan became separate entities. There was also little attention paid to the region of Kashmir which requested in 1947 to become its own independent nation, a neutral Switzerland of sorts in the region. The lack of independence for Kashmir is a major sticking point and cause of conflict for India, Pakistan, and Kashmir today.

Geography may slow down communications and trade, information and cultural knowledge transfer, and pieces of land are frequently fought over by other nations who think they have a rightful claim to that piece of property. When it comes straight down to it geography in and of itself might not be the divisive factor in causing conflict- it is humanities’ ideology surrounding land, ownership, and the barriers of geography that truly keep us in conflict with one another.


Background to India and Pakistan Conflict.

Wars and Conflicts Between India and Pakistan.


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