Recognizing warning signs for a large-scale conflict between India and Pakistan would be challenging. If Russia and America were shelling each-other and engaging in skirmishes as those two nations are, civilians on both sides would be scrambling for their bunkers. India and Pakistan are more complicated than that though. To compare those two nations to America and Russia, you’d have to invent an alternate-reality in which Russia has been demanding the return of Alaska ever since the United States took possession of the territory, which was initially sovereign Russian land. In our reality, the United States purchased the Alaskan territory from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867. In this alternate reality, the United States simply claimed and occupied the territory without compensating Russia, and the Russians have sought to evict the Americans ever since.
The modern states of India and Pakistan were formed out of the ashes of World War 2, and the collapse of British colonialism. In 1947, the British Indian Empire gained independence from Britain and proceeded to then separate into two independent nations, the Dominion of Pakistan, and the Union of India. A dispute immediately arose over the territory of Kashmir. This region was and continues to be populated primarily by individuals which identify with the Islamic religion and culture, and for that reason it was expected to accede to Pakistan, but it didn’t.
Kashmir was at the heart of the conflict between Indian and Pakistan then, just as it is today. At the time of the breakup of the British Indian Empire, Kashmir was considered a sovereign state in its own right. The governor refused to cede his authority, or his territory, and Pakistan responded with warfare. Instead of surrendering to Pakistan, he acceded to India instead out of spite. Pakistani forces were initially no match for the Indians, and were quickly repelled. Attacks and counter-attacks followed, and a UN ceasefire was agreed to in 1948. UN arbitration was to follow, but the UN never returned to the issue and the matter was left unresolved. The border which split Kashmir was sporadic, including enclaves cut off from their home country’s territory. Imagine Alaska split in half between America and Russia, with each half dotted with territory of the other nation.
The situation was both frustrating and tense for both countries. Standoffs and skirmishes became a regular occurrence between India and Pakistan, as both nations struggled for control over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Skirmishes aside, four formally declared wars have been fought between the two over the course of the short histories of their nations. One in 1947, another in 1965, a third in 1971 and the most recent in 1999. Only in the war of 1971 was Kashmir not the central issue. Both nations frequently launch attacks on the other, and those attacks are often inspired by internal incidents which don’t involve the other nation. In a sense, India and Pakistan are one another’s punching bags, and one another’s scapegoats. Both nations quarrel and skirmish with their neighbors, including fighting wars against them. These conflicts with other countries have also lead to skirmishes between India and Pakistan. Anything’s an excuse to fight between these two.
It’s not difficult to predict a battle between India and Pakistan – they’re a regular occurrence. One can even predict the outcome of the next major clash between the two, because India has a tendency to win. In fact, India always wins where it counts, at least when it comes to Pakistan. India is backed by the third largest army in the world, after all. Recognizing the approach of the next full-scale war between India and Pakistan is more difficult. With both countries constantly fighting one another and endlessly blaming the other for their internal strife, standard escalation ladders don’t work here. Both sides are always on the alert, both sides are always posturing, and both sides are always fighting. Relations between America and Russia have always been nothing but amicable by comparison.
The problem is that neither country behaves rationally. If they were rational, they would’ve jointly returned Kashmir to its former state of independence long ago. These two are among the most irrational actors in the world. One can no more predict precisely when, where, how and by what justification India or Pakistan will next lash out at the other, than one can consistently predict when, where, how and by what justification a schizophrenic will lash out. The Indian subcontinent is a sanitarium, and these two governments are its nuclear armed patients. You don’t need an analyst to assess the warning signs of the next Indo-Pakistani war; you need a psychologist.
Don’t let that stop you from taking notice of the fact that both countries are running out’ve water though. By 2025, the water supply of neither nation is expected to be enough to quench their collective thirsts. A large percent of Pakistan’s water flows along rivers originating in India. The Indus Waters Treaty guarantees Pakistan the right to the flow of water it currently receives, but someday that treaty will be facing 1.25 billion thirsty Indians, and India’s already showing signs of waning interest in maintaining the treaty. To make matters worse, China will be facing a water shortage alongside India and Pakistan, and China’s already begun obstructing the flow of water from China to India. Sure, all three countries could build desalination plants along their coastlines and take advantage of the those great big oceans alongside them, but that would be expensive, and it would also be rational.