For a Neighbor, a Worrisome Drama in Pakistan
NEW DELHI -- To gauge the impact here of the turmoil next door in Pakistan, Americans would have to imagine their own reaction to a military coup or the imposition of martial law in Canada.
The reaction here when Pakistan's strongman, President Pervez Musharraf, declared a national emergency, cracked down on the political opposition, arrested members of the Supreme Court and suspended the constitution was one of shock.
The border was immediately closed, and military forces were placed on alert. India and Pakistan have fought repeated wars over the years, and suspicions of trouble are always close to the surface.
Beyond that, India, which prides itself on having protected its democracy through several internal crises in its six decades of independence, understandably gets nervous when its closest neighbor loses ground -- even temporarily -- in its struggle for freedom.
During a visit to New Delhi that happened to coincide with the crisis, I found that Indians were both puzzled and dismayed that the U.S. government seemed so ambivalent about Musharraf's actions. The Indian press reported, along with U.S. journals, that the Bush administration had sent urgent messages to Musharraf counseling him against the crackdown.
But when he ignored their advice and declared martial law, President Bush and the State Department offered only the mildest reprimands and immediately signaled a willingness to continue to support Musharraf and his regime.
To many here, that made it appear as if democracy was less important to the U.S. government than whatever help Musharraf might supply in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The assistance he has provided so far is questionable in the view of many observers. He has signed off on agreements with tribesmen in northwest Pakistan that have provided a more secure base of operations for al-Qaeda training camps. American Special Forces operations against those camps have reportedly been compromised by leaks of information from members of the Pakistani military sympathetic to al-Qaeda.
Nonetheless, the flow of U.S. aid to Musharraf has continued -- and India has now watched him use that money to mobilize support against popular protests of his own rule.
This sends disquieting signals to India at a time when much else is going well here. The economy is thriving, and a growing urban middle class of professionals has provided a stable base for democratic government.
India, like the United States, seems to have a surfeit of partisanship in its politics -- represented here by a proliferation of parties rather than interest groups. The government has been stymied for months in its effort to bring a nuclear agreement with the United States to a ratification vote in Parliament.
The parties of the left claim the treaty is weighted to the advantage of the United States and have threatened to force an election on the issue. American diplomats, from Condoleezza Rice on down, have been warning the Indians that if the deal doesn't get done in the next few months, it may be dead -- with its prospects for revival under the next president uncertain.