THERE IS a sorrowful similarity to the crises in India and Pakistan. The governments are using a framework of law to move against former leaders, Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, whose old constituencies are substantially intact.Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. bhutto have responded by mobilizing their followers against the governments. These painful exercises are going on, moreover, against the fresh geo-political uncertainty caused, or rather signified, in South Asia by the expressions "Afghanistan" and "Iran."

In still-democratic India, barely a month after her re-election to parliament, Mrs. Gandhi has been expelled by that body and jailed briefly for abusing her powers as prime minister by ordering the harassment of government officials probing the business activities of her son. She claims political vengenance on the part of Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who ended her harsh "emergency rule" and swept her from power in 1977, and she has politicized every phase of the proceedings against her. With an eye to turning her incarceration to advantage, she has sent her supporters into the streets-or at least smiled as they made their own way. Her jail term may leave her better fit to challenge Mr. Desai, who is having his difficulties anyway, than she was when she went in. Precisely that prospect had led some of his aides to argue against adorning her with a martyr's halo.

The stakes are even higher in military-ruled Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto was convicted earlier this year of ordering a rival's assassination, and he has since been conducting a legal appeal. He has been making a political appeal, too, relying on the fact that Gen. Mohammed Zia, who deposed him, lacks the legitimacy he won by virtue of being elected. In fact, until last September Gen. Zia could claim he was operating as military administrator under the 1973 consitution. But then he named himself president outside the constitution. He has since faced a new and serious internal challenge quite apart from Mr. Bhutto.

Now, if the courts and, in turn, Gen. Zia sustain Mr. Bhutto's death sentence, the country will likely explode. If Mr. Bhutto is let off, the government, including much of the army, will be disgraced. Mr. Bhutto is playing it like a riverboat gambler, staking his nation's fate and his own on beating the case against him and on bringing the government down.

The United States has been mercifully slow to offer gratuitous advice. India and Pakistan need to be left to deal with their tortuous dilemmas themselves.