National Opinions

Jim Hoagland: India and Pakistan share border but not priorities

WASHINGTON -- India celebrated its 60th birthday last week with a raucous parliamentary debate over nuclear energy and its new strategic relationship with the United States. New Delhi had the air of the capital of an emerging world power looking ahead into a promising, if complicated, future.

Pakistan marked the same occasion by sinking deeper into the past.

The corrupt backroom dealing between military rulers and politicians that has produced a cycle of disasters for the Pakistani nation resumed -- aided by the hidden hand of U.S. diplomacy working to preserve President Pervez Musharraf's dwindling power in Islamabad.

The anniversary of the partition of the Asian subcontinent six decades ago showed the region's two contrasting faces: a giant, open democracy and a sclerotic but nuclear-armed garrison state. It also revealed two contrasting faces of the Bush administration's foreign policy, where pockets of bold thinking about the future compete with the need for short-term fixes that rely heavily on illusion.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh defended the nuclear accord against a barrage of attacks from the communist left and the reactionary Hindu right, keeping alive Bush administration hopes that the president can finally translate unconventional thinking in foreign policy into a substantial achievement.

The accord underpins a transformed U.S.-India relationship that is essential to the struggle against transnational jihadist terrorism. It sets the stage for a badly needed reframing of the global nuclear nonproliferation agreements and practices that failed to stop Pakistan from becoming the world's nuclear Wal-Mart. And it is a key to hopes for a more effective international approach to the real dangers of global warming.

Singh does not need parliamentary approval of the deal, which will open the way for the U.S. and other nations to sell nuclear reactors and fuel to India for peaceful purposes. If he survives a vote of no confidence, as expected, Singh will put the accord into effect once the U.S. Congress approves its final details later this year. Such approval in Bush's twilight months will represent a rare triumph, which has been shepherded along by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and other forward-looking officials.

But that is only half the anniversary story. Pakistan at 60 represents failure, both for itself and for U.S. diplomacy, as starkly as India represents the promise of success on both counts.

Successive Pakistani military regimes have ousted corrupt and ineffective politicians, feathered their own nests for as long as they could, and then turned the shambolic states of affairs they have created over to unreformed politicians, starting the cycle all over again. The implicit deal was that neither side would implement fundamental change in the deeply fractured society they ruled.

When he took power in 1999, Musharraf seemed capable of breaking the pattern. Less corrupt, far more agile and a great deal smarter than previous military rulers, the general was not an unappealing alternative to the civilians he displaced. His periodic peaceful overtures to India seemed more genuine than anything ever accomplished by elected prime ministers such as Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Musharraf gradually self-destructed despite -- or perhaps because of -- the windfall of U.S. aid that poured in after Sept. 11, 2001. He received kid-gloves treatment from Washington even as he failed crucial tests on punishing his country's globally destabilizing nuclear proliferation and eliminating al-Qaeda, Taliban and Kashmiri terrorist bases that are aided by his own intelligence service. The civilian population is effectively in revolt against Musharraf.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her aides have reportedly urged him to pursue secret negotiations with Bhutto to schedule elections and share power with her. But if bringing Bhutto back to power is part of the solution, the problem may well be insoluble. That ploy is a return to the broken record of the past, a triumph of desperation over experience.

Hitting dead end in Pakistan did not just happen. It is the result of consistent U.S. decisions to apply short-term solutions to one of the world's most serious long-term problems. To curry favor with China, to spite India's notoriously prickly leaders, to bleed Soviet forces in Afghanistan, or for many other immediate purposes, Washington has alternately indulged, bribed or ignored Pakistan's leaders and their society's deep-rooted problems.

The new U.S. relationship with India offers much for the future -- including a model for dealing with a South Asian nation just turning 60 by seeking imaginative long-term change instead of pursuing traditional stopgaps to get through the latest crisis.

Jim Hoagland's e-mail address is

Washington Post Writers Group