There seems to be something only natural, indeed almost an historical imperative, in the tightening of relations between Israel and India. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's landmark visit to India last week underscored just how far relations have progressed since India first abandoned its long-held position as a leader of the nonaligned movement - a position which, for many years, actually allied it with Israel's sworn enemies - and established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.
The terrorist attacks that cut Sharon's visit short only drove the point home, for the increasingly intimate ties between India and Israel are based on the perception that the two countries share a similar fight against Muslim extremist groups and continued threats from hostile neighbors. The fact is that relations between the two countries dramatically improved following the surprise attack of Pakistani forces in the Kargil area of northern Kashmir in 1999 and then again in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
For India, Israel is a most reliable ally in the fight against terror - perhaps more reliable even than the U.S., which refuses to pursue its war on terror inside Pakistani territory, and more specifically in the northern Kashmir region, where several bin Laden-like organizations are operating, mostly against Indian military targets.
This alliance is not merely strategic. It reflects a growing sense of identification between India and Israel, a process that has deepened since the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came to power in 1998. The historical context of both countries serves as a convenient backdrop, with the Indian subcontinent appearing to be a mirror image of our own region: a partition plan (even if theirs led to a different outcome than the one for Palestine); population exchanges and mass migration; frequent wars; a separation fence; terrorist attacks and a territorial conflict that seems impossible to solve.
Except that this mirror image is deceptive - for it isn't India that is Israel's double, but Pakistan. Pakistan? For better or worse, there is much in common between these two countries.
Pakistan is a country whose national aspirations seem entirely concentrated in a stubborn, not to say costly, quest for land it feels it lost in the Partition Plan of 1947. In the case of Pakistan, the issue of Kashmir overshadows every other national and social issue, including that of illiteracy, which is perhaps the greatest barrier to Pakistan's democratization and economic development. Needless to say, Israel pays for its stubbornness with much the same currency.
Pakistan's position in the international arena also reflects - if not the position Israel currently occupies - then the position that Israel seems sure to assume. Without long-term strategic planning, and despite the tactical tightening of relations with Washington following the events of September 11, Pakistan demonstrates what might happen well happen to Israel on the day when, for whatever reason, American interest in it declines.
The unbearable lightness with which Washington can embrace Pakistan (as it did following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or, mutatis mutandis, following its own Afghan invasion a couple of years ago), only subsequently to detach itself (as the U.S. did after the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan or, more recently, following Pakistan's nuclear tests), should serve as an important lesson for Israel. In an age when American interests in the region are undergoing deep rethinking, it is not clear that Israel will continue to be perceived as a strategic asset for many years to come.
And yet the strongest link between Pakistan and Israel lies in the circumstances under which both states came into being. For in contrast to India, which was established as a secular state for a multitude of religions and communities, cultures and languages, Pakistan was established as a national home for the Muslims, a country whose very existence was to safeguard the political status and civil rights of the Muslim minority of South Asia.
In this respect, Pakistan illustrates a vision that, despite the efforts of its founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, to ensure its secular and pluralist character, is all too similar to the Zionist model.
There is every reason to support Israel's developing ties with India. But let us not deceive ourselves: Our natural counterpart in South Asia is not India, but Pakistan.
The writer is a member of the policy planning team of the Economic Cooperation Foundation. This column expresses solely his private opinion.