A 31-gun salute boomed at daybreak on August 14 in Islamabad to mark Pakistan’s 60th anniversary of independence from British rule—or, to be precise, her birth as a Muslim state that resulted from the bloody partition of India in 1947.  That event was accompanied by the largest mass migration in history, as over ten million people crossed the new borders fleeing for their lives; up to a million never made it.

This year’s celebrations lacked the festive spirit that marked the 50th anniversary a decade ago.  They came after months of political unrest and religiously inspired violence.  With almost daily suicide bombings since the army’s bloody siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad last July, President Pervez Musharraf appeared almost somber as he addressed the nation.  “Pakistan has come a long way since Independence,” he told Pakistan’s estimated 165 million people.

In a sense, Musharraf is right: All countries in the world have “come a long way” over the past six decades, for better or worse.  South Korea and Southern Rhodesia of 1947 are equally unrecognizable today.  In comparison to her perennial rival India, however, Pakistan is lagging behind.  She is politically less stable, institutionally less democratic, and economically less prosperous.  More importantly, she is ideologically far less attuned to Western values and modes of thought than she was at the time of her birth.

The notion of “Pakistan”—“the Land of the Pure”—as the homeland and state for the Muslims of India was based on the two-nation concept of the Muslim League, founded at Dhaka in 1906.  A decade later, a brilliant and suave British-educated lawyer, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, became its leader.  Jinnah only joined the League in 1913, having started his political career as an Indian nationalist and an advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity.  Between the wars, however, he grew apprehensive that the Muslim identity would be threatened in a secular state based on the British model of parliamentary democracy, as soon-to-be independent India was envisaged by the Congress Party of Gandhi and Nehru.  By 1940, the demand for the creation of a separate political entity of “Pakistan” had been formally endorsed by the Muslim League.

Seven years later, with the hasty departure of the British, Pakistan came into being as the first modern state to be established on openly Islamic principles.  As V.S. Naipaul wrote on the 50th anniversary of the partition,

Muslim insecurity led to the call for the creation of Pakistan.  It went at the same time with an idea of old glory, of the invaders sweeping down from the northwest and looting the temples of Hindustan and imposing faith on the infidel.  The fantasy still lives: and for the Muslim converts of the subcontinent it is the start of their neurosis, because in this fantasy the convert forgets who or what he is and becomes the violator.

While defined by religion, even though many of her citizens had not thus defined themselves until that time, Pakistan, Jinnah nevertheless claimed, could develop as a democracy with equal rights for all.  His death only one year after independence marked the end of that vision, however.  His successors—many of them coarse military types steeped in Naipaul’s “fantasy”—have tended to derive their inspiration from Mecca, rather than Westminster.

Unlike India, Pakistan has never been a stable, functional democracy.  She has allowed discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities (after all, only the “Pure”—i.e., Muslims—are her true citizens), and she surreptitiously aids and abets Islamic terrorists in Kashmir and the Taliban in Afghanistan.  The suicide attacks in London on July 7, 2005, masterminded by a young British-born Pakistani, and the long list of proved or suspected Pakistani links with other terrorist attacks in recent years, reflect the country’s ambivalent role in the “War on Terror.”

It would be inconceivable for a denazified, post-1945 Germany to be a bona fide member of the family of nations, yet, at the same time, to tolerate the existence of a nationwide network of Hitlerjugend camps and schools preaching Aryan supremacy and the virtues of die Volksgemeinschaft.  And yet, Musharraf’s government has consistently backtracked on its promise to control the Islamic schools that are grooming new generations of terrorists.  Pakistan remains the epicenter of global jihad, a breeding ground for the new echelons of “martyrs.”  She is an enormous Islamist campus in which thousands of madrassas prepare over one million students for the rigors of jihad.  When pressed, Musharraf announces the closure of some of the schools where “the eggs of the snake of terrorism are incubated,” only to let them reopen later.

After September 11, Musharraf allowed the U.S. Air Force to use Pakistani facilities, winning praise from Mr. Bush and obtaining an improvement in U.S.-Pakistani relations that had deteriorated since the end of the Cold War.  On his own admission, however, he did so under duress.  In a sensational 60 Minutes interview last year, Musharraf said that the Bush administration threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” after the September 11 attacks if the country did not cooperate with America’s war in Afghanistan.  He said the threat was delivered by the assistant secretary of state, Richard Armitage, in conversations with Pakistan’s intelligence director.  “One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation, and that’s what I did,” he told CBS—hardly the grounds for a solid and enduring alliance.

While Musharraf’s cooperation, such as it was, proved helpful in the initial military campaign in Afghanistan, the Pakistani army’s subsequent deliberate failure to block Al Qaeda’s escape routes ensured that most key suspects, probably including Osama bin Laden, safely slipped away.

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, blames Pakistan for the recent revival of the Taliban and points out that religious hardliners in Pakistan are sending their students over the border to fight a holy war in Afghanistan without hindrance.  “We know very well that in Pakistani madrassas, boys are being told to go to Afghanistan for jihad.  They’re being told to go and burn schools and clinics.”  Snubbing Karzai, Musharraf responded by canceling at the last minute his participation in a meeting in Kabul last August that was aimed at trying to end the terrorism and insurgency threatening both countries.  To this day, the Pakistani military are loath to risk alienating their erstwhile Taliban clients and allies, and the remote border areas remain a safe haven for the insurgents.  Most of the militants arrested in late 2001 were released without charge only months later—among them, the heads of groups listed as terrorist organizations by Britain and the United States.

Not only the Taliban but most other Islamic extremist and terrorist movements all over the world were born out of ideas conceived in the battlefields of Afghanistan and subsequently matured and spread from Pakistan’s political, military, and religious establishment.  These movements enjoyed the support of the Pakistani military-intelligence structures—most notably, the powerful Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI), a leading promoter of state-sponsored terrorism.  It grew rich and mighty thanks to the U.S. role in helping Muslims fight the Soviets in the 1980’s.  It was hedging its bets during the 2001 Afghan war: U.S. intelligence admitted to having no idea “which side of the street they’re playing on,” an opinion unwittingly echoed by former ISI chief Hamid Gul—who later became a vociferous defender of the defeated Taliban.  He freely admitted that “it is unnatural to expect the ISI to act against what it knows are Pakistan’s best interests and be as motivated as it was before.”

Iran may be dominating the headlines, but the future of Pakistan’s nuclear program should be of even greater concern to the United States.  The question vexing the U.S. intelligence community for the past decade is not so much whether there will be a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, but what will happen if some of Pakistan’s assets fall into the wrong hands.  Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear program, stunned the world in 2003 when he admitted to leaking nuclear-weapons secrets to—among others—North Korea, Libya, and Iran.

In a brief interlude in what is a grim continuum, Benazir Bhutto promised a new dawn for Pakistan in the 1980’s but, in the end, had to make compromises with the religious groups.  Her career has been anything but a demonstration that women may succeed in Islam.  The civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was overthrown on October 12, 1999, by General Musharraf—who is now a self-anointed president.  That was the first military coup in a major country since the end of the Cold War, and the first ever in a country with nuclear weapons.

Eight years later, the Bush administration is still struggling to find a way to keep Musharraf in power.  Washington is currently said to be prodding him quietly to share authority with his longtime rival, Benazir Bhutto, as a way of broadening his base.  He appears to have lost so much domestic support in recent months that U.S. officials view a deal with Miss Bhutto that would result in her becoming prime minister once again as his best chance of remaining president.

If Musharraf fails in that endeavor, however, it will not be the end of the world.  It has always been wrong to assume either that Musharraf was turning into a Pakistani Kemal Ataturk, or that Pakistan herself is a reliable American partner.  If and when Musharraf goes, at least this country will be forced to consider the problem of Pakistan with a clarity and sobriety that have been lacking over the past 60 years.  Such clarity may also prompt the development of a solid strategic partnership between the United States and India, the country that is America’s natural partner vis-à-vis both China and the Islamic world.

China is fast becoming the world’s second-largest economy and a first-rate military power.  Her regional clout will be more easily counterbalanced by a prosperous and well-armed India that has heretofore been devoid of expansionist designs.  If India’s impressive economic growth is not disrupted by the lingering socialist nostalgia of an influential segment of her political class, the country will become a fully fledged great power within a decade.

India’s role as America’s strategic economic partner cannot be overestimated.  China’s commercial development has depended on commands from above and, on the American side, the desire of U.S. firms for a cheap manufacturing platform for exports back to the United States.  India’s growth, by contrast, is not confined to heavy industry geared for the export market.  Because India’s economic growth is being driven from the bottom up, satisfying the wants of a rising technical and professional class is an indication of a balanced commercial symbiosis with the United States.  Indeed, there has even been a counterflow of Indians, who had come to live and work in the United States, returning to India, where their earnings go farther.

More significantly still, India has been a major victim of jihad over the centuries.  This historical legacy, coupled with her stable democratic institutions inherited from the British Raj, make India a far more reliable and significant partner than Pakistan in the Global War on Terror.  By contrast, Pakistan is only the most prominent of several supposed “allies” against jihad terrorism that are inherently unreliable because of an endemic Islamist sentiment in their society and officialdom.  Their reliability is only as good as the supply of American largesse and the longevity of individual strongmen.  India’s position on this geopolitical issue of prime importance, by contrast, is neither opportunistic nor subject to change.

It is foolish to pretend that America can be equally close to both India and Pakistan.  The two countries are natural zero-sum rivals ideologically and territorially, and their ruling elites and populations differ widely in their attitudes toward the United States.  (In Pakistan, it is 23-percent favorable; in India, over 50 percent.)  The choice that needs to be made is clear.  It is dictated by culture, economics, geopolitics, and the American interest.