WASHINGTON — In December 1959, I covered President Eisenhower's trip to India, part of a swing through 11 countries. Eisenhower was a big hit in India. His flower-showered arrival in New Delhi was India TV's first live event. A crowd of a million massed in the New Delhi fairgrounds to hear him. He said he was "overwhelmed."
But the trip had been planned basically to compete with a tour that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had just completed. In a cold-war setting, Pakistan was pro-American and India was considered pro-Soviet. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had attacked India's nonalignment policy as "immoral."
Through most of the cold war, relations with India were touchy. During the Nixon administration, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was revealed as secretly "tilting towards Pakistan" in its war with India. In the 1980s, even while developing nuclear weapons, Pakistan had US support as a staging area for the CIA's proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
One price of the Soviet-US rivalry was that neither superpower did much to moderate the festering dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the only majority Muslim region left in India after partition. The Clinton and Bush administrations have tried to improve relations with India, but another war in Afghanistan, the anti-Taliban war, has inhibited the Bush administration from exerting too much pressure on Pakistan.
So, now, after three wars since the partition of 1947 - a partition that didn't resolve the ethnic and religious antagonism - India and Pakistan face each other once again across their long border. What has changed after these three wars is that both sides are now nuclear armed. The shooting attack on India's Parliament on Dec. 13 has added a trendy terrorism issue to the long-standing territorial issue.
President Bush has phoned the Pakistani and Indian leaders urging restraint. Presumably, President Putin has been doing something similar. But this isn't the cold war, when countries like India and Pakistan could be manipulated by superpowers. The first hopeful sign in the India-Pakistan deadlock was the arrest of Pakistani militants and President Pervez Musharraf's order to his military intelligence organization to stop backing extremist groups. It's premature to be optimistic, but if these countries are ready to resist their jihadists and militant nationalists, the outcome of this confrontation may be different from those of the past half century.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at NPR.