NEW DELHI -- To gauge the impact here of the turmoil next door in Pakistan, Americans would have to imagine their own reaction to a military coup or the imposition of martial law in Canada.
The reaction here when Pakistan's strongman, President Pervez Musharraf, declared a national emergency, cracked down on the political opposition, arrested members of the Supreme Court and suspended the constitution was one of shock.
The border was immediately closed, and military forces were placed on alert. India and Pakistan have fought repeated wars over the years, and suspicions of trouble are always close to the surface.
Beyond that, India, which prides itself on having protected its democracy through several internal crises in its six decades of independence, understandably gets nervous when its closest neighbor loses ground -- even temporarily -- in its struggle for freedom.
During a visit to New Delhi that happened to coincide with the crisis, I found that Indians were both puzzled and dismayed that the U.S. government seemed so ambivalent about Musharraf's actions. The Indian press reported, along with U.S. journals, that the Bush administration had sent urgent messages to Musharraf counseling him against the crackdown.
But when he ignored their advice and declared martial law, President Bush and the State Department offered only the mildest reprimands and immediately signaled a willingness to continue to support Musharraf and his regime.
To many here, that made it appear as if democracy was less important to the U.S. government than whatever help Musharraf might supply in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.