There seems to be a pervasive belief in Pakistan that India is somehow being indulged by the West, chiefly the United States, because of Delhi’s new money power or its ascendant economy. Some analysts add democracy as a factor. This is a fib. India, with or without its democracy, is as much a wannabe client state of the US as Pakistan ever was, with or without its military.

One doesn’t have to be rich to get America’s indulgence though it can help, as is obvious in its nexus with Saudi Arabia. In which case, discount democracy as a factor. In contrast, Israel, in the same area, gets loads of unaccounted funds from Washington, wrapped in futuristic military technology. Is this in exchange for the fine wine from the stolen grapes of Golan Heights Israel exports? Egypt with nothing to give to anyone is a recipient of American charm and largesse. There are others.

Of course, India has a far bigger economy than Pakistan’s. How else should it be? But nearly all its defence architecture was set up with generous loans and armament from the Soviet Union.

But then Pakistan too had secured an early credit line with Washington, packaged with Patton tanks, Sabre jets and a short-lived formal military alliance. That was the logic of the Cold War. That’s how patron-client relationships played out everywhere.

India was not the prosperous economy of Pakistani analysts’ imagination, however, when it was exerting its far more genuine influence in Africa and Indo-China through the heart of the Arab world and beyond. Nehru was not in the habit of giving bear hugs to Nkrumah or Nyerere, Tito, Sukarno or Nasser, though some say he did momentarily overstretch his arms towards Zhou Enlai. There was no room for first-name cosiness in India’s dignified friendships with small and powerful leaders.

Ally trouble

So what has come to pass that Pakistan’s ties with the US seem to have hit the doldrums? Is it India’s potential as a rising economic power that is behind America’s alleged switching of sides, as some in Pakistan may feel? Or is it more likely that Pakistan’s current problems have their origins in its own misreading of allies?

There is a perception, for example, that it got avoidably addicted to religious bigotry that was drummed up for one-time use in Afghanistan. Pakistan was globally cheered for the Afghan outing. Subsequently, though, the bigots were nurtured for other uses, against India and possibly against American interests in Afghanistan, and now, apparently against the Afghans themselves.

There is another theory, more compelling than the one about India’s growing economic clout, to explain Pakistan’s diplomatic difficulties. It has to do with the so-called all-weather friend. Gone are the days, sadly for Islamabad, when it occupied diplomatic centre stage, ushering Kissinger into Mao Zedong’s private chambers. But what role can it possibly play for Washington in the South China Sea? Will it abandon the economic zone project with Beijing to set sail for the distant blue ocean? What will it do there? Could it conjure another round of ping pong diplomacy?

India has been clamouring to replace Pakistan to be by America’s side for sometime. Remember how badly Delhi had sought the post-9/11 US operations in Afghanistan to be launched from Indian bases. There was desperate wooing to be of help, any help, at any cost. But Delhi was defeated by geography.

Pointless pursuit?

To my mind, this compulsive urge between India and Pakistan to outdo each other with Washington (and now Saudi Arabia) is a diplomatic variant of the Dubai syndrome. This is an illness in which an intensely acquisitive society loses its social bearings. The men go off to earn so that their families can keep up with the Joneses. The Pathan taxi driver in Dubai would send all manner of white goods – fridge, TV, electric iron – to his family beyond Peshawar because his wife saw all these things in the neighbour’s house. The twist in the tale is there was just no electricity where the cargo was headed. But this was the cabby’s way of preventing his wife from going into deep depression. A similar syndrome was reported from Kerala.

The brouhaha about the Nuclear Suppliers Group is of a piece with this syndrome. India already has what it needs from the NSG. You check it out with any unbiased analyst. I would suggest some of the former envoys to Pakistan since you can’t really question their views on India’s national interest.

The Modi government’s “obsessive quest for membership” of the NSG “is very like the hunting of the Snark, a macabre, tragi-comic pursuit which ends with the hunter becoming the quarry,” says Satyabrata Pal, a former high commissioner in Islamabad. With the NSG waiver of 2008 “India no longer needs [NSG membership] for its civil nuclear facilities. It does not have to sit outside its closed door; this government has chosen to park itself there, begging to be let in, like a supplicant outside the portcullis of a castle,” Pal wrote in The Hindu.

And what is the cost India has to pay for its embarrassing bid to be at the high table which incidentally includes Belarus, Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg among its members?

American terms are stiff. “The future of the relationship depends … on a continued convergence of national interests and on India’s willingness to break away from its historic posture of strategic autonomy and fully engage with the US,” wrote Sarah Watson. In other words, the associate fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC is reminding the cat that it must wet its paws to get the fish. That’s not the same thing as having a perpetual catfight, particularly with a nuclear-armed neighbour coping poorly with a syndrome that afflicts both.

This article first appeared on Dawn.