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Of course the world's leading democracy should be friends with the world's largest democracy. But when President Obama reached out this week to improve the relations between the United States and India, he was certainly aware of the risks he was taking.

India, at its best, is a thriving example of a pluralistic democracy, a nation where people of many ethnic groups and religions live in relative peace under a secular government. It is also building a thriving economy, based on innovation and pluck and taking full advantage of its ability to skip over generations of technology it never had to embrace the worlds of wireless broadband communication.

It should expect, therefore, to be the focus of American attention in the region. And it would be in American interests to bolster India, and our relationship with it, as a counter to China's power, and as a counterexample to China's all-too-successful theory that a thriving economy can be built under a totalitarian government.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Especially since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we've hardly noticed India — except when it, too, has been the victim of violent Islamic extremists. Our focus has shifted a bit to the West, where lie Pakistan and Afghanistan, the nexus of the world's most dangerous terror network. Islamic extremists, and those who manipulate them for political gain, hold sway there.

The United States and Pakistan speak of one another as allies in the fight against terror, but there is no getting around the fact that elements of the Pakistani military and security services have long been patrons of the Taliban, and thus allies of al-Qaida. It is a relationship born of the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but continues as a force to counter the perception of Western hegemony throughout the Islamic world.

That hostility also includes ill feelings about India, egged on by more than 60 years of border disputes. The result has been three shooting wars, numerous terrorist attacks and a real nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. It is that nuclear factor that makes our dealings with Pakistan all the more delicate, as anything we do to drive that nation further into the arms of the Islamic extremists increases the threat that it will be al-Qaida that is the region's nuclear power.

It is thus a bolder stroke than it may appear for Obama to make such fast friends with India, going as far as supporting its bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. But even though it risks further souring our influence in Pakistan, putting democratic principles ahead of short-term real politik, moving closer to India is the right thing to do.