Brezhnev calls -- but is Gandhi listening?
Indian leaders are signaling their growing impatience with the continuing Soviet troop presence in Afghanistan. This comes even as Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev is using the occasion of his state visit to New Delhi to blame other nations -- notably the United States and Pakistan -- for making it impossible for the Red Army to leave.
Mr. Brezhnev's chief spokesman, Leonid Zamyatin, accused the United States of blocking a political settlement by "instigating and organizing" what he called "bandit formations" who enter Afghanistan from Pakistani territory. Such outside interference was the reason the Soviet Union reluctantly responded to 14 separate requests for military aid from Afghan leaders over a lengthy period of time, he asserted.
"When those reasons disappear . . . There would be no more reason for the Soviet military presence in that country," declared Zamyatin, who was relating Mr. Brezhnev's closed-door discussions with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. "Those reasons are not vanishing," he added. "On the contrary they are becoming more pervasive."
The Soviet spokesman's account of the Brezhnev-Gandhi talks was in sharp contrast to the vague, diplomatic couched replay offered by Indian spokesman J. N. Dixit. Mr. Brezhnev's official spokeman laced his account with jibes at the Carter White House, particularly National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski.
"We couldn't be further away from intentions to occupy Afghanistan," he said. "That is something that is imagined by those who are still sitting in the White House. Of course, I have in mind only advisers."
Earlier, he told US journalists that he wouldn't mention the countries that are instigating outside intervention in Afghanistan. "Well, after all, you're going to have a new administration soon," he said.
Mr. Brezhnev's visit is widely perceived as an attemp to woo Indian acquiescence in the continued Soviet military presence in Afghanistan. At the least, the Soviets hope to keep India from slipping from its studied refusal to publicly join international condemnations of the Soviet invasion.
In public speeches in Mr. Brezhnev's presence, both Mrs. Gandhi and Indian President N. Sanjiva Reddy have limited themselves to strongly voiced concern over outside intervention and conflict in the vicinity of India. They also emphasized the need for early solutions. Although their meanings are widely understood, neither has mentioned Afghanistan or the Soviet Union by name.
Dixit declined to say whether Mrs. gandhi had pressed Brezhnev for a troop withdrawal. But he said she had told the Soviet leader that "India is against all categories of interfeence which have affected the sovereignty, progress, prosperity, and nonalignment of the people of Afghanistan."
India appears to be moving away from its previous position of explaining the Soviet move as a reaction to the US naval buildup in the Indian Ocean.
According to Dixit, Mrs. Gandhi told Brezhnev that India understood events and trends coupled with "differing perceptions about security interests by different countries" could trigger international crises. But "regardless of how such situations develop," he emphasized, India was upholding its stand against foreign interference in other countries.
India also has clearly broadened its displeasure at US naval forces in the Indian Ocean to include Soviet ships. At a banquet for Mr. Brezhnev, President Reddy expressed Indian concern at "the upward spiral of competitive naval presence of nonlittoral states in the Indian Ocean."
And, at Tuesday's official press briefing, Dixit was not content with Zamyatin's response to question (from a Soviet newsman) about the US military buildup in the Gulf and Indian Ocean. After Zamyatin said both Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Brezhnev had condemned such miliary activity, Dixit leaped in to broaden Mrs. Gandhi's reaction to concern over increased naval presences of several countries.
Many observers expect that Gandhi and Brezhnev will agree to disagree on Afghanistan after their mutual probing of each other's attitudes and intentions.
Significantly, Mrs. Gandhi reminded Brezhnev at a civic reception that Indo-Soviet friendship is important to both countries -- a pointed notation that the Soviet Union needs its Indian association as much as India needs the soviet Union.
"Neither country," she said, "has ever sought to impose its perceptions on the other." Mrs. Gandhi added later that India was proud it had not jettisoned any of its basic tenets, including "commitment to an independent foreign policy."