New Delhi, India
In an apparent attempt to regain the propaganda initiative, India has agreed to take a ''positive'' look at a no-war pact proposed by Pakistan more than two months ago.
Pakistan's proposal had followed a government press statement announcing acceptance of an American military and economic aid package, including the sale of F-16 fighter bombers. For this reason, Pakistan's September offer had been seen here as a propaganda offensive targeted at United States public opinion.
India has blamed the US for triggering a subcontinental arms race, charging that Pakistan has invariably used new arms against it. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they became independent in 1947. There are open fears that they are headed toward a fourth.
It was thus no surprise that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's initial reaction to Pakistan's proposal was to term it a possible ''trap'' and to question Pakistan's sincerity in talking peace while ''frantically acquiring'' US armaments. But India's bitter objections had themselves come to be seen as a loss in the continuing public relations battle. Pointing to India's clear military superiority over Pakistan, one diplomatic observer said India had undercut its case by exaggerating its vulnerability to a rearmed Pakistan.
Indian diplomats still voice doubts about the timing and sincerity of the Pakistani proposal. But New Dehli officials have become more and more concerned that India was emerging as the propaganda loser.
Indeed, Pakistan's President Zia ul-Haq has been criticizing India for hairsplitting on form rather than substance. As the Hindustan Times noted, ''India's initial steadfast refusal to discuss the issue could be portrayed (by Pakistan) for international consumption as sheer intransigence.''
Finally India acted to regain the offensive. Foreign Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao told Parliament that Pakistan had officially confirmed its ''offer'' Nov. 22.
Reminding parliamentarians that Pakistan had repeatedly spurned previous Indian no-war pact offers, Mr. Rao said the notes amounted to Pakistan's first acceptance of a 33-year-old Indian proposal.
''Our attitude will thus be positive,'' Mr. Rao said.
It is open to question whether India and Pakistan will settle down to serious negotiations on a nonaggression pact or start another round of finger-pointing verbal battling.