Chinese guns stir India more than Soviet tanks
India, which has a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, is taking a hard, stony look at Chinese arms pouring into neighboring Pakistan - and doesn't like it a bit.
As a result, Indian military binoculars are not surveying the Afghanistan landscape for signs of Soviet troop concentrations. Instead, they are fixed on the Karakoram highway, the road along the "roof of the world" which links Gilgit in Pakistan-held Kashmir with Kashgar in China.
India views this road as of purely strategic value of Peking and as a potential Chinese stranglehold on its own security.
Reports of supplies of Chinese arms and other military hardware to Pakistan have triggered an official Indian complaint to China about New Delhi's concern and anxiety over the induction of arms into the area.
Adding to Indian jumpiness is the round of Afghanistan-related talks winding up today between visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua and top Pakistani officials in Islamabad. India is becoming alarmed that the Afghanistan situation may escalate from a cold war between the major powers into a hot war that engulfs India.
The significance of India to the overall geopolitical situation is underscored by the number of world leaders beatng a hasty path to the door of new Indian Prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Although in office only a matter of days, Mrs. Gandhi has already received British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, is currently meeting with UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, and next week talks with French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. It is the first time a French president has visited India. Next in line: Soviet Foreign minister Andrei Gromyko. His visit is imminent.
Mrs. Gandhi is using these diplomatic opportunities to inform her guests that she rejects the Western-devised scenario that pits a United States-Pakistan-China axis against a Soviet Union-India axis.
"We are neither pro-Russia nor pro-America. We are only pro-India," she said in New Delhi Jan. 20.
Mrs. Gandhi has branded Moscow's intervention in Afghanistans as "unjustified." She charges that US arms for rival Pakistan will speed the arms race in the region.
Understanding Indian foreign policy is to see the strategic power balance in Central Asia from the other end of the political telescope -- or the military binoculars -- from the United States.
The US, for instance, views the Soviet Union as an aggressor. It seeks to bring Pakistan, China, and itself into a united front against further Soviet expansionism, but without upsetting India.
India is embarrassed and upset over Moscow's takeover of Afghanistan. It wishes Moscow had not done it, but cannot conceive of breaking with the Soviet Union.
In military hardware as well as in straightforward economic nuts and bolts, the Soviets are both a provider and a security blanket. The Soviet Union has repeatedly come to India's aid against US-armed Pakistan and conveniently protects its rear against a possible sneak Chinese attack.
To India, China, not the Soviet Union is the aggressor. In 1962 India confronted China in a border war, loosing both territory and face in the process.
The 1962 border war and the Chinese attack on a fellow Soviet ally, Vietnam, in early 1979 have an ominous ring for Indians. They see China as the leading expansionist power in Asia. To some extent Indonesia shares these qualms.
While some improvement in Sino-Indian relations appears remote, the prospects for some Indian-Pakistan accommodation are in the cards, despite considerable obstackes and mutual fears.
Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq went out of his way to send warm congratulations -- the indian press called it felicitations -- on Mrs. Gandhi's electoral win. There is government talk of efforts to continue work on normalizing relations.
At the same time a source with considerable political clout in Indian foreign policy says: "We just don't know what their policy line is. We can't read the signals well enough [to formulate policy]."
Indians are puzzled about Pakistan's call for some kind of defense treaty with the United States when there are already existing US defense provisions.
The Indians suspect the US has its work cut out to make Pakistan amenable to its proffered arms package.
A cartoon on the front page of the Sunday's Times of India shows a panicked President Carter on his knees trying to spill arms into the lap of seated President Zia. a nonchalant Mr. Zia is looking the other way. The caption reads: "All I want, Zia, is that you should accept it: I'll take care of the rest."
An american diplomat at the US Embassy in Islamabad conceded to this reporter just before the Indian elections:
"For about six months at diplomatic functions the Pakistani military officers kept on telling us, 'The Russians are coming. the Russians are coming.' Now it's happened.
"It only needs Mrs. Gandhi, who has been pro-moscow," he continued, "to win the elections for the Pakistan military to feel real paranoia, because they will then feel Russian influence on either side of them."
Mrs. Gandhi did win the election. But the view here, even from a non-Indian standpoint, is that she genuinely has no desire to upset the Pakistani apple cart. If anything, it is thought, she would want to stabilize it.