Moscow frowns as India courts both China and Pakistan
Despite India's distinctly pro-Soviet tilt, its peace overtures to shared rivals, China and Pakistan, have left Moscow jumpy.
Signs of recent Kremlin concern over just what neighboring India is up to on the foreign policy front coincides with this week's arrival in New Delhi of a high-powered Soviet military delegation. The delegation, led by Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov, includes senior Navy, Air Force, and Army commanders.
The assumption among diplomats here is that the Soviet-Indian talks will examine a general furthering of the countries' longstanding military relationship, although reports from Delhi have suggested specific arms deals are not on the agenda.
Indira Gandhi, India's strong-willed prime minister, has clearly touched the Soviets' always keen sensibilities over relations with neighboring states by opening talks with Peking and Islamabad. Diplomats here say the Soviets may also be uneasy over Mrs. Gandhi's move to diversify her sources of foreign military supplies - particularly by contracting for 40 advanced French fighter jets.
Yet in the immediate run-up to the Ustinov visit, there have been at least two bits of much better news for the Kremlin:
* On Feb. 25, India announced the indefinite postponement of talks on an eventual ''no-war'' pact with Pakistan - talks that, in any case had barely begun.
* On March 5, the Indian defense minister said his country had already decided to replace an aging group of US-made transport planes with Soviet Antonov transports. (India had looked into the possibility of US, French, West German, or Canadian replacements, he said.)
Diplomats assume that Moscow, like other world capitals, does not expect any early departure from Mrs. Gandhi's distinctly pro-Soviet brand of ''nonalignment'' - despite the talks with China and Pakistan. In particular, the chances of a thaw between Delhi and Washington seem about as likely as the election of Lech Walesa to the Soviet Politburo. The Reagan administration has agreed to supply the Pakistanis with sophisticated US warplanes, further damaging already faltering US-Indian ties.
Yet a measure of the importance the Kremlin attaches to its Indian connection , and of Kremlin sensitivity to even potential threats to it, came when Moscow radio's Asian service took the time to lash out at a British magazine which suggested Mrs. Gandhi might be open to a timely bear hug from the Americans.
Among other indications of Kremlin jitters are the following:
* As India began talks with China and Pakistan on decades-old rivalries with each state, the official Soviet media unleashed a saturation campaign with an unmistakable message: China and Pakistan aren't to be trusted.
Even by Soviet standards, the operation was less than subtle -- a fact which may explain a Feb. 9 statement by Moscow's ambassador in Pakistan voicing support for ''peace'' in the whole region, and thus, for a successful Indian-Pakistani ''non-war'' accord. But after India postponed further talks, Moscow radio's Asian service weighed in with something akin to ''we told you so'' - quoting unidentified ''observers'' as saying Pakistan's ''maneuvers over the (no-war) issue were designed to discredit India's foreign policy and justify Pakistan's intensive military preparation.''
* Parallel Soviet media warnings of a ''threat'' to India from both China and Pakistan, and, particularly, from Washington. This theme is not exactly new, but has been sounding much more loudly, even after India's deferral of further talks with Pakistan. In what some analysts saw as a ''curtain-raiser'' for the Delhi talks, the Soviet armed forces newspaper March 11 accused Washington of unleashing ''CIA's armory of sophisticated subversive means'' against India, while also funneling ''massive US arms supplies to Pakistan'' and pursuing ''growing military contacts with China.''
* A series of feelers from the Soviet Union, itself, to Peking. These have included at least two offers to renew border talks and, according to a Chinese-language Moscow radio broadcast, a recent proposal to renew scientific and technical exchanges absent since the Sino-Soviet split of the early 1960s. The radio commentary tied the move to a recent statement from the Soviet prime minister saying: ''We are not going to shy away from concrete steps aimed at improvement of relations'' with China. ''But this process must not be one-sided.''
Diplomats here say although the Soviets clearly would like to take advantage of recent strains between China and the US, the India-China talks seem a further catalyst for the Moscow feelers.