New Delhi — Both the United States and the Soviet Union may be seriously miscalculating the political and psychological support they can expect from their respective "client" states, Pakistan and India, on the Afghanistan situation.
At least that is the strong impression of leading experts based here in India at the apex of that crescent of tensions that runs from Iran through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union to China.
These experts suggest that US reliance on Pakistan to offset Soviet influence in the area may be as misleading as Soviet dependence on India, which has consistently favored Moscow over Washington during the last decade.
The assumption that either the Soviet Union or the United States can automatically count on their Asian allies to do their bidding -or at least to go in to bat for them -is attributed here to two misconceptions:
Misconception No. 1: That because Pakistan is militarily weaker now and agitated by turmoil in neighboring Afghanistan, it would welcome the infusion of promised American arms to shore up its defenses and to protect it against a possible expansionist India.
Not so, say Indians. President Carter's decision to declare unilaterally that he would send US arms to Pakistan, before taking President Zia UlHaq into his confidence, is regarded here as diplomatically inept and naive.
Significantly, they say resident Zia has not rushed to embrace the promised arms package and instead has asked cautiously for further elaboration as to what is in the package.
Misconception No. 2: that because India signed an Indo-Soviet friendship treaty in 1971 and receives substantial military hardware from Moscow, it would look the other way when Soviets marched into Afghanistan.
Again, not true, say the Indians.
Within India there is genuine appreciation for Soviet military hardware and other goods. But India's gratitude for past favors in tinged with some present misgivings.
An informed Indian source says: "Our dependence on the Soviet Union is so large that we cannot effectively resist its spreading influence unless we build up our own national economy as a means of strengthening our national might. And Mrs. Gandhi is going to take this tack."
Some steps to redress this overdependence on Moscow in the military sphere are already apparent with India now shopping more earnestly in the West for airplanes and submarines.
Most intriguing to Soviet watchers here is Mrs. Gandhi herself, who is viewed in Washington eyes as pro-Soviet. Yet, back in 1977, as soon as the outgoing Janata Party was swept into power on an antiGandhi tide, the Soviets reportedly dropped her like a hot potato. At the that time they considered her a spent political force.
Now that whe is firmly back in the saddle there is reason to believe that she may exact a price from the Soviets for neglecting her.
Ramashray Roy of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi, one of the country's top politicial scientists, says:
"Afghanistan really gives her chance to tell the Soviets where to get off. She will have very hard talks with the Russians and they will try to get away with it.
"But the Soviet Union," he continues, "needs India more than India needs the Soviet Union on Afghanistan. It's such a strategic position. There is Pakistan. And then there is China. And she knows she can have some bargaining points at the table."
The Soviets see India as an important cushion between Pakistan and China. As one European diplomat put it, "If the Soviet Union lost India, they'd lost a tremendous chunk of influence in Asia."
"My own feeling," Dr. Roy says about Mrs. Gandhi's future tactics, "is that she will accept the fait accomplit in Afghanistan, then pressure Russia to stabilize and get out, and persuade President Zia (of Pakistan) to share this point of view. I wouldn't be surprised if Mrs. Gandhi doesn't offer to settle Indo-Pakistan differences with Zia."
The possibility of an Indian-initiated raprochement brought a caustic response from one deplomat who thought it most unlikely:
"I think the Indians would like to see that, but not the Pakistanis, for it would mean going along with the Soviet Union and they don't want to accept Soviet hegemony."
At the some time, some admittedly tender shoots of Indian-Pakistan accommodation have sprung up in recent years.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, external affairs minister in the outgoing Cabinet, visited Pakistan in 1977, which was considered something of a breakthrough.
In the same year, at the time of a nonaligned conference, a group of Indian political experts urged Mr. Vajpayee to persuade Pakistan to join the nonaligned movement. (Pakistan is now knocking on the door. Previously it was kept out because it was a member of the pro-Western Central Treaty Organization. But it has since quit CENTO.)
Mr. Vaypayee responded jocularly: "You're asking me to do that?"
But then he added seriously, "It's a good suggestion. it could be argued that both countries would welcome moves to stabilize the area, in view of tensions in neighboring Afghanistan and nearby Iran."
To these Indians, the most pressing reason why India and Pakistan might just work together rather than against each other for a change is there mutual interest in staving off a cold war in Asia.