New Delhi — The continued Soviet occupation of Afghanistan has fueled deep traditional antagonisms and suspicions between India and Pakistan and now threatens to undermine their halting progress toward normal relations.
In an unusually frank outburst only days before Tuesday's scheduled arrival of the Pakistan foreign minister in New Delhi, a senior Pakistani official derided India's "obsession" with blocking arms aid to Pakistan in the wake of the Afghan crisis. An Indian government spokesman retorted that each time Pakistan has received arms, "They were used against us."
India and Pakistan have fought three wars -- the last less than nine years ago -- since they emerged as independent nations from the bloody partition of Britain's subcontinental empire in 1947. The two countries have been slowly moving toward normalization of diplomatic and trade ties, but the Soviet invasion has revived their deep mutual distrust of each other's military designs.
Pakistan feels itself uncomfortably wedged between a Soviet occupation force on one border and a militarily superior India, linked to the Soviet Union in a 1971 friendship treaty, on the other. Unquestionably ahead in military manpower and armaments, India is wary of Pakistan's hunt for more arms and its friendships with other superpowers -- especially China, which humiliated India in a lightning 1962 border attack.
Most rankling to Pakistan was the Indian reaction to a United States proposal to give Pakistan $200 million in arms aid to bolster its defenses shortly after Soviet troops poured into neighboring Afghanistan. Even before Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq discarded the American offer as "peanuts," India raised a furor; claiming it would set off a subcontinental arms race and plunge the subcontinent into direct superpower rivalry. A few months later, India signed a
"People in Pakistan do not appreciate the Indian logic," a Pakistani diplomat said sarcastially. "They supply of arms by the United States to Pakistan would have inducted a superpower into the region. The supply of arms to India by the Soviet Union does not. What is good for the gander is not good for the goose."
Their widely varying reactions to the troop invasion have also exacerbated the differences between Pakistan, which feels directly threatened, and India, which does not.
While Pakistan led an international chorus of demands for immediate and unconditional withdrawal, India initially astonished the world by insisting at the United Nations that the troops had been duly invited in by the Afghan government. It expressed general disapproval of the presence of foreign troops in any country, and has since pressed the Soviet Union to withdraw.
But it has declined to join in public condemnations, saying it preferred quiet diplomacy as a more effective means of defusing tension.
Only last month, after a Moscow visit by Indian Foreign Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, did India first unveil public doubts about Moscow's intentions to pull out. "The hope that Soviet assistance to Afghanistan could indeed remain limited in time as originally intended is not very strong," Mr. Rao acknowledged to the Indian Parliament.
"This amounts to an admission of an incorrect assessment by India," says a key Pakistani diplomat. But, he added, "The concern that Rao expressed was not related so much to the presence of Soviet forces in Afghanistan as to the implications of te continued Soviet presence for India."
He said Mr. Rao's remarks aimed "to create the illusion and image of Indian criticism of the Soviet Union." Underlying them, he alleged, was a one-sided concern "that somebody might come to give assistance to Pakistan."
In comments remarkable for their candor and timing, on the eve of Pakistan Foreign Minister Agha Shahi's visit to India, the diplomat said that "India knows very well that Pakistan has not received a bullet from the United States. But there is this continued apprehension that Pakistan will somehow be provided arms. Their obsession is preventing the supply of arms to Pakistan. That is to be kept separate from the Indian purchase of Soviet arms," he added bitterly.
"India has interposed its influence against the sale of arms to Pakistan in every country in the world, including France and China," he contended.
The diplomat said, the independent diplomatic sources confirmed, that Pakistan has received zero arms aid since the late December Soviet move into Afghanistan -- although not for lack of trying.
The Pakistani official also scoffed at India's downplaying of its largest- ever Soviet arms deal as a routine purchase from one of several defense suppliers that was initiated by the previous Janata Party government. The Sovit equipment is being sold to India at prices 2.5 to 3.5 percent below the going prices in the world arms market and on concessional credit terms of 2.5 percent interest over 19 years, far below the going market rates, he pointed out.
"This is by no means a routine or ordinary deal," said the diplomat, who estimated that the Indians would have had to pay $9 billion for the equipment at prevailing open market prices and credit terms.
Mr. Rao, in a candid moment, has called much of India's and Pakistan's mutual rhetoric about each other's arms "public posturing." But many Western Diplomatic observers find it deeply revealing of the two countries' fears and apprehensions of each other.
With the Afghan crisis driving a new wedge between the two old antogonists, few observers expect any breakthroughs in the normalization talks this week.