Brezhnev yield in India: lots of hugs, no Afghan support

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev carries home from India both a firmly entrenched Indo-Soviet friendship and a standoff on the two countries' views on Afghanistan.

He also goes back with a shrugged-shoulder response from the West over a proposed "peace and security" pact for the volatile Gulf area.

The new doctrine, outlined by Mr. Brezhnev in the Indian Parliament Dec. 10, directly challenges the Carter administration's pledge to use military force to protect the oil-laden Gulf.

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Specifically singling out the United States, other Western powers, China, and Japan, the Soviet leader called on interested countries to join the Soviet Union in a mutual rejection of the use of force or threats of force in the Gulf area. He also urged them to agree not to set up any foreign military bases, not to deploy nuclear weapons, and not to block shipping lanes in the Gulf area.

The US State Department in effect rejected the proposal because of the threat posed to the region by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Indian leaders, too, made it clear before Mr. Brezhnev ended his 74-hour state visit Dec. 11 that they have gone as far as they are willing to go in political support for the Soviets on Afghanistan. That support, in the form of refusal to publicly rebuke or condemn the Soviet Union for sending 85,000 troops into the country, has left India standing virtually alone among noncommunist nations.

Despite the Soviet leader's wooing, Indian hosts sharpened their public expressions of displeasure at foreign intervention in their region. In private, they pressed for withdrawal of the Soviet troops.

But Mr. Brezhnev could go home satisfied that they continued to couch their public disapproval in broad, general terms without a single mention of Afghanistan or the USSR. With much of the world lined up against the Soviet invasion, the muted public stance of the world's largest nonaligned nation is an important piece of moral support for the Soviet Union.

India, however, feels it has now polished its image in the nonaligned world by refusing to budge from its stand of general opposition to foreign troops of any stripe in its region.

"It's given them an opportunity to show that they're not in the Soviet's pocket in Afghanistan," said a Western diplomat who expressed "pleasant surprise" at the Indians' firm stand.

For Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, "It does a lot of good," he said. "It refurbishes her nonaligned credentials on the eve of the nonaligned foreign ministers' meeting," which comes up in New Delhi in February. "She can say, 'We've steadfastly told them to get out."

Mr. Brezhnev held out little hope for an early end to the Afghanistan crisis, and cast the United States and Pakistan as the villains of the situation.

He accused them of instigating and supporting "bandit gangs" -- the nationalist Afghan rebels battling the Soviet troops and the Soviet-installed Afghan government -- whose troublemaking made it impossible for the Soviets to withdraw.

A joint declaration outlined by Mr. Brezhnev and Mrs. Gandhi called for peaceful political solutions to problems in Southwest Asia -- which includes Afghanistan. They also reiterated their mutual opposition "to all forms of outside interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the region." Conspicuously absent was any reference to Afghanistan or the Russian troops stationed there.

In addition, the two leaders called for the dismantling of all foreign bases in the Indian Ocean, with the US installation at Diego Garcia singled out by name. They condemned attempts to build up the foreign military presence in the Indian Ocean under any pretexts. Left unsaid was any reference to the growing Soviet fleet in the Indian Ocean, now estimated at 29 ships compared to 32 for the United States.

At present the Soviet Union has no land military facilities directly inside the Gulf, but has bases nearby in Ethiopia and South Yemen. Inside the Gulf, the United STates maintains a small naval facility in Bahrain, which it insists is not a "base."

Along the approaches to the Gulf the United States has the use of port facilities in Oman and, further away, access to ports and airfields in Somalia and Kenya.

On the economic front, the Soviet Union did agree to increase its supplies of crude oil and petroleum products to India next year, the Press Trust of India news agency reported Dec. 11.

The agency said the Soviet Union will supply 2.5 million metric tons (50,000 barrels) per day of crude and 2.25 million metric tons of products. Originally the Soviets were to supply 1.5 million tons of crude and 1.9 million tons of products. But the Iraq-Iran war severely curtailed their supplies. The two countries provided two-thirds of India's oil imports before the fighting.

During his visit Mr. Brezhnev's aimed his main public pronouncements at the world at large rather than India. But the Indians were not unhappy being thrust into the international limelight as the setting for major global proposals and challenges. Throughout, Mr. Brezhnev repeatedly emphasized India's importance to the Soviet Union and presented his country as a tried and tested longtime friend.

"The Soviet people and their leadership are reliable friends of India -- friends in times both good and bad, friends in rain or shine," he declared.

Indians returned the sentiment. They repeatedly called Mr. Brezhnev "a trusted friend," recalling how the USSR helped India build its heavy industrial infrastructure at a time when Western nations limited their vision of India to an agricultural society.

While paying tribute to Soviet friendship and assistance, for which they are genuinely grateful, Indian leaders have also emphasized their commitment to an independent foreign policy. Their message is that while they may diverge from the Soviets on Afghanistan, they expect the 25-year-old friendship to stand the strain.

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