New Delhi — India does not want war with Pakistan and has no intention of starting or provoking a clash with its neighbor, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared here Oct. 15.
Mrs. Gandhi's statement, in an interview with three correspondents for American publications, appeared intended to cool down the growing apprehension that India and Pakistan are headed for their fourth war in 34 years of independence.
Late last month, a veteran Western diplomat rated the chances of another Indo-Pakistani war within the next two years as "slightly better than 50-50." The impetus, the diplomat flatly predicted, would come from India rather than Pakistan.
"Oh, was there? I didn't see it," said Mrs. Gandhi of the prediction published by numerous Western news media. "There is no provocation from our side for anything like this."
At the same time Mrs. Gandhi questioned the sincerity of Pakistan's recent offer of a no-war pact, noting that it coincided with Pakistan's formal acceptance last month of terms for an American package of military credits, economic aid, and cash sales of F-16 fighter planes.
The prime minister said India had made several offers of a nonaggression pact to Pakistan since 1949, but "it is Pakistan who brushed it aside."
"Suspicions are raised in people's minds," Mrs. Gandhi said of the timing of the recent Pakistani overture by President Zia ul-Haq. "It is a little difficult [to see] why he has come up with it at the same time as acquiring this very sophisticated weaponry."
Mrs. Gandhi has long been sounding alarms over the American rearming of Pakistan, calling it a direct threat to India's security and the stability of the Indian subcontinent.
The American proposal for F-16 cash sales to Pakistan is currently pending in Congress, and both houses would have to take the initiative to vote no by early November to prevent the sale. Some opposition, mainly centered on Pakistan's nuclear ambitions, has developed, but Mrs. Gandhi said it appeared Pakistan would get the armaments it wants. "As of now, it certainly looks like it," she said.
Despite her clear suspicions of Pakistan's no-war pact offer, Mrs. Gandhi declared firmly, "We have never committed aggression against Pakistan and we don't intend to."
She added later, "We do not want a war. We have never wanted a war. We have only gone in for self-defense."
Not surprisingly, Pakistanis hold different views on the origins of the three Indo-Pakistani wars, particularly the 1971 war in which India helped what was then Pakistan's eastern wing to break away and become the independent nation of Bangladesh.
Many Pakistanis blame India for the dismemberment of their country and believe that India would like to see Pakistan vanish from the world map.
One manifestation of this feeling came in an interview with Pakistan's General Zia, published recently by the Far Eastern Economic Review. The general said he felt that Mrs. Gandhi perhaps "has still not reconciled herself to the existence of Pakistan." Even with Pakistan left cut in half after the 1971 war, Zia was quoted as saying, "It's still perhaps an eyesore in her dreams."
Zia's statement drew angry retort from Mrs. Gandhi in the Oct. 15 interview. "I don't want to be rude, but it's really ridiculous," she said, maintaining, "I think I have done more than almost anybody for friendship with Pakistan."
Mrs. Gandhi pointed out that it was her Congress Party, then headed by her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, that accepted the partitioning of Great Britain's subcontinental empire into independent Pakistan and India. Partition, she said, was a "lesser evil" than remaining under colonial rule.
She also cited India's proclamation of a unilateral cease-fire after the 1971 war as an example of her friendship with Pakistan. "It wasn't easy for me," she said, noting that the public and her Cabinet and defense advisers were against it and "at that time we were winning all along the line."