As Soviet Afghan pullout nears, Asian rivals bid for US favor. India and Pakistan welcome US defense chief with high hopes

The planned Soviet pullout from Afghanistan is triggering a new tug of war between India and Pakistan. United States Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci begins a tour of the region in India today amid conflicting hopes for the trip on the part of both countries:

Pakistan hopes to sustain ties that have brought billions of dollars of US aid and military equipment to the country.

India hopes a Soviet withdrawal will loosen American military links to Pakistan, heighten US opposition to Pakistan's nuclear program, and bolster Indian access to US weapons technology.

``The United States will pay more attention to India's sensitivities without the Soviet presence [in Afghanistan],'' says Bhabani Sen Gupta, a political analyst for the Center for Policy Research, an independent think tank. ``If there is a retrenchment of the military commitment and increased pressure to reduce Pakistan's nuclear program, this will improve the climate between the two countries.''

However, Mr. Gupta and Giri Deshingkar, defense analyst with the independent Center for the Study of Developing Societies, foresee only subtle shifts in US policy in South Asia. Washington remains skeptical, they say, about India's long-standing ties to the Soviet Union, its major weapons supplier.

Pakistani officials say the Soviet Union will remain a threat in the Middle East and Gulf, although the analysts predict the two countries will move to normalize ties.

The US will continue to value Pakistan as an ally after the Afghanistan occupation ends, analysts predict. Pakistan is one of the US's most influential friends among Islamic countries.

After the Afghan withdrawal, India also is anxious to cut off the military aid flow to Pakistan, which was aimed at arming the Afghan resistance based in Peshawar and boosting Pakistan's guard against the Soviet threat.

For years, India has accused Pakistan of secretly developing a nuclear weapon. India exploded a nuclear device in 1974; but, amid growing speculation it is developing nuclear warheads and a delivery system, India maintains it does not possess the bomb.

If US officials increase pressure on Pakistan, they are also likely to express concerns about India's program, analysts say. ``I don't think America will get tougher with Pakistan on nuclear issues, because it knows it won't help,'' says Deshingkar. ``But if that were the case, US officials would be under pressure from the anti-proliferation lobby at home to turn some of the same screws on India.''

Still, American efforts to push a closer military relationship with India have gained momentum since former US Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger visited the country in October 1986.

India, which has the world's fourth largest armed forces, seeks Western military technology to gain self-reliance in producing major weapons systems and reduce its dependence on the Soviets.

India already has agreed to buy a supercomputer from the US, a purchase held up for months by Pentagon fears that the sophisticated technology would slip into Soviet hands.

The US also has approved the sale of engines for India's light-combat aircraft, which is now under development, and is considering the transfer of other technologies for the airplane.

India seeks other advanced electronics, including sonar systems for its Navy. US technology could have a major impact on the Indian Navy, the arm of the military forces least dependent on the Soviets, analysts say. During his visit, Mr. Carlucci will visit a naval base near Bombay.

Such US interest worries Pakistani officials who say US military hardware has given them a slight edge over the superior Indian armed forces.

Recently, India leased a nuclear submarine from the Soviet Union. The Pakistani government was annoyed that the US did not strongly condemn the Indian acquisition. ``If India gets supplies from both superpowers, it will create a tremendous disequilibrium,'' says a Pakistani official. ``Now you will have both superpowers cajoling and pampering the Indians while we may have no one.''

Still, traditional alliances in South Asia likely will continue. Although the US wants to share new technology with India, New Delhi is skeptical the US can be a reliable partner like the Soviets.

``Even when the Soviets leave Afghanistan, we know the Pentagon will find some reason to continue supplies to Pakistan,'' says a senior Indian official.

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