President Carter's special envoy Clark Clifford has failed to allay India's fears about US arms for Pakistan in response to Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.
Mr. Clifford, who visited New Delhi Jan. 30 and 31, succeeded, however, in getting across to Moscow the message that it would be war if Soviets tried to move into the Persian Gulf region and that any Soviet attempt to enter Pakistan would be resisted by the United States and other nations.
India was dismayed that President Carter decided to send a team led by Zbigniew Brzezinski to Pakistan to persuade it to accept US military and economic aid even before Mr. Clifford reached Delhi.
India thinks the United States had already decided on arms for Pakistan and was trying to confront it with a fait accompli situation. Complicating India-US dialogue was Mr. Carter's declaration that the US would use force and go for a naval buildup in the Indian Ocean to protect the Persian Gulf region.
Mr. Clifford's talks revealed India-US agreement on the objective -- withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. But the approaches differed.
India thinks quiet diplomacy, rather than a public condemnation of Soviet action, would achieve this. But Mr. Clifford wanted India to go beyond balancing expression of concern at both US and Soviet moves. He said the United States had only responded to Soviet action. The two sides differed on perception of threats to the region and reasons for Soviet action.
India thinks the US was minimizing the amount of its military aid to Pakistan (which Pakistan's Gen. Zia ul-Haq described as "peanuts") and that a much bigger package, with the participation of Western and Arab powers, was in the offing. Indira Gandhi pointed out to Mr. Clifford that the best way of inducing Soviet withdrawal would be de-escalation and not intensifying confrontation.
Mr. Clifford made three points: Proposed arms supply was strictly in the context of Soviet presence in AFghanistan; the United States would try to ensure that induction of arms would not upset the military balance in the subcontinent; and President Carter was personally committed to better India-US relations.
In the US reading, India does not seriously fear Pakistan, however heavily armed it might be. It thinks India's real concerns are China and the United States. Mr. Clifford tried to allay this fear. The US does not expect differences over arms sales to Pakistan to be resolved. Its effort is to convince India that Pakistan has genuine security needs.
The United States thinks the best assurance would lie in the type of equipment it offered to Pakistan. It wants India to give up blanket opposition to arms from Pakistan and it wants to point out precisely what weapons would threaten it. For instance, there could be no Indian objection to Pakistan getting interceptor aircraft, while an objection to sale of fighter-bombers was understandable.
India's position is best summed up in the joint declaration by Mrs. Gandhi and visiting French President Giscard d'Estaing, whose views seem to converge on the situation caused by the Afghan crisis. The two leaders, without naming any country, opposed the use of force in international relations and interference or intervention in internal affairs of a sovereign country. They also opposed the present situation or any return to the cold war and intensification of big-power rivalry "through an arms buildup likely to threaten peace in the region."
The two leaders appealed to all countries to realize the dangers and try to avert it.
Analysts see in this a subtle nuance in the Indian position. While India thinks the best way of inducing the Soviets to withdraw would be to de-escalate the situation, it is likely to try to persuade the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan as early as possible.
Interest now centers on the Feb. 12 visit of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko for talks with the new leaders of India.
No tangible Indian formula has emerged so far but the occasion gives Mrs. Gandhi an occasion to convey concern.