Brezhnev comes visiting, but Gandhi keeps her distance
New Delhi — When Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev arrives in the Indian capital today for a three-day state visit, he will receive a lavish official welcome. But with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan posing the first major strain on the close 25-year-old Indo-Soviet friendship, he is liable to run into some "nyets" when he makes his expected bid for greater Indian support of the Russian venture into the Indian subcontinent.
"Indira Gandhi will waltz with him but she doesn't want to be drawn into a cheek-to-cheek dance," says a leading Indian political analyst.
Underlying his remarks is a growing sense of frustration and embarrassment that India's muted public stance on Afghanistan has alienated it from the noncommunist and nonaligned world -- and won it little clout with Moscow either.
Many Indians are also not happy to have the Soviets ensconced on the subcontinent that India traditionally has dominated. "Afghanistan is the first thing that the Soviets have done that thoughtful Indians felt a threat to India, " says a Western diplomat.
Observers now predict frank discussions in which the Indian prime minister will insist --drawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. One question is whether India would make such a demand openly, thus narrowing the gap between its public and private stances that has confused and blurred its image as a nonaligned leader.
"In private the Indians have been quite firm with the Russians that they shouldn't have gotten into Afghanistan and they ought to get out," an American diplomat observes. Publicly, however, it has voiced only general disapproval of foreign intervention in any country and kept aloof from international condemnations of the Soviet move.
Mrs Gandhi has also maintained that the Soviet thrust into Afghanistan took place in the context of an American naval buildup in the Indian Ocean.
Quiet diplomacy, she has insisted, would be more effective in achieving a solution than loud international outcries.
Nearly a year after Russian troops rolled into Afghanistan, however, 85,000 remain to prop up the Soviet-installed Babrak Karmal government and to fight the fiercely nationalistic tribesmen who deny them control of the country. Comments India Today news magazine on the result of India's quiet diplomacy: "The world watched India for the clout it might have had with the Soviets -- and found that it had none."
A diplomatic official predicts that Mr. Brezhnev will try to convince India to take an "aggressive" role in promoting a political settlement for the Afghan issue. A problem is that the form of political settlement advocated by Moscow and Kabul envisions direct talks between the Karmal regime and the neighboring countries of Pakistan and IRan. But both countries, backed by the Islamic Conference of foreign ministers, have spurned direct talks to avoid giving recognition and legitimacy to the Karmal government.
Indications are that India will resist being drawn into a closer Soviet embrace on Afghanistan. "I'm sure they [the Soviets] will try," says a high-ranking Indian official. "They feel a certain amount of isolation on this subject. They're carrying a weak hand.
"We will say, "This is how far we can go,'" the official added. "This can be done without adversely affecting our relations. I think it will show that the relationship is mature and healthy."
Indo-Soviet relations have flourished since the mid-50s when Russia began extending economic and technical help for Indian development projects. The two countries have been linked by a treaty of peace, friendship, and cooperation since 1971, and Russians are generally perceived as more reliable, steadfast friends than the Americans, who "tilted" toward Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war over independence for Bangladesh.
"They find us unpredictable," says an American official. "The Russians are reliable people. They have a good relationship with this country because the Soviets have never asked the Indians for anything the Indians couldn't gracefully give."
Another American diplomat expects Brezhnev "to keep pointing out to them what warlike people the Americans are with all these ships in the Indian Ocean."