Taking a lesson from South Africa, Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith apparently has adopted a tactic of seeming to accept the Western peace plan for his warravaged country while launching massive attacks against the black nationalist guerrillas to ensure they will reject it.
Rhodesia, in its rivalry with black guerrilla groups that want to govern the country, and South Africa, in its efforts to ensure continued control of an independent Namibia, have used strikingly similar approaches.
The tactis are aimed simultaneously at gaining Western support for the white-led governments of the region and driving a wedge between the black nationalists and their supporters in the West.
This nearly worked for South Africa and it may still succeed for Smith, although initial signs point to its-failure in Rhodesia.
In addition, Smith's tactics seem intended to humiliate Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, a leading supporter of the nationalist guerrillas.
It is now known, for example, that for a half hour on Oct. 19, during a massive Rhodesian air raid against guerrilla sites in Zambia, the Rhodesian air force took over complete air control at Lusaka's international airport and at the main Zambian military air base at Mumbwa.
The Rhodesians ordered Zambian jets not to move and issued flight instructions to all civilian aircraft flying in Zambian air space.
To prove their undisputed control of air facilities in the region of the Zambian capital, Rhodesia last weekend broadcast over Salisbury Radio - for all of Africa to hear - the conversation between the Commander of the Rhodesian strike force and the Lusaka airport's air trafic controller.
The main objective of this humiliation of Zambia, it is widely believed here, is to convince Kaunda and guerrilla leader Joshua Nkomo of the expediencey of making a compromise deal with the biracial transitional government in Rhodesia on terms more favorable to Rhodesia than those of the U.S.-British proposals.
In what is seen here as part of its diplomatic maneuvering, Smith and three back coleaders of the government wound up a two-week lobbying campaign in the United States last week by announcing their agreement to attend the proposed Anglo-American conference of all parties involved in the Rhodesian dispute.
Coming after months of refusal, their acceptance seemed to clear the way for finally convening the longsought conference. But then nationalist guerrilla leaders Nkomo and Robert Mugabe changed their minds and said no.
The nationalists and their allies blamed the United States and Smith, charging that the Carter administration had sold out to Rhodesia and had virtually condoned, by its faint condemnation, the biggest Rhodesian raids ever on guerrilla camps deep inside Zambia and Mozambique.
By no coincidence, they said, the day Smith was agreeing in Washington to attend the all-party conference his forces were in Zambia, allegedly killing hundreds of nationalist supporters and 31 Zambian army soldiers.
Nkomo and his main "front-line" backer, Kaunda, charged that Washington in its anxiety to win over Smith had agreed to hold a conference on his terms, "without preconditions," and thereby abandoned its own commitment to the Anglo-American proposals for a settlement.
After 13 months of shuttle diplomacy, Washington had perhaps won Smith over but, in the process, lost all the parties needed to hold a conference.
Behind this somersault of positions lies a striking parallel with South Africa's dealings with the West over Namibia.
Last April, South Africa told the five Western powers it had been negotiating with for over a year that it had decided to accept their plan for U.N.-supervised elections and independence in Namibia.
The Namibian nationalist Southwest Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), which had yet to agree itself, was suddenly put on the defensive.
Nine days later, before SWAPO had made up its mind, the South Africans sent a large airborne strike force more than 100 miles into Angola to hit. SWAPO's headquarters at Kassinga. As many as 800 guerrillas and refugees were killed, according to SWAPO.
SWAPO's initial reaction was a renewed determination to stand up militarily to South Africa and reject the Western plan.
The South African ploy appeared to be on the verge of succeeding untilunexpected pressure from the five frontline black African states, particularly Angola, persuaded SWAPO to change its mind and accept the Western plan.
SWAPO later got the U.N. Security Council to amend the Western plan more to their liking, thereby turning the diplomatic tables on South Africa, whcih then rejected it.
Smith seems to be using the same maneuver, called by some observers the "Kassinga tactic," to achieve the objective South Africa aimed for as well as to browbeat Kaunda and Nkomo into a separate peace agreement on hsi terms rather than those of the Anglo-American proposal.
The Anglo-American proposal calls on Smith to "surrender power" to the British, the former colonial authorities in Rhodesia. Britain would then set up its own transitional government and with the help of the United Nations hold elections for a new black majority government that would be assured of British and international recognition.
Smith, on the other hand, wants Nkomo in particular to join the present biracial Rhodesian government, which remains under white co trol. This would divide the guerrillas, leave the radical Marxist Mugabe out in the cold and give the white-led transitional government a chance to crush Mugabe's guerrilla forces.
But Smith's tactic may be boomeranging. Neither Kaunda nor Nkomo appears close to breaking under the new Rhodesian military pressure.
Both Mugabe and Nkomo have indicated since the latest Rhodesian raids their increasing determination to fght it out on the battlefield rather than at a conference table. They still have the arms and men to wear the already faltering Smith-led transitional government into the ground.
Kaunda also does not appear about to hield to Smith's tactics.He has called upon Zambians to prepare for a long struggle and told Washington and London they must force Smith to deal with the Anglo-American proposals or he will not support a peace conference.
Meanwhile, he is turning to Britain and China for increased military assistance to protect Zambia against Rhodesian attacks, Nkomo has flown to Moscow, presumably to obtain similar aid both to defend his camps and retailate inside Rhodesia.
Alrady he has gotten heat-seeking missiles and rocket launchers from Moscow.
Thus, far from "breaking" Kaunda and Nkomo or winning support in Washington and London, the "Kassinga tactic" may prove to be the final undoing of the Smith-led transitional government, making any kind of Western-promoted compromise with the nationalist guerrillas impossible.
Like the American bombings of North Vietnam and Hanoi, those by the Rhodesians may have served to consolidate Zambian and nationalist determination to prevail on the battlefield no matter the higher cost in lives and property.