The United States is now willing to sell India sophisticated military equipment that it previously was reluctant to sell anywhere in South Asia, informed sources said here today.
Cited as examples of the types of equipment involved -- and which the Indians have been seeking to buy -- were guidance systems for aircraft and "smart bombs."
A U.S. offer to enter negotiations for military cash sales was conveyed by special presidential emissary Clark Clifford, who met with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Foreign Ministry officials Wednesday and Thursday.
A source close to the talks said the Indians were told the United States realizes their "valid security concerns" and has reconsidered its arms sales policies for the Indian subcontinent.
The decision to loosen military sales restrictions to India follows the U.s. announcement several weeks ago of a new $400 million program of military and economic sales credit to Pakistan. U.S. arms sales to both countries, which have fought each other in three wars since World War II, the last in 1971, had been slowed by the Carter Administration.
In Washington, informed sources said the decisions on Pakistan and India were made at the same time, shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
An Indian diplomat said the guidance systems had been requested by India before the Afghan invasion, and that they were intended for use with Jaguar deep-penetration strike aircraft. in 1978, India entered into a $1.6 billion agreement that involved setting up production facilities for the plane in India. India reportedly agreed to buy 40 of the Anglo-French aircraft, using British credit, for about $5 million each.
According to the diplomat, the administration thought the offer to India "would be a sweetener" to make arms sales to Pakistan more palatable in New Delhi. He said India remains adamantly opposed to arming Pakistan and added that "the Americans themselves have admitted" tensions in the region had markedly eased since the United States decided to stop selling military equipment there.
India is reported to be particularly interested in the guidance systems because it considers them the best available. Neither Clifford nor the Indian Foreign Affairs spokesman disclosed the offer in press briefings on the Clifford talks.
Clifford portrayed the Pakistan arms aid as modest, limited to defensive use against forays from Afghanistan and intended as a message to the Soviets to move no further.
India's concerns, however, remain focused on the subcontinent it dominates. It chief fears are that the cold war will turn hot right in its neighborhood and that arms supplied to Pakistan will be turned against India again.
India has called for a deescalation of the crisis to ensure the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Foreign Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao told Clifford the United States should hold off arms aid to Pakistan until it sees the results of India's diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation.
India's moves include telling the Soviets that New Delhi expects the Soviet troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, a visit to Pakistan by the Indian foreign minister and talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko during his visit later this month.
India has "very considerable leverage" with the Soviets, according to a key diplomat. He pointed out that the Soviets have cultivated India for years because of its leadership position among the nonaligned nations and as a strategic precaution against India "cosying up" to China.
India and the Soviet Union signed a friendship pact in 1971 and the Soviet Union is India's major arms supplier. From 1967 to 1976, according to U.S. Arms Control and Disarmanent Agency figures, the Soviet Union supplied $1.36 billion worth of India's $1.68 billion purchases, compared to $40 million supplied by the United States.
More recently, the United States delivered $12.4 million in arms to India in 1977 and $10.9 million in the first half of 1978. U.S. arms sales were totally cut off following the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars.