India is mounting a major diplomatic campaign to persuade the Reagan administration to abandon plans to make Pakistan a front-line state against Soviet advances in the Persian Gulf by selling it arms.
In a series of meetings here with Western ambassadors whose governments are believed to have influence on Washington, Primce Minister Indira Gandhi's government has argued that large-scale U.S. weapons sales to Pakistan would destablize the region, force India into an arms race and drive it close to its major arms supplier, the Soviet Union.
The Indians maintain that arms sold to Pakistan as a counter to Soviet expansion have twice ended up used against this country.
Furthermore, Indian diplomats have insisted that revitalizing the formerly close defense links between Washington and Islamabad will serve primarily to maintain President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in power and once more polace the United States in the position of supporting an unpopular military government.
Besides making those points to some of America's closest allies, Foreign Minister P.V. Narasinha Rao called the U.S. charge d'affaires Archer Blood this week to express India's strong objections to a heavy rearming of Pakistan.
India's ambassador to Washington, K.R. Narayanan has been instructed to press that point during his initial meeting with Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., scheduled for Tuesday, and a senior Indian Foreign Ministry official, Eric Gonsalves, is planning to go to Washington in early April to buttress New Delhi's arguments.
There is no indication that the Reagan administration is paying any heed to the Indian concerns. According to diplomatic sources, both New Delhi and Islamabad have been informed that Washington has decided not to allow Indian objections to determine the amount of arms it will sell Pakistan and the terms of the sale.
"In our view a secure and confident Pakistan will contribute to the overall security of the subcontinent," said acting State Department spokesman William Dyess yesterday.
The aid package is expected to total $1 billion over two years, or more than twice last year's Carter's administration offer of $400 million that Zia rejected as "peanuts."
But the Pakistanis once more appear to be backing off from the enlarged U.S. offer. Shahi, in an interview with the Washington Post last Saturday, said Pakistan wants economic aid and the right to buy U.S. arms at cut rates, but no direct military assistance to protect its position in the nonaligned world and avoid being labeled a tool of the United States.
Haig acknowledged yesterday that Pakistan has taken "a more reserved attitude" since its initial favorable reaction to the American aid proposal. Shahi has been invited to Washington to continue the talks after U.S. Ambassador Arthur W. Hummell Jr. presented the American position in two meetings with Zia.
One point of contention may be the offer of President Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to consider supplying arms to Afghan rebels, many of whose organizations have headquarters in Pakistan's border city of Peshawar.
Zia yesterday told British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, ipresently visiting Islamabad, that Pakistan must be made militarily strong before it can consider funnelling arms to Afghan rebels because of the strong likelihood of a sharp reaction from Moscow.
In New Delhi, meanwhile, the Indian Parliament has held three days of debate on the question of U.S. arms to Pakistan with politicians from all parties accusing the Reagan administration of returning to the cold way policies of John Foster Dulles.
Editorial comment against the United States has also been sharp, and some Indians have coupled Washington's refusal to consider India's view on rearming Pakistan with the Reagan administration's proposed $85 million slash in Carter's original request for economic aid to India.
Nonetheless, the Gandhi government's public response to plans to arm Pakistan and cut aid to India have been muted, especially when compared with the strident reaction to last year's Carter offer to supply weapons to Pakistan.
Some Western diplomats here, however, speculated that the Indians may fear that an extremely negative reaction would provoke the Reagan administration into a decidedly anti-Indian posture.
Gandhi was reported here to be trying to steer a middle course between expressing India's total opposition to arming Pakistan while seeking better relations with Washington despite the strong differences between the two countries.