November 22, 2002

Pakistan Test Fires Nuclear-Capable Missile

Pakistan test fired a nuclear-capable missile Saturday as it stood on the brink of war with nuclear rival India.

The successful firing "demonstrates Pakistan's determination to defend itself, strengthen national security and consolidate strategic balance in the region," said an official statement.

Pakistan and India have around a million troops massed on their border, and have been exchanging bellicose statements and fighting artillery duels in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir for the past week.

Islamabad notified New Delhi Friday that it would conduct a series of missile tests from Saturday through Tuesday, a move immediately described as "disappointing" by the United States.

Pakistan said the tests were routine and had "nothing to do with the current situation", but analysts say they are a clear flexing of muscles by the smaller state after threatening comments by its giant neighbour.

The missile tested Saturday was an "indigenously developed medium range surface to surface ballistic missile Hatf-V (Ghauri)," the official statement said. "The Ghauri can carry warheads with great accuracy."

A senior defence official said the test was carried out in north-west Pakistan, adding the missiles had a range of between 1,500 and 2,000 kilometres (about 900 and 1,200 miles) and could carry nuclear warheads.

Pakistan's last missile tests were in April 1999.

President Pervez Musharraf "has congratulated the scientists, engineers and all others involved with the programme on their outstanding success which is a source of pride for the nation," the official statement said.

Musharraf later told a ceremony in Islamabad marking the birthday of prophet Mohammad: "It (the missile) has successfully and accurately hit the target... We should be proud of this achievement. Allah-o-Akbar, Allah-o-Akbar, Allah-o-Akbar (God is great, God is great, God is great)."

In an immediate reaction, an Indian defence spokesman said New Delhi was "not impressed" by the missile test.

"We are not impressed by this kind of thing. We have no reaction to this. Whatever reaction we have, has already been given through the external affairs ministry," defence spokesman P.K. Bandyopandhyay told AFP in New Delhi.

On Friday, India's external affairs ministry said the tests were routine and "not central" to the current hostilities.

But US State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said^"They are fully aware of our position, we have made quite clear that we think, given the current situation, the focus should be on steps to reduce tensions in the region.

"We continue to urge both sides to take steps to restrain their missile programs and their nuclear weapons programs, including that there be no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles," he added.

Analysts said the timing of the tests was significant. The editor of Pakistan's Defence Magazine, Ikram Sehgal, told AFP: "This is to indicate to India that Pakistan has a very active missile programme.

"The timing of these tests is clearly to raise the morale of a nation which is threatened by a neighbour."

The latest escalation of tension followed the deaths of 35 people in an attack on May 14 in Indian Kashmir. India blamed Pakistan-based insurgents and threatened military action.

India had already deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to its border with Pakistan after an attack on its parliament in December, which it also blamed on Islamabad.

Apart from fears of a nuclear war, the United States is particularly keen to avoid any conflict which could weaken the international coalition against terrorism, focused at the moment on Pakistan's neighbour Afghanistan.

Pakistan has supported the campaign in Afghanistan, but is reported to already be withdrawing some troops from its western borders to face any military threat from India in the east.

(China Daily May 26, 2002)

In This Series
India Talks of War, World Watches Warily

Kashmir Issue Should Be Solved Peacefully: FM

Britain Recalls Some Diplomats From Pakistan

India Says Time for Decisive Fight

China Voices Concern Over India, Pakistan Tensions

Tensions Mount Over Kashmir

Kashmir Separatist Leader Shot Dead

Indian PM to Visit Jammu, Kashmir

Indian Firing Kills Three in Kashmir



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