India's testing of missile raises Pakistan tension

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The Independent Online

India chose the eve of its national holiday, Republic Day, to test a ballistic missile it has developed that is capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

India chose the eve of its national holiday, Republic Day, to test a ballistic missile it has developed that is capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Agni II, which has a range of 700 kilometres (440 miles) and can deliver a payload of 1,000kg, was successfully launched from Wheeler's Island in the Bay of Bengal at 8.50am yesterday. It was the sixth time the controversial missile has been tested since its maiden shot in 1989.

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the test was planned long in advance and "has no political significance or relationship to any event".

But Pakistan chose to see it differently. "We hope the international community will take note of this Indian behaviour, which is prejudicial to the pursuit of stability in our region, especially during the current situation," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, took the cue, saying he regretted India's decision to test the missile. He said it sent "the wrong signals", within the region and beyond.

"I believe that restraint in developing possible nuclear weapons delivery systems is in the long-term interest of India and the region," he went on. "We continue to urge India to take steps set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1172."

The resolution, adopted on 6 June 1998, after India's and Pakistan's tit-for-tat nuclear tests, calls on the south Asian neighbours "to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons".

The test, and Pakistan's tart reaction, came as the armed forces of the two countries continued to confront each other across the long common border. A senior Western diplomat remarked yesterday: "There has been no change in the situation, no lessening of tension at all."

Two weeks ago Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharraf, gave a lengthy televised broadcast to the nation during which, in the context of trying to tame Islamic extremism in Pakistan, he agreed to several of India's demands, notably the banning of two militant groups blamed by India for a suicidal attack on India's parliament last month.

But insisting that it wants "action not words", India has refused the bait. Yesterday Lal Krishna Advani, the hawkish Home Minister, told the press: "The government will require a couple of months to judge whether there is any let-up in cross-border terrorism ... The present situation [on the border] will continue."

India is also holding out for the handing-over of 14 Indian citizens it claims Pakistan is harbouring who are guilty of terrorist crimes on Indian soil.

An unspoken reason for India's refusal to ease up is that crucial state elections are to be held next month, which could affect the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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