Pakistan's tit-for-tat missile test fuels arms race

CONCERN OVER an accelerating arms race in South Asia has deepened after Pakistan tested an advanced medium range missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead deep into India, Iran or China.

The test of the Ghauri or HATF-V missile yesterday came as no surprise after India tested its own equivalent, the Agni N-2, on Sunday. Immediately after the Indians announced their test Pakistan made clear it would respond rapidly. The Ghauri, named after a medieval Muslim warrior king, was fired from a test site near the northern city of Jhelum and took 12 minutes to travel 730 miles to land on the shores of the Arabian Sea. The Pakistani authorities said the flight was "completely successful" but disclosed few facts about it. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the missile can carry a 1,000kg payload up to 1,300 miles and stressed that it could "be tipped with any type of warhead".

Defence sources say the new missile is also the first in Pakistan to be fitted with state of the art technology, allowing it to be guided accurately on to its target.

The spokesman said the test demonstrated Pakistan's "determination to defend our geographic boundaries and strengthen national security". He denied that Pakistan wanted a "nuclear and missile race in South Asia". There was no immediate response to the test from the Indian government.

Last summer, both countries conducted a series of nuclear tests in spite of massive international opposition. The resulting economic sanctions hit hard although India, with its huge economy and greater foreign currency reserves, has weathered their effect more successfully. Although this week's tests are a setback for international efforts to restrict the two nations' arms development programmes, diplomats say the situation on the subcontinent has improved sharply in the last 12 months.

"If anything, the two tests have lowered the tension between the two countries. There is nothing like the belligerence and angst we saw last year," said one Pakistan diplomat in the West.

Both nations appear to have followed the procedures laid out in the Lahore Declaration - signed by both countries' Prime Ministers in February - and informed each other of their test plans well in advance. The leaders of the two countries have also recently hinted that they may sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which covers nuclear testing, later this year.

Analysts say, however, that though the threat of military conflict appears to have receded, there is still concern that the strain of military expenditure on the two nations' economies may undermine attempts to stabilise the region.

"We are now seeing the sort of arms race which proved immensely costly even to well developed Western economies," said Professor Zafar Iqbal Cheema of the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. "Pakistan is just not equipped for that sort of expenditure."

Pakistan is believed to be receiving assistance with its missile development from North Korea. That has been denied and the Foreign Ministry statement issued yesterday stressed that the newly tested missile was part of Pakistan's "indigenous programme".

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