Pakistan said it successfully test-fired a new version of its nuclear-capable medium-range missile Thursday, a show of power a day after peace talks with India that were criticized by domestic hard-liners.
The North Korean-designed Ghauri missile, also known as the Hatf 5, was launched to mark the end of military exercises at an undisclosed location, an army statement said. The missile with a range of 800 miles could easily strike deep into neighboring India, Pakistan’s nuclear-armed foe.
The missile, based on the Soviet Scud, has been in service since 1998 and test-fired many times, most recently Oct. 12.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had watched the launch and congratulated scientists, engineers and the army for developing the new version of the missile, the statement said.
“Pakistan can be justifiably proud of its defense capability and the reliability of its nuclear deterrence,” he said, according to the statement.
Pakistan believes in peace that “comes from a position of strength and operational readiness,” Aziz said. He said Pakistan’s nuclear capability had reached full operational capability in the past seven years.
On Wednesday, longtime nuclear rivals Pakistan and India concluded a crucial round of peace talks in New Delhi aimed at resolving their differences, including the thorny issue of their territorial dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India did not comment on the test.
A former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence spy agency, Hamid Gul, said President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government was incapable of solving the Kashmir issue through talks with India, and that Pakistan must continue missile tests to safeguard its defense.
“So far, Musharraf has got nothing in return for giving concessions to India,” Gul said.
‘Exercise in futility’
He said this week’s Pakistan-India talks were an “exercise in futility” and that India was not interested in resolving the key issue of Kashmir.
“We should continue these missile tests to boost our defense. We have given our blood for our nuclear and missile programs,” Gul said. “I don’t expect Musharraf or anyone can solve the Pakistan-Indian dispute through talks.”
In Islamabad, analyst Khaled Mahmood said the test was likely meant as a message to domestic hard-liners.
“It is obviously a show of power as the missile test came a day after the two sides held talks,” he said, adding that Pakistan was also sending a signal to India that it would “not compromise on its defense.”
During two days of talks, India and Pakistan agreed on measures to combat terrorism, and on a deal outlining safeguards to prevent an accidental nuclear conflict. Pakistani officials said the talks set up a three-member commission to exchange information on terrorism threats.
A joint statement said India and Pakistan agreed to hasten the signing of the deal but no date or further details were given. The statement also said efforts were being made to improve trade across the line that divides Kashmir.
A bitter history
India and Pakistan, the former largely Hindu and the latter predominantly Muslim, have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent after independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the conflicts grew out of competing claims to Kashmir.
India accuses Pakistan of funding and training the Muslim separatists who cross over to the Indian portion of Kashmir to stage attacks. Pakistan denies the charges, saying it only offers the rebels moral and diplomatic support.
On Thursday, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna offered no comment on the test. However, G. Parthasarthy, a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, said Islamabad was welcome to test whatever missiles it wants.
“It won’t affect India-Pakistan relations,” he said.
Pakistan and India first conducted nuclear test explosions in 1998, and often carry out tit-for-tat tests of missiles capable of reaching deep inside each other’s territories.