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Pakistan launches first cruise missile

Pakistan successfully test-fired its first cruise missile Thursday in a move characterized by officials as a move toward “military balance” in the region.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan successfully test-fired its first cruise missile on the 62nd birthday of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who hailed Thursday’s launch as a move toward “military balance” in the region.

Archrival India declined to comment on the test of the Babur missile, which has a range of 310 miles and is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional warheads.

Pakistan fired the missile from an undisclosed location without notifying India — just days after the two governments formalized an agreement on telling each other in advance about missile tests.

But the move appeared unlikely to upset a peace process between the nuclear rivals aimed at settling six decades of hostility.

Pakistani officials said the agreement formalized by officials in New Delhi last weekend only covers ballistic missile tests — not those of cruise missiles.

Arms race continues
However, Thursday’s test did underscore the fact that even after 1½ years of confidence-building measures and peace talks — including a cease-fire at the frontier of disputed Kashmir — both nations are still upgrading their military arsenals, despite widespread poverty among their huge populations.

“India has global ambitions, which the United States is supporting, so it is building up its military capabilities,” said retired Pakistani Gen. Talat Masood. “This gives rise to Pakistani insecurity, and as a consequence, it feels it has to try and keep up.”

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, hailed the test as a “great stride” in Pakistan’s defense capability and “a gift to the nation” ahead of Independence Day, which falls on Sunday.

Seeking ‘balance of power’
“This successful test-fire will further improve the balance of power in the region,” he said.

His chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, said it was a coincidence that the test of the Babur missile fell on Musharraf’s birthday and maintained it would not hurt the peace process.

“While peace is going on, there are legitimate defense needs that have to be met. The best guarantee of peace is balance of power,” he told The Associated Press.

He said a 10-year defense pact sealed in June between the United States and India, and the possible acquisition by New Delhi of the U.S. Patriot anti-ballistic missile system, had tilted the military balance more in India’s favor.

India is by far the larger of the two South Asian countries and says it has strategic objectives beyond its rivalry with Pakistan, although its relations with the other regional powerhouse, China, have steadily improved in recent years.

Volatile history
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since partition of the subcontinent following independence from Britain in 1947. Both carried out nuclear tests in 1998, and they often carry out tit-for-tat tests of missiles capable of reaching deep inside each other’s territory.

India already has a supersonic cruise missile jointly developed with Russia.

Pakistan said the Babur — named after the Islamic founder of the ancient Mughal empire who conquered Afghanistan and then overran Delhi in 1526 — can be launched from warships, submarines and fighter jets.

It flies parallel to the surface of the ground and can avoid radar detection and hostile defensive systems to hit its target with “pinpoint accuracy,” an army statement said.