India and Pakistan exchange nuclear-capable missile tests
The Jerusalm Post

26 March 2003

India test-fired a nuclear-capable missile Wednesday at its testing ranges in eastern India. Several hours later, Pakistan tested a similar missile with range to hit India, officials said.

The tit-for-tat missile tests come a day after India blamed "our neighbor" for the massacre by unidentified gunmen of 24 Hindus in Kashmir, the Himalayan province claimed by both South Asian rivals.

"Pakistan has also test fired a missile today, but we informed India about it," Aziz Ahmed Khan, the spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, told The Associated Press.

"They didn't tell us about it beforehand," Khan said. "The common practice is for each country to inform the other before conducting a test, but this time we were surprised."

Khan said Pakistan tested its Abdali missile, which can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads and has a range of less than 200 kilometers (132 miles). He would not say where the missile test was conducted, or at what time.

Khan said Islamabad was surprised by New Delhi's announcement that India had fired off a Prithvi missile from the Chandipur missile testing range in Orissa state. That missile has a range of 153 kilometers (95 miles).

Khan said India was informed on Tuesday about Pakistan's plans to conduct the missile tests.

A Ministry of External Affairs official in New Delhi said it normally informs Islamabad of missile tests, but that those notices are based on the range of the missile test. He said he didn't immediately know whether the range of the Prithvi would have required notification.

Indian Ministry of Defense spokesman P.K. Bandopadhyay had little to say about Pakistan's test fire. "We are not concerned. We have no comments," he said.

Another defense ministry spokesman, Baljit Singh Menon, confirmed India's most sophisticated Prithvi missile was successfully tested from the Chandipur testing range.

The short-range missile, developed by Indian missile scientists, had a perfect lift off at its launch at 11:30 a.m. (0600 GMT), Menon said.

Menon said it was a routine test to improve the version of the Prithvi that would be used by the army, and described the launch as a "user's trial."

"The launch was witnessed by senior army officials. All the objectives of the mission were met and the launch was successful in every respect," Menon said.

The two countries shocked the world with dual underground nuclear tests in 1998, each earning international sanctions for their actions.

The countries have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947, and almost fought another one as tensions rose last year. They both rushed hundreds of thousands of troops to their common border, raising fears of a nuclear exchange, before international mediation defused the conflict.

"Pakistan is making sure that India gets the message that it is not going to be cowed down by the last confrontation and is prepared to match India test for test," said Kanti Bajpai, a professor of international affairs at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

"Both India and Pakistan had promised to solidify their nuclear deterrence after the nuclear tests in 1998. Pakistan wants to make clear it's not far behind with its missile capability," Bajpai said.

The test in India was one of scores carried out by the Defense Research and Development Organization to perfect the capability of the missile to carry a nuclear warhead.

The Chandipur missile testing range is located 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of New Delhi.

India's missile arsenal includes the Trishul, a surface-to-air missile which targets aircraft and can counter sea-skimming missiles; the intermediate-range Agni, which can reach 2,415 kilometers (1,500 miles); the short-range ballistic missile Prithvi with a range of 153 kilometers (95 miles); and the anti-tank Nag missile.

Since the five nuclear tests in 1998, Indian defense scientists have been engaged in developing a missile delivery system for its nuclear arsenal. The DRDO has conducted 16 trials of the army version of the Prithvi, which was first test fired in February 1988.

The Prithvi, which means Earth in the Hindi language, can carry a payload of 1 ton.

Last month, India test-fired a supersonic cruise missile jointly developed by New Delhi and Moscow and capable of hitting several Pakistani cities.