Pakistan test-fires second ballistic missile within week

ISLAMABAD (AFP) Jun 04, 2004

Pakistan Friday conducted its second test of a nuclear-capable missile since India's new government took power a fortnight ago, but President Pervez Musharraf insisted it was meant to silence domestic critics rather than send signals abroad.

The ballistic missile Hatf V, which can can carry nuclear warheads deep inside Indian territory with its range of 1,500 kilometers (930 miles), was successfully test fired early Friday, the military said. It did not reveal the location or exact time of the test.

General Musharraf, who witnessed the test firing, said it was, "not intended to send any political signals outside the country but was necessary for the validation of technical parameters," according to the statement.

"However he did want some of the traditional domestic cynics to take note that under his stewardship, the nuclear program had gone from strength to strength and had been consolidated to a point where its forward direction was clearly defined and irreversible."

The Hatf V is part of a series of Ghauri missiles, which are believed to be based on North Korea's Nodong missile. They were developed by Pakistan's premier nuclear facility Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), which was founded and named after the disgraced architect of Pakistan's atomic bomb Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Domestic critics had expressed fears that the government may be forced by international pressure to scale back its nuclear arsenal after Khan confessed publicy in February to selling nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

His revelations opened up what has been described as the world's worst ever nuclear proliferation scandal.

The intermediate Hatf V was also tested on May 29, just a week after New Delhi's new government was sworn in. The test triggered accusations from India's new Congress-led government that Pakistan was provoking a nuclear arms race.

Pakistan's military however suggested there were more tests to come, saying the latest test was "part of a series of tests planned for the Ghauri missile system."

"These tests dispel the impression being spread by the opposition that the strategic assets are at risk of "roll-back" as a result of investigations against Dr Khan," a senior government official told AFP.

But some analysts read a clear message to India in the past week's two tests.

"It is a general signal to India that we have the capability and we will continue to develop it," defence writer and analyst, retired army officer Ikram Sehgal, told AFP.

India and other neighbours had been notified of the test beforehand, the military statement said.

Pakistan and the new Indian government have vowed to carry forward a 14-month old peace process initiated by India's outgoing prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. They are scheduled to hold their first talks later in June.

Experts will meet in New Delhi on June 19-20 for talks on nuclear confidence building measures. Foreign secretaries will then meet on June 27-28, also in New Delhi, to discuss the Kashmir dispute and security issues.

Nuclear experts estimate Pakistan, which went public as a nuclear power when it conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 in response to tests by India the same month, has an arsenal of 30 to 60 nuclear warheads.

Islamabad says its nuclear program is deterrent-based.

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