By Alex Wagner
Pakistan tested three different nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in May—its first tests since 1999. The tests come during a tense standoff between the Indian and Pakistani militaries over the disputed province of Kashmir, prompting international concern that if war breaks out, it could result in a nuclear exchange.
On May 24, Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon announced that his country would conduct a series of “routine” missile tests that were “part of technical requirements” and unrelated to the military confrontation in Kashmir. Islamabad gave advance notice of the tests to India, the United States, and several other regional and European states.
The following day, Pakistan flight-tested for the third time its 1,300-kilometer-range, liquid-fueled, road-mobile Haft-V missile, also known as the Ghauri. At a May 25 press conference, Memon said the test “reinforced the effectiveness and technical excellence of Pakistan’s indigenous missile technology.”
However, a December 2001 CIA report implied that the missile is actually a North Korean Nodong-1. Shortly after the test, Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao also disputed Pakistan’s claim that it had indigenously developed the missile, claiming, “Pakistan has acquired the technology and the material for its missiles program clandestinely.”
On May 26, Pakistan tested its 290-kilometer-range, solid-fueled, mobile Hatf-3 missile, a first for that particular missile, according to Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations Directorate. The directorate said the missile is also called the Ghaznavi, a name that the U.S. Defense Department has previously attributed to a 2000-kilometer, solid-fueled missile that is similar or perhaps identical to Pakistan’s Shaheen-2.
Two days later, Pakistan completed its testing series by firing a 180-kilometer-range, solid-fueled, mobile missile known as the Haft-2, or Abdali.
India responded with a quick but relatively muted reaction. At a May 24 press conference, Rao downplayed the forthcoming tests, saying they were “missile antics, clearly targeted at the domestic audience in Pakistan.” Rao added, “One fails to understand why Pakistan has chosen this moment to deplete one of the ready-made missiles in its stock.”
Even though the tests came at a time of high tension, the South Asian rivals appear to have abandoned their previous tit-for-tat missile-testing cycle. India has yet to respond to this series of tests with missile flight tests of its own, and Pakistan did not conduct tests in response to India’s January 2001 and January 2002 missile tests.
Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed “disappointment” at Pakistan’s decision to conduct missile tests amid such high tensions. In a May 26 interview on CNN’s Late Edition, Powell acknowledged that although the testing series “doesn’t seem to have caused the crisis to get any worse,” the region “just didn’t need this kind of activity at this time.”
Two days before Powell’s remarks, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States will “continue to urge both sides to take steps to restrain their missile programs and their nuclear weapons programs.” These steps could include not deploying operational nuclear-armed missiles and restarting a dialogue on “confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that any such weapons ever be used.”
The two sides suspended this dialogue in May 1999, when a military altercation in the mountains above Kargil, Kashmir, heated up. According to a recent paper by Bruce Riedel, a senior director in the Clinton administration’s National Security Council, U.S. officials had received information that Pakistan’s military was preparing to arm its missiles with nuclear warheads during that crisis, without the knowledge of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.