South Asia’s ballistic missile competition moved to a new phase in October. Amid news that India’s Agni I and II ballistic missiles were ready for deployment and had been handed over to the army, Pakistan conducted a round of three ballistic missile tests that concluded Oct. 14. In other developments, India announced it had established a credible second-strike capability. Nevertheless, both countries avowed their peaceful intentions.
Indian Prime Minister Bihari Vajpayee said that India’s establishment of new alternative military command centers did not mark a more aggressive stance by New Delhi. Vajpayee stressed that India’s nuclear policy is “firmly predicated” on the principle of a no-first-use policy. “Our nuclear weapons are meant to deter irresponsible military adventurism, not to fight a nuclear war,” he said in an interview with the Thai newspaper Matichon during a visit to Thailand Oct. 9.
Pakistani officials tried to play down the strategic significance of their country’s missile tests, calling the round a purely technical effort rather than a provocative gesture toward India and stressing that it had been in the works for some time. “These tests do not have any specific reasons beyond military purposes,” Pakistani military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan Khan told Voice of America Oct. 14. “These tests have been done only to validate the design parameters, which are purely technical reasons. There is no message to be sent across, and these are not in any [way] a tit-for-tat response.”
Still, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri claimed during the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Malaysia Oct. 14 that India’s plans to buy the Phalcon airborne early-warning radar system and other defense systems “pose a credible threat to Pakistan” and that Pakistan “will be forced to acquire new generation defense systems,” according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
In March, India and Pakistan did engage in what was seen as a tit for tat when each country tested short-range nuclear-capable missiles on the same day. (See ACT, April 2003.)
The recent round of testing began on Oct. 3 with the firing of Pakistan’s Hatf-3 Ghaznavi, a short-range ballistic missile capable of carrying payloads of 500 kg up to a range of 290 kilometers (182 miles). The Pakistani military said in a statement that the test, the second of the Ghaznavi missile, showed all design parameters had been successfully validated.
The following two tests, on Oct. 8 and Oct. 14, were both conducted using the medium-range Hatf-4. Also known as Shaheen-1, the surface-to-surface missile is capable of carrying payloads of 500 kg up to 700 kilometers (or about 435 miles, i.e., deep into India). The Pakistani military said the tests were successful and that a longer-range version of the Hatf series will be tested in the future. (See ACA missile fact sheet, www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/missiles.asp.) Both missiles tested this month are capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
Indian Command Centers Set Up
Meanwhile, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said the country’s nuclear command chain is in place. In declaring Oct. 5 that India’s Agni I and Agni II ballistic missiles have been handed over to the army for deployment, Fernandes acknowledged that India has established alternative nuclear command centers to ensure retaliation from a nuclear strike and has set up nuclear shelters and bunkers to protect officials in case of an attack. “We have established more than one [nuclear control] nerve center,” Fernandes told The Press Trust of India. “India as a declared nuclear-weapon state has been on this job from day one.”
The Agni I has a range of up to 700 kilometers (435 miles), and the Agni II has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles). Each is capable of carrying payloads of 1,000 kg.
U.S. Cautions Restraint
Responding to Pakistan’s missile tests, the United States continued to urge India and Pakistan to “take steps to restrain their nuclear-weapon and missile programs, including no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles,” Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher said during a press briefing Oct. 14. The United States is also encouraging both countries to begin a dialogue on “confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that such weapons would ever be used,” Boucher added. Boucher’s comments followed meetings between Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Pakistani officials in Islamabad Oct. 6. Near the end of the month India announced some dozen “peace” proposals and Pakistan was deciding how to respond.