India and Pakistan Oct. 3 finalized an agreement to notify each other in advance of ballistic missile flight tests. This long-awaited move aims to reduce tension between the two nuclear neighbors.
Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri oversaw the signing of the pre-notification agreement, which went into force that day. The two sides had nearly completed the agreement earlier this year when the foreign ministers met in August, but the signing was delayed by prolonged negotiation over the final wording of the agreement.
Officials said that, under the accord, the country’s defense ministries will provide their counterparts at least 72 hours of notice before conducting a ballistic missile flight test. India and Pakistan agreed not to allow trajectories of tested missiles to approach or land close either to their accepted borders or the Line of Control, the cease-fire line running through the disputed region of Kashmir. They pledged not to allow tested missiles to fly closer than 40 kilometers from these boundaries or land closer than 70 kilometers away.
The agreement states that pre-notification applies only to tests conducted with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles launched from land or sea. The agreement does not apply to cruise missiles. Cruise missiles are powered their entire flight and can be maneuvered, while ballistic missiles are only powered for the first few minutes of their flight and follow a charted trajectory to the ground. Pakistan tested its first cruise missile Aug. 11. The agreement also does not apply to surface-to-air missiles. India conducted two such missile tests on the day of the agreement’s signing.
According to a representative from the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., who spoke to Arms Control Today Oct. 25, the limitations on missiles covered by the agreement reflected mutual reservations. The official said the missiles covered by the agreement represent a feasible de-escalation commitment by India and Pakistan, with the hope of inching toward more comprehensive commitments.
International reaction to the Agreement on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles was positive. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Oct. 14 that the United States welcomes this achievement and is pleased with the commitment both countries have shown to the peace process.
India is estimated to have 45-95 nuclear warheads while Pakistan is believed to have 30-50 nuclear weapons. The countries’ geographical proximity assures mutual vulnerability to attack within a few minutes.