India and Pakistan conducted tit-for-tat missile tests yesterday. Pakistan
tested a nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missile able to hit most targets in
India. Within hours, Delhi tested its most sophisticated surface-to-air missile
meant to bolster its air defense.
With more than one million soldiers deployed along the border, and daily saber-rattling
from Delhi and Islamabad, the missile tests threaten to escalate tension in a
region that is one step from the brink.
Pakistan warned that India, by conducting a test on the same day as its own,
threatened to launch an arms race in South Asia. Both countries tested underground
nuclear devices in 1998, and both say they have inducted nuclear weapons into
their arsenals. But it is not known how many nuclear weapons either country possesses,
or whether they have the nuclear warheads to attach to their missile stocks.
"India is trying to go into an arms race," the Pakistani Information Minister,
Nisar Memon, said. But India said the testing of its domestically built Akash
missile was routine. "We have been testing different parameters of the missile
for the past fortnight," a Defense. Ministry spokesman said. "The missile is meant
for air defense. It will be used by the army and air force."
Both countries notified the other of their plans to test. Pakistan declared
its test a success and insisted it was not intended to inflame tensions. "It has
nothing to do with anything, but to test the technical aspect of the missile,"
a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Shireen Mazari, the head of Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Studies, said
the military preparedness is such in South Asia that the only place to go if there
is an escalation is war. "As long as the troops remain at that level of readiness
on our border, you can't afford to ignore it," she said. "India has raised the
tension to just below actually fighting a war. There isn't much more they can
do but go to war."
India dismissed Pakistan's test as a publicity stunt ahead of next week's general
elections, the first in Pakistan since the military seized power in 1999. "This
particular test is clearly targeted at the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan,"
an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Military analysts in Pakistan say the testing is part of a dangerous pattern.
"We are not doing anything new. But what is unfortunate is that both countries
engage in these tit-for-tat actions," said Talad Masood, a retired general. "As
long as we both keep doing this it won't help to lower tensions in the region."
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd