Pakistan tests medium-range missile


Pakistan conducted the first in a series of missile tests Saturday amid growing fears of a war with its neighbor and fellow nuclear power, India.

“We don’t want war, but we are ready for war,” Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said after the test.

The medium-range Ghauri missile, fired at 9:30 a.m. at an undisclosed site, flew 900 miles — far enough to reach deep into India. It can carry both a conventional and nuclear warhead.

The missile “showed total accuracy. It hit the target,” Musharraf said at a religious gathering to mark the birthday of Islam’s prophet Mohammed.

Musharraf followed the announcement by saying “Allah-o-Akbar” three times, meaning “God is great.”

The launch was Pakistan’s first major missile test since April 1999 and comes as both India and Pakistan are on a war footing. They have massed about 1 million troops at their border, and tensions in the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir are at a peak.

The test “demonstrates Pakistan’s determination to defend itself,” the Pakistani army said in a statement. However, it said the tests were routine and that they were “concerning technical matters.”

Both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, and both say they have added nuclear weapons to their arsenal. It’s not known with certainty how many each country has, but both countries possess missiles capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads.

Pakistan said Friday it would conduct several missile tests from Saturday to Tuesday. India said it was unfazed.

“The government of India is not particularly impressed by these missile antics, clearly targeted at the domestic audience in Pakistan,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said Friday, adding that the tests were routine “and not central to the current situation.”

Tensions between the countries escalated last week after an army camp in Indian-controlled Kashmir was attacked, killing 34 people —- mostly soldier’s wives and children. India blamed Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

In the past week, cross-border shelling has killed dozens in divided Kashmir. Residents living on both sides of the border have fled their homes, packing their belongings onto trucks, cars and rickety old carts.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wrote a letter to President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressing that India was running out of patience, Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said.

“We have exercised restraint all these months in the face of requests by the international community that we would see a change in Pakistan’s attitude. That hasn’t happened,” Rao said.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has also written letters to the United Nations saying Islamabad has shown patience, wanted dialogue with India but was ready to defend its territory.

India has so far refused to open talks with Pakistan, demanding that Islamabad first stop Islamic militants from crossing into Indian-held Kashmir to wage a bloody insurgency that began in 1989.

Pakistan says its support is diplomatic and moral, but that it does not directly aid the militants. On Saturday, Musharraf repeated his call to religious leaders in Pakistan to shun extremism.

The international community, meanwhile, was scrambling to avert a war.

Bush and Putin, meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, urged Musharraf to ease tensions with India. Putin decried the missile test and Bush called on Pakistan’s leader to keep the promise he made in a January speech to crack down on Islamic militants staging attacks in Kashmir.

“It’s very important for President Musharraf to do what he said he was going to do in his speech and that is to stop the incursions across the border,” Bush said. “It’s important that India know that he is going to fulfill the promise.”

Putin invited Musharraf and Vajpayee to attend a peace conference next month. “I hope that they come, so that here we can discuss together how to prevent the conflict from further development,” Putin said.

China’s Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan phoned his Indian counterpart to urge the “highest degree of restraint,” the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.

Pakistan and India have a history of tit-for-tat weapons tests. India conducted missile tests of its own in January, after a Dec. 13 attack on the Indian parliament that India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

“The successful flight test has reconfirmed the effectiveness and technical excellence of Pakistan’s indigenous missile technology as well as the first rate professionalism and dedication of its scientists and engineers,” the Pakistani army statement said.

There was no indication of where the tests were conducted.

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