Pakistan, India conduct tit-for-tat missile tests

Saturday, October 5, 2002

NEW DELHI, India -- Pakistan and India, nuclear-armed rivals who came to the brink of war only four months ago, staged tit-for-tat missile tests Friday, increasing tensions and raising fears of a renewed arms race.

India's government called Pakistan's test a publicity stunt ahead of next week's general elections, the first since a 1999 military coup.

Pakistan's information minister, Nisar Memon, said India was trying to "turn this into an arms race" by testing a sophisticated surface-to-air missile the same day Pakistan tested a nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missile.

The two countries have had 1 million soldiers on alert along their 1,800-mile frontier for most of the year and were close to all-out conflict in June before the United States, Britain and Russia mounted a diplomatic campaign to curb the hostilities.

Both India and Pakistan portrayed their tests as routine and noted they had told each other of the plans in advance.

India said it conducted two missile tests last week without fanfare or criticism, and Defense Minister George Fernandes said there was no reason for concern.

"I don't see any reason why we should be worried about Pakistan conducting tests," Fernandes said Friday. "They have their missiles, and they are testing. We have our missiles, and we also do tests.

'Can't afford to ignore it'

Others, however, were concerned.

"As long as the troops remain at that level of readiness on our border, you can't afford to ignore it," said Shireen Mazari, head of Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Study. "India has raised the tension to just below actually fighting a war. There isn't much more they can do but go to war."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the tests can make it "harder to prevent a costly and destabilizing nuclear and missile arms race."

India's government said Pakistan's test was intended to sway public opinion ahead of elections.

"Missile tests in South Asia are not devoid of symbolism," said Navy Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. "Pakistan's ... missile test is clearly aimed at Pakistan's domestic constituency, where elections are scheduled to be held next week."

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