by BBC News –
(March 9, 2004) — It was the first test of the Shaheen II missile, which Pakistan says has a range of 2,000km and can carry nuclear and conventional warheads. The test follows recent disclosures that a Pakistani scientist sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Libya and Iran.
Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan have recently agreed a ceasefire in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The BBC’s Paul Anderson in Islamabad says the test should not damage relations between the two countries — political dialogue has ridden through similar events in the past. Both countries appear comfortable, he says, with the apparently contradictory objectives of building nuclear and conventional strength at the same time as talking peace.
The launch is one of a number of routine missile tests carried out by India and Pakistan since the two countries developed nuclear weapons in 1998. It comes a month after revelations that the man credited with developing Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Dr AQ Khan, had leaked nuclear weapons technology abroad.
Analysts say that the test is a political statement by the government to reassure people that its missiles and nuclear programs are moving ahead following the negative fallout of the nuclear leaking scandal.
Our correspondent says the test will send a strong signal to Pakistanis as well as the outside world that President Musharraf intends to stick by his promise not to roll back the country’s deterrent program.
Pakistan has warned for several weeks that it would be testing the latest in the country’s range of nuclear capable missiles as part of a continuing series of tests.
A statement by the military said the test was 100% successful and that prior warning had been passed to Pakistan’s neighbours. It said that the test reflected the resolve by Pakistan to maintain a credible deterrence as the cornerstone of its security policy. There has been no response to the test from India, which has a vigorous nuclear program of its own.
The launch of the missile comes after Israel concluded a deal last week to sell India a strategic airborne radar system, despite closer ties between Delhi and Islamabad.
It also coincides with the first Indian cricket tour to Pakistan for 14 years, and the start of a fresh round of talks on launching a bus service between the Indian state of Rajasthan and the Pakistani province of Sindh.