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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

Pakistan Tests New Missile

On 6 April, Pakistan announced that it tested an indigenously produced ballistic missile called Ghauri - the name of a 12th Century Emperor of Afghanistan who invaded India and defeated the Hindu Prince Privthi (Hindu for 'earth'). Privthi is also the name of India's surface-to-surface medium-range ballistic missile, believed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. According to reports, the Ghauri has a range of up to 900 miles (1,500 km). The launch took place at the Kahuta test site, around 125 miles from the border with India. Tariq Altaf, a spokesperson for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, stated on 6 April: "We have developed this in terms of our own security needs." According to reports, Pakistan's last attempt to develop a ballistic missile was the unsuccessful Hatf 1 programme of the early 1990s.

The Ghauri test came within a month of the formation of a new coalition Government in India, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After taking office on 19 March, the BJP made clear that it was intent on keeping open the open of deploying nuclear weapons; a stance - although in lone with the declared position of previous Governments - strongly condemned by Pakistan (see last issue). On 28 March, Tariq Altaf told reporters "we feel the international community was not strong enough" in criticised the new Indian Government for its nuclear stance. According to Altaf: "It's a very serious issue that can disrupt peace in the region and create a very dangerous situation. ... We would have hoped that the international community would have reacted strongly to prevent India's further weaponisation."

India reacted to the Ghauri test both calmly and critically. On 7 April, Defence Minister, George Fernandes, stated that "we are capable of dealing with the situation in Pakistan... There is no part of Pakistan that is outside the range of Privthi." On 12 April, India's Air Chief Marshal, S.K.Sareen, speaking at an air show in Bombay, echoed Fernandes' confidence: "Privthi is enough to take care of any threat from Ghauri."

On 9 April, Fernandes referred to the long-range (1,500 mile, 2,500 km) Agni (fire) ballistic missile, last tested by India in 1994. Although India has yet to deploy the missile, Fernandes stated: "My understanding is that Agni has undergone all the tests it needs. There is no need to test Agni as such, as far as I understand." Speaking at a press conference in the State of Assam on 15 April, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee expressed confidence that "no nuclear race will be started due to the firing of Ghauri." Vajpayee added: "However, India is prepared to meet any threat."

The previous day, Fernandes announced that the new Government was initiating a Strategic Defence Review. Fernandes made it clear that one important issue for consideration was the possible deployment of nuclear weapons:

"If at the end of the Strategic Defence Review, we believe we have to exercise [the] option to have nuclear weapons, then a decision will have to be taken. ... Preserving India's unity and integrity is our prime concern, and for this we are prepared to exercise all our options, including induction of nuclear weapons."

It was not clear from reports how long the Review was expected to take. The US reacted to the test with some dismay, State Department spokesperson James Foley making clear on 6 April that the US "regrets this test and calls on both Pakistan and India to exercise restraint." Foley added: "In terms of the issue of regional stability, the United States has long believed that the development or acquisition of ballistic missiles by Pakistan or India would be destabilising and undermine the security of both countries... At this juncture, with the new Indian Government assuming power and renewed hopes that India-Pakistan can enter into a productive bilateral dialogue, we believe it is especially important to avoid steps in the nuclear and missile areas that could be seen as provocative and could adversely affect the political and security environment in the region..."

A high-level US delegation visited the region in mid-April, including UN Ambassador Bill Richardson and Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth. On 15 April, Inderfurth, speaking at a press conference in New Delhi, repeated US concerns "about the nuclear missile competition in the region":

"The recent flight test by Pakistan of Ghauri is regrettable... It is an action that we have spoken to the Pakistan Government about..."

Richardson, interviewed the same day on Reuters Television, stated: "We don't want to see an arms race here. We want to see tension reduced. So we're playing a moderating role."

Richardson met Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Islamabad on 17 April. Following the meeting, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister suggested to reporters that the US was not considering imposing sanctions against Pakistan in protest at the Ghauri test. According to the spokesperson, Richardson "assured Pakistan that the United States has now moved away from its one-dimensional policy which focused on the nuclear dispute. Washington now wants to expand bilateral relations to strengthen economic and political ties."

In the wake of the test, there were claims that the Ghauri was not in fact an indigenously produced missile but a design based on either Chinese or North Korean designs and produced with outside, most probably Chinese, assistance. On 8 April, Fernandes stated: "We are aware of consistent outside assistance to Pakistan in this field despite the existence of multilateral export control regimes, unilateral declarations of restraint and supply restrictions on producer countries... Everybody knows that China has been supplying missile technology to Pakistan. China has told the United States that it is not supplying missile technology to Pakistan. It is up to the United States to take it up with Pakistan."

On 7 April, Zhu Bangzao, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, insisted that there was "not the slightest connection" between Chinese and Pakistani missile programmes.

Reports: Pakistan calls for India sanctions, Associated Press, 28 March; Pakistan tests medium range missile, Associated Press, 6 April; Pakistan test-fires long-range missile, United Press International, 6 April; US urges restraint after Pakistan fires missile, Reuters, 6 April; China denies Pakistan missile help, Associated Press, 7 April; India says its missiles could reach Pakistan, Reuters, 7 April; India - ready to meet any threat from Pakistan, Reuters, 7 April; India to match Pakistan's missile power, United Press International, 8 April; India says no more tests needed on Agni missile, Reuters, 9 April; India's missile can counter threats, Associated Press, 12 April; US, India discuss security issues, Associated Press, 14 April; India keeps nuclear option open, United Press International, 14 April; Indian PM sees no nuclear race with Pakistan - PTI, Reuters, 15 April; US urges nuclear restraint in South Asia, Reuters, 15 April; Official says US regrets Pakistan missile test, Reuters, 15 April; Pakistan says US won't impose sanctions, United Press International, 17 April.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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