- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Nuclear neighbors Pakistan and India conducted tit-for-tat missile tests yesterday, threatening to escalate tension in a region that is once again close to the brink of war.

Hours after Pakistan tested a surface-to-surface missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting most targets inside India, New Delhi tested its most sophisticated surface-to-air missile.

Pakistan warned that India threatened to push South Asia into an arms race by conducting a test on the same day as its own.

Each country defended its test as routine and had notified the other of its plans in advance.

In Washington, the State Department expressed disappointment over the missile tests, saying they can aggravate the already tense atmosphere in the region.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said the tests can make it "harder to prevent a costly and destabilizing nuclear and missile arms race."

He suggested that India's test was less of a concern because the surface-to-air missiles tested by New Delhi had shorter range and cannot deliver weapons of mass destruction, in contrast to the missile tested by Pakistan.

The tests came during a tense time between the two countries, with more than 1 million soldiers deployed along the disputed border of Kashmir.

Both countries tested underground nuclear devices in 1998 and say they have nuclear weapons in their arsenals. But it isn't known how many either country possesses or whether they have the nuclear warheads to attach to their missiles.

"India is trying to go into an arms race," Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon said.

But India said that the testing of its domestically built Akash missile was routine.

"We are testing different parameters of the missile since the past fortnight," said Defense Ministry spokesman P. K. Bandhopadhyaya. "The missile is meant for air defense. It will be used by the army and air force."

Pakistan said its test was successful and insisted it was not intended to inflame tensions with India.

"It has nothing to do with anything, but to test the technical aspect of the missile," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said.

India earlier dismissed Pakistan's test as a publicity stunt.

"This particular test is clearly targeted at the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan," the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released in New Delhi. Next week's general elections are the first in Pakistan since the military seized power in a 1999 coup.

The ballistic missiles in Pakistan's arsenal have ranges of up to 1,320 miles, capable of hitting any major target in India. New Delhi's missile arsenal is comparable.

Pakistan conducted its last missile test in May in response to Indian tests in January.

Relations between Pakistan and India deteriorated after a December attack on the Indian Parliament. New Delhi blamed Pakistani-based militants.

Both Pakistan and India have said they want peace, but India deployed additional troops to Kashmir and both countries put their soldiers on alert. The two neighbors have fought three wars in the last 55 years.

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