- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pakistan’s surprise test-firing of a cruise missile one week ago indicates that it can achieve military parity with India in some key areas, even though it is the smaller and poorer country. Both countries should regard the test as a pivotal development that highlights the need to get serious about expanding military-warning systems and reducing tensions.

Pakistan tested its Barbur cruise missile on Thursday, just days after it had agreed with India to give advance warning of ballistic-missile tests as part of a larger pact geared towards reducing the risk of an accidental nuclear war. The Barbur has a range of 310 miles and is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Pakistan appeared to be violating in spirit its agreement with India by not giving advance warning of its cruise-missile test. Pakistan has argued, however, that it proposed to India the inclusion of cruise-missile tests in the prenotification agreement; but India, apparently unaware Pakistan had acquired such technology, resisted. Pakistan has also argued that it fired the missile in light of India’s plans to buy weapon systems from the United States, Israel and other countries. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Thursday that Pakistan did not conduct the test in a “provocative” manner.

Cruise missiles are slower than ballistic missiles but fly low to the ground and are therefore detected later on radar. Nuclear warheads are also more likely to successfully explode in a cruise missile. Their accuracy varies, depending on the sophistication of the missile. According to the Pakistani military, the Barbur missile flies parallel to the surface of the ground, can hit its target with “pinpoint accuracy” and can be fired from warships, submarines and fighter jets. “The technology enables the missile to avoid radar detection and penetrate undetected through any hostile defensive system,” the statement said.

Both India and Pakistan have the technology to reach well within each other’s countries with nuclear missiles. India has a supersonic cruise missile in its arsenal, in addition to its longest-range missile, with a range of 1,865 miles. New Delhi also possesses shorter-range ballistic missiles and a short-range surface-to-air missile. In March, Pakistan successfully test-fired its longest-range missile, with a range of 1,250 miles.

Due to their slower speed, cruise missiles can be shot down, potentially from jet aircraft. But if Pakistan were to deploy cruise missiles, however, India would have to spend considerable amounts of money to set up air defenses along its entire border to defend against them. Were New Delhi to take such a step, that move would come at the expense of India’s conventional and nuclear capability. This would be a particularly unwelcome prospect because China, a nuclear power and a nation which has gone to war with India in the past, looms to the east.

Given the powerful military arsenals both nations possess, it is clearly in India and Pakistan’s interest to be as open as possible about their military activities to ensure that there are no misunderstandings. For starters, both countries should soon include cruise-missile tests in their advance-warning agreement. In addition, the agreement should be expanded to allow each country to send observers to the tests and large military exercises. During some periods of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union were able to thaw tensions with the exchange of observers. The tradition would also serve India and Pakistan well.

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