- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan fired a surface-to-surface, nuclear-capable missile yesterday in its first test in months, but denied the launch had anything to do with stalled peace talks with India.

The army announced the early-morning launch of the short-range Hatf-3 Ghaznavi missile, and promised “a series” of tests in coming days. The missile can carry conventional and nonconventional weapons, and its range of 180 miles means it can hit several important targets in India.

“We have successfully test-fired the Hatf-3,” said army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan. He declined to say where the test was conducted. The army later released a statement that India and other neighboring countries were informed before the test.

In New Delhi, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said the test was “nothing special,” adding in comments to Press Trust of India: “It has to be seen whether the missile is their own or provided by North Korea or China.”

The comments were an allusion to charges, denied by Pakistan, that it has exchanged nuclear and other weapons technology with North Korea. China is Pakistan’s main supplier of military hardware.

The test was the first by Pakistan since March 26, when it launched a short-range missile shortly after India announced a similar launch.

A few weeks later, on April 18, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee raised hopes with a surprise call for peace with Pakistan, saying he was extending a “hand of friendship” to his bitter rival.

Pakistan had refrained from any missile tests since then, while the two countries resumed diplomatic ties and restored bus links. High-level political delegations have been sent off as well, and there was hope that the two sides would discuss Kashmir, the Himalayan region over which the countries have fought two wars since 1947.

But what began with such high expectations has slowly begun to crumble. At last week’s U.N. General Assembly session, Indian and Pakistani leaders engaged in their most bitter public sparring in years.

Mr. Vajpayee accused Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf of admitting to backing Islamic separatists in Kashmir that India blames for a series of terrorist attacks, and later acknowledged the “peace process has suffered a setback.”

Yesterday, Pakistan denied there was any link between the most recent test and the rapidly failing peace movement.

An army statement added: “The timings of the tests reflect Pakistan’s determination not to engage in a tit-for-tat syndrome to other tests in the region. … Pakistan will maintain the pace of its own missile development program and conduct tests as per its technical needs.”

The missile test came as Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali was in the middle of a visit to the United States, and two days after he met with President Bush.

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