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Friday, January 25, 2008

Pakistan test-fires nuclear-capable missile

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday test-fired a 700 km-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, which could hit targets inside India, as its army chief dismissed as an "irresponsible alarm", concerns about the country's atomic weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
Pakistan Army's Strategic Force Command carried out a launch of the Shaheen-1 or Hatf-IV missile at the conclusion of an annual field training exercise.
The "successful" launch, which was conducted from an undisclosed location, was carried out by a Strategic Missile Group, an army statement said.
The Shaheen-1 missile is an operationalised weapon system that is already in service with the Pakistani military and is "routinely fired during training exercises," the army said.
Pakistan's political turmoil and an upsurge in terrorist attacks have sparked reports in the Western media about the safety of the country's nuclear arsenal and the effectiveness of its command and control system.
But Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who witnessed the launch with senior military officers and scientists, dismissed such concerns as "unrealistic and based on a lack of understanding of Pakistan's command and control mechanisms."
Addressing troops in the area where the field training exercise was carried out, Kayani referred to "international concerns regarding speculative scenarios" and said the "Pakistani armed forces were a highly professional, motivated and well trained force and were capable of safeguarding and securing nuclear assets against all categories of threat".
"The nation stood behind the armed forces," Kayani said, adding that the "irresponsible alarm" created by certain quarters would be "counter-productive".
Kayani, who became army chief in November last year when President Pervez Musharraf quit the post, "made it clear that Pakistan did not have any aggressive designs against anyone and its nuclear capability was solely for the purpose of deterring all types of aggression".
The Army Chief said Pakistan had "developed a strong nuclear deterrence capability and expected that the officers and men entrusted with the task of deterring aggression would continue to train hard and maintain professional excellence".
Besides the unrest witnessed in the wake of the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto last month, Pakistan has been rocked by a series of suicide attacks on the armed forces and increased militant activities in its lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
This has led to concerns among Western powers about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Musharraf, currently on a four-nation visit to Europe, said in Paris this week that militants could gain access to Pakistan's atomic weapons only if al-Qaeda or the Taliban "defeated the Pakistani army" or if radical groups won the upcoming general election.
"There is a zero per cent chance of either one of them," he said.

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