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Monday, December 11, 2006

Pakistan Tests Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missile

Islamabad (AFP): Pakistan on Saturday test launched a nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missile, the third in as many weeks, the military said. "The Pakistan army's Strategic Force Command (ASFC) today conducted a successful launch of the short-range ballistic missile Hatf-III (Ghaznavi)," it said in a statement. The Ghaznavi missile has a range of 290 kilometers (181 miles).

The military described the launch of three ballistic missiles in the past three weeks as part of the training exercises of the ASFC.

Pakistan troops conducted "successful" launches of the Ghauri and Shaheen-1 ballistic missiles last month.

Saturday's launch, at an undisclosed location, "came at the culmination phase of the training exercise, which validated the operational readiness of the Strategic Missile Group (SMG) equipped with Ghaznavi missiles," the statement said.

SMG is a unit that handles the nuclear capable missiles.

The Ghaznavi ballistic missile system was handed over to the army strategic force command a few years ago, it said.

Chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed, who witnessed the launch, hailed the "excellent standards achieved during the tactical and the technical phases of the training, which was reflected in the successful launch and the accuracy of the missile on impact," the statement said.

"Pakistan can be justifiably proud of its defence capability and the reliability of its nuclear deterrence," he added.

He appreciated the efforts of Pakistani engineers, "whose dedication and professionalism had made it possible for Pakistan to fully consolidate and operationalise its nuclear capability in the last seven years."

South Asian rivals Pakistan and India have routinely conducted missile tests since carrying out tit-for-tat nuclear detonations in May 1998.

The neighbours have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which is divided between the two and claimed by both in its entirety.

Top Indian and Pakistani diplomats at a meeting in New Delhi last month agreed to create a panel to share intelligence on terrorism and move to cut the risk of nuclear weapon "accidents".

The talks rekindled a peace process put on hold since July's Mumbai train bombings, in which 189 people died. Indian officials said Pakistan's spy agency was linked to the blasts, a claim Pakistan denied.

They also agreed on the "early signing" of an agreement to reduce the risk of "accidents relating to nuclear weapons", without giving a specific time frame. The two sides are to meet next in Islamabad in February.
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