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Pakistan tests Ghauri again, India stays cool

New Delhi, June 4: Pakistan today conducted a second test of the nuclear-capable Ghauri ballistic missile in less than a week, but its ministry of foreign affairs termed it “routine” and said it was not meant as a message to India.

The test is being watched keenly by the security establishment here since it comes at a time when Delhi has been wondering whether to persist with the A.B. Vajpayee government’s policy of interest in acquiring missile defence capability.

Indian officials are not interpreting the test-fire as a message to Delhi. Nor are they concluding that Islamabad has just demonstrated what it thinks of foreign minister K. Natwar Singh’s remarks about a possible “common nuclear doctrine” between India, Pakistan and China.

“Pakistan says these are routine tests that need to be periodically done. Any message would be in the area of speculation. I would assume that in such matters a tit-for-tat is not needed,” said K. Santhanam, missile technologist and director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Missile technology experts here say the Hatf-5 (Ghauri) that was test-fired today is originally a North Korean liquid-propelled delivery vehicle that could well be undergoing studies. The test-firing — the second since May 29 — comes between the installation of the Manmohan Singh government and talks on nuclear confidence-building measures set for June 19 and 20. After the first test, home minister Shivraj Patil had said it could foment a race to acquire and develop missiles.

“Thanks to cooperation from the Chinese and the North Koreans, Pakistan is now ahead of India in developing missiles. The test would mean that Pakistan's deterrence capability has expanded. The issue for the Indian establishment to decide is whether, with more of its cities now under threat, it should acquire missile defence or not. This is not a question of toeing the American line. It is a question of India’s own security imperatives,” says Dr C. Raja Mohan, strategic observer and professor, South Asian studies, at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Raja Mohan says India can either go in for missile defence or develop longer range and a greater number of missiles.

Officially, the Indian establishment has not responded to the test and is unlikely to. Normally, the Ghauri test-firing would have been intimated to Delhi earlier and it would not have been taken by surprise. Officials say there is no need to go into a “knee-jerk test-firing”.

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