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Delhi chases latest Patriot

New Delhi, Dec. 12: Officials of Pakistan and India will this week meet to formalise conventions on missile tests and chart new confidence-building measures covering their militaries, but both sides are looking to the US for more weapons.

Even as US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld was in New Delhi, Pakistan test-fired its Hatf IV (Shaheen 1) short-range nuclear capable missile on Wednesday. The event has prompted the Indian security establishment, already scouting for missile defence systems, to take a deeper look into the US' offer of Patriot missiles. But New Delhi is more keen on a later version of the Patriot (PAC III) that was used successfully on the Kuwait-Iraq border during 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' last year.

The Patriot missiles brought down tens of Iraqi scud missiles fired at Kuwait and proved vastly successful in comparison to an older version, the Patriot II, that had failed partially in the 1991 Gulf War.

India has been asking for negotiations on the Patriot III even as it is urging the US to deny weapons to Pakistan. New Delhi says the US offer of F-16 aircraft and other weaponry will impact on the India-Pakistan peace process.

Officials from New Delhi's military establishment have visited the US to attend ballistic missile defence demonstrations three times in the last two years. More visits are likely.

The test-firing of missiles ' by both India (which tested the short range Akash, too, in the last week) and Pakistan ' took place against the background of a memorandum of understanding proposed by New Delhi in June as part of the composite dialogue process. When officials of the two countries meet again on December 14 and 15, they will work on ways to convert that MoU into a formal agreement.

It is proposed that India and Pakistan should formally inform each other before carrying out missile tests. Both sides have been following the practice erratically. After last week's test of the Hatf IV, General Pervez Musharraf said New Delhi had been informed in advance of the test even as he congratulated his scientists. India, too, has done the same with its missile tests over the last two years.

This experience will be brought to bear on the discussions to formalise the MoU. It is also proposed that there should be a hotline between the foreign secretaries of the two countries. India and Pakistan already have an agreement to exchange lists of nuclear installations ' which is done annually.

In June, India had proposed a number of military confidence-building measures with Pakistan even though these were not publicly said to have been part of the foreign-secretary level talks.

Among the proposals formulated with inputs from the armed forces are 'hotline' telephone contacts across half a dozen military sectors, including some involving sectoral commanders along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, and involving all three services.

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