ISLAMABAD - Pakistan says it has successfully conducted a “training launch” of a ballistic missile capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads up to 1,500 kilometers.
The move came amid Pakistan’s heightened military tensions with neighboring rival India, and it is seen by observers as part of the efforts Islamabad is making to keep pace with New Delhi’s massive investments in military hardware and advancements.
After the indigenously produced Shaheen-II medium range rocket was fired into the Arabian Sea on Thursday, military spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor said that it is “a highly capable missile which fully meets Pakistan’s strategic needs towards maintenance of desired deterrence stability in the region.”
Ghafoor noted the head of the military unit that oversees the country’s nuclear program witnessed the training launch along with other senior officials, scientists and engineers.
“President (Arif Alvi) and Prime Minister of Pakistan (Imran Khan) have also conveyed their congratulations on the achievement,” he added.
Pakistan has already test-fired the Shaheen-III nuclear-capable missile with a range of up to 1,700 miles, enabling it to strike all corners of India and reach deep into the Middle East, including Israel.
Thursday’s missile launch came a day after Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke briefly with his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states in Kyrgyzstan. Following what he said was an informal interaction with Swaraj, Qureshi said he conveyed Pakistan’s readiness to engage in a dialogue with India to resolve all bilateral matters through negotiations.
“We want to live like good neighbors and settle our outstanding issues through talks,” he said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in March the country had shot down a satellite in low orbit, making it the fourth country, after the United States, China and Russia, to have used an anti-satellite weapon.
Islamabad had criticized the move as a “matter of grave concern” and a militarization of space by New Delhi.
In the backdrop of India’s recent anti-satellite tests, Pakistan announced Wednesday it has signed a joint document with Russia on no-first placement of weapons in outer space. An official statement said the two countries have agreed to “make all possible efforts to prevent outer space from becoming an arena for military confrontation and to ensure security in our space activities.”
Analysts estimate that both the South Asian rivals possess about 100 nuclear warheads each.
Brink of war
Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since 1947 and came close to the brink of another war earlier this year.
In mid-February, a suicide bomber struck an Indian paramilitary convoy in the disputed Kashmir territory, killing 40 security personnel. The Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing, fueling tensions between India and Pakistan despite Islamabad’s denial it had nothing to do with the attack.
Indian fighter planes on Feb. 26 flew into Pakistan and carried out airstrikes against what New Delhi alleged was a JeM training camp in the mountainous town of Balakot. The next day, Pakistan retaliated with airstrikes of its own, shooting down an Indian plane and capturing its pilot in an ensuing fight over the disputed Kashmir border.
The aerial clash was the first between Pakistan and India in five decades, dangerously escalating tensions to a point where both countries reportedly had mobilized their missiles. Islamabad returned the pilot two days later, and the tensions have since eased, following intervention by major powers, including the United States and China.