ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Tuesday tested its longest-range missile yet, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and hitting targets deep inside neighboring India, the military said.
“Pakistan today successfully carried out the maiden test fire of the Shaheen 2 surface-to-surface ballistic missile,” a military statement said, without giving details on where the test was conducted.
Tests in the past have been conducted in remote Baluchistan or into the Arabian Sea, or from a missile facility at Jhelum, 60 miles southeast of the capital, Islamabad.
The missile “can carry all types of warheads up to” 1,250 miles, it said. A Defense Ministry official, who did not want to be named, said that meant both “conventional and unconventional warheads.”
Pakistan’s previous longest-range missile was the Ghouri tested in 1997, which has a range of 810 miles.
Neighboring countries — including archrival India — had been informed in advance “as a confidence-building measure,” the statement said. Both countries routinely conduct such missile tests, but also have used them in the past to send political messages or ratchet up tension.
Such a message was not likely to be hidden in Tuesday’s test, which came amid peace moves in recent months between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals. Pakistan’s government has said for weeks that it was planning the test, though it had not announced an exact date.
India and Pakistan last month set themselves a roadmap to peace that will include negotiations to solve their dispute over divided Kashmir — the issue at the heart of their five decades of hostility.
Domestically, the test appeared aimed at allaying concerns that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was rolling back the country’s nuclear program under international pressure, after Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist admitted spreading sensitive technology to other countries.
Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, confessed in February to proliferating weapons technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Musharraf pardoned Khan but political opponents have blamed the president for initiating an inquiry into Khan in the first place.
The statement released after Tuesday’s test noted that Musharraf had announced the planned test launch of the Shaheen 2 at a press conference on Feb. 5 — when he announced Khan’s pardon — while “categorically dismissing apprehensions of a rollback” in Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent.
The statement stressed that the Shaheen 2 is “indigenously developed by Pakistani scientists.” Pakistan has been accused of trading its nuclear know-how to North Korea in exchange for the missile technology it lacked, a charge Islamabad denies.
Talat Masood, a former army general and military analyst, said the missile test demonstrated Pakistan’s advances in missile technology and would help ease criticism at home in the wake of the nuclear proliferation scandal.
“Politically the government is trying to assure the people that its missiles and nuclear programs are moving ahead, and that the negative fallout of the proliferation affair has not affected any of its affairs,” he told the AP.