Pakistan successfully tested its own Hatf-4 Shaheen-1A intermediate range ballistic missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, less than one week after India tested its nuclear-capable Agni-V missile.
The Shaheen-1A missile, which is capable of reaching targets in India, is an improved version of the earlier Shaheen 1, the administrative arm of Pakistan's military said in a statement. A defense official told NBC News the missile had a range of about 1,500 kilometers, or 932 miles. By contrast, its predecessor, the Shaheen 1, was believed to have a payload capacity of 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds) and a range of 750 kilometers (466 miles).
The missile’s impact point was somewhere in the Indian Ocean, according to the military unit, which said it hit a target in the sea.
Lt. Gen. Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, who witnessed the launch and is responsible for the country's nuclear program, congratulated all scientists and engineers on the successful launch, and the accuracy of the missile in reaching the target.”
Kidwai added that the Shaheen-1A “will further consolidate and strengthen Pakistan’s deterrence abilities.”
Although the precise range of the new missile wasn't publicly released, Talat Masood, a Pakistani defense analyst and retired army general, told Agence France Presse the intermediate-range ballistic missiles could reach targets of up to 2,500 to 3,000 kilometers (1,550 to 1,860 miles) away. That means the Shaheen-1A could strike anywhere in India, Pakistan’s historic enemy.
This is part of Pakistan's program to develop nuclear and missile deterrence. It has a series of missiles in its inventory. This is perhaps the longest-range missile in its program, Masood told AFP.
The whole object is essentially India-centric while India's own program is directed towards China. Pakistan is engaged in improving its missile system as India continues to increase its capability.
India said last Thursday that it had successfully test-launched its Agni-V missile, which has a range of some 5,000 kilometers, or 3,100 miles. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since the 1947 partition cut the former British India into two nations; among other issues is who owns the disputed Kashmir territory. Both countries have routinely conducted missile tests and both possess nuclear weapons. Peace talks have recently resumed between New Delhi and Islamabad, more than three years after the Mumbai terror attacks put such negotiations on the shelf.
A western official in Islamabad told CBS News, I don't think Pakistan will try to match India's recent Agni missile because that needs a lot more in terms of resources. The Pakistani missile now tested seems to have an improved ability to strike at its targets. It also has a more powerful engine, which means that it can strike at longer distances than Shaheen-1.
In an analysis, M. Ilyas Khan, a BBC correspondent in Islamabad, wrote: “The Pakistani test is seen by many as a message that Islamabad is not behind in upgrading its weapons in terms of both range and delivery capacity. The nuclear arms race in South Asia has been one of the most persistent in the world, and is known for such tit-for-tat tests.
Khan added, “The latest tests indicate that this race continues despite recent ground-breaking trade talks between India and Pakistan that promise to normalize relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.