India Tests Missile Amid Peace Moves

india pakistan kashmir dispute
India test fired its new Astra air-to-air missile from a ground launcher on Friday, a defense ministry official said.

The solid propellant missile has a striking range of 15 to 25 miles, the official said on condition of anonymity. It was fired from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur, in the east coast state of Orissa.

Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India quoted Defense Ministry sources as saying another trial was scheduled within the next two days.

The test occurred Friday as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was visiting Afghanistan, on his way to New Delhi. He visited Pakistan on Thursday and encouraged recent steps by the two nuclear-armed nations to resume peace talks.

India says it has a fixed schedule of tests for its growing missile weaponry and routinely denies that they are connected to other events, although India and Pakistan often conduct weapons tests a day apart.

They have an agreement to notify each other of major weapons tests, but it was not immediately clear whether a battle-zone weapon such as an air-to-air missile is included in that agreement.

Officials at Pakistan's foreign ministry were not immediately available for comment.

An Islamabad-based commentator on nuclear related issues, however, dismissed any impact of the test on recent peace moves by the two countries.

"This is quite a routine test. I do not think it will have any impact, positive or negative, on the peace initiatives between the two countries," said Pervez Hoodhboy at the state-run Quaid-e-Azam University.

Pakistan and India declared themselves nuclear powers after detonating atomic bombs in 1998. Neither country has opened its arsenal to international inspectors and it is not known exactly how many weapons they have.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said Monday that Pakistan would get rid of its nuclear arsenal if India did so as well. Islamabad also suggested the bitter rivals make South Asia nuclear-free.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Thursday that India would not reciprocate on Pakistan's offer to dismantle its nuclear weapons, but hoped never to have to use them against its longtime rival.

"We are seeking friendship with Pakistan, but we will be cautious," Vajpayee told Parliament during a debate on the new peace overtures between the South Asian rivals.

"I have told the Pakistani leaders that India and Pakistan have to live together," he said. "We can change friends, but we can't change neighbors."

Vajpayee said Pakistan's only target for nuclear weapons is India, but that India had other countries of concern.

"We don't accept Pakistan's proposal ... as Pakistan's nuclear program is India-specific," Vajpayee said. "But we are concerned about other states as well."

He reiterated that India had adopted a no-first-strike nuclear policy, but that Pakistan had not.

The international community has been pressing both nations to improve relations to prevent what many fear could escalate into a nuclear confrontation.

Those fears peaked last summer when India and Pakistan amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along their frontier after New Delhi accused Islamabad of backing a deadly suicide attack on India's Parliament compound. Pakistan denied involvement.

India has fought three wars with Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947. India also fought a border war with China in 1962, although relations are warming rapidly between New Delhi and Beijing.

The countries have fought two of their wars over Kashmir. They came to the brink of a new conflict last year after India blamed Pakistan for a bloody attack on its parliament in December 2001. Pakistan condemned the attack and denied involvement.

While tension had eased a little with a pullback of some troops, it was still a surprise when Vajpayee announced last month that he wanted talks with Pakistan.

Armitage said Thursday that the infiltration of militants from Pakistan into Indian-controlled Kashmir has declined. Both countries claim the disputed Himalayan province of Kashmir.

"The infiltration, the cross-border violence and the lethality are down from this time last year," Armitage said after meetings with Pakistani leaders.

But, "that doesn't fill me with great enthusiasm. ... I think any violence is too much violence," he told reporters. "I'm not keeping score with people's lives."

He gave no figures to back up his statement on Kashmir.