Pakistan announces it will test missiles

Exercises widely seen as sop to domestic critics

tension with India eases

May 25, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A day after India indicated that the military standoff with Pakistan was easing, Pakistan said yesterday that it would conduct a series of missile tests this weekend. It denied any provocative intent.

The tests of short- and medium-range missiles were clearly developed with its longtime bitter rival India in mind, but a Pakistani government spokesman called the tests routine and said India had been notified in advance, in accordance with an agreement between South Asia's two nuclear powers.

As felt here, tension between the countries has declined sharply in the past 24 hours, which Pakistani political analysts say reflects new commitments made privately through Washington by President Pervez Musharraf to effectively end his government's support and tolerance for Kashmiri separatists.

In what is being read as a signal of at least provisional satisfaction, the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when asked at a news conference Thursday about the possibility of war with Pakistan, said the skies were clear of "war clouds."

Yesterday, Vajpayee went on vacation to the Indian hill country, and it has been reported that India has given Pakistan two months to effectively crack down on Kashmiri separatist groups operating from its territory.

In an interview with the BBC, Pakistan's information minister, Nisar Memon, said of the tests: "This has absolutely nothing to do with our current situation or the borders. Let me remind you that in the last three years, India has fired 10 or 12 missiles and Pakistan has not responded."

In recent weeks, India and Pakistan have massed close to a million troops along their 1,800-mile border, and tensions have risen along the so-called Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region, amid charges by India that Pakistan is supporting incursions by armed Islamic separatist groups.

Tensions between the countries reached a peak last weekend during a visit to Kashmir by Vajpayee, in which he ordered his armed forces to prepare for war and promised a decisive victory.

Commentators in both countries played down the announcement of the missile tests, saying the saber-rattling was meant more for domestic consumption in Pakistan, where the government has been forced during the current crisis to strengthen its commitments to ending cross-border violence, rather than as a threatening message to India.

"This is routine and not central to the current situation," an Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Nirupama Rao, said almost dismissively.

"What is and what we would expect and judge by is the specific action taken by the government of Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration and terrorism, to dismantle the training camps for terrorists, to destroy the support and financing structures for the terrorist networks, and to show conclusively that it has abandoned its use and promotion of terrorism as an instrument of state policy."

She added, "That is why the government of India is not particularly impressed by these missile antics, clearly targeted at the domestic audience in Pakistan."

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