India sends message to Pakistan with new missile tests
India has tested a cruise missile close to the Pakistan border amid fears of rising tensions between the rival nuclear powers.
By Dean Nelson in New Delhi Last Updated: 5:25PM GMT 20 Jan 2009
Soldiers keep vigil at the western sector of India-Pakistan international border at Ranjitpura village Photo: AP
The tests were carried out hours before the inauguration of President Barack Obama and coincided with the visit to Islamabad of General David Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to officials, Gen Petraeus' visit was aimed at calming tensions between the two countries following Indian claims that the November attacks on Mumbai which killed 179 were launched from Pakistan.
India's prime minister Manmohan Singh has effectively accused Pakistani security agencies of involvement.
Tempers appeared to have cooled during the visit of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband last week, when India's External Affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said he did not believe the Pakistani state had been involved.
However, the new missile test will fan the flames once again.
An Indian Defence Ministry spokesman confirmed that it had successfully fired a Brahmos supersonic cruise missile at Pokhran in the Thar desert, in Rajasthan, close to India's border with Pakistan.
The missiles, which have a range of up to 180 miles, are able to strike deep inside Pakistan, which is why the tests are regarded as aggressive: "A missile test has a certain interpretative potential by the other side. There is symbolism," said Indian analyst C. Uday Bhaskar.
Indian officials said the tests were routine, and that there were plans to fit the missiles on Indian Navy vessels.
Analysts say the tests come at a time of heightened sensitivity in India, where senior officials have publicly said they are nervous about the incoming Obama administration and any new initiatives it may be considering to address India and Pakistan's dispute over Kashmir.
President Obama is said to believe a solution to the dispute would help Pakistan's military to focus fully on fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in its tribal areas close to the Afghan border. New Delhi upbraided British foreign secretary David Miliband for making the same point during his visit to India last week.
Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told students on Monday that he was worried about changes in American foreign policy: "How much will the US change is a matter of speculation. I am nervous what this change will mean," he said.
India is concerned about comments by incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the new administration will treble non-military aid to Pakistan and speculation that President Obama may appoint a special envoy to mediate on Kashmir. The former President Bill Clinton has been mentioned as a possibility.
After meeting Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, the Centcom commander said the United States was committed to helping Pakistan tackle al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, but stressed that Pakistan must put its own house in order in dealing with them.
"It is clearly in the interest of all countries involved that Pakistan succeed in dealing with its internal problems," he said.