Pakistan has test fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, Shaheen 1-A, an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) capable of reaching targets in India. The response, as expected, to the recent Indian missile test came just under a week.
The test, that was conducted successfully, is a clear message that Islamabad has nothing to concede to India on both technology and power.
As per the Indian test, Pakistan has also informed the counterpart, as well neighbouring countries, of the imminent launch, despite recent groundbreaking trade talks between India and Pakistan that promise to normalise relations between the two nuclear armed countries.
The Shaheen 1-A was reportedly shot southward to the Indian Ocean and managed to cover 4,000-4,500 kilometres. This is enough to target any part on the Indian territory. Defence experts say that while the exact range of the Pakistani missile has not been revealed, it is capable of hitting targets up to 2,500 to 3,000km (1,550 to 1,850 miles) away.
The missile tested on Wednesday is an upgraded version of the Shaheen-1, with improvements in range and technical capabilities, and is able to carry nuclear and conventional warheads.
The Shaheen (Urdu: شاهين) missile series, named after a species of falcon found in the mountains of Pakistan, was developed by NESCOM’s National Defence Complex (NDC) of Pakistan. Shaheen I missile is also designated as Hatf IV.
Shaheen I is a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with an optimal range of 750 km and propelled by a two stage solid fuel rocket motor. The Shaheen I can deliver either a conventional or a nuclear payload much faster than liquid fuelled missiles such as the Ghauri because it does not need to be fuelled before launch, reducing deployment time significantly.
On 25 April 2012, Pakistan successfully test-launched an upgraded Shaheen I, called Shaheen 1A. Shaheen IA is a medium-range ballistic missile with better accuracy and the range increased to 5000km. The Pakistani military did not publicly reveal the range of the missile which lead to media speculation of the true range of the missile.
Shaheen I was first test-launched on April 15, 1999. Two test-launches of a second version with greater range and improved accuracy were carried out in October 2002 and two more in October 2003. Shaheen I missiles are believed to be a very reliable weapons, enough to equip one regiment of the Pakistan Army in 2003 along with mobile launchers.
The Threat from Pakistan
Pakistan response to recent India’s test re-confirm once more the more regional strategy adopted by the Muslim country. Pakistan does not have a real and clear intercontinental enemy to counter or a threat to its influence from major powers. Pakistan traditionally had enjoyed support from the United States and China, two powerful countries to secure its independence and strength. Especially US support grew during the cold war to counter Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Moscow support to India in anti-Chinese purpose.
In addition, Pakistan managed to capture the interest due to its strategic position, bordering with Central Asia and in an area of great instability such is the afghan border.
Due to the above reasons, Pakistan pursued a development of short and medium range missile in clear anti-Indian functions and sees ICBM as counterproductive and not applicable to its national security.
However, contrary to India, Pakistan has more dependency from missile and nuclear weapons due to the fragility of its conventional army, seen as not able to match India’s strength. China has for decades supplied Pakistan with missile and nuclear technology for the purpose and currently possesses between 30 and 70 nuclear warheads, as well as short and medium-range ballistic missiles.
In a Pakistani view, this makes up a double significance: strategic and propagandist. On a strategic side, Pakistan has enough power to counter India in a possible conflict without resorting to conventional army, as well ensuring its independence of action toward the western powers. The arsenal currently held by Pakistan is far for being downplayed as a “diplomatic deterrent” and constitute a real danger to non-proliferation strategy in the world.
As per India’s test, Pakistan’s one is dangerous and confirm the threat of an arms race in Asia. On a propagandist side, Pakistan can declare to be the only Muslim country with nuclear power and strong enough to counter the enemies.
However, as said per India, the shifting alliances are putting Pakistan in a different position, especially towards the US. The idyllic honeymoon that Islamabad enjoyed during the Bush administration, when Parvez Musharraf was seen as an important ally to maintain stability, have now left space to strained relations with Washington. Accusations of supporting and hosting Taliban sanctuaries, connivance of the Pakistani army’s sectors (especially in the border with Afghanistan) with powerful tribes related to the anti-US stance, and finally the blitz that lead to Osama bin Laden assassination have now severed the special relation with Washington.
Obama administration, but likely also future presidents, are now looking with concerns at the crescent Chinese threat in Asia and, if united to the above, we can clearly see why India will replace Pakistan in this relation.
On one side, this suggest that Pakistan is better off than India in not having a powerful enemy ready to invade the country, but on the other its isolation and US hostility could reinforce extremist sectors leading to an internal crisis.
India is of course the main target of the test, as well the enemy of Pakistan in a possible conflict. As said about India, Pakistan will also see this test as a deterrent to a possible conflict and in order to guarantee its stability. However, more than India, Pakistan seems unstable and in a position now weakened by the US. India retains a powerful army on a conventional side, and a fast growing economy that can support huge expenditure on defence. Pakistan seems more reliant on foreign support than India concerning technology and know-how, leading the country to a strong Chinese dependency under a strict military view.
The above will suggest that if the two countries are on one side trying to negotiate agreements to resolve their long time disputes, on the other they could risk to be dragged into a wider spectrum of rivalries that could undermine their autonomy and force them to act as third parties.
To deliver its nuclear warheads, Pakistan possesses a significant number of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, and is currently developing intermediate-range models. The program exists under the aegis of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and the Khan Research Laboratories. The main theme in Pakistan’s ballistic missile development is foreign assistance, most notably from China and North Korea. Over the years, China has provided technology and expertise to its ally. Many of Pakistan’s missile designs and technology are from Chinese plans, or have been modification from Chinese M-11 missiles sold to Pakistan. In addition, North Korea has sold Pakistan a large amount of missile technology, including a small number of Nodong missiles.
Although Pakistan officially claims to adhere to the general principles of non-proliferation, at present it has not yet signed the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which prohibits countries from trading in ballistic missile technology, especially those missiles with a range of 350 kilometres or greater. China sees Pakistan as a valid barrier against India’s growing threat to Chinese influence in Central Asia. In addition, it offers also a valid counterpart to pin US hegemony, and Beijing welcomed the abandon from Washington as a space to move in replacing the US in this strategic area.
As said about India, the US are not concerned by the test under strictly military views as the difference in power and strength is completely out of hands for Islamabad. What concern the US is the growing Chinese dependency and the not clear relation for nuclear research between Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. In addition, the Americans are now looking at the only Muslim country with nuclear power as a dangerous enemy if the state fails to counter Taliban insurgency and extremist tendencies.
The paradox is that the US cannot trust any longer Pakistani authorities after recent years and at the same time a clear pro-India stance could trigger internal strengthening of anti-American sentiment thus increasing the slide towards instability and relinquish power to extremism.
After North Korea, India e Pakistan, once again we can see the dangerous and counterproductive effects of an arms race and the not well-pondered actions by super powers. India and Pakistan are two countries in growth but still with major issues to resolve: strong economic growth and how to ensure the fast development reach the huge population for India; how to avoid the threat from extremism and avoid becoming a target for US anti terror policy for Pakistan.
We can be sure that this will not be the last test from the two countries, and more will follow, bringing definitely into open that the era of Kashmir related confrontation is now fading away. The two countries are now sinking into a wider and more dangerous confrontation were the real players are far and out of their league, but where the consequences of the rivalries could be proven as disastrous for both these emerging powers of South Asia.