India And Pakistan In
New Face-Off Over Missiles

NEW DELHI - Pakistan vowed Monday to match rival India's test of a new nuclear-capable missile after a trial launch by New Delhi that raised the specter of a further South Asian arms race.
Indian newspapers hailed Sunday's test flight of the Agni II ballistic missile, whose range of at least 2,000 km (1,250 miles) could reach deep into China or Pakistan. The country's politicians briefly put aside their bickering to applaud.
China voiced fears of a regional weapons build up.
New Delhi shrugged off criticism of its first ballistic missile trial in five years and said it would press on with its security objectives.
"India will be doing everything necessary flowing from its policy of a credible minimum deterrent,'' a foreign ministry official said.
He said the missile launch should not come as a surprise because it was part of a security policy which evolved after India's series of underground nuclear tests 11 months ago.
Since the blasts, Washington has led Western efforts to draw India into the global regime for nuclear arms control and has urged it to exercise restraint on missile development.
The Agni II missile is seen as a deterrent to nuclear-armed China, which Monday joined the United States, Britain, Japan and Thailand in expressing regret over the Agni launch.
"It could trigger a new round of arms race in South Asia,'' China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The Chinese side expresses regret and concern.''
Pakistan was under pressure at home to answer India's missile test with one of its own, fuelling concern that recent efforts by the rival nations to mend fences would be wasted.
"It is necessary that the government should respond immediately, so that they can boost the morale of the people,'' the deputy chief of Pakistan's main Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party, Liaqat Baluch, told Reuters.
There was no immediate indication that Pakistan would carry out a tit-for-tat test firing of its own Ghauri or Shaheen missiles, but Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz told Reuters Sunday that Islamabad's response would be "befitting.''
Pakistan's army chief said Monday that Islamabad would respond to India's missile test, but did not say when and how.
"No Indian should have a doubt that we cannot respond. We have all the capability, we have everything,'' General Pervez Musharraf said to the local English Speaking Union.
He later told reporters: "We can react very soon.''
"If they (Pakistan) test a missile tomorrow, I will not be surprised,'' former Indian prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral told television agency Asian News International (ANI) in an interview.
The Karachi Stock Exchange fell by almost three percent on uncertainty on how Pakistan would respond.
Diplomats said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was under the same kind of pressure which followed India's nuclear tests last May, which Pakistan followed with trials of its own, earning crippling Western sanctions and the wrath of a worried world.
Analysts said a matching test could have negative fallout for Islamabad's talks with donor nations in Paris next week.
A bus trip by Prime Minister Vajpayee to Pakistan in February had cooled sentiments that followed rival nuclear tests last year.
Sunday's missile test revived fears of tension, but India acted carefully by informing Islamabad of the test in advance.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan's high commissioner in India, met Vajpayee Monday. The Press Trust of India (PTI) said they reaffirmed friendly ties.
In New Delhi, where the coalition government is teetering on the verge of collapse, politicians of all hues closed ranks to praise the country's defense scientists.
"We are not seeing the launch of Agni II from a political angle,'' Ajit Jogi, spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, told a news conference. "We congratulate our scientists, engineers and soldiers related to defense.''
But Jyoti Basu, Chief Minister of West Bengal state and a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), dubbed the move a "political stunt'' by Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and had "nothing to do with defense.''
BJP spokesman Venkaiah Naidu told a news conference that the "entire country'' was happy that India had tested the missile.
Newspapers said Sunday's test flight from India's eastern coast had put the country firmly into the world missile club.
"Agni II powers India forward,'' the Asian Age proclaimed.