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Pakistan Continues Missile Tests

Despite international pressure to stop, Pakistan continues to test missiles. Islamabad says the tests will go on until Tuesday, and has stressed that they are not connected to the confrontation with India over Kashmir.

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Pakistani Ghauri missile

Following a first test firing of a medium range missile on Saturday, Pakistan’s military has again launched a missile on Sunday. This time it was a short range surface-to-surface missile, with an estimated distance of up to about 290 kilometers. So far, the government has not released information about where the missile was fired or what its target was.

Speaking on state television, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said his country needs to develop new missiles and test them regularly to defend itself against a possible attack by India. The missiles, which can be outfitted with both conventional and nuclear warheads, could easily reach major cities across the border in northern India. But Musharraf insisted that the tests were not connected to the current confrontation with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The series of test launches are scheduled to continue until Tuesday. India had been warned about the test firings prior to their start, and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said he was not particularly concerned by them. He has, however, ordered a tightening of security at India’s off-and on-shore oil and gas facilities in response to the tests.

International alarm

While the Indian government remains relatively calm, the rest of the world has issued strong condemnations of Pakistan’s missile tests. Speaking in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday, US President George W. Bush said he had "strong reservations" about the test firings, and urged India not to view them as a provocation.

Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, and the current cross-border confrontation over the region of Kashmir leaves many in the international community worried about a growing military conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Pakistani missile tests added anxiety to a climate that is already tense. "Of course the testing, while there is escalating tension, has really aggravated the situation and I’m concerned about that," Putin said on Saturday during a meeting with President Bush. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Iwanow said that both Russia and the US had spoken with Musharraf and requested Pakistan to stop the tests immediately.

In an attempt to alleviate the tense situation, Putin invited Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf to participate in talks in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan in early June. President Bush endorsed his colleague’s negotiation efforts and added that Musharraf needed to crack down on Islamic militants infiltrating Indian-administered Kashmir.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer responded with grave concern to the news of Pakistan’s missile tests. Speaking to the "Welt am Sonntag" paper, Fischer described the current situation as "very, very dangerous." He said that if the conflict is not brought under control, it could pose risks for German soldiers stationed in Kabul as part of the United Nations mandate. "For us, that’s not so far away," he added.

Fighting continues

Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged heavy fire overnight in the Kashmir region. India says five civilians were killed when Pakistani soldiers pounded an Indian village with heavy machine gun and mortar fire. The two sides have been directing fire at each other in Kashmir for more than a week. More than a million soldiers from both sides have been deployed to the joint border in the past week. Dozens of civilians on both sides have been killed and wounded, thousands more have left their homes.

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