Amid ongoing tensions with nuclear-armed neighbor India, Pakistan has test fired a nuclear capable missile with a range of 2,750 kilometers.
The missile test was carried out on Friday, just two days after Indian officials traveled to Pakistan for a regional peace conference. The Shaheen III missile can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads.
Nuclear missile test comes days after encouraging diplomatic breakthrough with India
According to a military spokesman the aim of the test was to test “various design and technical parameters of the weapon system.” Although the location of the test was not disclosed, the rocket came down in the Arabian Sea.
“Pakistan desires peaceful co-existence in the region for which nuclear deterrence would further strengthen strategic stability in South Asia,” said General Mazhar Jamil, the head of the Strategic Plans Division. Nuclear tests are not unusual, with both Pakistan and India regularly testing missiles.
Jamil went on to praise the scientist who were responsible for the test, and expressed his confidence in the Strategic Command and Control System. The timing of the launch was curious given the agreement that unrestricted talks would begin again after a three year hiatus.
Renewed negotiations aim to reduce historic tensions
Relations between India and Pakistan have been dogged by tensions due to disputed border areas such as Kashmir and other ongoing issues. There are regular exchanges of fire in contested border areas, and the agreement to resume talks represents a major diplomatic breakthrough.
Sushma Swaraj became the first Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan since 2012, and he later announced that “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” would restart. Prior to this meeting there had been little dialogue between the two sides since Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister of India in 2014.
Modi previously insisted that any talks be concerned with battling terrorism rather than the disputed area of Kashmir, which is a primary concern for Pakistan. In order to smooth things over Pakistan promised to work hard to conclude the stalled trial of the militants involved in the 2008 terror attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai.
Afghanistan peace talks also on the agenda
Delegates from 31 countries attended the Heart of Asia conference on the future of Afghanistan, and Swaraj told representatives that India and Pakistan should display “the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation.”
Commentators had previously bemoaned the fact that ongoing tensions were holding back regional development. “The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them,” said Swaraj.
It is thought that India softened its position after a number of state elections in which Modi’s Hindu nationalist party pushed a hard, hawkish line on Pakistan. Modi and Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif spoke behind the scenes at the Paris climate change conference the week before, while national security chiefs from both nations met in Bangkok on Sunday before the announcement was made.
There was also talk of restarting negotiations between Afghan authorities and Taliban groups. There is growing international pressure to find a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan and renewed diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan will have an important role to play.
Geopolitical situation remains complicated in Asia
However tensions remain due to suspicions that Pakistan contributed to an increased wave of violence in Afghanistan by supporting Taliban groups. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has been making concessions to Pakistan in order to bring Islamabad into negotiations, but he also claimed that Pakistan’s successful operations against militants in its tribal areas have pushed jihadi elements into Afghanistan.
Despite the encouraging developments there remains a lot of work to be done if decades of enmity are to be put behind both sides. Aziz Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistani ambassador to both Kabul and New Delhi, claimed that talks were a “ray of hope” for improved relations with India.
However he went on to claim that experience led him to believe that “you should never be overly enthusiastic because you never know where the next stumbling block will come.” Both India and Pakistan continue to invest heavily in their armed forces, and hawkish elements on both sides maintain a vested interest in promoting the idea of conflict.
It must be hoped that politicians can break the cycle of aggression and violence in order to provide a more secure future for India and Pakistan. Both nations stand to benefit economically from peace and greater cooperation could see rapid progress in improving the lives of ordinary citizens.