President Pervez Musharraf vowed Saturday to further upgrade Pakistan's nuclear capability but with a "strict adherence" to non-proliferation as he watched the test-firing of a long-range missile which can carry a nuclear warhead.
"The nation's nuclear capability, which enjoyed the broadest national consensus, was developed for Pakistan's own security and will continue to receive the highest national priority," a military statement quoted Musharraf as saying.
The military ruler attempted to allay apprehensions about the future of the programme after fresh disclosures about the activities of disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
"The capability was here to stay, will continue to go from strength to strength and no harm will ever be allowed to come to it," he said.
Pakistan admitted last week that Khan had supplied Iran with centrifuges, used to enrich uranium for atomic warheads. It said the government was not involved but has refused to give him up for questioning by other countries.
Khan, who is considered a national hero in Pakistan and is the father of its nuclear bomb, confessed in February 2004 to leaking secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya after a government probe into nuclear proliferation.
He was pardoned by Musharraf but has been living under virtual house arrest in Islamabad.
"The president reiterated Pakistan's policy of consolidating and strengthening its minimum deterrence needs, as well as strict adherence to non-proliferation," the statement said.
Last Saturday's firing of the Shaheen 2 (Hatf VI) surface-to-surface missile was a success, it said.
"This missile system, which incorporates advanced two-stage solid motor technology, can carry all types of conventional and nuclear warheads to a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles).
"The test was carried out to verify some of the refined technical parameters ... all parameters were validated."
Musharraf congratulated the scientists and engineers on the test and said "the nation is proud of its strategic organisations and strategic forces."
He said these forces had "gelled extremely well" under the National Command Authority into an effective deterrence force in a short span of five years.
"Their technical and operational readiness was indeed praiseworthy and a source of strength and security for Pakistan," Musharraf said.
Musharraf, quoted by the Associated Press of Pakistan news agency, said the test surpassed expectations with its accuracy.
"The president expressed the hope that with such a tremendous success the country could venture into space exploration and finally enter into SLV (space launch vehicle) and also put a man in space," the agency said.
Neighbouring states, particularly nuclear-armed rival India, were given prior notification of the test as a confidence-building measure, the military said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said the test would not affect the ongoing peace dialogue with India. "It is a routine test. It won't affect the dialogue process," he said.
Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 after India conducted similar detonations. Both countries have active missile programmes.
Pakistan and India have a bitter history of confrontation, mainly over the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir which is divided between the two and claimed by both in full.
Two of the countries' three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 have been over Kashmir. But they have been engaged in a peace dialogue since January last year.
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Southern Asian Warheads Not Mated With Missiles
Washington (UPI) Mar 14, 2005
Most observers believe that neither Pakistan nor India has so far deployed nuclear warheads combined with delivery systems, says the latest congressional report on nuclear threat in South Asia.
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