ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Nuclear neighbors Pakistan and India conducted tit-for-tat missile tests Friday, threatening to escalate tension in a region that is once again close to the brink of war.
Hours after Pakistan tested a surface-to-surface missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting most targets inside India, New Delhi tested its most sophisticated surface-to-air missile.
Pakistan warned that India threatened to launch South Asia on an arms race by conducting a test on the same day as its own.
India dismissed Pakistan's test as a publicity stunt ahead of next week's general elections, the first in this country since the military seized power in a 1999 coup.
Each country defended its test as routine and had notified the other of its plans in advance.
The tests came during a tense time between the two countries, with more than 1 million soldiers deployed along the disputed border of Kashmir.
Both countries tested underground nuclear devices in 1998 and say they have nuclear weapons in their arsenals. But it isn't known how many either country possesses or whether they have the nuclear warheads to attach to their missiles.
"India is trying to go into an arms race," Pakistan Information Minister Nisar Memon said.
But India said that the testing of its domestically built Akash missile was routine.
"We are testing different parameters of the missile since the past fortnight," said Defense Ministry spokesman P. K. Bandhopadhyaya. "The missile is meant for air defense. It will be used by the army and air force."
Pakistan said its test was successful and insisted it was not intended to inflame tensions with India.
"It has nothing to do with anything, but to test the technical aspect of the missile," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said.
India earlier dismissed Pakistan's test as a publicity stunt.
"This particular test is clearly targeted at the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan," the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released in New Delhi.
Military analysts in Pakistan say the testing is part of a dangerous pattern.
"We are not doing anything new. But what is unfortunate is that both countries engage in this tit-for-tat actions," retired Army Gen. Talat Masood said. "As long as we both keep doing this it won't help to lower tensions in the region."
The head of Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Study, Shireen Mazari, said the escalation could quickly lead to war.
"India has raised the tension to just below actually fighting a war. There isn't much more they can do but go to war," she said.
The ballistic missiles in Pakistan's arsenal have ranges of up to 1,320 miles, capable of hitting any major target in India. New Delhi's missile arsenal is comparable.
Pakistan conducted its last missile test in May in response to Indian tests in January.
Relations between Pakistan and India deteriorated after a December attack on the Indian Parliament. New Delhi blamed Pakistani-based militants.
Both Pakistan and India have said they want peace, but India deployed additional troops to Kashmir and both countries put their soldiers on alert. The two neighbors have fought three wars in the last 55 years.
The two sides both claim Kashmir in its entirety. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants who want Kashmir to be independent or aligned with Pakistan.
Pakistan denies the charges, but says it sympathizes with the Kashmiris and wants them to decide their own future.