ISLAMABAD – Pakistan successfully launched an upgraded ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead Wednesday, days after its neighbor and archenemy India conducted its own missile test, the Pakistani military said.
The Hatf IV Shaheen-1A missile was fired into the sea, the military said in a written statement.
It was described as an intermediate-range missile having a longer range than its predecessor, the Shaheen-1, which is believed to fly up to 750 kilometers (465 miles).
"The improved version of Shaheen-1A will further consolidate and strengthen Pakistan's deterrence abilities," said Lt. Gen. Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, who witnessed the launch and is responsible for the country's nuclear program.
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles have a range of 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers (1,865 to 3,110 miles), according to the website GlobalSecurity.org.
If the Shaheen-1A is indeed an intermediate-range missile, it would represent a quantum leap from the previous version. Pakistan's longest range missile before Wednesday's launch was believed to be the Shaheen II, with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). That is far enough to hit targets anywhere in India.
India announced last Thursday that it had successfully test-launched a new nuclear-capable, long-range missile, the Agni-V, which has a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles).
The U.S. State Department urged restraint.
"The Pakistanis have said it wasn't a direct response to the Indian test," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "But what's most important is that they do seem to have taken steps to inform the Indians, and we, as you know, are quite intent on those two countries continuing to work together and improve their dialogue."
Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since they achieved independence from the British empire in 1947. Relations have warmed somewhat over the last year, especially with respect to trade, but the two still consider each other enemies and regularly conduct tests of weapons systems to display their military prowess.
"This is what has been happening over the past few years," said Talat Masood, a Pakistani defense analysts and retired army general. "The tests by Pakistan and India follow each other to show that their programs are robust."
India's latest test, however, was conducted with an eye toward its eastern neighbor, China, rather than its western neighbor, Pakistan. The Agni-V gave India the capability of striking Beijing and Shanghai for the first time, and the government hailed the launch as a major boost to its efforts to counter China's regional dominance and become an Asian power in its own right.
India had already achieved the ability to reach anywhere in Pakistan with the development of its Agni-I and Agni-II missiles, said Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst in India.
"Agni-V has nothing to do with Pakistan," said Bedi.
Associated Press writer Muneeza Naqvi contributed to this report from New Delhi.