ISLAMABAD: The Army’s Strategic Force Command has conducted the training launch of Ghaznavi, a nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missile, to signal readiness to arch-rival India, which is suspected of planning a misadventure against Pakistan.

The announcement of the test was made through a tweet by military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, who posted on the micro-blogging site: “Pakistan successfully carried out night training launch of surface to surface ballistic missile Ghaznavi.”

The test, although planned beforehand, was carried out amid escalating tensions between Pakistan and India over the latter’s move to annul Article 370 of its constitution and end autonomous status of occupied Kashmir.

While India took a number of steps to pre-empt protests against annexation of occupied Kashmir, including imposition of curfew and communications blackout in the valley, and arrests of nearly 5000 Kashmiris, the move was accompanied by a sharp spike in ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) and unprecedented additional deployment of troops in held Kashmir. Moreover, India initiated nuclear signalling when its Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, during a visit to nuclear test site Pokhran on Aug 16, indicated the possibility of change in No-First Use policy on nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has, meanwhile, time and again expressed fears of India planning a ‘false flag operation’ to malign Pakistan, discredit Kashmiri struggle for freedom, and distract world from human rights violations in the valley.

These apprehensions have been further strengthened by false alarms raised by India. In the first instance, it was claimed that dozens of “terrorists” including Afghans were ready at “launch pads” to infiltrate the LoC. In the latest such alarm, the Indian Border Security Force and Coast Guards have been put on alert along the Gujarat borders following so-called intelligence of an attempt by “terrorists’ to enter the Gulf of Kutch in small boats.

Ghaznavi is a solid-fuel, road mobile, short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile. Hatf-III (Ghaznavi) has a range of up to 290km and can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. The missile has a proper terminal guidance system.

In recent years troops from the Army’s Strategic Force Command (ASFC) have conducted several training launches to validate technical parameters, handling and operating of the complex weapon system, the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), a think tank, said.

Senior fellow at the IPI Syed Mohammad Ali, who is an expert on strategic issues, said: “Night time test indicates 24/7 readiness and Ghaznavi is considered to be the most accurate nuclear capable ballistic missile in Pakistani arsenal.”

“The test was by the Army’s Strategic Force Command which means the missile system is operationally ready and it was not to test its design,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa visited formations of Mangla-based Strike Corps. He was briefed on the state of operational preparedness during the visit.

“The Strike Corps has critical and decisive role in war. Your state of preparedness, training standards and high morale are very encouraging which enhance the confidence,” Gen Bajwa said while talking to the troops.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2019