Pakistan altered missiles given by US to target India: NYT

Washington, Aug 30 ( Pakistan illegally modified missiles given by the US for its defence to expand capability to strike land targets, a potential threat to India, a media report said Sunday.

The charge, which set off new tensions between the US and Pakistan, was made in an unpublicized diplomatic protest in late June to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other top Pakistani officials, The New York Times reported.

At issue is the detection by American intelligence agencies of a suspicious missile test April 23 – a test never announced by the Pakistanis – that appeared to give the country a new offensive weapon.

American military and intelligence officials say they suspect that Pakistan has modified the Harpoon anti-ship missiles that the US sold in the 1980s, a move that would be a violation of the Arms Control Export Act.

The accusation comes at a time, when the administration is asking the US Congress to approve $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years, and when Washington is pressing a reluctant Pakistani military to focus its attentions on fighting the Taliban, rather than expanding its nuclear and conventional forces aimed at India.

While American officials say that the weapon in dispute is a conventional one, the subtext of the argument is growing concern about the speed with which Pakistan is developing new generations of both conventional and nuclear weapons.

“There is a concerted effort to get these guys to slow down,” one senior administration official was quoted as saying. “Their energies are misdirected.”

Pakistan has denied the charge, saying it developed the missile itself.

Whatever their origin, the missiles would be a significant new entry into Pakistan’s arsenal against India. It would enable Pakistan’s small navy to strike targets on land, complementing the sizable land-based missile arsenal that Pakistan has developed, the paper said.

That, in turn, would be likely to spur another round of an arms race with India that the US has been trying, unsuccessfully, to halt.

“The potential for proliferation and end-use violations are things we watch very closely,” said another senior administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to New York Times.

“When we have concerns, we act aggressively.”

A senior Pakistani official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the US accusation was “incorrect”.

The official said that the missile tested was developed by Pakistan, just as it had modified North Korean designs to build a range of land-based missiles that could strike India.

He said that Pakistan had taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow the US officials to inspect the country’s Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that the US administration officials praised.

Some experts are also sceptical of the American claims.

Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, a yearbook and Web-based data service, said the Harpoon missile did not have the necessary range for a land-attack missile, which would lend credibility to Pakistani claims that they are developing their own new missile.

Moreover, he said, Pakistan already has more modern land-attack missiles that it developed itself or acquired from China.

“They’re beyond the need to reverse-engineer old US kit,” Hewson said in a telephone interview. “They’re more sophisticated than that”.

The dispute highlights the level of mistrust that remains between the US and Pakistani military that American officials like to portray as an increasingly reliable partner in the effort to root out the forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda on its territory.

A central element of the American effort has been to get the military refocused on the internal threat facing the country, rather than on threat the country believes it still faces from India.

Pakistani officials have insisted that they are making that shift. But the evidence continues to point to heavy investments in both nuclear and conventional weapons that experts say have no utility in the battle against insurgents.

Over the years, the US has provided a total of 165 Harpoon missiles to Pakistan, including 37 of the older-model weapons that were delivered from 1985 to 1988, said Charles Taylor, a spokesman for the Defence Security Cooperation Agency.