Pakistan was quick to respond. It test fired its Shaheen 1A missile within a week of India’s launch of Agni V. This indeed was a befitting response and demonstration of national resolve. Pakistan does not seek to enter into an arms race and to match a weapon-for-weapon with India, or for that matter with any other country. Pakistan’s economy is going through a bad patch and there are other competing requirements for the limited economic capacity which the country currently possesses. Given the choice, Pakistan would like to spend on education, health and infrastructure. However, keeping in view its complex relations with India, it cannot stay oblivious to emerging threats.

India has been the lead state actor in weapon proliferation activities in South Asia, be they conventional or nuclear. Latest study by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) indicates that India tops the list of Asian countries in terms of arms procurement. The test of Agni V would certainly accentuate the arms race in the region and beyond. Pakistan may consider uncapping its missile programme and developing a compatible capability. Expertise – wise Pakistan’s ICBM capability is certainly not far away.

Missile capability is a tool of power projection and ability to have missiles with continental reach does add to the prestige of a state. However, such capability is always viewed in conjunction with other socio-economic indicators. Unfortunately, Indian performance in this sector has not been adjudged well. Successive UN reports on millennium development goals have been bracketing India with some of the underdeveloped Afro-Asian states. Luxuries like Agni V mean nothing for 440 million under nourished Indians living below Rs 26 per day and a per capita power consumption of 47 KW per annum.  Inherent weakness in Indian strategy is that while all major counties of the world manufacture aero-planes, submarines and sophisticated weapon systems, India procures them. Therefore, it is poised to spend a major portion of its foreign exchange to keep its armed forces duly modernized. As a result, the benefits of booming Indian economy stop short of reaching a common Indian.

Agni V is an improved version of Agni III.  Addition of a stage and some miniaturization: not a big deal.  AgniV is technically an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), having similarities with the American ‘Minuteman III”. It can deliver a single 1.5 megaton weapon 5,000 kilometers away. This design could eventually carry between 3 and 10 warheads at a time, once Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) are built for it. Spin off of present configuration could lead to development of a submarine launched version. Indian Army and Navy will be the operators of this missile and its variants. Arihant submarine is poised to carry the naval version of missile in its silos.

Chinese experts are of the view that this missile actually has the potential to reach 9,00,00 kilometers; however, under pressure from Nato/America India had to cut down the missile range to 5,000 kilometers, or maybe it is down playing the range to avoid causing concern to other countries. Regions to worry about this missile are Asia and parts of Europe & Africa. However, with declaratory range, and prevailing strategic environment, this missile is reduced to a China specific weapon.

Agni V is not Pakistan specific. India already had adequate missile inventory to cover entire Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan has compatible capability and its missiles can reach the farthest end of India. Nevertheless, with this grand success, India joins the US, Russia, France and China, which have ICBM capability.

America has refrained from criticizing India for its test; instead praised its ''solid nonproliferation record,'' and called on ''all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities.''  Soon after the Agni test, Michael Krepon chose to write on ‘Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear weapons’. He commented: “Of all categories of nuclear weapons, those with the shortest ranges have the least military utility and pose the greatest problems relating to security and unauthorized use...Tactical nuclear weapons, like the 60 kilometer Nasr (or Hatf IX) missile that Pakistan has flight tested, are not very helpful…Whatever limited military utility short-range nuclear weapons possess depends on extreme forward deployments…where command and control is most susceptible to breakdowns...” Notwithstanding Krepon’s standpoint, at professional level, even the worst enemies acknowledge the impeccable security as well as robustness of the command and control systems overseeing Pakistan’s nukes.

Chinese newspaper “Global Times” has commented that Chinese nuclear power is "stronger and more reliable and India had no chance" to catch up, "India has little to celebrate" as China has raced ahead and outclassed India in development. The paper further said the celebrations over the missile "conceal the inadequacies and slow pace" of the programme, and "hide the fact that successive Indian governments have capitulated to pressure from Nato to restrict the range and power of their launch vehicles", it said. It further commented that India was embarrassingly behind China in its space programme and also faced a huge vulnerability as over 80 per cent of its critical weapons systems are imported from France, the US, Russia and Israel. "If these countries cut off supplies or ammunition during a conflict, India would be helpless."

Global Times warned that India was being swept up by “missile delusion” and recalled that it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “The West chooses to overlook India’s disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties…..India should not overestimate its strength,” it wrote. “Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable.” It further opined that India would gain nothing by stirring "further hostility", but would be well advised to not overestimate its strength, as it "stands no chance in an overall arms race". Notion that Beijing and Shanghai must be targeted in order to deter China is questionable. One need only consider whether the Indian government would be willing to disregard the targeting of Ahmadabad or Jaipur or Patna by China.

Moments after the mission's success, Dr VK Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, told “The Hindu”: “Today, we have made history. We are a major missile power.” Avinash Chander, Chief Controller Programme Director, AgniV, called it a fantastic mission, which gave India the confidence to go ahead with a larger number of missiles and longer ranges, he added. “It is India’s dream missile — I call it a game changer,” Saraswat said before the launch. But Ravi Gupta, a spokesman for India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, said its range falls short of that (ICBM) category

“Today’s successful AgniV test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement. Defense Minister AK Anthony called it an “immaculate success.”

Timing of the missile test, coming on the heels of the North Korean failed missile launch has put the West in a political quandary. America and its allies have been critical of comparatively very modest nuclear and missile programmes of North Korea and Iran. The US, Britain, France and Australia, which support India’s rise and see it as a potential counterweight to China, now seem to openly acknowledge that when it comes to strategic missile tests, some countries are more equal than the others.

Since the early sixties, India has chosen to play as an American proxy against China. Its specific role has been to act as cheap deterrent on American behalf. Current test of China specific Agni V indicates   that India   would   continue   doing   America’s   bidding.

    The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.