Pakistan has criticized and downplayed rival India’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 Triumph air defense system, claiming Islamabad can counter the threat.
New Delhi recently signed a $5.4 billion deal with Moscow to purchase what experts believe is the most modern ballistic missile defense (BMS) system available. India has said it needs the missile system that provides high-altitude protection from incoming missiles to bolster its defenses against China and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, in an official reaction to the pact Friday, warned the purchase of the system will “further destabilize strategic stability” and lead to a “renewed” arms race in South Asia.
The Russian weapon system, according to reports, can simultaneously engage and destroy 36 targets, including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ballistic as well as cruise missiles within 400 kilometers at an altitude of 30 kilometers.
“Pakistan remains fully confident of its ability to address threats from any kind of destabilizing weapon system,” the ministry noted, without further explanation.
In January 2017, Islamabad announced the successful flight testing of a surface-to-surface “Ababeel” ballistic missile that it said was capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads to hit targets with “high precision” as far as 2,200 kilometers, “defeating the enemy’s hostile radars.”
U.S. and Western critics maintain that Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world, assertions Islamabad dismisses as “misleading.”
The Trump administration on Wednesday reiterated persistent U.S. concerns about Pakistan’s development of long- and short-range missile launch capabilities and its growing nuclear stockpile.
“Specifically, we’ve expressed concern about the increased security challenges that accompany growing stockpiles, particularly battlefield nuclear weapons, as they pose a greater risk from theft and misuse,” State Department Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Henry Ensher told a seminar at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based research institution.
“These weapons also increase the risk that a conventional conflict between India and Pakistan could escalate to use of nuclear weapons,” Ensher said.
Pakistani officials cite close defense and nuclear cooperation between the United States and India for reinforcing its nuclear deterrence capabilities.
Islamabad says its short-range battlefield nuclear weapons are aimed at deterring New Delhi from taking advantage of its massive military power to inflict a surprise limited conventional war on Pakistan.
New Delhi is hoping for a waiver from the United States, which passed a law last year placing automatic sanctions on countries dealing with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. With an eye on China, New Delhi and Washington have been building a closer partnership. U.S. officials, however, have said there is no guarantee for such a waiver and urged India not to enter into transactions with Russia.
Last month, Washington imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia.
Russia’s sale of S-400 missiles to India comes as relations between Moscow and Islamabad have significantly improved in areas that include the defense, political and economic fields.
Pakistan will host another round of annual joint military drills with Russia starting Sunday.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and military clashes along their disputed Kashmir border have lately become routine, raising concerns another war between the two countries could escalate into nuclear exchanges.