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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK

World: South Asia

The balance of firepower

Massive military spending - but the deaths over Kashmir are mostly caused by light weapons

India and Pakistan appear locked into an escalating regional arms race which is causing increasing concern to the world community.

Although war games have been going on for more than 30 years near the line dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir, the political landscape changed radically in 1998.

With a tit-for-tat series of nuclear weapons tests, India and Pakistan brought their nuclear programmes out into the open, dispelling any remaining doubts about their capabilities.

Although the tests revealed little about how advanced the weapons are or the quantities held, India and Pakistan each showed themselves capable of striking a devastating blow against the other.

Massive spending

Between them, India and Pakistan account for over 80% of the region's defence spending.

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Given the precarious state of its finances, Pakistan is under pressure to cut back on defence expenditure - around 6% of its Gross National Product.

India's defence spending has settled at 2.5% of its GNP - but in total, the region's spending is higher than any other except the Middle East.

India's 980,000-strong army and 55,000-strong navy are around double the size of Pakistan's, with reserves of tanks, artillery and warships in similar proportions.

The country's superior conventional weapons capabilities reflect its non-aligned status, and the fact that it also has border tensions with neighbouring China.

India's air force is more than three times as large as Pakistan's in terms of manpower, and with 772 combat aircraft, to Pakistan's 410, India is superior in the air.

And the recent use of the air force in combat is the first in fighting between India and Pakistan since 1971.

High-tech industry

The drive to modernise has led to a significant arms industry in India, which now boasts its own space launcher industry.

India built up its military capability in the 1980s, particularly the air force and navy, which are the most modern fleets in the developing world.

In 1995, a 10-year self-reliance initiative began, with the aim of increasing India's indigenous defence manufacture from the current 30% to 70% by the year 2005.

Because of the US embargo imposed following the nuclear tests, Pakistan's arms purchasing through commercial channels is now blocked

But in disputes over Kashmir, the deaths of around 24,000 people in the past two decades have mostly been by light weapons, such as the AK-47.

Nuclear age

India and Pakistan's nuclear tests in May 1998 changed the map of nuclear-haves and nuclear have-nots.

Although Pakistan's technological base is less sophisticated than India's, the country is reported to have significant assistance from China.

Western intelligence experts believe that China has furnished Pakistan with around 30 long-range missiles with a range of some 300km.

India's missile development has been a national programme, although there have been reports of some assistance from Russia.

Nuclear weapon production began in the mid-1960s, after China's first nuclear tests, and India detonated its first nuclear device - the so-called "Smiling Buddha" - in 1974.

Pakistan began to develop its own programme of nuclear weapons a few years later.

Formerly considered threshold nuclear states, India and Pakistan have now crossed that line, and unlike the other nuclear powers, neither country has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans nuclear test explosions, or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which obliges the nuclear powers never to transfer their nuclear technology to other countries.

However, both sides have said that they have no plans for further testing and have indicated their willingness to join the CTBT under certain conditions.

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