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Saturday, May 16, 1998 Published at 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK

Pakistan poised to leapfrog India

The US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot (second from left) urges Pakistan not to go ahead with tests of its own

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Gohar Ayub Khan, has said it is "close to certain" that his country will conduct a nuclear test.

His remarks come amid reports that Pakistan's nuclear technology may be more advanced than India's.

BBC's Mike Woolridge reports from the Pakistan capital, Islamabad (1'10")
Mr Khan said that Pakistan was weighing up how much the international community intended to hurt India for conducting its five nuclear tests this week, and he dismissed the sanctions announced so far as "mild".

[ image: Pakistan's missile testing last month could have prompted India's nuclear tests]
Pakistan's missile testing last month could have prompted India's nuclear tests
"India would not be struck so hard," he said. "They've calculated it. So have we. It's just a matter of timing, that the government of Pakistan would choose as to when to conduct the test."

Mr Khan comments came after the departure of a high level American delegation who had been in Islamabad in an attempt to persuade the Pakistanis not to conduct a test and are in contrast to earlier remarks from the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, on Friday which seemed to be more restrained.

The BBC correspondent in Islamabad says the foreign minister's remarks may be designed to put pressure on world leaders at the G8 summit to take a tougher line on Delhi.

A Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman said the G8 condemnation of India was an inadequate response, and was surprised that the statement did not advocate collective sanctions against Delhi or mention the threat that Indian nuclear weapons posed to the security of Pakistan and the world.

Pakistan's nuclear take-off

Analysts say Pakistan's nuclear programme may be more advanced than India's, partly due to outside help, especially from China.

The United States alleged that China supplied M-11 missiles to Pakistan when it imposed sanctions on both countries in the early 1990s, although both governments in Islamabad and Beijing deny this.

[ image:  ]
China is also alleged to have supplied Pakistan with a full-design for a small nuclear weapon.

The BBC defence analyst says this could mean that Pakistan, unlike India, has the capacity to arm its missile force with nuclear warheads.

Both countries not only have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, but are also developing medium and long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. But for the moment, India's nuclear weapons would probably have to be delivered by aircraft.

Pakistan's test of a new long-range ballistic missile five weeks ago may have helped encourage India to go ahead with its series of nuclear explosions.

Pakistan sees nuclear deterrent as a means of countering India's overwhelming military superiority.

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