Vol 3, PW 6 (14 Apr 99) People & Policy

Perhaps sensing its days are numbered, the BJP government last weekend test-fired the latest version of an intercontinental ballistic missile, hoping to take advantage of the Wests distraction with Kosovo, and as a last ditch attempt to galvanise domestic support.

In normal times, Sundays launch of Agni II, with a range of 2,000km, from a rail mobile launcher at the Wheeler island test range in Orissa's Balasore district, would have provoked a chorus of international condemnation. Instead it has raised hardly a murmur, despite the fact that it now puts the whole of China and Pakistan within range of Indian nuclear warheads, and will almost certainly spark an arms race.

Pakistan has announced it will respond by test-firing its own medium-range missile. The US State Department has issued little more than a statement of regret, distracted as it is by NATO action over Kosovo.

This is in stark contrast to the deluge of criticism and economic sanctions accompanying Indian nuclear tests 11 months ago. Vajpayees decision to test-fire the missile is not difficult to understand.

Nationalist leaders in any country always look to foreign policy when things at home are not looking too good.

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