Pakistan on Saturday successfully test fired a new air-launched cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the military said in a statement.
The locally developed Ra'ad (Hatf-8) missile -- Ra'ad means thunder in Arabic -- has a range of 350 kilometres (217 miles) and uses stealth technology, it said.
The missile "has been designed exclusively for launch from a variety of Pakistan's air platforms, providing these with a strategic stand-off capability on land and at sea," it said.
"The Ra'ad can carry all types of warheads and has an accuracy comparable to Pakistan's longer Babur cruise missile," the statement said. Pakistan last test fired the Babur, which has a 700-kilometre range, in July.
"The missile has a low detection probability due to stealth design and materials used in its manufacturing," it said.
President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz congratulated the scientists and engineers involved in designing the new cruise missile, it added.
"Pakistan's defense will continue to be strengthened as an imperative of national security," the military statement quoted the two leaders as saying.
Pakistan and its nuclear-armed arch rival India have routinely conducted missile tests since the neighbouring countries carried out tit-for-tat nuclear detonations in May 1998.
However in 2004 they launched a slow-moving peace process aimed at ending six decades of hostility and resolving their dispute over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars.
In February, Pakistan signed a historic deal with India to cut the risk of atomic weapons accidents.
The latest test however comes against a backdrop of mounting political opposition to military strongman Musharraf -- fuelling international fears about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
"Every time you fire a missile there is a political connotation to it," defence analyst and retired army general Talat Masood told AFP.
"Pakistan has a very strong and robust missile programme and it can match any country, especially its adversaries. It is not lagging behind in its missile programme," Masood added.
Pakistan did not say if it had informed New Delhi in advance about Saturday's test. They have an agreement to notify each other about tests of ballistic missiles but not cruise missiles.
Pakistan has also been at the centre of global concern about a nuclear black market run by its disgraced chief atomic scientist and national hero Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Khan confessed in 2004 to providing nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. He was pardoned by Musharraf but remains under effective house arrest at his Islamabad villa.
Click to view image: '86583-11111.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|