Pakistani President Pervez Mush-arraf yesterday vowed to further upgrade Pakistan's nuclear capability but with a "strict adherence" to non-proliferation as he watched the test-firing of a long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
"The nation's nuclear capability, which enjoyed the broadest national consensus, was developed for Pakistan's own security and will continue to receive the highest national priority," a military statement quoted Musharraf as saying.
The military ruler allayed apprehensions about the future of the program after the fresh disclosures about the activities of disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
"The capability was here to stay, will continue to go from strength to strength and no harm will ever be allowed to come to it," he said.
Pakistan admitted last week that Khan had supplied Iran with centrifuges, used to enrich uranium for atomic warheads. It said the government was not involved but has refused to give him up for questioning by other countries.
Khan, who is considered a national hero in Pakistan and is the father of its nuclear bomb, confessed in February last year to leaking secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya after a government probe into nuclear proliferation.
He was pardoned by Musharraf but has been living under virtual house arrest in Islamabad.
"The president reiterated Pakistan's policy of consolidating and strengthening its minimum deterrence needs, as well as strict adherence to non-proliferation," the statement said.
Yesterday's firing of the Shaheen 2 (Hatf VI) surface-to-surface missile was successful, the statement said.
"This missile system, which incorporates advanced two-stage solid motor technology, can carry all types of conventional and nuclear warheads to a range of 2,000km," it said. "The test was carried out to verify some of the refined technical parameters ... all parameters were validated."
Musharraf congratulated the scientists and engineers on the test and said "the nation is proud of its strategic organizations and strategic forces."
He said these forces had "gelled extremely well" under the National Command Authority into an effective deterrence force in a short span of five years.
"Their technical and operational readiness was indeed praiseworthy and a source of strength and security for Pakistan," Musharraf said.
Neighboring states, particularly nuclear-armed rival India, were given prior notification of the test "as per existing practice, as a confidence-building measure," the statement said
Foreign ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said the test would not affect the ongoing peace dialogue with India. "It is a routine test. It won't affect dialogue process," he said.
Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 after rival India conducted similar detonations. Both countries have active missile programs.
Pakistan and India have a bitter history of confrontation, mainly over the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir which is divided between the two and claimed by both in full.
The South Asian rivals have been engaged in a peace dialogue since January last year.