India wheels out new long-range missile in annual parade
NEW DELHI: India wheeled out a new long-range nuclear missile that can hit anywhere in China and warned rival Pakistan not to take its friendship “for granted” as it celebrated its Republic Day with a big parade Saturday.
India successfully tested last April the Agni V missile, which has a range of 5,000 kilometres and can strike across the Chinese mainland and even hit targets as far away as Europe.
The first appearance in the annual parade of the Agni V — seen as marking a significant upgrade of India’s nuclear deterrent — came along with the display of other military hardware acquired as part of a massive modernisation drive costing tens of billions of dollars.
The parade along New Delhi’s ceremonial Rajpath, or King’s Avenue, also included floats marking India’s rich diversity and a tableau marking 100 years of Indian cinema wrapped in reels of film and embossed with movie names.
Large areas of the capital were sealed off for the celebrations — a traditional show of patriotic fervour — where Bhutan’s king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was the chief guest.
India’s shorter-range Agni I and II were developed with Pakistan in mind, while later versions reflect India’s focus on China as well. India and China have prickly ties and a legacy of mistrust stemming from a brief border war in 1962.
On the eve of Republic Day, marking proclamation of India’s constitution, President Pranab Mukherjee told Pakistan in his annual nationwide televised address that New Delhi’s hand of friendship should “not be taken for granted”.
His speech, aired again on Saturday, came amid a ceasefire which took hold last week in disputed Kashmir after the nations agreed to halt cross-border firing that has threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.
“We believe in peace on the border and are always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship…but this hand should not be taken for granted,” he said.
Before the ceasefire, Pakistan said three of its soldiers died in firing by Indian troops along a de facto border dividing Kashmir between the two nations.
India, in turn, accused Pakistani troops of killing two of its soldiers, one of whom was beheaded, and the Himalayan region remains on edge.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since partition in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, a territory which both claim.
Snipers manned rooftops along the route of the parade in New Delhi while helicopters monitored the area from above. Tens of thousands of security forces were deployed in the capital and country for the holiday celebrated across India to mark when the nation’s constitution took effect.
In his speech, president Mukherjee also said it was time for India to “reset its moral compass” following the gang-rape and murder of a student last month that ignited nationwide demonstrations to press for better safety for women.
The death of the 23-year-old woman, “who was a symbol of all that new India strives to be”, had shattered the nation’s complacency, he said.
“We lost more than a valuable life — we lost a dream” and “we must look deep into our conscience and find out where we have faltered”, he said.