NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD - 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 on Saturday.
The first appearance in the annual parade of the Agni V came along with the display of other military hardware acquired as part of a massive modernisation drive costing tens of billions of dollars.
India’s shorter-range Agni I and II were developed with rival 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, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee told Pakistan in his annual nationwide televised address that New Delhi’s hand of friendship should ‘not be taken for granted’. “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.
His warning came amid a ceasefire which took hold last week in the disputed region of Kashmir after the nuclear-armed nations agreed to halt cross-border firing that has threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.
In his speech, 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. “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.
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.
Meanwhile, Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control and across the world observed Indian Republic Day as black day on Saturday. Official observances were held in Held Kashmir despite a near-total shutdown caused by the general strike.
The move was aimed at drawing attention of the international community towards the fact that India’s claim of being a democratic republic is hollow as it has usurped the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination for the past six decades.
The day was marked by complete shutdown in Occupied Kashmir on the call of All Parties Hurriyet Conference and other Kashmiri organisations and leaders.
Indian troops and police personnel in civvies were deployed around the stadium to keep an eye on the movement of people.
As another sign of cooling tensions, Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged sweets as part of Republic Day celebrations on Saturday, only weeks after the two sides had clashed on the Line of Control.
The exchange of sweets took place at Chakan-da-Bagh along the LoC as a goodwill gesture, continuing a tradition that mark such occasions.
At Suchetgarh on the international border, 40 km west of Jammu, the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers also exchanged sweets.