, ISLAMABAD — Pakistan shot off a surface-to-surface, nuclear-capable rocket yesterday in its first test in months, but it denied the launch had anything to do with stalled peace talks with India.

The army announced the early-morning launch of the short-range Hatf-3 Ghaznavi missile, and promised “a series” of tests in coming days. The missile can carry conventional and non-conventional weapons, and its range of nearly 300 kilometres means it can hit several important targets in India.

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Latest picture of Pakistan's indigenous IRBM…the Hataf III
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The United States urged India and Pakistan yesterday to continue to exercise restraint in their nuclear activities.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday's test seemed unlikely to cause tensions to escalate, but U.S. officials are urging both nations to restrain their weapons and missile programs, and not deploy nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

Pakistani army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan declined to say where exactly the test was conducted. The army later released a statement saying India and neighbouring countries were informed before the test.

In New Delhi, defence ministry spokesman Amitabh Chakravorty confirmed his government had been notified.

Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes later said the test was “nothing special,” adding in comments to Press Trust of India: “It has to be seen whether the missile is their own or provided by North Korea or China.”

The comments were an allusion to charges, denied by Pakistan, that it has exchanged nuclear and other weapons technology with North Korea. China is Pakistan's main supplier of military hardware, but the Hatf-3 is an indigenous Pakistani missile.

The test was the first by Pakistan since March 26, when it fired off a short-range missile shortly after India announced a similar launch.

A few weeks later, on April 18, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee raised hopes with a surprise call for peace with Pakistan, saying he was extending a “hand of friendship” to his bitter rival.

Pakistan had refrained from any missile tests since then, while the two countries resumed diplomatic ties and restored bus links. High-level political delegations have been sent off as well, and there was hope the two sides would discuss Kashmir, the Himalayan region over which the countries have fought two of three wars since 1947.

But what began with such high expectations has slowly begun to crumble.

At last week's UN General Assembly, Indian and Pakistani leaders engaged in their most bitter public sparring in years.

Mr. Vajpayee accused Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf of admitting to backing Islamic separatists in Kashmir that India blames for a series of terrorist attacks, and India's UN ambassador, Vijay Nambiar, accused Pakistan of engaging in a “diplomacy of abuse and hate.”