Navy officials in Pakistan have said Islamabad plans to put nuclear weapons aboard the country’s growing submarine fleet, even as U.S. officials continue to press for a halt in both Pakistan’s and India’s budding nuclear weapons programs.

Pakistani navy spokesman Roshan Khayal said the move was being considered because India is also planning to eventually equip its submarine force with similar nuclear-capable weapons.

“Pakistan may equip its submarines with nuclear missiles to defend its key naval installations,” Khayal said yesterday, according to published reports.

A day earlier, Pakistani Rear Adm. Afzal Tahir, deputy chief of naval staff, said Pakistan needed to equip its submarines with nuclear weapons because Indian navy officials had plans to outfit New Delhi’s Soviet-era diesel boats with such missiles.

India has released defense strategy papers regarding its nuclear developments, which also include adding nuclear weapons to submarines.

“The Pakistan navy continues to strive hard to make up for the deficiencies and achieve a qualitative edge over a numerically superior enemy,” Tahir said Wednesday.

Shortly after both countries tested nuclear weapons in a series of underground explosions in mid-1998, then-President Clinton, acting on U.S. intelligence information, proclaimed the region containing India and Pakistan the most likely to erupt in a nuclear conflict.

U.S. officials and regional governments became increasingly worried about possible nuclear weapons use several months later when Pakistani and Indian forces fought a brief conflict over the disputed Kashmir region in 1999.

However, yesterday, U.S. officials had little to say about the latest decision by Pakistan to consider deploying nuclear weapons aboard three recently acquired French submarines, as well as other subs currently in its fleet.

Saying Washington would “stay away from speculation over this,” Len Scensny, a State Department official, said U.S. policy continued to reflect the hope that both India and Pakistan would refrain from deploying any nuclear weapons.

“Basically, we’re continuing to urge Pakistan to demonstrate restraint in its nuclear and missile programs,” Scensny told WorldNetDaily. “That includes no operational deployment of ballistic missiles and no placement of nuclear weapons on ships or submarines.”

To date, he said, “the Pakistanis haven’t taken any steps to deploy missiles operationally. We hope they will continue that restraint.”

He would not say what the Bush administration’s reaction would be if Pakistan indeed carries out its deployment plans.

Nicolas Berry, a senior analyst on Pakistani-Indian defense issues for the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., said he also had no information confirming that either Pakistan or India had “weaponized” nuclear technology as yet, but indicated that development of such weapons continues.

“During the 1999 crisis, both states said they went on nuclear alert,” Berry told WorldNetDaily. “One would assume that they had a weapon capable, perhaps, of being transported by an aircraft. I think the Indian Mirage 2000,” which is a French-made aircraft, “have that capability, but no one has confirmed or denied that.

“As far as the U.S. knows, they have not weaponized any of their missiles,” he said.

It is unclear how many or what types of nuclear weapons India and Pakistan possess, but both have said they were developing them as deterrent factors to thwart aggression by the other. By making such statements, however, neither has provided details about eventual numbers of warheads or in what form — nuclear-capable aircraft bombs, missiles or torpedoes — they would take.

Berry said it was likely that Pakistan could have made its announcement as a means to counter a numerically superior Indian military force because the “relative military buildup” between both nations is “uneven.”

“India is buying a lot of weapons from Russia,” he said. “They also have a very extensive domestic weapons program, and that may be why Pakistan” made its announcement.

New Delhi most recently has purchased portable, infantry-manned air defense missiles from Russia and has purchased Russian-built Su-30MKI fighter aircraft with a license to build more. Also, India is set to bolster its naval assets with aircraft carriers.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is seeking to purchase about $40 billion worth of fighter planes from China. The purchase is for two squadrons of 20 F-7 MG interceptor fighters apiece. The plane is one of China’s more advanced fighters but is not quite up to Western combat standards.

Pakistan is also set to sign a contract with Chinese defense industries for the joint production of the Super 7FC-1 fighter.

Islamabad has also been a Russian arms customer, recently acquiring T-90 main battle tanks and air defense systems.

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