Unguided missile: On a malfunction and Pakistan’s probe demand

Pakistan demand for a joint probe is unwarranted, but India must get to the truth of the missile malfunction

Updated - March 14, 2022 10:48 am IST

Published - March 14, 2022 12:35 am IST

The accidental firing of a missile by India into Pakistan could have led to serious, unintended escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries, but, fortunately, that did not happen. The Government of India has said the incident, on March 9, happened in the course of routine maintenance, due to a technical malfunction. India has ordered a high-level Court of Inquiry. The Chargé d’affaires of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad was called twice by Pakistan to convey its concerns. Pakistan has alleged that the incident “indicates many loopholes and technical lapses of a serious nature in Indian handling of strategic weapons”. Islamabad, which termed the inquiry as ordered by India as insufficient, demanded a joint probe. It has also sought the involvement of the international community to promote “strategic stability in the region”. As it moved closer to India in recent years, the U.S. has suspended its fixation with the conflict between the two neighbours, but the fear of nuclear escalation in the region is very deep in Washington’s strategic thinking. India’s global image of being a responsible nuclear power has been built over decades of restrained words and thoughtful action. The security of its nuclear command and technical capabilities has never been in doubt. This incident frays that reputation and measures must be taken to restore the confidence of the international community in India.

There has been no official word from India on which missile was involved, which Pakistan has said landed 124 km inside its territory. The description by Pakistan — that the missile was travelling at three times the speed of sound, at 40,000 feet, and is a surface-to-surface missile — has led to speculation that the accident involves the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile which is now in the inventory of India’s three Services. India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016, an acceptance by major powers of India’s status as a reliable defence partner that is capable of handling its strengths and contributing to global security. India is developing more missile systems, including a hypersonic variant. The handling and the launch of any such missiles are highly regulated with checks and balances to avoid accidents. This accident also has echoes of another incident in February 2019. A day after the Balakot air strike, as fighter jets of India and Pakistan were engaged in a dogfight near the LoC, an Mi-17V5 crashed in Budgam shortly after take-off from Srinagar killing its personnel onboard and a civilian on the ground. The Court of Inquiry confirmed that it was shot by an Israeli-origin Spyder surface-to-air missile system of the IAF. India must leave no scope for any doubts about its capacity to handle nuclear and other military assets. That objective can be achieved without a joint probe with Pakistan or any international involvement, but the objective must be achieved nevertheless.

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