Last week, India accidentally fired a ballistic missile at its nuclear armed arch-rival, Pakistan. Islamabad’s measured response to the event, which has been lauded widely, perhaps averted a calamity.
However, the event, and India’s delayed and casual response to it, has not only set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad but internationally as well, denting New Delhi’s “credibility as a responsible, mature and accountable nuclear-weapon state.”
Responding to the event, Pakistan military’s spokesperson said on Thursday that the “flight path of this object endangered many international and domestic passenger flights – both in Indian and Pakistani air space – as well as human life and property on ground.”
“Whatever caused this incident to happen, it is for the Indians to explain,” he said.
Two days after the incident, India’s Ministry of Defense issued a brief statement saying that “a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile,” adding that a high-level court of inquiry would probe the issue.
Pakistan on Saturday rejected India’s explanation. “Such a serious matter cannot be addressed with the simplistic explanation proffered by the Indian authorities,” said the country’s Foreign Office. “Pakistan demands a joint probe to accurately establish the facts surrounding the incident.”
The incident, which is likely to the first of its kind, has raised questions about the existing safety mechanisms in India to prevent accidental missile launches. “The grave nature of the incident raises several fundamental questions regarding security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorized launch of missiles in a nuclearized environment,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office said, demanding that India should offer a convincing explanation of the events that led to the missile’s firing.
The event will surely cast doubt on New Delhi’s assurances that adequate safety measures are in place to prevent accidental and unauthorized launches of such weapons. “Those questions are bound to be raised again, and India is going to come under a lot of pressure,” Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research told the New York Times. “Not just Pakistan will raise these questions, but a lot of questions will be raised in Washington also.”
Already, Pakistan is asking India to “explain if the missile was indeed handled by its armed forces or some rogue elements.” It is “highly irresponsible of Indian authorities not to have informed Pakistan immediately that an inadvertent launch of a cruise missile had taken place,” Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf said in a Twitter post.
“The real circumstances surrounding this incident must also be investigated to ascertain if this was an inadvertent launch or something more intentional,” he added.
Other analysts believe that the incident has provided Pakistan an opportunity to admonish India when it comes to the debate of New Delhi’s ability to handle such sensitive weapons and materials effectively. “India’s incompetence or carelessness, or both, in inadvertently firing this missile into Pakistan, has handed Islamabad an effective lever with which to vilify, embarrass and berate Delhi over serious and sensitive operational matters involving two contiguous nuclear-armed enemy states,” Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle of the Security Risks consultancy group in Delhi told The Wire.
In any case, for India and Pakistan to develop a better and more comprehensive protocols to prevent such incidents, New Delhi should coordinate with Islamabad to ensure that all important questions regarding the event are satisfactory answered.
Otherwise, if this happens again, sheer luck may not be enough to prevent a calamity.