Missile misadventure

Published March 13, 2022

IT was an incident that could have had catastrophic results. Luckily, the crashing of an Indian missile in Mian Channu on Wednesday was met by a measured response by the Pakistan armed forces that refrained from military retaliation.

A statement from India admits that it was an accident but does not go far enough to explain how such a dangerous ‘mishap’ could have happened. The statement also does not render a clear and unambiguous apology to Pakistan.

The response from Pakistan has been categorical and demands answers that are necessary to determining how exactly this provocation happened and what India intends to do to ensure it does not recur. Even so, Pakistan should review its own defence system to find any loopholes that may need to be plugged in case there is another incident of the kind.

There is, however, the matter of framing this incident within the larger context of tense relations between two nuclear powers. It is a miracle that the incident has not extracted a bigger price. Whizzing through the Pakistani airspace at the height that it did, the missile could have hit a commercial aircraft leading to unimaginable consequences. It could have crashed into a populated area and caused damage to life and property. It could have also triggered a military response thereby resulting in a conflagration through misunderstanding and miscommunication.

We were lucky. But this luck must never be tested again.

The incident has exposed the grave weakness in India’s technology and its safety systems. This should not be only Pakistan’s concern; the international community must also demand greater transparency from India. For a nuclear-armed country to be so shoddy with its technology and so weak with its command and control systems is cause for serious alarm across the world. In particular, the safety mechanisms of strategic weapons and the security protocols in place to ensure no accident takes place are well established among all nuclear states.

Read more: NSA Yusuf questions India's ability to handle sensitive technology after missile accident

This missile incident unfortunately proves that India’s systems are either weak, or compromised, or both. The relevant international agencies should demand to inspect India’s systems and verify that the weakness and loopholes have been addressed to the satisfaction of all. Pakistan has the right to have access to this information because it is directly affected by any incompetence on India’s part in handling its strategic weapons.

The incident is a wake-up call for both India and Pakistan with regard to the safety of a nuclear South Asia. It must be treated with the seriousness that it merits and not minimised as a minor accident whose probe remains hidden from public view. It is also in this context that, as nuclear rivals, both Pakistan and India should ensure that communication channels are always open to avert the risk of such incidents in the future.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2022

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