Such Indian tactics are more dangerous given the high level of bilateral tension and absence of dialogue
On 9 March evening, an Indian missile crashed in Pakistani territory causing minor damage to property. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, disruption of air traffic or risk to any strategic facility. However, the incident was potentially extremely dangerous as it could have triggered a response from Pakistan, leading to a major conflagration between two nuclear powers. Pakistan is, therefore, fully justified in expressing serious concern over this incident while also asking the international community to act against such irresponsible Indian behaviour.
According to the statement by the Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on 9 March, “At 6:43 pm a high speed flying object was picked up inside the Indian territory by the Air Defence Operation Centre of the Pakistan Air Force” and “from its initial course, the object suddenly maneuvered towards the Pakistani territory and violated Pakistan’s airspace before ultimately falling near Mian Channu at 6:50 pm”. The ISPR added that the Air Force “continuously monitored the complete flight path of the object from its point of origin near Sirsa in India till its point of impact” and that the “Air Force initiated requisite tactical actions in accordance with standard operating procedures”. Maintaining that an inquiry into the matter had been launched and that forensics are being carried out but confirmed that the object was “most probably a missile” and that it was “certainly unarmed”. Still, the “missile’s flight path endangered several international and domestic passenger flights in both Indian and Pakistani airspace as well as life and property on the ground”. The ISPR further stated that “what caused this incident to happen is for the Indians to explain”, yet it “shows their disregard for aviation safety and reflects very poorly on their technological prowess and procedural efficiency”. While stressing that “Pakistan strongly protests this flagrant violation”, the ISPR cautioned India against” the recurrence of any such incidents in the future”.
Despite the gravity of this incident, the Indians took 48 hours to make a lame apology. The Indian Defence Ministry’s statement on 12 March described the incident as “deeply regrettable” which had been caused by a “technical malfunction” during the course of routine maintenance which “led to the accidental firing of the missile”, and that a high-level inquiry had been initiated.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office summoned the Indian envoy to protest the unprovoked violation of its airspace and maintained that “such irresponsible incidents” reflected India’s “disregard for air safety and callousness towards regional peace and stability”. It also called for a transparent joint investigation of the incident and for its results to be shared internationally. The envoys of the P-5 countries were also briefed about the developments while Pakistan’s representatives abroad have been asked to raise this matter in relevant international fora.
Currently available information reveals that the projectile was an unarmed BhraMos Cruise missile at Mach 3 speed, which was continuously tracked. Fortunately, the Pakistani side acted with responsibility otherwise there could have been dangerous consequences. Still, vital questions remain unanswered. Most importantly, was this an accidental launch or a deliberate move to test Pakistan’s air defences? Even if the launch was accidental, it raises concern over the Indian fail-safe measures and procedures in place to prevent such accidents; while also indicating that Indian missiles are kept primed for launch even under routine maintenance. Such procedures were obviously not observed which, at the very least, underscore Indian irresponsibility, inefficiency and incompetence.
In the worst case scenario, the consequences of even an accidental launch could have been devastating, given that the reaction time is just three minutes. If Pakistan’s air defence had judged the unguided missile to be the start of an Indian missile attack, Pakistan would not only have shot down the missile but could have launched its own missiles against Indian targets. Such breakdown of deterrence between two nuclear powers could have escalated into a major confrontation. Since the Indians did not alert Pakistan in time nor was the hotline between the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) used to prevent miscalculation, the dangers of a military confrontation greatly increased. It was only due to the responsible approach of the Pakistani side that a major disaster was averted.
Pakistan’s mature response has been acknowledged even by some Indian analysts and international commentators, who have also pointed out that if Pakistan had been responsible for a similar incident, the Indian government, its jingoist media and Western allies would have reacted apoplectically against Pakistan.
No faith can be placed in the promised Indian inquiry which will be a cover-up. Pakistan’s insistence on a joint inquiry will also be rejected. Consequently, Pakistan will have to make its own assessment of the incident. In particular, it will have to determine whether the incident was truly “accidental” or a deliberate incursion, such as the incursions by Indian submarines a few weeks ago and earlier during the 2019 Balakot crisis when these submarines were clearly testing Pakistan’s detection and interdiction capabilities.
Such Indian tactics are all the more provocative and dangerous given the high level of bilateral tensions and absence of any dialogue. The Hindu fascist Modi government is also pursuing the strategic doctrine of a preemptive first-strike against Pakistan, with its adventurism being encouraged by the Indo-US strategic partnership which has significantly enhanced India’s military capabilities. For these reasons, Pakistan cannot afford to lower its guard and must make every effort to ensure the credibility of its deterrence capability. One of the requirements for this is to be continuously vigilant against any Indian violation of Pakistani territory as has been demonstrated in response to recent incidents. While as a responsible nuclear power there is no need for a knee-jerk reaction, Pakistan’s doctrine of Full Spectrum Deterrence at the operational, tactical and strategic levels, is capable of neutralizing any preemptive Indian attack.
The international community must also restrain irresponsible and belligerent Indian behaviour and not just ask Pakistan to show restraint. Otherwise, even unguided missiles launched by accident can have devastating consequences.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2022.
Disclaimer: Unguided missile by Zamir Akram - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view