On March 9th, 2022 a supersonic missile crossed the Indian border, covering a distance of 124 km across the border and crashed into Pakistan destroying a civilian building. It is believed to be a BrahMos cruise missile, with a range of 292-400 km, jointly developed by India and Russia. This is the first-ever incident in nuclear history, wherein a missile has been fired from a nuclear state into another nuclear state. On top of that, India remained quiet for 48 hrs after the incident; and was provoked to answer only after Pakistan’s military spokesperson went on to highlight this grave incident in the media.
India termed the incident as an accidental firing of the missile during routine maintenance and a technical malfunction. However, now the Indian government has changed the narrative and has termed the incident to be a “human error’ and to review the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with regard to missile handling. This seems even more signaling as it indicates India’s poor handling of such sensitive technology. This also indicates that the authority to launch the missile has been delegated to lower authorities which even increases the risk of accidental war as in the case of cannister sed weapons (warheads permanently mated with the missiles), such negligence can’t be tolerated.
The supersonic missile traveling at such a higher speed can’t take 90 degrees sudden turn provided its fast speed of Mach 3. Furthermore, the timing it was launched sparks concerns around their termed position of technical maintenance; as such matters are done during the day, not in the twilight. Despite having the 2004 hotline agreement between the two countries, the so-called accidental launch was not been intimated. Moreover, if at all it was human error to launch the missile, the BrahMos missile works on the Fire and Forget Principle, which means the trajectory was designed, and the missile flew to the target without further action from the operator, if it was not malfunctioning. The incident is, however, a flagrant violation of Pakistani airspace. Moreover, it could have hit any passenger plane, provided it traveled at a height of 40,000 ft. and could have caused human loss as well.
As far as Indian intentions are concerned, whether it was accidental or intentional, considering the above facts and Indian aggressive counterforce posture and aggressive designs against Pakistan, this could be an attempt to asses Pakistan’s deterrence capabilities and unclear response measures. India wants to undermine Pakistan’s deterrent capabilities. This war-prone behavior of India needs to be changed as it could result in disastrous consequences.
Pakistan’ Military spokesperson made it very clear that Pakistan forces are alert to any threat and the challenges it faces. However, this incident sparks a dire need to re-invigorate the Confidence Building mechanism between the two nuclear South Asian countries. Moreover, an agreement similar to the Pre-Notification of Flight-Testing of Ballistic Missile should be made for the cruise missiles testing as well, in order to minimize the risk of such so-called nuclear-related accidents.
Amber Afreen Abid is a “Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.