The true character of a state is demonstrated at the centre of a crisis. It has been almost three months since the Indian cruise missile, ‘BrahMos’, crashed inside the Pakistani territory. The episode that took place on March 2022 accentuated India’s irresponsible strategic posture, and raised serious concerns about the long-lasting consequences of such brinkmanship.
The accident could have morphed into an unimaginable catastrophe if the missile had hit a commercial aircraft or crashed into a populated area. It could have triggered a military response had the Pakistani leadership not practiced strategic restraint thereby leading to a confrontation.
Former Pakistan National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf said, “The incident puts a big question mark on India’s ‘ability to handle sensitive technology’.”
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar revealed during the press conference that on the night of March 9, 2022 a “high-speed flying object” from India had fallen in Mian Channu, Khanewal district”. He added that the projectile had travelled “124 kilometers inside Pakistani territory in three minutes and 44 seconds.”
As damage control, the Indian Defense Ministry issued a statement two days later, and termed the incident as “a technical malfunction” that led to the “accidental firing of a missile”. But it was too little, too late — for there is no room for such inadvertency when it comes to tenuous peace situation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
India’s defense partners must revisit their decision to provide India with technology prone to such accidents, such as the 2016 decision of recognizing India as a “major defense partner” by means of granting India STA-1 (Strategic Trade Authorization-1) status. The designation allowed India to purchase more advanced and sensitive technologies from the US poses a great threat to the strategic stability in the region.
Abiding by the international diplomatic norms, the Indian Charge d’ Affaires was summoned to the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and conveyed serious reservations on the “simplistic explanations” by the Indian authorities, regarding the incident that could have had grave repercussions on the regional peace.
The implications of India’s irresponsible behaviour were duly brought to light by Pakistan on March 17, 2022 at the Plenary Meeting of the Conference on Disarmament.
The high risks involved with such accidents or miscalculations could embroil both the states into a “nuclear conflict”, and, in case, of a nuclear conflagration between India and Pakistan, “it would result in up to 125 million casualties – double the number of those killed during World War II.”
The numbers are important, but what is more concerning is the sheer callousness of the Indian authorities.
This is not the first time that India has tried to disturb strategic stability in the region. The failed Indian attempt to carry out strikes deep inside Pakistan near Balakot on February 27, 2019, speaks volumes about the Indian machinations. The strike generated a ‘quid-pro-quo-plus’ response by Pakistan when Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman flying a MiG-21 was successfully intercepted and downed by the Pakistan Airforce (PAF).
Again, on October 16, 2021, an Indian naval submarine was prematurely detected and tracked by the Pakistan Navy Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
Such strategic insinuations and technical malfunctions could have serious implications for the peace in the region. India’s defense partners must revisit their decision to provide India with technology prone to such accidents, such as the 2016 decision of recognizing India as a “major defense partner” by means of granting India STA-1 (Strategic Trade Authorization-1) status. The designation allowed India to purchase more advanced and sensitive technologies from the US poses a great threat to the strategic stability in the region.
Some other important bilateral defense agreements, signed between the US and India, that have had a negative bearing on the balance of power and strategic stability between Pakistan and India are: (i) the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA); (ii) the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA); and (iii) the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).
A 2020 report by the Stimson Center, an American think tank, notes that 86 percent of India’s weapons are of Russian origin, including sensitive strategic weapons.
Given India’s poor record with handling sensitive technology, it’s equally worrisome that India might end up mishandling such high-tech equipment as BrahMos and S-400, a technologically advanced weaponry.
India’s poor record in handling the strategically important fissile material, the theft of over 200 kilogrammes of nuclear material in India during last two decades reveals that India lacks requisite standard operating procedures (SOPs), including a robust command-and-control (C&C) system.
Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) Islamabad, in a paper published at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, has raised concerns about India’s stockpiling of weapons-grade fissile material. He has aptly suggested that India’s existing and future nuclear capability “fuels regional security anxieties with Pakistan.”
Keeping in view India’s poor record in handling the strategically important fissile material, the theft of over 200 kilogrammes of nuclear material in India during last two decades reveals that India lacks requisite standard operating procedures (SOPs), including a robust command-and-control (C&C) system.
What is more troubling is India’s dissipating no-first-use (NFU) policy which has significantly diluted as India is moving towards a counterforce strategy and aspiring for a decapitating “splendid first-strike” against Pakistan.
It can be inferred that as an “irresponsible nuclear state” India’s bellicose behaviour is producing negative signaling, that may be misread by both its neighbours — Pakistan and China – keeping in view India’s so-called two-front war mantra in the event of any future conflict.
In order to maintain a durable peace in the future, there is a need for resuming information sharing mechanism with respect to accidents pertaining to strategic weapons between the two countries. Both the countries must consider employing all diplomatic and military channels to keep each other abreast of such accidents, which could escalate into a nuclear conflict. The world must appreciate that with its measured response by demanding a “joint probe” into the fiasco and not retaliating back, Pakistan has displayed astute statesmanship and a great strategic restraint – exhibiting a robust military posturing and credibility by avoiding an accidental nuclear war.