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Strategic malfunction

Imagine what can happen if a nuclear state loses control of one of its nukes, which is pointed towards its nuclear-armed adversary, in its very own backyard?

The answer is quite simple and obvious: a chance of a nuclear confrontation in the first place, with appalling repercussions for humanity. Auspiciously, these are not the scenarios we are dealing with at the moment, despite having narrowly escaped a very analogous situation a few days ago.

India recently – on March 9 – lost control over one of its Brahmos Supersonic Cruise Missiles, luckily with no warhead. The missile traveled 124 kms inside Pakistan and landed in the Mian Channu tehsil of Khanewal district without causing any life or material damage.

Pakistan immediately took notice of the incident and called this flagrant violation of its air-space by India highly irresponsible. The DG ISPR in a presser termed this incident poor handling of the Indian aviation system that could have resulted in a major disaster, especially if it had collided with nearby commercial flights in that aerial zone. The Indian charge d’affaires in Islamabad was also summoned twice by Pakistani authorities in order to lodge the official version of the remonstration. Later on, Pakistan also offered a joint investigation into the matter.

On the other hand, India confirmed that the missile was launched erroneously during a routine technical inspection at a secret Indian Air force Base Sirsa in Haryana, and dubbed this technical malfunction as deeply regrettable. Indian authorities have also ordered a reportedly high-level inquiry into the incident.

Regardless, this incident has raised widespread alarm and sparked serious global concern over such grave negligence by Indian defence staff dealing with such highly sensitive and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. It has also badly exposed the serious loopholes and technical hiatuses in India’s handling of its strategic arsenal.

This is not the first instance of imprecision in the Indian missile system; in 2019, during a dogfight with the Pakistan air force near Line of Control, an Israeli origin Spyder Surface to Surface Missile System of the Indian air force hit its own Mi-17V5 chopper in the Budgam area of Indian Occupied Kashmir, killing several IAF personnel onboard.

Such repeated mistakes by Indian defence forces are risking the security of the entire world. It also indicates that India has a faulty command and control system to secure its nukes, which means that there is a perpetual risk of an accidental launch of a nuclear weapon by the Indian side, with the potential to cause untoward nuclear devastation around the world.

The international community has also become cynical regarding Indian nuclear command and its technical competencies. After committing such a consequential mistake, India maintained criminal silence for two days and waited until after Pakistan’s DG ISPR announced the incident. This conduct clearly implies the fact that India is a very irresponsible and reckless nuclear state that doesn’t even qualify on the safety mechanisms of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and hence doesn’t deserve to retain Weapons of Mass Destruction at all.

As the Indian missile system has become a laughing stock worldwide due to the ineptitude of Indian defence staff and mechanical blemishes in their defence equipment, it is the appropriate time for the international community to oust India from the membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) an association of suppliers of Ballistic and Cruise Missiles able to deliver delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

Recovery of highly radioactive materials like uranium and californium from the custody of unauthorised persons has already become a routine affair in India. Another probability arises here: was the missile that got accidentally launched towards Pakistan actually being used by Indian defence forces or was in the control of some rogue elements. In the second scenario, the precarious ballistic missiles in India could turn the already complex and uncertain security landscape of South Asia into an active pivot of a nuclear contingency.

Some serious and substantial voices in India have also demanded a fair inquiry into an incident that has brought international embarrassment for India’s defence. Indian journalist Sushant Singh in a tweet termed the accidental launch a dent in India’s reputation. Sharat Sabharwal, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, said that “India should have informed Pakistan immediately after it misfired the missile”.

Contrary to India’s negligent response, Pakistan being a responsible member of the international community, behaved in a very orderly manner just to avert any unnecessary conflict and preferred restraint for the sake of global peace.

Intuiting the gravity of the matter, concerned international institutions must ask India to get its nuclear arsenals re-assessed. A commission should also be formed to evaluate the global ballistic missile threat flaring-up from India with a mandate of inspecting all nuclear and other ballistic missile facilities in the country. Until the commission issues a satisfactory note, India must be barred from furthering its defective missile technology and should also be restricted from any activity that involves trade of weaponries.

 Email: shahidfarooqabbasi@gmail.com

Shahid Farooq Abbasi, "Strategic malfunction," The News. 2022-03-18.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Nuclear state , International community , Humanity , India , Pakistan , ISPR , MTCR