Three Indian Air force officers have been sacked after their incompetence led to a potential act of war with India. The officers were found responsible for the March incident in which a nuclear-capable BrahMos cruise missile was accidentally fired, landing near Mian Channu in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Given the capability of the weapon and the frequent belligerent language used by some leaders, especially in India, the hours between the launch and the explanation were among the tensest in decades. It was thus fortunate, not just for both countries but the entire world, that cool heads prevailed. Pakistan lodged a strong formal complaint without any military posturing and largely accepted India’s explanation while India, despite some initial foot-dragging, did apologise. Fortunately, there was no loss of life reported in the incident, although a few buildings were damaged.
The Indian Air Force and media across the border said termination orders have been served on the trio — a group captain, a wing commander and a squadron leader — who were responsible for the “human error” leading to the launch during a Command Air Staff inspection. It would, however, be fair to say the magnitude of the incident does merit additional sanctions beyond what critics may otherwise compare to forced retirement. At the high command level, India needs to seriously review and address the lapses that allowed the incident to take place — imagine what would have happened if the weapon involved in the incident had been nuclear-armed.
Pakistan had actually demanded a joint inquiry immediately after the incident, although that was realistically never going to happen, given the frayed relationship. However, both countries should still work towards improving peacetime emergency communication to ensure that potentially apocalyptic mistakes can be avoided or addressed before the worst possible outcome. Even the US and Soviet Union, during the Cold War period, established a hotline and other official levels of contact to ensure that military accidents did not lead to war.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2022.
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