Unilateral file closure on India’s missile misfiring

India sacked 3 air force officers for the accidental firing of missile into Pakistan on March 9


Dr Zafar Khan September 03, 2022
The writer is an Executive Director of BTTN, at BUITEMS

India’s unilateral file closure on the incident of supersonic missile that maneuvered and hit the Pakistani territory on March 9, 2022 is rejected by the Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Without following up the imperatives for a proposed joint-probe on this reckless incident Pakistan initially asked for, the MOFA categorically terms this “unsatisfactory, deficient, and inadequate”.

It emphasised that “India has not only failed to respond to Pakistan’s demand for a joint inquiry, but has also evaded the questions raised by Pakistan regarding the command and control system in place in India, the safety and security protocols and the reason for India’s delayed admission of the Missile launch.”

Although India on August 23 declared that “it sacked three air force officers for deviating from standard operating procedures that had led to the accidental firing of missile into Pakistan on March 9”, the Pakistani side is not convinced on this unilateral decision. One still needs to know as to what and how that happened in the first place. Was that to test India’s newer technologies with no payload closure to the Pakistani border? Was that to check Pakistan's resolve for restraint and nuclear deterrence? Or was that to show India’s power projection and offensive force posturing keeping the escalation dominance against Pakistan? Until this is logically concluded through the proposed joint-probe, the following can be assumed. 

First, India continues to modernise its military and nuclear forces with nascent technologies which in turn provides India incentives for striking first in the event of a serious military crisis. Despite the acquisition of newer technologies, one should not get into dangerous and flawed confidence to be offensive for getting rapid victories particularly in the presence of nuclear weapons. Countries including India on its way for emerging technologies such as cyber, speed, stealth and remote sensing may create broader instability because of the perceived offensiveness related to such technologies. Their abrupt conclusions that such technologies could eliminate the relevance of nuclear deterrence while they find out a loop to fight and win a war is flawed, dangerous, irresponsible and delusional. Such a framework could increase the chances of crisis instability, arms race, security dilemma and the potential risk of war between the nuclear rivals. 

Second, the August 9 missile misfiring reflects either India wants to test Pakistan’s resolve and the value of nuclear deterrence or there is a serious issue with regard to India’s centralised command and control system that undermines the safety and security measures needed to prevent accidental and miscalculated military crisis in South Asia. That said, if it is to test Pakistan’s resolve, then India is attempting to find out the loopholes which could in turn tempt India for preemptive strike. However, if it is an accidental launch as India declared this to be, then this creates serious questions about the safety and security mechanism of India’s nuclear weapons and the related delivery systems. 

Third, if India has to learn anything substantial out of the missile misfiring, it needs to accept the proposed joint-probe to find out what really happened and why; respect the value of nuclear deterrence of its rival; revisit the safety and security mechanism of its deterrent forces; and be transparent on its deterrent force posturing. Moreover, it should not erroneously and abruptly conclude that it could find a loophole to meet its political and military goals quickly while possessing newer technologies. There is always an effective countermeasure for every nascent technology. However, newer technologies tempt offensiveness to strike first, and striking first means the failure of deterrence in the presence of mutual assured destruction. 

Finally, the broader South Asian strategic stability requires broader imperatives for a consistent dialogue to prevent an accidental war in South Asia.

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