Mian Channu

The Stray Missile

An Indian BrahMos missile landing in Pakistan erodes trust in its missile safety system.

By Col. Muhammad Hanif (Retired) | April 2022

On March 8, at 6:43 pm, a supersonic flying object was picked up violating Pakistan’s air space, falling near Mian Channu at 6:50 pm. When it fell, it damaged property but no loss of life was reported. The missile was unarmed. At the time the projectile was picked up, there were two active routes and several commercial airliners in the area. The speed and height of the projectile was 40,000 feet while civilian aircraft fly at 35,000 to 42,000 feet. This missile could have been very detrimental to the safety of passengers.
India did not immediately came to inform Pakistan about the incident.

A day later, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry summoned India’s chargé d’affaires and lodged a complaint about the incident. The Pakistan national security advisor also castigated India for not having informed Pakistan “immediately”. The Pakistan foreign office said, “The grave nature of the incident raises several fundamental questions regarding security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorised launch of missiles in a nuclear environment”.

The BBC and the Indian media reported that Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the Indian parliament two days later that the missile incident was an “inadvertent release” at around 7pm on 8 March during an inspection at a secret satellite base of the Indian Air Force. He informed the house that a high-level probe has been ordered to find out the exact cause of the incident. Pakistan rejected India’s simplistic explanation and demanded a joint inquiry. How can a nuclear missile fly “accidentally.” No coordinates, no pre-programming?

China also stressed for holding a joint inquiry. The US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference on 13 March 2022, “We have no indication as you also heard from our Indian partners that this incident was anything other than an accident and we do not have any other comments”.

This grave missile incident has been commented on by many Indian/foreign analysts/think tanks and media outlets. As per the Diplomat magazine, Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research told the New York Times. “Not just Pakistan will raise the questions, but a lot of questions will be raised in Washington also.” He added that already, Pakistan were asking India to “explain if the missile was indeed handled by its armed forces or some rogue elements.” It is “highly irresponsible of Indian authorities not to have informed Pakistan immediately”.

Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle of the Security Risk consultancy group in Delhi told The Wire. India should develop a more comprehensive protocol to prevent such incidents, New Delhi should also coordinate with Islamabad to ensure that all important questions regarding the event are satisfactorily answered.

Bloomberg and the New York Times have said that on knowing about the flying missile on 8 March, Pakistani authorities had considered and perhaps even prepared for retaliation. But assessment of the crash site found no damage on the ground, showing how close the nuclear-armed neighbours came to a face-off over a disastrous mistake.

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The writer is a former Research Fellow of IPRI and Senior Research Fellow of SVI Islamabad. He can be reached at hanifsardar@hotmail.com

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