India must discern the perils of missile incident | By Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

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India must discern the perils of missile incident

THERE can be no denying the fact that the nuclear power states have great responsibility regarding the safety and security of the nuclear delivery system.

Currently Pakistan’s Foreign Office has deemed Indian media’s report a “disingenuous attempt” for misreporting IAEA’s Rafael Mariano Grossi’s response to a query about the firing of India’s missile into Pakistan (March 9, this year).

Irresponsibly and mischievously, the Indian media reported that the Brahmos nuclear capable missile fired into Pakistan’s territory from India (March 9) was not a cause for any specific concern for the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

All the while, India’s evasive behaviour must draw the attention of the international community.

Recently, an Indian media outlet claimed that the IAEA did not see the misfire of the missile as a cause of specific concern and that the matter did not raise questions on safety of nuclear material and weapon in India.

“Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Indian Express in an interview at COP27 climate change meet that the incident was not viewed as a risk and there had been no consultation with the Indian Government on this issue,” The Indian Express wrote in its news story on November 14.

Pakistan is highly justified in arguing that the IAEA’s Director General response by no means can be “purposely misinterpreted” to “trivialise” the incident of a nuclear-capable Brahmos missile fire with grave implications for regional and global security in that the issue has raised logical questions about India’s conduct as a nuclear state including, whether it was actually an accident.

Islamabad has rightly demanded from India to answer questions regarding underlying intentions, technical features and reliability of the missile system, safety, security and nuclear command and control protocols, and the presence of rogue elements in the Indian military,” the Foreign Office said in its statement.

The Brahmos cruise missile was fired from India on March 9. It landed in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, roughly 125 kilometres (78 miles) inside Pakistani territory, damaging a wall in a residential area.

On March 11, India’s defence ministry acknowledged the mistake, saying that the firing was caused by a “technical malfunction” during routine maintenance.

The ministry called the incident “deeply regrettable. ” The Brahmos missile, the Medium-range Supersonic Cruise Missile is one of the fastest in the world— that can be launched from land, air and/or naval platforms.

It is based on the Russian P-800 Oniks cruise missile using sea-skimming technology, jointly developed by Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and the Indian DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation).

The missile is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead through the Land, Sea and Air-launched variants.

After the nuclear missile accident, the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabah stated that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of missile maintenance would be reviewed, indicating that the SOPs were not observed or supervised correctly, and therefore perhaps require modification.

Given the operative optics of this misdirected missile raise some relevant questions: Firstly, the warhead was clearly de-mated from the missile, which is a long-standing safety practice involving nuclear weapons system.

Secondly, given the fact that the firing and the direction-setting mechanisms are fully encrypted and require proper coded de-activation and re-activation, the occurrence of the incident seems highly mysterious.

And above all, whether this missile, or batch of missiles, had built-in self-destruct mechanisms or not, and, if they did, why they could not be activated.

Surprisingly, there is complete Indian silence— over these logical queries—which paves the way for further speculations and apprehensions simply because this matter involves the notion of safety and security of a nuclear weapon delivery system.

That said, the analysis— sanely indoctrinated and argued by Lt General (R) Khalid Kidwai, Advisor, National Command Authority (NCA) and the former DG Strategic Plan Division (SPD)—logically suggests that the missile launching was a premeditated Indian design accompanied with a controlled trajectory led by ‘’a pre-planned vertical and horizontal way indicates coordinates fed into the onboard guidance and control computer along with geographical coordinates of the launch point and the target’’.

This analysis further suggests that the launch of the missile by no means was an inadvertent accident as claimed by India.

Nonetheless, the logic appeals that the missile launching could have been only possible after getting a political clearance as it must have had taken several days to prepare the operational launching of the Brahmos missile with the technical help of the crew involving 10-15 odd personnel, including the hundreds of personnel normally required in its launching.

Awfully, India overlooked the fact that the said accident posed a harrowing threat for 7-8 minutes to at least a dozen commercial airlines that were in the air at that time.

Obviously, these findings profoundly endorse the truth that India’s intrinsic intention was to test Pakistan’s air defence alert levels and operational responses.

Indian stance of a technical error notwithstanding, India’s missile launch points a glaring failure in its adherence to the SOPs regarding tracking system, command and control capability, and its operating sequence.

It is fair to say that the Modi government’s ultranationalist control over India’s nuclear trajectories poses a great threat to the South Asian strategic stability.

Today, Pakistan is hemmed in by the growing atmosphere of animosity and antagonism of its eastern neighbour.

The existing enmities accompanied by emerging regional security dynamics increasingly intensified by’ India’s induction of dual-capable missile capabilities with Pakistan-specific ranges and the development of counterforce capabilities—all add to a climate of nuclear danger in the South Asian region’’.

Notably, a three-point regime pragmatically proposed by Pakistan addresses measures for missile restraint and dispute resolution.

In order to refrain from any future danger, the strategic restraint regime (SRR) must be observed in the region to promote a culture of mutual trust and responsibility via nuclear Confidence Building Measures CBMs.

India must share its ascribed responsibility— as a peaceful nuclear neighbour in the region— an international obligation that it has failed to fulfil so far.

Thus, instead of throwing dust in the eyes of the international community that the missile incident took place due to a technical error, India must evaluate the perils of the incident by strictly refraining from such devastating blunders that it committed at Balakot in February, 2019, and at Shorkot in March 2022.

—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law. He deals with the strategic and nuclear issues.