India’s “Accidental” Missile Launch: Implications and Challenges
May 31, 2022
The Arms Control and Disarmament Centre (ACDC) at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) organised a panel discussion on “India’s ‘Accidental’ Missile Launch: Implications and Challenges” on May 31, 2022, at its premises. The panellists were Ambassador Tariq Osman Hyder; Dr Adil Sultan, Dean/Head of Department, Faculty of Aerospace and Strategic Studies (FASSS), Air University; Ambassador Zamir Akram, Advisor to SPD and Ms Ghazala Yasmin Jalil, Research Fellow, ACDC-ISSI. The audience included prominent defence analysts, researchers, academics and young students from Islamabad-based universities.
While opening the panel discussion as a moderator, Malik Qasim Mustafa, Director ACDC-ISSI, said that on the evening of March 9, 2022, an Indian missile flying at supersonic speed landed near Mian Channu, in the Pakistani province of Punjab. It was a BrahMos cruise missile. It took India almost two days to acknowledge that a missile had been fired due to a technical malfunction while the international community did not show any reaction to the incident. The incident is of great significance since this is the first ever-accidental launch between two nuclear-armed adversaries. It raises several questions regarding India’s intentions, its technical expertise and its nuclear command and control. Pakistan also needs to take a deeper look into what it means.
While discussing the possibility of a deliberate launch, the majority of panellists termed this as a deliberate launch. India is not a naïve state especially when there are many prerequisites for a missile launch. All missile launches in India must be authorised by the political leadership Moreover, India is aspiring for first-strike capability, counterforce strategy and escalation dominance. Therefore, under the cover of an accidental launch, India may be gauging Pakistan’s command and control configuration, operational readiness and political will to respond. However, the probability of failure of Indian command & control should not be excluded. Panellists said that internal bureaucratic dynamics keep the Indian army outside the loop regarding missile protocols resulting in a lack of coordination.
On the issue of response from Pakistan, panellists said that there is a difference between war and peacetime protocols that determine the timings of response. Few panellists were of the view that the absence of a kinetic response has reflected seriously on Pakistan. Pakistan should have at least shown a strong response at the political and diplomatic levels. However, other panellists cautioned against the use of kinetic force. The conventional response is part of Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence posture. Furthermore, not every event merits a strategic response, especially the attack and the response time in the case of India and Pakistan is very short. Pakistan should carefully analyse Indian doctrinal shifts and inclination towards pre-emptive first strike and explore the spectrum of kinetic response in case any such event occurs in future. There should be more clarity and transparency through joint investigations. Pakistan should push the fact that it was a deliberate launch and that India is an irresponsible nuclear state on different international forums like Conference on disarmament, First Committee and MTCR.
Talking about the impact of the incident on deterrence, panellists said that the purpose of deterrence is to minimise the probability of crisis and conflict between nuclear states. In the environment of nuclear entanglement in South Asia, the main objective should be to avoid a war that could escalate up to the nuclear level. At the low level of the escalation ladder, such incidents would challenge deterrence.
The panel discussion ended with the vote of thanks by Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BoG ISSI.