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New Delhi: The Ministry of Defence has announced that the “high speed flying object” that Pakistan had claimed entered its airspace on March 9, was in fact a missile that had been “accidentally fired”.
Expressing “deep regret,” the defence ministry said a technical malfunction led to the firing of the missile during what it has claimed was “routine maintenance.”
“On 9 March 2022, in the course of routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile,” it said in a press statement released through the Press Information Bureau.
The Indian government’s note comes two days after the incident and a day after Director-General of the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar addressed reporters in Rawalpindi on the issue.
Earlier on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign office summoned the Indian charge d’affaires to protest the violation of its airspace.
The foreign office said that such “irresponsible incidents” reflected India’s “disregard for air safety and callousness towards regional peace and stability”. “Besides, the flight path of the flying object endangered several domestic/international flights within Pakistani airspace and could have resulted in a serious aviation accident as well as civilian casualties,” its statement claimed.
As per APP news agency, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Islamabad would invite the ambassadors of the permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss the Indian transgression.
He alleged that the Indian act had endangered human lives as aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the domestic flights of Pakistan could have been hit by the missile.
At the Thursday night media briefing, the ISPR director-general stated that an Indian “high-speed flying object” entered Pakistani airspace and fell near Mian Channu in the Khanewal district of the country’s northeastern Punjab province. Pakistan’s claim was widely reported internationally.
He said that whatever caused the incident, “it is for the Indians to explain”.
“It, nevertheless, shows their disregard for aviation safety and reflects very poorly on their technological prowess and procedural efficiency,” he had added.
The Indian government has said that it has ordered a high-level court of enquiry into the “serious” matter.
India has also struck a conciliatory tone in expressing relief over there having been no loss of life.
“It is learnt that the missile landed in an area of Pakistan. While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident,” the defence ministry said.
Iftikhar had noted in his press conference yesterday that when it fell, the missile “also damaged some civilian property.”
India’s admission has drawn questions on the efficacy of safety measures in place. “India has always prided itself on fool proof processes and systems which enhance risk mitigation measures. This accidental firing is bound to dent that reputation and raise a lot of questions, the kind of questions that had subsided in the last 20 years,” journalist Sushant Singh tweeted.
The Indian statement provides no clarity on the type of missile and the location of the misfiring. The Pakistani army had indicated that it was a Brahmos missile, fired near the Sirsa in India and flying at 40,000 feet and three times the speed of sound when it entered 124 kilometres inside Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have a number of bilateral protocols to notify each other about launches of ballistic missiles and nuclear accidents. But, with no details given by the Indian side, it is not clear if these agreements were applicable.
Besides, the two countries have hotlines at various levels, including between the director generals of military operations. It is not known whether India informed Pakistan about the accident before the Pakistani army went public on Thursday night.
Speaking to The Wire, defence commentator Ajai Shukla stated that “India, as the larger and more powerful country, should have informed Pakistan without delay”.
“It was unwise for India to have waited for more than 24 hours to clarify the firing of a missile that had gone into Pakistani territory. This is a serious incident that will inevitably raise questions about India’s nuclear safety processes,” he said.
A tweet by a former senior advisor in Barack Obama administration’s National Security Council, Joshua T. White, indicated that the missile accident helped to build up the argument in the West that South Asia faced serious escalation risks.
India’s former ambassador to Pakistan, Sharat Sabharwal, stated that it was “good that India came clean on it”. “In the fraught relationship that we have, lack of clarity could have raised unwanted apprehensions in Pakistan,” he said.
Asked whether India should have informed Pakistan about the accident immediately, Sabharwal said that India “could have done so” but added that “things take time to move in the system”.