By Dr Arun Mitra
The Indian supersonic cruise missile that landed in Pakistani territory accidentally on 9th March 2022 is a matter of grave concern not only for the two nuclear armed neighbouring countries but the world community as a whole. The accident which was first brought to light by the Pakistani military establishment on 10th March reaffirms the claims that accidental launch of a nuclear weapon can be a reality.
Whereas the incident occurred on 9th March it was only after about 48 hours that the Indian Defence Ministry gave a statement of deep regret over the incident. This is against the agreed norms of cautioning the other country immediately in case of such a miss. That Pakistan’s reaction was at low key could be because there was no damage to life and property in Pakistan. Moreover the country is in deep internal political and economic crisis, this too might have made them to keep the reaction at low ebb.
The Indian Defence Minister has reassured that the country is conducting a review of its standing operating procedures for operations, maintenance and inspection of weapons systems.
Christopher Clary an assistant professor of political science at the University at Albany has said ‘It appears to have been an accident and, thankfully, it appears to have been unarmed, but any missile fired from one nuclear-armed country at another demands closer scrutiny. The episode raises a series of questions about safety and security procedures that Indian authorities need to address. Perhaps this accident will even prompt India to reconsider long-dormant diplomatic proposals to reduce nuclear risks in South Asia’.
The preliminary findings of the inquiry into this accident point to an air force group captain’s failure in maintaining safety standards. Pakistan has demanded a joint probe into the incident to which the Indian government is unlikely to agree.
Another danger pointed out by the Air Vice Marshall of Pakistan Tariq Zia, is that ‘at the time the projectile was picked up, there were two airway routes active and several commercial airlines were in the area. If you look at the speed and height of the projectile, it was 40,000 feet high, and the airlines were between 35,000 to 42,000 feet. This could have been very detrimental to the safety of passengers’ he has said.
Because of the ongoing Russia Ukraine war the incident has not been blown up in the global media. However this incident is a pointer to present dangers of Nuclear safety around the world, especially in nuclear-armed countries. The incident reinforces the view that even the best technology and human expertise complete control over the weapons cannot be guaranteed. “Military organizations make mistakes, those mistakes cause accidents in peacetime, crisis, and war, and those accidents can be dangerous and deadly” points out Christopher Clary.
Under the circumstances It is all the more important for the governments of India and Pakistan to immediately work out credible and effective confidence building measures (CBMs). It is important to increase communication to build trust.
Both India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads for many decades now. The relationship between the two has seen several upheavals. After the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament on 13th December 2001, over 13 lakh armies faced each other on high alert for several months. After the terrorist violence in Pulwama that led to killing of large number of Indian soldiers and then felling down of Indian Air Force plane by Pakistan we have witnessed extreme deterioration of relationship between the two countries.
So much is the vulnerability in the relationship that even a small peace time incident could add to the on-going rhetoric between the two. Since skirmishes at the border are almost a daily affair, any such incident can be the cause of ugly situation where the use of nuclear weapons cannot be completely ruled out. It is therefore important that some urgent steps are taken to clear any miss understandings. The two countries should be fully transparent in situations as happened on 9th March. Dialogue between the two should be a continuous process for resolution of various issues and confidence building. Two countries should openly declare no first use of nuclear weapons as a policy.
SAARC should become proactive in bringing around the South Asian countries to declare South Asia as a nuclear weapons free zone. The UN has passed Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons. A South Asian nuclear weapons free zone can put sufficient pressure on other nuclear armed countries to join this treaty to abolish nuclear weapons from earth. Any laxity in the matter could be catastrophic in future. The studies done by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) have concluded on scientific evidence that any nuclear exchange involving 100 Hiroshima size bombs could put over two billion people at risk.
Any exchange between USA and Russia would lead to extinction of modern civilisation built through thousands of years of human labour. Humanitarian consequences of nuclear fall out are beyond imagination. “Things that have never happened before happen all the time in history,” Sagan observed three decades ago.” A missile mis-launch falls in that category. Who could imagine a deadly war between Russia and Ukraine ? There is no remedy that the medical profession can offer in the event of nuclear exchange. There is no alternative to peace and complete nuclear disarmament. (IPA Service)