Accidental missile launch: What India should do next - Hindustan Times

Accidental missile launch: What India should do next

Mar 21, 2022 09:52 PM IST

The need for dialogue cannot be undermined and much more needs to be done by both governments to facilitate the same. Crises may pose threats to nations, but they also provide opportunities for peace

“Beware the Ides of March” — the famous lines from Julius Caesar signify doom and gloom experienced between March 13 and 15 as it was when Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of rebellious senators led by Brutus and Cassius. These famous words spoken by a soothsayer served as a warning to Julius Caesar of impending gloom, which he ignored to his own peril. Just like words once spoken cannot be taken back, certain events in the history of nations may inadvertently lead to regrettable unintended consequences. 

On the evening of March 9, a supersonic missile crashed into a cold storage in Mian Channu village in Pakistan. (Reuters)
On the evening of March 9, a supersonic missile crashed into a cold storage in Mian Channu village in Pakistan. (Reuters)

In the light of recent developments between India and Pakistan, the unintended launch of a supersonic cruise missile would continue to be debated on till some viable solution is found to prevent such an incident from happening again. Given the state of India-Pakistan relations, the absence of dialogue since the last overtures by the current government in 2015 came to nought following the Pathankot terror attack in January 2016, and there has been a steady downward spiral in bilateral relations. 

anilInitial reports in the Pakistan media claimed that a private jet trainer aircraft crashed and the pilot had ejected safely. There was no injury or loss of life and the area had been cordoned off by the army. 

On March 11, the director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (DG-ISPR) in a statement said that it was a supersonic flying object, most probably a missile, had been tracked by Pakistan flying at 40,000 feet before it fell down in a cold storage without any loss to life or property. The Indian government issued a press release on the evening of March 11, which stated, “ On March 9, 2022, in the course of a routine maintenance a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.  The Government of India has taken a serious view and ordered a high-level Court of Inquiry. 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.”

Public statements by both governments took time to come, but it would be reasonable to assume that existing hotlines between the two countries must have been used immediately after the firing. The restraint and maturity used by the leadership in both countries are commendable. This, however, cannot be taken for granted for even a small incident in the future could lead to a conflagration with bitter consequences. 

The need for dialogue cannot be undermined and much more needs to be done by both governments to facilitate the same. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine serves as a classic example of what could be the consequences, wherein innocent citizens pay the price for the absence of dialogue and lack of trust between the leaders of nations. While parallels cannot be drawn between Russia-Ukraine and India-Pakistan, the pandering to domestic constituencies must be calibrated keeping national interest foremost. 

In times of crises, neither other nations nor international institutions, in their current format, can be relied on to prevent conflict in case the situation inadvertently goes out of control. This has been corroborated time and again in the conflicts that our country has faced since Independence, as also the war in Ukraine which is in its third week wreaking havoc and destruction, despite multiple meetings and resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

There are no substitutes to hard and soft power, and no nation can ill-afford one at the cost of the other. There also is little merit in external dependence for the nation’s security needs and, therefore, India has already started the long march to self-sufficiency or atmamirbharta. The journey will be arduous and painstaking, but it is important not to lose focus and stay on course. 

However, conflicts in the interim have to be managed in the neighbourhood, as any conflict would not only extract a heavy toll on lives, but also set the nation back by a few years if not decades. The continuity of dialogue, therefore, becomes important in the India-Pakistan scenario. Whether “dialogue” stalls over Kasmir or terrorism, as has happened in the past may not be as important as the need to continue the same and make renewed efforts to build mutual trust in the present scenario. Fifteen rounds of military-to-military talks with China since the Eastern Ladakh crisis two years ago may not have yielded the desired results, but they have precluded another clash. 

Crises may pose threats to nations, but they also provide opportunities. The famous quote by William Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar, could not be more appropriate for India, when Brutus talks to Cassius telling him, “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted all the voyage of their life is bound in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”  India and Pakistan would do well to “Beware the Ides of March” and seize this opportunity to make amends to past mistakes and steer towards peace and prosperity.

Anil Golani is additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies

The views expressed are personal

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