In the last few days, one nuclear-armed state has launched a cruise missile at another nuclear-armed state. They were not at war, and the incident did not precipitate one.
Earlier this week, India admitted that one of its missiles had been erroneously launched into Pakistan two days earlier. “India’s callousness and incompetence” in dealing with a “nuclear environment” were chastised by Pakistan. This has been the final resolution so far – a quiet aftermath that many hailed as little short of a minor miracle.
The two neighbours have engaged in a number of brutal wars in the past, and the mere suspicion of covert assistance for terrorist strikes has led them to the brink of war on a number of occasions. The distrust is so widespread even pigeons crossing the border have been apprehended on the fear that they are being employed for espionage operations.
Analysts in India applauded the Pakistani military, the country’s most powerful institution, for maintaining its cool in the face of the missile launch, which seemed to have resulted in no deaths or injuries. That subdued response seems to have prevented what might have been a terrible escalation from occurring.
However, the incident is certain to raise questions about the safety of India’s weapons systems, as well as about the government’s trustworthiness on the matter in the future. India took 48 hours to certify that the accident had occurred, and Pakistani authorities said that they had gotten no information on the accident from their Indian counterparts during that time period, which was unusual.
According to Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security advisor, a supersonic missile had crossed the border at a height of 40,000 feet and struck the United States. According to Pakistani authorities, the plane landed in the small town of Mian Channu, which is around 75 miles from the border.
There have been reports of damage to civilian property, but there have been no reports of casualties. Initial reports in Pakistani news media stated that an aircraft had gone down in the country.
The Indian defence ministry issued a short statement on Friday, claiming that “a technical fault resulted in the unintended launching of a missile,” which was intercepted and landed in Pakistan. It provided no more information, but said that a “high-level court of inquiry” will be convened to look into the subject.
As Mr. Singh pointed out, the fact that the missile did not strike military infrastructure, an aircraft, or a populated area; the fact that it was not launched at a time when tensions were higher than usual; and the fact that it was not armed with a nuclear warhead all appeared to have contributed to the avoidance of catastrophe.
For decades, Pakistani militancy — as well as fears about possible support within the country’s military services for militant organisations — has generated questions about the country’s nuclear arsenal’s potential vulnerability. India has long sought to dissociate itself from claims that its systems are vulnerable in their own right, claiming that it has put in place flawless safety safeguards and protocols. Unforgivable errors such as the one made this week, at a time when Hindu nationalist leaders in India’s political discourse are prone to pledging to use force against Pakistan, are likely to call into question their pledges.
“Those issues will very certainly be raised again, and India will undoubtedly come under a great deal of pressure,” Mr. Singh said. “Not only will Pakistan raise these concerns, but a slew of concerns will be raised in Washington as well.”