India on Friday confirmed an “accidental firing of a missile” into rival Pakistan, calling it “deeply regrettable.”
The confirmation comes more than a day after the Pakistani military said an Indian “unarmed supersonic” missile had struck its territory Wednesday evening, damaging civilian property but causing no casualties. Pakistani officials demanded an explanation from New Delhi for the “irresponsible” act that could have endangered regional security.
An official Indian statement explained Friday that “in the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.” It noted that the Indian government had taken a “serious view and ordered a high-level” investigation into the incident.
“It is learnt that the missile landed in an area of Pakistan,” the statement said. “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.”
Pakistani National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf swiftly raised questions and criticized Indian assertions. He said in a statement that it had taken more than two days for New Delhi to accept this was their missile launched “ostensibly” caused by a technical malfunction during maintenance.
“The world must treat this incident with the urgency, sensitivity & alarm it deserves,” the adviser demanded
Yusuf stressed the need for New Delhi to also investigate to ascertain if this was an “inadvertent launch or something more intentional.”
Pakistan army spokesman Maj-Gen Babar Iftikhar officially disclosed details of the incident at news conference late Thursday, denouncing it as a “flagrant” violation, saying the rocket landed in the town of Mian Channu in the eastern border province of Punjab.
“Whatever caused this incident to happen, 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,” Iftikhar lamented.
Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said the accidental strike shows how quickly an incident of this kind could escalate into something worse.
“This was a case of an Indian missile flying at supersonic speed across nearly 80 miles of Pakistani territory. Had this happened amid an actual security crisis, the escalation potential would be profound. And that's nothing to sneeze at, given that we're talking about two nuclear-armed states here,” Kugelman told VOA.
“Mistake or not, an incident like this has the potential to be escalatory in nature. The good news is this incident was handled well by both sides, to prevent any escalation.”
General Iftikhar said that the incident could have resulted in a major aviation disaster and civilian casualties on the ground.
“It is important to highlight that the flight path of this object endangered many international and domestic passenger flights both in Indian and Pakistani airspace, as well as human life and property on the ground,” Iftikhar said.
Iftikhar said Pakistan’s air defense system picked up the surface-to-surface missile as soon as it took off from the Indian city of Sirsa, about 104 kilometers from the border between the two countries, and "continuously monitored” its complete flight path.
The general explained that the rocket was flying at an altitude of 12 kilometers and stayed in Pakistani airspace for roughly 204 seconds before ending up 124 kilometers inside Pakistan. He would not say whether the Indian missile was shot down.
Pakistani Federal Minister Asad Umar claimed in a tweet from Friday’s that the country’s air force had shot down the Indian missile.
Both India and Pakistan, bitter adversaries, are nuclear armed and have fought each other in three wars since gaining independence from British rule in 1947. Bilateral ties have deteriorated in recent years and disrupted official talks over the divided Kashmir region, which both countries claim in its entirety.