India said Tuesday it is reviewing its plan of action for weapons systems, and it promised to fix any shortcomings after accidentally firing an unarmed supersonic missile into arch-rival Pakistan last week.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told lawmakers that his government had taken "serious note" of the incident and ordered a high-level probe to determine the cause of the firing. He assured parliament the country’s missile systems were “highly safe and reliable.”
“I would also like to state that a review of the standard operating procedures for operations, maintenance and inspections is being conducted in the wake of this incident … If any shortcoming is found, the same would be immediately rectified,” Singh stated.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi swiftly rejected Singh’s explanation, however, renewing Islamabad’s demand for New Delhi to agree to a joint probe into the incident, which he said had potentially devastating consequences not only for the region, but the entire world.
“Let me remind you that it was a missile that’s capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and merely stating that it was an accident is not enough,” Qureshi told a news conference in the Pakistani capital.
“God forbid, if that accidental launch had triggered an accidental reaction [from Pakistan], do people realize the implications and consequence of that?” the foreign minister asked. "This missile could have led to an accidental war between two atomic states."
Qureshi said he had spoken to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by telephone on Monday to draw his attention to the “grave nature” of the incident. Qureshi added that he also had written to the U.N. Security Council to underscore Pakistan’s demand for a joint investigation.
The chief Pakistani diplomat said he had raised several “fundamental” questions in his letter to the council, asking for India to share details about the safety mechanisms “against accidental or unauthorized launch of missiles in a nuclearized environment,” and why New Delhi failed to immediately inform Pakistan afterward.
The misfiring of the unspecified surface-to-surface Indian missile took place on March 9.
A day later, the Pakistani military announced that an “unarmed supersonic missile” from India had landed deep inside Pakistan, damaging civilian property but causing no casualties.
Army spokesman Maj.-Gen. Babar Iftikhar told reporters the Pakistani air force had tracked the rocket well before it entered Pakistan's airspace. He said the missile was flying at an altitude of about 12 kilometers before it “suddenly maneuvered toward Pakistani territory."
Two days later, the Indian Defense Ministry in a brief statement acknowledged the missile misfired due to a “technical malfunction” during routine maintenance.
"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 Indian statement said last Friday.
Pakistan has since twice summoned the Indian envoy in Islamabad to the Foreign Ministry to protest the “irresponsible” act and “unprovoked violation of the airspace” by India.
On Monday, China urged India and Pakistan to establish a reporting mechanism for sharing information to avoid such incidents in the future.
“Pakistan and India are both important countries in South Asia, bearing responsibilities for maintaining regional security and stability,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson also was asked at a Monday news conference for Washington’s response to India’s accidental firing of the missile into Pakistan.
“Well, we have no indication, as you also heard from our Indian partners, that this incident was anything other than an accident … They [India] issued a statement … to explain precisely what had happened. We don’t have a comment beyond that,” Ned Price said.
While Qureshi said he appreciated China’s statement, he criticized the U.S. spokesperson for not taking a “clear position” on the issue. “He [Price] understands its importance, but I am sorry to say he skirted the issue,” the foreign minister said.