India’s missile incident has highlighted the sorry state of bilateral mechanisms with Pakistan

Contact Counsellor

India’s missile incident has highlighted the sorry state of bilateral mechanisms with Pakistan

  • The recent accidental firing of an Indian missile into Pakistan calls for serious introspection by the two nuclear-armed adversaries living under the shadow of nuclear weapons.
  • But, more pertinently, the incident highlights the sorry state of bilateral mechanisms for crisis management between both the countries where there is a missile flight time of barely a few minutes.

Mature responses

  • The Pakistani response to the accidental firing of the missile was a balanced one especially when handled by the Pakistan Army on March 11.
  • While New Delhi maintained a silence over the issue until it was brought up on March 11, the Indian response was also far from denial.
  • Pakistan did not allege that it was done intentionally by India, and the Indian side owned up the mistake and ordered an inquiry.
  • To be fair, the accident on March 9 did not involve a nuclear tipped missile or a nuclear warhead — there is speculation though that the missile in question is the BrahMos, a nuclear capable missile.
  • The nuclear deterrence operating in the India-Pakistan context is a relaxed one, unlike the one we had between the superpowers during the Cold War when the two rivals often kept their nuclear forces on hair-trigger alert.
  • India does not have tactical nuclear weapons. Nor has there been any consideration of pre-delegating nuclear launch authority to local commanders, even during a crisis.
  • Pakistan’s story is somewhat different, though not radically so. While its nuclear forces are not on high alert, there is no certainty that its warheads are de-mated from their launch vehicles.

In Feeble form

  • What is deeply worrying, however, is the delicate state of strategic stability between India and Pakistan. There are at least four reasons why the strategic stability regime in South Asia is hardly prepared for dealing with accidents.
  • Although India and Pakistan signed a ‘Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles’ agreement in October 2005, it does not include cruise missiles.
  • Given the many sophisticated cruise missiles that are now a part of each side’s arsenal, it is important to include them in the pre-notification regime.
  • The two sides have not held their structured meetings on nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) and conventional CBMs for several years now.
  • Given the nature of the India-Pakistan relationship — adversarial, nuclear-armed, crisis prone, and suffering from trust deficit — there is an urgent need, especially in the wake of the recent incident, to revive these two dialogue mechanisms.

A perspective

  • Third, what makes the regional strategic stability regime more unstable is the fact that the third state with nuclear weapons in the region.
  • China, has so far refused to engage in strategic stability discussions with India even though China today is involved in the India-Pakistan conflict more than ever before, apart from being in a military standoff with India.
  • India and Pakistan urgently require faster mechanisms for communicating sensitive information during crisis periods and peacetime given how quickly the two sides are capable of transitioning from peacetime to a crisis.
  • India and Pakistan should consider setting up mechanisms such as nuclear risk reduction centres (NRRCs), established between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • The primary objective of NRRCs, or similar structures that can be set up on either side, is risk reduction by providing a structured mechanism for timely communication of messages and proper implementation of already agreed upon confidence building measures.

Way forward

  • New Delhi should, therefore, provide assurances to Pakistan that efforts will be made to avoid such mistakes in the future.
  • Pakistan should desist from the silly temptation of linking the accident to “a state apparatus run by a fascist ideology”.
  • Senior officials from India and Pakistan should devise ways of improving strategic stability between the two nuclear adversaries.