Pakistan needs to think of all the alternative scenarios in the wake of the firing of this accidental missile that landed in Pakistani territory. Was this actually an accidental launch, or was India probing Pakistan’s air defense preparedness? Why did the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) not engage the target when it was being traced as a high speed unidentified flying object (UFO) the entire time of seven minutes from its launch until its detonation in Mian Channu? Why did India wait 48 hours before informing Pakistan that a missile had been launched accidentally and that it is making its way to Pakistan? It was only after the PAF informed India about the missile, that the acknowledgment of the accident was officially made from the Indian side. That PAF tracked the missile, and traced its trajectory from launch until detonation should tell India that PAF has the ability to track high speed objects entering its territory. But that the PAF is being lauded for its restraint is disturbing. If this was a missile launched to probe PAF’s air defense preparedness and India did not share any news of this accident with the PAF prior to its impact, then the ‘assumption’ made by the PAF of its being an incoming missile without a ‘warhead’ is dangerous, even during peacetime. What if there was a conventional payload in the missile and it was still accidentally launched? What if there were human casualties in Mian Channu at detonation? Based on what evidence did the PAF decide not to engage with the missile and let it land inside Pakistan? Peace time assumptions are dangerous and the lessons learnt by the adversary are opposite to those intended. Some commentators have suggested that this missile incident was a violation of India and Pakistan’s 1991 agreement on preventing air space violations, which it actually is not, since the agreement clearly refers to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and PAF aircraft violating each other’s airspace. Even the accidental violations refer to aircraft and not missiles. It is an opportunity for both countries to revise the 1991 Agreement on Preventing Air Space Violations to include accidental missile launches and accidental armed drones violating each other’s airspace and prompt notification of such accidents. For now, Pakistan awaits word on the official probe launched by India on this missile incident while it internalizes its own rationale for restraint.
Dr. Rabia Akhtar is Editor, Pakistan Politico.