India’s government says missile misfire in Pakistan could have led to war

The misfiring of a nuclear-capable cruise missile by India that had landed in Pakistan last year could have led to a “situation of war” between the neighbouring nations, the Indian government has said.

BrahMos, the land-attack medium-range stealth supersonic cruise missile jointly developed by Russia and India, was fired on 9 March last year from India’s northern Haryana state and landed near the town of Mian Channu in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, leading to a diplomatic nightmare for New Delhi.

The Indian military fired three Air Force officials after finding them guilty of accidentally launching the missile.

“Admittedly, this is the matter where we stood embarrassed before the international community,” additional solicitor general Chetan Sharma told the Delhi high court on Tuesday.

“The missile didn’t land in India, it landed in Pakistan. It could have led to a situation of war and that country made a representation to the United Nations,” Mr Sharma said, according to The Hindustan Times.

The federal government is opposing a petition filed by wing commander Abhinav Sharma, who was one of the officers dismissed following the incident.

The additional solicitor general argued that the petitioner had moved court six months after he was terminated from his post.

The Indian defence ministry said a technical malfunction in the course of maintenance had led to the missile being fired accidentally.

The missile damaged a wall in a residential area, but no deaths or injuries were reported. Islamabad said the missile took an altitude of 12,000m (40,000ft) and flew 124km (77 miles) – three times the speed of sound – in Pakistani airspace before it crashed.

Despite Pakistan’s protest, both neighbours with historically sour relations refrained from escalating the issue.

The Indian Air Force in a statement in August last year said a formal inquiry found that “deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures by three officers” caused the accidental fire of the missile into Pakistan.

“These three officers have primarily been held responsible for the incident. Their services have been terminated by the Central government with immediate effect.”

The wing commander moved court in March this year, stating in his petition that he was only trained in maintenance and not operational matters. The incident was operational, he said, and he had followed all his duties according to the SOP.

“The petitioner had no experience in conducting operations and handling operational emergencies and the respondents acted in a completely malafide manner by issuing the termination order,” the petition stated, according to The Indian Express.

The petitioner claimed the authorities “intentionally circumvented” the process for initiating disciplinary action and the requirement of trial by a court martial, which deprived him of any opportunity to defend himself.

The high court has sought a response from the federal government within six weeks.