Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday to apprise him of Pakistan’s grave concern over India’s ‘accidental’ firing of a missile that landed in Mian Channu area of Vehari district on March 9. The incident, he said, is consistent with India’s irresponsible conduct and needs to be addressed by the international community, including the UN Security Council. Qureshi also called for a joint probe. The world must make India come clean about the incident for its potential ramifications. It has exposed critical lapses in India’s management of its strategic weapons, raising serious questions about its nuclear safety procedures, even intentions.

According to reports, it was an unarmed Brahmos missile fired from Sirsa in Haryana state toward Rajasthan in the south-west but changed direction by 90 degree and turned north-west, intruding 124 kilometres inside Pakistan, where it ended up striking a wall in Mian Channu. Luckily, no one was killed. Had it not been for the restraint exercised by Pakistan it could have triggered calamitous events. Duly tracked by Pakistan Air Force, the ‘aberrant’ missile entered Pakistan flying at 40,000 feet, about the same height passenger planes fly.

In fact, several domestic and foreign passenger planes were in the air at the time. If it was an ‘experiment’ gone wrong, as claimed by India, its handlers could have still tried to save the situation. Those familiar with the arms affairs have pointed out that two options are available on Brahmos missiles: one of self-destruction and the other of reprogramming in mid-flight.

The failure of either option to work suggests rank incompetence or a method to the madness. In any event, it was too dangerous an incident carrying serious escalation risks between the two nuclear-armed adversaries. India’s ultra-Hindu nationalist rulers are very capable of taking such a momentous risk without thinking about the cost. They did not bother even to acknowledge the ‘accidental’ incident until two days later, that too via media statements.

The entire episode underscores the need for the two countries to restart dialogue process to avoid any misunderstanding which could lead to disastrous consequences for regional peace and stability. The US has called for talks, though in general terms saying, “we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on issues of concern”.

China focused on specifics of the issue at hand. Aside from supporting Pakistan’s demand for a joint probe into the incident and emphasising the necessity of direct talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also urged the two countries to “strengthen information sharing and establish a notification mechanism in time to avoid recurrence of such incidents and to prevent miscalculation.” New Delhi is unlikely to pay heed to this sane advice and preclude any chance of such an ‘accident’ unless the international community pushes it to act in a responsible fashion.