India said it accidentally fired a missile at Pakistan this week, blaming a “technical malfunction” for an accident that could spark tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors.
The missile, which was fired on Wednesday, damaged civilian property but caused no casualties, Pakistani officials said.
The two countries, which have clashed for years over the disputed territory of Kashmir, saw relations ease slightly after agreeing a ceasefire last year in the area along the so-called control line. The line forms an official boundary across which there are frequent skirmishes.
India’s defense ministry said in a statement that a missile was inadvertently fired on Wednesday during routine maintenance and landed in Pakistan.
“While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there was no loss of life due to the accident,” the ministry said. The government has ordered a high-level investigation into the incident.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Friday summoned India’s envoy to Islamabad to lodge a protest. A day earlier, a Pakistani military spokesman said a “high-speed flying object” fired at the Indian town of Sirsa crashed at 6.50pm on Wednesday in eastern Pakistan near the small town of Mian Channu.
“The flight path of this object has endangered numerous international and domestic passenger flights both in Indian and Pakistani airspace, as well as lives and property on the ground,” Major-General said. Babar Iftikhar to a group of journalists.
The incident, he said, shows India’s “contempt for aviation safety and reflects very poorly on its technological prowess”. He added that “the incident could have resulted in a major air disaster as well as civilian casualties on the ground.”
India and Pakistan have a history of conflict, with the two sides fighting three major wars, as well as smaller conflicts, with Kashmir at the heart of those disputes. Each side holds part of Kashmir but claims all of that territory.
Each regularly accuses the other of unprovoked gunfire across the disputed border. Attacks have intensified in recent years, killing dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides.
India and Pakistan came to the brink of war as recently as 2019, when India said it bombed a militant training center in Pakistan and Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter.
“Accidents involving ballistic and cruise missiles are not that rare,” said Toby Dalton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank in Washington. “Accidents can also lead to conflict, and this episode is a reminder of the lack of regular dialogue and measures to avoid confrontation between India and Pakistan.”
Defense analysts said the recent missile incident raises serious questions about weapons system security protocols, especially in such a difficult region. But the two countries appeared to be handling the accident without escalating tensions, they said.
“Relations between India and Pakistan are stable,” said Dipankar Banerjee, a leading strategic analyst and former director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. “A possibility of aggression on either side must be ruled out.”
—Rajesh Roy and Saeed Shah contributed to this article.
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