By Haider Abbas
India had every reason to celebrate when Philippines had decided to import India’s missile BrahMos, after a 375 million USD deal on January 28, in what was termed as a great boost and the ‘first of its order’ from any foreign nation, which was supposedly for the supply of shore-based anti-ship variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. BrahMos, as may be mentioned is a joint Indo-Russian endeavour and is a portmanteau of names of two rivers Brahmaputra (of India) and Moskva of Russia. The deal was inked by Delfin N. Lorenzana, Defence Secretary of Philippines, and Atul Dinkar Rane, Director General of BrahMos Aerospace Pvt. Ltd. But, within three months, there seem to be some uneasy clouds, which may upset the deal as Philippines has questioned the very credibility of the missile itself.
What may topple the whole project is an incidence which took place on March 9, 2022, while in the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile, and on the next day, Pakistan claimed that an unarmed Indian supersonic missile took off from Sirsa and landed near Mian Channu in Khanewal district, around 124 km inside Pakistani territory! This led to a fracas as Pakistan cried that it was sent intentionally to provoke ‘into a war’ which India denied and ordered a high-level-inquiry, declared it as a malfunction and that the
Government of India deeply regretted the incidence and termed it “a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident,” informed the Ministry of Defence of India on March 11. Obviously, but not before Pakistan making noises over it, which shot a set of seven questions, reported The Eurasian Times on March 12, seeking detailed answers from India as to why ever could such an incident happen at all? India did not find the questions worth answering.
But, what however could now accentuate into a perplexed position for India, is that on April 6, as reported in media, the Government of Philippines decided to call upon the Indian ambassador in Manila to seek an official explanation from India about what exactly ‘had-happened’. It has been learnt that Philippines Defence Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, considered as one of the senior most ministers, led by its President Rodrigo Duterte, had called in Shambhu S Kumaran, over the same. The Indian representative, as expected allayed the fears and informed that there was no technical-failure as such, and that a high-level inquiry is underway, and once done, it would be made available to the Philippine authorities. SS Kumaran, also tried to underplay the issue that Philippine government did not raise ‘a concern’ but just made a query.
The inquiry is yet to be completed, and everything depends on it, and the catch too lies into the inquiry, as if it comes out to be a technical-glitch, then, this anomaly would not go well with Russia as Russia holds 49.5% of the share of the joint-venture while India holds 50.5 % share of it, and if the enquiry finds out to be of any deliberate or an inadvertent involvement, then obviously, Pakistan is going to cry-foul. No wonder, Islamabad was already under the havoc-spell of a missile attack from India. The other aspect is that Philippines too is having anxious-moments as it too is embroiled into a conflict with China in South China Sea and Asia-Pacific, while supported by US, therefore, Philippines too wants to make a fool-proof surety of the probable use of the BrahMos, while Indonesia and Malaysia, the two prospective buyers, must be also keeping a track of the whole developments.
Perhaps, US is here which wants to kill many birds with the same shot, it has already toppled the government inside Pakistan, as Pakistan was openly hobnobbing with Russia at the cost of US, and has installed a pro-US government in Islamabad. India which has been able to make a great tight-rope walk, vis-à-vis Russia-Ukraine war, and has as yet made any all-out-pro-US gesture, despite the war well over one- month, is weighing the options, and is obviously still quite hesitant to antagonize Russia, for the sake that over 70% Indian weaponry is Russian made. Now, here if Philippines, which is an ally of US, kills the BrahMos deal, it will give the real shot-in-the-arm to US over Russia and will also satiate the now Pro-US Pakistan government in Islamabad. The probable noises from Islamabad will therefore also cease. But, inside this whole calculus, the big question is will India be able to clinch the deal? Particularly, when may be US wants it annulled!
There are therefore quite a few uncertainties until BrahMos are to reach Manila, more particularly so, when US President Joseph Biden has clearly warned India on imports from Russia, as reported by Reuters on April 10, while India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar are on their visit to US. This has come all the while as Europe and US have slapped multiple sanctions against Russia, since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. Ironically, the outgoing PM of Pakistan Imran Khan was in Moscow on the very eve when Russia started its war against Ukraine on February 24.
Will India wilt under the US pressure, which is its ally, and start to overtly abstain from Russia is what time would tell, particularly more so when Russian President Vladimir Putin and its External Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov have visited India in the recent months? How will it still notch-the-final deal of BrahMos, and find it not spurned, is what is still to be found, but if it goes sour, it will serve only the interests of US. What however assumes to be even a bigger question is to find out if there was any deliberate attempt to throw the missile inside Pakistan? Will any head roll over it? Will the truth come out of it? The most probable answer is perhaps no.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international issues.