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India calls missiles safe after accidental launching

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NEW DELHI — India’s defense minister said Tuesday the country’s missile systems were “very reliable and safe” after one was accidentally fired last week and landed in a residential area inside nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told Indian lawmakers a formal inquiry was ordered to determine the cause of the firing as well as a review of the standard procedures for operations, inspections and maintenance of its weapons systems. Any shortcomings would be fixed immediately, he added, but did not say which missile was mistakenly launched.

Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations since gaining independence from British rule in 1947.

Pakistan said the unarmed surface-to-surface missile violated Pakistan’s airspace and damaged a wall Wednesday in a residential area in Punjab province. No casualties were reported.

Anger over the misfiring has grown in Islamabad, where officials have demanded a joint investigation.

“The grave nature of the incident raises several fundamental questions regarding security protocols and technical safeguards against accidental or unauthorized launch of missiles in a nuclearized environment,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The ministry demanded India release more details and why India failed to immediately inform Pakistan afterward.

Pakistan’s foreign minister also raised the issue with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by telephone Monday, where he stressed the need for the international community, including the Security Council, to address the situation.

Earlier, Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar said Pakistan’s air force tracked the missile from its launch and throughout its three-minute flight in Pakistan’s airspace. He protested the “flagrant violation” and demanded an explanation from India, saying civilians could have been endangered.

Two days after the launch, India’s defense ministry said the missile was fired by accident due to a technical malfunction during maintenance.

“While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident,” India said last week.