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Iran’s military activity strengthens al Qaeda in Syria

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Iranian proxy Shi’a militias in Syria

Iran’s dangerous play in the Levant

The analysis of the activities of Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham and his Central Asian allies Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari and the Turkestan Islamic Party, affiliated with Al Qaeda, testifies that the recent military successes of the Assad regime forces and Iranian-backed foreign Shi’a militias helped al-Qaeda strengthen its ideology among the Sunni part of the population in the south-west of the country.Inter-confessional contradictions between Sunnis and Shi’asand peculiar ethno religious diversities of Syria, where the civil war has not ceased for more than seven years, created unique conditions for al-Qaeda to establish here, its the newest and most important safe haven.And it is the government of Syria and the Iranian regime, who actively use the Iranian proxy Shi’a militias, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Lebanese Hezbollah, Zainebiyoun Brigades and Fatemiyoun Brigades in order to preserve Bashar al-Assad’s bloody regime and to exterminate the Sunni majority, are directly responsible for creating socio-political favorable conditions for strengthening the ideology of Al Qaeda in Syria.

Iran, Russia and Syria are spearheading operations to gain territory in Syria and wrestle with al-Qaeda backed Salafi-jihadi groups. Backed by Russian air-power, Iranian-led Shi’a jihadists including Lebanese Hezbollah, Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigades and Iraqi militias and allies are the main boots on the ground.

Liwa Fatemiyoun is the biggest military unit deployed by Iran in Iraq and Syria. It draws recruits from Afghan refugees in Iran and Syria, and from the Hazara Shi’a minority in Afghanistan. Iran offers citizenship to the families of foreign fighters “martyred” in Syria and Iraq, and offers a year’s residency for a three-month deployment to Syria.The Fatemiyoun Brigade has about 20,000 active fighters according to accounts provided by Iranian officials. The Iranian authorities maintain the fighters are volunteers. According to the top Fatemiyoun Brigade’s official, at least 2,000 Afghan Shi’as have been killed and 8,000 more injured in the Syrian conflict.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps recruits destitute and undocumented Afghan Shi’a refugees who ran from the war in Afghanistan, by offering them permanent residency, financial aid, and other incentives for their families. Other Shi’a refugees were forced to join Iran’s war in Syria to escape prison sentences. Of some 2.5 million Afghans living in Iran, a third are registered as refugees while the remainder are mostly illegal economic migrants.The salaries of Iranian recruits range from $500 to $1,000 a month. Many captured by Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham Afghan Shi’as say that they are attracted to Syria by the promise of a financial reward. The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, using the hopeless situation of Afghan Shi’a refugees, cynically and mercilessly sends them as cannon fodder to the conflict points in Middle East to fight Sunni Muslims, whose goal is to create a large Shi’a arc from the Central Asia to the Western Maghreb.

Iran actively carries out extensive ideological indoctrination among the Shi’a militia from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Recruits are told that the war in Syria is a defense of the holiest shrines of the Shi’a faith from attack by Sunni terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, which their recruiters then describe they as a creation of the United States to destabilize the Middle East.

The Iranian authorities keep strictly in secret how much money Tehran spent on financing the pro-Iranian Shi’a fighting groups throughout the Middle East, which have become key players in political and military scenes in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. But the amount of financing is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, which are spent not only to satisfy Iran’s geopolitical ambitions, but this money contributes to increasing Sunni-Shi’a hatred and strengthens Al Qaeda in the Levant, situated in the heart of the most important geography in the Muslim world.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in Syria

Al Qaeda backed Central Asian jihadists in the Shia-Sunni conflict

In the ideological doctrine of the al-Qaeda backed Central Asian Salafi-jihadi groups, who have taken the safe haven in Syria, have recently undergone radical changes in anti-Shia and anti-Iranian trends. While earlier in the propaganda materials Sunni fundamentalists from the Fergana Valley emphasized the struggle with the “unbelieving regimes” of Central Asia and the protection of Islam from the Western crusaders, after the bloody clashes with the Iranian proxy Shia militias in Syria, they equated Iran as the main enemies of Sunni Islam.Since 2015, the Central Asian jihadists’ propaganda has begun to focus on the mass terror of Shias that they commit in the Sunni provinces of Syria after the carpet bombing of Russian Air Force.The information agency Ebaa in Arabic, which is the propaganda mouthpiece of Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham, and the Central Asian jihadists Media Center “Voice of Sham” in Uzbek and Russian languages regularly show on the Internet photos of captured and destroyed Afghan Shia military formations Fatemiyoun Brigade, Iraqi Shia militias LiwaZulfiqar and Harakat al Nujaba, the Lebanese Shia militias Hezbollah, which are controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In their religious sermons during the Juma namaz, the leaders of the Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Uygur Salafi-jihadi groups in Syria began to agitate to lead the jihad with “Shia invaders that vilify the sacred name of Islam.”The most wanted Islamic terrorist from Kyrgyzstan, the leader of the Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Abu Saloh, who is a loyal supporter of Al Qaeda, in his audio message, distributed via the Telegram on March 18, 2018, says that: “despite the fact that Iran calls itself Islamic Republic, it was and remains the enemy of Islam.”He then quotes the words of the medieval Sunni Muslim theologian Taqi ad-Din ibn Taymiyyah that “Shias are asses of the Jews, whom they will ride in any trouble”. “And today, when in Sham the Mujahideen defend Islam from the bloody Nusayri regime, the Shias of Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq came to help Bashar al Assad and declared jihad to us, to the Sunnis.Therefore, the expulsion of Shia devils from the Levant is a sacred duty of every Sunni Muslim,”says Abu Saloh.

The analytical department of the Voice of Sham in Idlib, which highlights the activities of the Central Asian Sunni Jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda, wrote on April 15, 2018: “The Shi’a’s Jihad begins when the Sunnis go to Jihad. That is, against the Sunnis. So this time. Iran is an animal, brainless, ugly. He is kept in a cage for a suitable occasion. And he was let off the leash when Jihad began in Sham. But now the animal must be driven back to its lair, otherwise it can bite its owners. That’s why the so-called “Israel” attacks the bases of the Iranians. It’s time to put the beast back on the chain.”

The leader of another Uzbek group, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari Abu Yusuf Muhojir, who was designated by the US State Department to the list of global terrorist organizations on March 22, 2018, firmly supported Al-Qaeda’s position in trying to spread the jihadist ideology among the Sunni part of the Levant.As is well known, Al Qaeda’s Sunni ideology regards Shi’as as heretics and describes them as dogs and a thorn in the throat of Islam from the beginning of time. In his religious speeches before the Sunni Mujahideen from Central Asia, he regularly narrates the typical ideology of al Qaeda. According to Abu Yusuf Muhojir the Shias are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world.In his video message entitled “The Dignity of Ribat” on May 27, 2018, he says that “Shias are traitors to Islam and accomplices of Russian infidels in Syria.They together help Nusayri’s lieder Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country’s Sunni majority».He on Telegram described Shia as a gathering of devils, whom Allah will punish for their betrayal to the American Zionist-Crusaders in Iraq yesterday and to the Russian Christians in Levant today.

Uighur jihadists of the Turkestan Islamic Party, which are the military unit of Al Qaeda from Western China, regularly issue statements in which they position themselves as a true defender of Sunni Islam.On June 27, 2018, TIP announced its “full readiness to support the appeal of Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham to protect the province of Dara from the attacks of the Nusayriregime and its Iraqi Shia henchmen.”Recall that at the end of June, the army of Bashar al Assad and the Russian aviation launched an offensive on the southern province of Daraa, a zone that was under a Russian-American ceasefire.American analysts confirmed that they received the first evidence of the participation of the Iraqi Shia militia Liwa Zulfiqar, which is controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Who will force Iran to leave Syria?

As this analysis has shown, Iran’s escalation in Syria, and its mobilization and widespread deployment of ideologically extremist sectarian Shi’a militias from Afghanistan and from throughout the greater Middle East to assist the Assad government is helping Al-Qaeda backed Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham to acquire the title of a true defender of Sunni Islam.The Media Center of Central Asian jihadists “Voice of Sham” described the leader of HTS Abu Muhammad al Julani as “an indestructible mountain that defending the Sunnis from the powerful attacks of Iran’s Shi’a devils and the Nusayri’s army.”

The destruction of predominately Sunni communities by Assad’s army, with the assistance of Iranian-imported, sectarian Shi’a militias, gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to expand its roots in the local Sunni communities.This was facilitated by two factors. First, the fall of the Islamic state who was Al-Qaeda’s ideological competitor in the struggle for leadership in the jihadist world.Secondly, when the international coalition was engaged in the fight against the ISIS, Al Qaeda’s structural units in the Levant restored strength and continued to introduce their ideology among the population.

Today, al-Qaeda’s ideologists have put forward a new thesis that the Assad’s armed forces are helping the Khawarij of ISIS to commit the attacks against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham. One of HTS’s ideologues Abdulfattah Farghaly wrote on Telegram that: “Khawarij again launched an offensive from the Nusayrite territories to the sacred lands of the Sunnis to overthrow these territories in favor of the Assad’s regime, which is evidence that they work for Nusayrites, Shi’as and Russians. Khawarijs are foot soldiers for Shi’a.”In this connection, one of the ideologists of modern Salafism Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al-Tarifi issued the Fatwa that “the Sunni Mujahideen killed by the Khawarijs and Shi’as in paradise will have more reward from Allah than those who were killed by Nusayrites.”

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri subtly feels the changing sentiment of the Sunni majority of Syria and their discontent with the military expansion of the pro-Iranian Shi’a military formations.Al-Qaeda backed Sunni jihadist groups Hayat Taḥrir al-Sham, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari and the Turkestan Islamic Party put forward the idea of fighting the Shi’a invaders and protecting the Sunni territories as the main slogan in their propaganda.

The escalation of Iranian-imported, sectarian Shi’a militias, in the Levant, helps drive recruitment of new Salafi-jihadi fighters for al Qaeda’s military structures.Leaders of jihadist groups from Turkey, Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang have stepped up video, audio and text appeals to recruits to come to join the jihad to protect Islamic lands from Shi’as.My sources in the Fergana Valley reported that the ideology of Al Qaeda is actively spreading among the youth in the region.

After the brutal activity of Iran and its proxy Shi’a militias in Syria and Iraq, the profound transformation took place in the ideological views of Ayman al-Zawahiri about the Shi’as. At the beginning of the Syrian war, he was very tolerant of Iran.On September 6, 2013, in his message “General Guidelines for Jihad” he asked Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to refrain from attacking the Shi’a sanctuaries and their mosques, bazaars, and killing Shi’a women and children, and concentrate their attacks on the military, intelligence agencies and police.ISIS accused al-Zawahiri of being venal to Shi’as and Christians for his calling “Avoid fighting the deviant sects such as Rawafidh, Ismailis, Qadianis, and deviant Sufis” in this guidelines. After Iran’s activity in the Middle East, the leader of Al Qaeda in August 2016 called Sunnis to jihad against the Shi’a and Crusaders, and to prepare for guerrilla war in Iraq and Syria.

Zawahiri has ambitions to make al-Qaeda’s Salafi-jihadi ideology the guiding principle and normative experience of Sunni Muslims in the Levant.While there is a threat of armed expansion of pro-Iranian Shi’a formations, the growth and influence of Al Qaeda’s extremist ideology in the Levant will be difficult to stop.Therefore, Russia and Iran, which allowed Bashar Assad to play a Shi’a adventure, are fully responsible for the reincarnation of Al Qaeda in the region.

The problem is that by military methods alone it is impossible to defeat Al Qaeda in Syria.Unlike the ISIS, al Qaeda does not hold the defense of a particular territory: it does not have its own state with its own management system.Al-Qaeda is a network project that leads a subtle ideological struggle for the minds and hearts of Sunnis in the world.The strength of Al Qaeda is in the skillful adaptation to local conditions, which avoids the advertisement of scenes of cruel executions, as ISIS did.Thanks to skillful propaganda work, the group today acquired the image of a defender of the oppressed part of the Sunni majority in Syria.Iran’s Shi’a expansion and the bloody cruelty of the Assad’s regime, which violated the religious and ethnic balance of Syria, is grist to Zawahiri’s mill.

In this situation, only the withdrawal of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxy Shi’a militias from Syria can knock out the support of al Qaeda.But, despite the efforts of the United States and Israel, Iran as a magnet will be staying in the Levant. Only international economic sanctions, strong political isolation and the growing internal protest of the Iranian people can force Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to leave Syria. Then the counter-terrorist force against al Qaeda would be led by moderate Sunni Arab fighters as Syria is a majority Sunni Arab country.

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Boko Haram: Religious Based Violence and Portrayal of Radical Islam

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Modern-day global and domestic politics have set forth the trend that has legitimized and rationalized the use of religion as a tool to attain political gravity and interests. Similarly, many religion-oriented groups use religion to shape their political agenda and objectives, often using religion as a justification for their violent activities. Most of these mobilized groups are aligned with Islam. These groups have promoted religion-based violence and have also introduced new waves and patterns in global terrorism. Some prominent organized groups that attain world attention include Boko Haram, ISIS, Al- Qaeda, and the Taliban. These groups have potentially disrupted the political establishment of their regions. Although, a comparative insight delivers that these various organizations have antithetical political objectives but these groups use Islam to justify their violent actions and strategies based on violence and unrest.

The manifesto of Boko Haram rests on Islamic principles i.e. establishing Shariah or Islamic law in the region. A system that operates to preserve the rights of poor factions of the society and tends to promote or implement Islamic values. Hence, in this context, it negates westernization and its prospects. However, the rise of Boko Haram was based on anti-western agenda which portrayed that the existing government is un-Islamic and that western education is forbidden. Hence, the name Boko Haram itself delivered the notion that western culture or civilization is forbidden. Boko Haram has a unique political and religiously secular manifesto. Boko Haram was formed by Mohammad Yusuf, who preached his agenda of setting up a theocratic political system through his teachings derived from Islam. And countered the existing governmental setup of the Christians. The violent dynamics surged in 2009 when an uprising against the Nigerian government took the momentum that killed almost 800 people. Following the uprising, Mohammad Yusuf was killed and one of his lieutenants Abu Bakar Shekau took the lead.

Boko Haram used another violent strategy to gain world attention by bombing the UN Compound in Abuja that killed twenty-three people. The incident led to the declaration of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organizationby the United States Department. Thus, the group continued the process of violence and also started to seize several territories like Bama, Dam boa, and Abadan. They also extended their regional sphere in terms of occupation using violent strategies. The violence intensified when in the year 2014, 276 girls were abducted from Girl’s school in Chibok. This immediately triggered global outrage and developed an image of religious extremism and violence. This process continued over the years; one reported case articulated that a Christian girl ‘Lean Shairbu’ was kept in captivity for a prolonged period upon refusal to give up her religion. Ever since, the violence has attained an upward trajectory, as traced in the case of mass Chibok abduction and widespread attack in Cameroon in the years 2020 and 2021.

After establishing a regional foothold Boko Haram improvised new alliances especially in 2015 after the government recaptured some of its territories that pushed the militant group near Lake Chad and to the hilly areas. Consequently, Abu Bakar Shekau turned towards international alliance and pledged its allegiance to IS. This created two branches of Boko Haram called Jamat u Ahlis Liddawatiwal Jihad (JAS) headed by Abu Bakar Shekau and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) lead by Musab Al Barnarwai. The ISWAP developed strong social, political, and strategic roots in the region. It has embedded itself socially in the hearts and minds of people by establishing their caliphate and judicial system.

The pattern of religion-based conflicts has transformed the global religious conflicts. That is often referred to as extremist terrorism based on religion. Hence the rise of Boko Haram also involved demographics that complimented their political objectives. As the state of Nigeria is an amalgamation of Christians and Muslims; and has been constructed as a distinct ethno-lingual society, historically. The Christians resided in the South of Nigeria while the Muslims were located in Northern Nigeria. The northern side suffered from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and public health issues under the government of Goodluck Jonathan. His government was centrally weak and marginalized the Northern side. This also contributed as one of the major factors that granted an edge for the influence and legitimacy of Boko Haram. Therefore, the main reason that triggered the organization and its move was based on Islamic principles of Jihad and Tajdid. This presents new notions of religion to recruit and incorporate more people into their community. The concept of Jihad has been historically driven which reflects and justifies acts against the unjust state and its authority. It also expands the capacity for social hostilities against the non-religious entities promoting hatred and non-acceptance. This also breeds religious extremism and rigidity that further validates the use of violence on their behalf.  Hence Jihad acts as a driving force to strive against the un-Islamic state structure for Islamic religious social fabric. Moreover, this religiously derived conception of violent confrontation has always been legitimized in terms of the historic concept of war and terms of self-defense. 

As a radical and contemporary religious belief; Jihad is regarded as the manifestation of religious violence and extremist terrorism. The establishment of the caliphate and state-like institutions represents a radical Salafist view regarding the establishment of the Islamic state structure. The ISWAP acts as a pseudo-state or state with in state that has established its authority and control. The reflection of another religious proclamation ofTajdid refers to the renewal of religious norms that aims at reconstruction or reset of social structure in accordance with Islamic values. Jihad and Tajdid collaboratively serve to generate notions about the reset of the political framework as an Islamic state system. The socio-religious reconstruction is particularly divergent from the western one. As western societies are often pluralistic, while Boko Haram’s vision aims as establishing Islamic social composition. Moreover, the western setup provided constitutional provisions to women in terms of rights, freedom, education, and liberty. This completely contradicted their conceptualization of women. Hence, this also generated gender-based violence as means to protect Islamic values. This was closely witnessed during the abduction of girls from their school. Furthermore, Islamic radicalization has been pursued through different channels that have extensively contributed to narrative building amongst the population, propaganda, and the development of a religious mindset in the African region. One of the most prominent tactics used for the purpose has been achieved through the propagation of literature. The scholars started to preach about Jihad and its implications since the 15th Century. The channel continues to date where the teachers preach about these scholarly findings that further encourages the youth to turn towards radical Islamization. The degree of radicalization elevates as Boko Haram propagates the concept of exclusivism that tends to oppose other value systems and beliefs. This creates a rift the society and deteriorates the sense of co-existence. As a result, Boko Haram represents a destructive paradox that promotes religious extremism and violence through misinterpretation of Islamic principles. Pursuing the political agenda of Boko Haram under the banner of Islamic law; which is power-oriented and would help them maintain dominance politically, economically, and territorially in the African region.

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Security of nuclear materials in India

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Terrorism

The author is of the view that nuclear security is lax in India. More so, because of the 123 Agreement and sprawling  nuclear installations in several states. The thieves and scrap dealers even dare to advertise online sale of radioactive uranium. India itself has reported several incidents of nuclear thefts to the international bodies. The author wonders why India’s security lapses remain out of international focus. Views expressed are personal.  

Amid raging pandemic in the southern Indian state of Maharashtra, the anti-terrorism squad arrested  (May 6, 20210) two persons (Jagar Jayesh Pandya and Abu Tahir Afzal hussain Choudhry) for attempting to sell seven kilograms  of highly-radioactive muranium for offered price of  about Rs. 21 crore. The “gentlemen” had uncannily advertised  the proposed sale online.. As such, the authorities initially dismissed the advertisement as just another hoax. They routinely detained the “sellers-to-be” and forwarded a sample of their ware to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.  They were shocked when the centre reported that “the material was natural uranium”.  As such the squad was compelled to book the duo under India’s Atomic Energy Act, 1962 at Nagpur police station (Explained: ATS seizes 7 kg uranium worth  Rs. 21 crore from a scrap dealer…Indian Express May 7, 2021).

Not a unique incident

The event, though shocking, is  is not  one of its kind. Earlier, in 2016 also, two persons were arrested by Thane (Maharashtra) police while they were trying to sell eight to nine kilograms of depleted uranium for Rs. 24 crore.  It is surmised that sale of uranium by scrap dealers in India is common. But, such events rarely come in limelight. According to Anil Kakodar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, `Factories using uranium as a counterweight in their machines are mandated to contact the Atomic Energy agencies and return uranium to them. They however resort to short cuts and sell the entire machine with uranium in scrap’.

India media scarcely report such incidents. However, Indian government sometimes reports such incidents to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to meet disclosure requirements. According to international media reports (February 25, 2004), India reported 25 cases of “missing” or “stolen” radio-active material from its labs to the IAEA.  Fifty-two per cent of the cases were attributed to “theft” and 48% to the “missing mystery”.  India claimed to have recovered lost material in twelve of total 25 cases.  It however admitted that 13 remaining cases remained mysterious.

India’s reports such incidents to the IAEA to portray itself as a “responsible state”.  It is hard to believe that radio-active material could be stolen from nuclear labs without operators’ connivance.

Nine computers, belonging to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation establishment at Metcalfe House, New Delhi, were stolen. India communicated 25 cases of ‘stolen or missing’ uranium to the IAEA. In different incidents, uranium in varying forms and quantities continue to be recovered from scrap dealers and others by Indian authorities. The recoveries include fifty-seven pounds of uranium in rod form, eight kilograms in granular form, two hundred grams in semi-processed form, besides twenty-five kilograms in radioactive form, stolen from the Bibi Cancer Hospital.

Too, the ‘thieves’ stole three cobalt switches, worth Rs. 1.5 million, from Tata Steel Company laboratory at Jamshedpur (Jharkhand). A shipment of beryllium (worth $24 million), was caught in Vilnius, on its way to North Korea. Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea. A New Jersey-based Indian engineer Sitaram Ravi Mahidevan was indicted for having bypassed US export procedures to send blue-prints of solenoid-operated valves to North Korea.

We know that the Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship, carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea.  The oxide is an essential ingredient of rocket casings and is, as such, prohibited for export to “rogue” countries.

Pakistan bashing

Despite recurrent incidents of theft of uranium or other sensitive material from indiandian nuclear labs, the IAEA never initiated a thorough probe into lax security environment in government and private nuclear labs in india. However, the international media has a penchant for creating furore over uncorroborated nuclear lapses in Pakistan. The Time magazine article ‘Merchant of Menace’, had reported that some uranium hexafluoride cylinders were missing from the Kahuta Research Laboratories.  Pakistan’ then information minister and foreign-office spokesman had both refuted the allegation.  Masood Khan (foreign office) told reporters, `The story is a rehash of several past stories’.

Similarly,  Professor Shaun Gregory in his report ‘The Security of Nuclear Weapons’ contends that those guarding about 120 nuclear-weapon sites, mostly in northern and western parts of Pakistan, have fragmented loyalties. As such, they are an easy prey to religious extremists.

Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, also draw a gloomy portrait of the situation in Pakistan. In their article, published in The New York Times, dated November 18, 2007, they predicted that extremists would take over, if rule of law collapses in Pakistan. Those sympathetic with the Taliban and al-Qaeda may convert Pakistan into a state sponsor of terrorism. They pointed to Osama bin Laden’s meeting with Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, former engineers of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission (having no bomb-making acumen).

They claimed that U.S. military experts and intelligence officials had explored strategies for securing Pakistan’s nuclear assets. One option was to isolate the country’s nuclear bunkers. Doing so would require saturating the area, surrounding the bunkers, with tens of thousands of high-powered mines, dropped from air, packed with anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions. The panacea, suggested by them, was that Pakistan’s nuclear material should be seized and stashed in some “safe” place like New Mexico.

Rebuttal

The fact is that the pilloried Pakistani engineers had no knowledge of weaponisation (“When the safest is not safe enough,” The Defence Journal -Pakistan), pages 61-63). The critics mysteriously failed to mention that Pakistan is a party to the UN Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. The steps taken by Pakistan to protect its nuclear materials and installations conform to international standards. The National Command Authority, created on February 2, 2000, has made fail-safe arrangements to control development and deployment of strategic nuclear forces. Pakistan’s nuclear regulatory authority had taken necessary steps for safety, security, and accountability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, facilities, and materials even before 9/11 incident. These controls include functional equivalent of the two-man rule and permissive action links (PALs). The indigenously-developed PALs are bulwarks against inadvertent loss of control, or accidental use of weapons. So far, there has been no security lapse in any of Pakistan’s nuclear establishments.

Abdul Mannan, in his paper titled “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Sabotage of a Spent Fuel Cask or a Commercial Irradiation Source in Transport”, has analysed various ways in which acts of nuclear terrorism could occur in Pakistan (quoted in “Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries beyond War”). He has fairly reviewed Pakistan’s vulnerability to nuclear terrorism through hypothetical case studies. He concludes that the threat of nuclear terrorism in Pakistan is a figment of imagination, rather than a real possibility.

There are millions of radioactive sources used worldwide in various applications. Only a few thousand sources, including Co-60, Cs-137, Ir-192, Sr-90, Am-241, Cf-252, Pu-238, and RA-226 are considered a security risk. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has enforced a mechanism of strict measures for administrative and engineering control over radioactive sources from cradle to grave. It conducts periodic inspections and physical verifications to ensure security of the sources. The Authority has initiated a Five-Year National Nuclear-Safety-and-Security-Action Plan to establish a more robust nuclear-security regime. It has established a training centre and an emergency-coordination centre, besides deploying radiation-detection-equipment at each point of nuclear-material entry in Pakistan, supplemented by vehicle/pedestrian portal monitoring equipment where needed.

Fixed detectors have been installed at airports, besides carrying out random inspection of personnel luggage. All nuclear materials are under strict regulatory control right from import until their disposal.

Concluding remarks

Nuclear controls in India and the USA are not more stringent than Pakistan’s. It is not understood why the media does not deflect their attention to the fragile nuclear-security environment in India. It is unfortunate that the purblind critics fail to see the gnawing voids in India’s nuclear security.

The ‘research work’ by well-known scholars reflects visceral hatred against Pakistan. The findings in fresh ‘magnum opuses’ are a re-hash or amalgam of the presumptions and pretensions in earlier-published ‘studies’. It is time that the West deflected its attention to India where movements of nuclear materials, under the 123 expansion plan, are taking place between nuclear-power plants sprawling across different states.

Above all, will the international media and the IAEA look into open market uranium sales in India.

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Biological warfare: A global security threat

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Biological warfare is not a new concept in arena of international politics as it has been used as a tool to sabotage enemy in previous centuries. Biological weapons are a sub-category of Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) in which there is a deliberate use of micro-organisms like pathogens and toxins to cause disease or death in humans, livestock and yields.Form its usage in 14th century by Mongols to its usage by imperial Japan during 1930s-40s against Chinese, it has always been a threat to global security. The evolution of bio-weapons can be broadly categorized into four phases; first phase includes the post WWII developments with the evident use of chlorine and phosgene in Ypres.The second phase was marked by the use of nerve agents like tabun, cholinesterase inhibitor and anthrax and plague bombs. The initiation of third phase was marked by the use of biological weapons in Vietnam war during 1970s where deadly agents like Agent orange were used. 4th and last phase include the time of biological and technological revolution where genetic engineering techniques were at their peak. Traditionally they have been used in wartime in order to defeat enemy but with the emergence of violent non-state actors, bioterrorism is another potential threat to the security of states. There are certain goals that are associated with the use of biological weapons. Firstly, it is purposed to hit to economy of the targeted country, breaking down government authority and have a psychological effect on masses of the targeted population. It is also a kind of psychological warfare as it may hit a smaller number of people but leaves impact on wider audience through intimidation and spreading fear. It also creates natural circumstances under which a population is induced with disease without revealing the actual perpetrator.

With the advancement in genetic engineering techniques more lethal biological weapons are being produced everyday around the world. Countries which are economically deprived are more likely to pursue such goals as it is difficult for them to go for heavy military sophistication keeping into consideration their poor economic conditions. Biological weapons serve as inexpensive tool for developing countries to address their issues in prevailing international security environment. During the initial decades of cold war, united states of America (USA) and Soviet Union went for acquiring tons of biological weapons alongside nuclear proliferation.

 The quest for these weapons reduced during 1970s with the formation of Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). This convention was presented in 1972 before countries and finally came into force in 1975 with 150 countries who signed this convention and 140 countries who fully joined this treaty. This convention prohibits any biological weaponization in order to promote peace and stability around the world. But this convention has obvious defects as it is unable to address many issues like it doesn’t prevents itself the use of biological weapons but just reinforces 1925 Geneva Protocol which forbids the use of bio-weapons. Convention allows ‘defensive research’ to which there are many objections that what is incorporated into this defensive research. It is non-binding to the signatory states and in case if countries are proliferating it lacks the effective oversight techniques to look after them either they are pursuing these biological weapons capabilities or not. Since the inception of this convention till now it has clearly failed in stopping the countries from acquisition as well as usage of these weapons. This is evident as there were many cases after 1975 where these weapons were used as in 1980s when Iraq used mustard gas, sarin and tabun against Iran and many other ethnic groups inside Iran. Another incident which was highlighted was Sarine nerve gas attack in Tokyo subway system leaving thousands injured and many got killed. In post-cold war era, however, the number of these attacks reduced as much attention was shifted to terrorism after 9/11 attacks with the change in global security architecture.

“Anthrax letters” in post 9/11 attacks revealed yet another dimension of bio-weapons which was the threat of bioterrorism from non-state actors. US became a victim of bio-terrorism when in 2001 a powder was transported through letters containing bacterium called anthrax infecting many people. One purpose which terrorists have is to make general masses feel as if they are unsafe in the hands of their government which can be best achieved through the use of these weapons. The fact that biological weapons are cheaper and more devastating than conventional weapons make it more likely for biological weapons to be used by terrorists. Also, the fact that they are easy to hide and transport and a smaller quantity can leave long-lasting impacts on larger population makes these weapons more appealing.  Now that we are facing a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 which according to some conspiracy theories is a biological weapon pose even more serious challenge to the international security in coming decades. There is no such scientific research which proves Corona Virus as a biological weapon but the realization here is that whether or not it is a biological weapon but world was least prepared for it. Not only the developing countries but also developed states suffered more despite having enormous medical infrastructure. The fact that there has been decline in the incidents related to bioterrorism should never let us think that there is no possibility of such attacks. The fact that world failed to handle Covid-19 puts a question mark on the credibility of measures if we are faced with bio-terrorism. The medical community as well as general population needs to develop an understanding of how to respond if there is such attack. At the international level there is a dire need to develop some strong norms which discourage the development and use of such weapons in any capacity.    

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