Originating from Wuhan, Hubei, on January 20, 2020, the insane escalation of COVID 19 has pathologically silenced the boasting walk on the moon and the technological advancement by the humans, by infecting more than 2, 00,000 people and killing more than 45,000 people all over the world, so far. At the same time, massive transmissibility of the virus has become widely controversial with arguments both in favour and against it being a bioweapon attack. Initially, the international governing powers blamed each other for its spread with Trump repeatedly calling it a ‘Chinese virus’ and pointed out at Chinese facilities involved in similar research. On the other hand, China is suspecting American military laboratories around the world, while referring to the Biohazard containers buried at American Consulate Wuhan. The politically divided world is also divided in their opinions with the Israelis blaming Chinese and Russians blaming Americans as a part of the race for economic supremacy. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti in an article by Igor Nikulin, a former member of UN Commission on Biological and Chemical Weapons claims that he was contacted by Chinese colleagues who believe that the Coronavirus is manmade. He reported that the spread is sabotage and also speculated that this dangerous cargo from an American laboratory might have been carried out by US diplomatic staff to Wuhan. It is also supported by a foreign policy expert Lenoid Savin working at Shadowy Strategic Culture Foundation. He speculated that the creation of Coronavirus bioweapon has been adding to the strenuous relationship between the major powers.
Reflecting on the history of the spread of viruses, Dr. Thomas in his lecture refers to the findings of Steiner, a physicist, who blamed the poisoning of the cells by disturbing the electromagnetic field with excessive technological spread. In 1918, the world experienced Spanish Flu pandemic, due to a quantum leap in the electrification of the earth by the introduction of the radio waves in late 1915. Whenever, any biological system is exposed to a new electromagnetic regrouping, the toxic cells purify themselves by excreting poison. After the WWII, the radar equipment all over the world blanketed the entire earth, resulting into Hong Kong Flu pandemic in 1968. It was the first time the protective layer on the earth, which integrates the cosmic fields from the sun, the moon, the earth, the Jupiter etc and then distributes it to the living beings on the earth, was disturbed by the installations of the satellites emitting massive radioactive frequencies. The people are excreting poisons regarded as viruses almost after every six months similar to viruses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The coronavirus is a continuation of the same thread since electromagnetic field has once again been disturbed by 5G with 20.000 radiation emitting satellites installed, incompatible to human health. Wuhan was its first residence as first completely blanketed city.
Nevertheless, the genie is out of control and the world at large is suffering in a collateral damage. An emerging challenge lies at the intersection of science and public policy. While, biotechnology is yielding life-enhancing breakthroughs at an exhilarating pace, the community of scientists are also warning against the rise of fiercely destructive forces specifically, biological weapons. The risks and challenges are multi-diversional to the international security. The impact is on the core of the universe; the humans. Their physical, psychological, societal and economic health is at stake. The war is non-conventional and the terror is unethically individualistic transcending geographically and numerically defined nations.
Undoubtedly, a profound international cooperation and global governance of the security against the inadvertent, inappropriate, or international malicious or malevolent use of dangerous biological agents or biotechnology or radioactive technology, disturbing the blanket of the earth needs is apt. Yet more than a new international order, reaffirmation of the mutual interests through depoliticized UN like international forums derailed over a period of time would be more appropriate. The Biological Weapon Convention (BWC) came into force in 1975 under the auspices of the UN. It bans the development, production and stockpiling of entire category of Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD). It was re- emphasized in the 8th review Conference held in 2019. However, the threat to BWC always remain there as they can really effect a large population very easily at a very low cast, similar to the spread of nCoV-2019 in Wuhan.
My instant worry is where do we stand as a region in this tug of war between the zoologists and the physicists and conspiracy theorists are already active? The societies are relatively conservative while keeping the spiritual leanings close to heart, however, sometimes unreasonable. The domino affects are sporadic. An able administrative and coordinated reassurance at the regional and national levels is more needed to act more proactively against this weaponized virus. Both have largely agro-based economy.
Looking at it fairly, both India and Pakistan were at ease, as signatories of BWC. Permeating from this bio-insecurity is an opportunity for biosafety since the conduct of science largely remains in the hands of the states. The only guarantee which both Pakistan and India need to ensure is the strict adherence to the Convention since non-state actors are not only the potential users of the biological weapons, new technologies and unimaginable changing political contexts can immediately convert the bioweapons attractive to state sponsored attacks in the existing right-wing political thoughts. The growth of Hindutva as a radical political thought in India or war against minority ethnic groups would find it more compatible to sync with emerging technologies which are revolutionizing access to deadly germs and toxins.
The financial and economic stress of the lockdown paradox further complicates the South Asian region while plunging its population deep into poverty already having them fall by 248.8 million. Though, according to the World Bank Report, South Asia performed remarkably well in poverty reduction and was able to decline its poverty rates from 44.6% to 15.1% respectively, during 1990-2013. However, the PHI of South Asia is still significantly higher than that of other regions such as East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Carribean.
Figure 2 below depicts the pace of reducing the Poverty Headcount Index (PHI) of each region along with the world average between 1990-2013.
The reasons given are the protracted political issues amongst the regional states accompanied with intrastate disturbances. The most imperative remains the conflicts between India and Pakistan which have barred the trade relations between the states weaker than the Sub-Saharan region.
Though, in the wake of Covid 19, virus attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to re-button the South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC), and announced to establish a regional fund for the counter measures in a video conference held in March 2020, however, how likely it would be to share the complete information on the common enemy accurately? In the backdrop of continuing controversial brutal steps being taken by India to devoid the freedom of living with the special status under Article 370 given by the Indian Constitution itself to the people of Jammu and Kashmir or the introduction of non-democratic Citizenship Act against its own Muslim population, any joint venture for biosecurity, whether from natural or man-made pathogen, would remain farfetched. It remains inherently glued to both the benevolent and malevolent intent. Moreover, the experience of Smiling Buddha in 1974 lies afresh in the Pakistan strategic thinking. An integrated and regulated civil and military approach to address the threat is the only viable option.
Covid 19 has already lessened the burden of public awareness, yet the economically stressed nations of South Asia are passing through the added strains of biological warfare. This too needs a more collaborative across the board regional approach by devising a Regional Biological Defense System with effective policies and practices.
USA and Australia Worry About Cyber Attacks from China Amidst Pegasus Spyware
Pegasus Spyware Scandal has shaken whole India and several other countries. What will be its fallout no one knows as we know only tip of iceberg. Amidst Pegasus Spyware Scandal USA and Australia both have shown serious concerns about Cyber Attacks on US and Australian interests. Both say that China is hub of malware software and both face millions of such attacks daily.
I am trying to understand why a software is needed to spy on a particular individual when all calls, messages, data, emails are easily accessible from server. In most of cases these servers are located in USA and some cases these are located in host country. In certain sensitive cases Government Agencies have their own server like Central Intelligence Agency and hundreds of other agencies and military establishment world over including India. Now point is who installs those servers.
A couple of years back I had talked to Mr Mike Molloy who is Chief Executive Officer of Orion Global Technologies previously known as Orion SAS. He had explained me how his company installs servers in host countries on request of private or gov bodies. He talks about contract and trust. That means even when a company or Gov buys a server or software for designated uses the “Secrecy” Factor remain on discretion of company which has supplied server or software.
Now if all data, e-mail, chat, messages, calls are accessible to Gov as per law and technology (Through Server all components of Communication are accessible and thats why me and you see start seeing call recording of a person even after many years later), I am unable to understand why a Gov will be needing a software to Spy on any one.
Now coming to where Australia and USA wants to carry the whole debate.
Australian Foreign Minister Sen Marise Payne said, “Australian Government joins international partners in expressing serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China’s Ministry of State Security.
“In consultation with our partners, the Australian Government has determined that China’s Ministry of State Security exploited vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange software to affect thousands of computers and networks worldwide, including in Australia. These actions have undermined international stability and security by opening the door to a range of other actors, including cybercriminals, who continue to exploit this vulnerability for illicit gain”, She further added.
She opined, ”The Australian Government is also seriously concerned about reports from our international partners that China’s Ministry of State Security is engaging contract hackers who have carried out cyber-enabled intellectual property theft for personal gain and to provide commercial advantage to the Chinese Government”.
She warned China by saying, “Australia calls on all countries – including China – to act responsibly in cyberspace. China must adhere to the commitments it has made in the G20, and bilaterally, to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage”.
On other hand USA’s The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Cybersecurity Advisory on Chinese State-Sponsored Cyber Operations. National Security Advisor said, ”Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity poses a major threat to U.S. and allied systems. These actors aggressively target political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure personnel and organizations to access valuable, sensitive data. These cyber operations support China’s long-term economic and military objectives”.
The information in this advisory builds on NSA’s previous release “Chinese State-Sponsored Actors Exploit Publicly Known Vulnerabilities.” The NSA, CISA, and FBI recommended mitigations empower our customers to reduce the risk of Chinese malicious cyber activity, and increase the defensive posture of their critical networks.
Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geopolitical blocs
Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Varundeep Singh*
On July 14, 2021 a terror attack was carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in which a number of Chinese engineers, working on the Dasu hydropower project (a project which is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) were killed. The attack predictably evinced a strong response from China. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi speaking before a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Minister’s meeting asked the Taliban to disassociate itself from ‘terrorist elements’ and in a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to book. Earlier in April 2021, a car bomb attack took place at Serena hotel in Quetta which was hosting China’s Ambassador to Pakistan (four people were killed and twelve were injured)
Wang Yi significantly praised the Ashraf Ghani government, for its attempts towards building national unity and providing effective governance. Beijing clearly realizes that its economic investments in the country as well as big ticket infrastructural projects can not remain safe if there is no security. Afghanistan also criticized Pakistan for its role in sending 10000 Jihadis to Taliban, this is important in the context of the region’s geopolitics.
Like all other countries, Beijing and Islamabad, would have expected uncertainty after the US withdrawal of troops but perhaps over estimated their capabilities in dealing with the turbulence which had been predicted by many.
Importance of Chinese Foreign Minister’s statements
Wang Yi’s statements are important because days earlier a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen had praised China and welcomed its role in the country’s reconstruction. He had also assured China that those involved in the insurgency in Xinjiang would not be given refuge in Afghanistan (one of China’s major concerns has been the support provided by Taliban to the East Turkmenistan movement)
While Beijing may have opened back channels with the Taliban and realized that it needs to adapt to the changing geopolitics, recent developments would have increased its skepticism vis-à-vis the Taliban. On the other hand, Russia has been more favorable towards the Taliban. Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Roman Babushkin argued that the Taliban are a reality which needs to be accepted, and also that any military activities without a political process are insufficient.
Babushkin did make the point that for successful negotiations, Taliban needed to end violence.
‘that Taliban should deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, in order to [get] delisted [at the UN Security Council], in order to go ahead with the future Afghanistan and creation of the inclusive government
It would be pertinent to point out, that Zamir Kabulov, Russian President’s Afghanistan envoy went a step further and said that the Afghan government was not doing enough to make talks with Taliban a success.
China’s statements subtle warning to the Taliban, indicating its reservations, and praise of Ghani indicate a possibility of greater understanding between Washington and Beijing (even though Beijing has repeatedly attributed the current troubles in Afghanistan to Washington’s decision to withdraw troops).
Can US and China find common ground
It remains to be seen if Biden who has exhibited dexterity on a number of complex issues reaches out to Xi Jinping to find common ground with regard to Afghanistan. Significantly, while US-Turkey relations had witnessed a downward trajectory and Biden has been critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and Human rights record, both leaders met on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in June 2021. During the meeting Turkey agreed to secure Kabul Airport. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan while commenting on Turkey’s assurance said
‘The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we are now working through how to execute to get to that,’
Taliban earlier this week warned Turkey of ‘consequences’ if the Middle Eastern nation increased its troop presence in Afghanistan.
Russia’s statements with regard to the Taliban indicate that it is not totally on the same page as China (its prior experience in Afghanistan has made it more cautious and circumspect), and that the Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geo-political blocs and traditional lenses. All major stakeholders in Afghanistan, both within the region and outside, seem to be understandably befuddled by the turn of events. It is not just the US, but even China which would be worried not just from an economic stand point but the overall security implications of the turmoil in Afghanistan. The terror attack in KPK indicates that other CPEC related projects could also face threats from militant groups. Beijing would thus need to be quick to react to the overtures from the Taliban in order to secure its economic assets and lives of Chinese workers in neighbouring Pakistan.
It is especially important for Washington, Beijing and other important stakeholders in the region to work together for dealing with the near term turbulence as well as long term challenges Afghanistan is likely to face.
*Varundeep Singh is an Independent Policy Analyst.
Pegasus: Human rights-compliant laws needed to regulate spyware
The UN human rights chief on Monday said the apparent widespread use of Pegasus spy software to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists and politicians, was “extremely alarming” and confirmed “some of the worst fears” surrounding the potential misuse of such technology.
“Various parts of the UN Human Rights system, including my own Office, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition”, said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in a statement.
According to reports, the Pegasus data leak allegations which surfaced through a consortium of media organisations over the weekend, suggests widespread and continuing abuse of the software, which the manufacturers insist, is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.
The Pegasus malware infects electronic devices, enabling operators of the tool to obtain messages, photos and emails, record calls, and even activate microphones, according to the consortium’s reporting. The leak contains a list of more than 50,000 phone numbers which reportedly belong to those identified as people of interest, by clients of the company behind Pegasus, including some governments.
Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and even killing of journalists and human rights defenders, according to the senior UN official.
Reports of surveillance also trigger fear and cause people to censor themselves.
“Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer”, she said, reminding all States that surveillance measures can only be justified in narrowly defined circumstances when necessary and proportional to a legitimate goal.
Given that Pegasus spyware, “as well as that created by Candiru and others, enable extremely deep intrusions into people’s devices, resulting in insights into all aspects of their lives”, the UN rights chief underscored, “their use can only ever be justified in the context of investigations into serious crimes and grave security threats.”
If recent allegations about the use of Pegasus are even partly true, she maintained that the “red line has been crossed again and again with total impunity”.
Companies developing and distributing surveillance technologies are responsible for avoiding human rights abuses, she said, and they must take immediate steps to mitigate and remedy the damage their products are causing, or contributing to, and carry out “human rights due diligence” to ensure that they no longer play a part in “such disastrous consequences” now, or in the future.
States also have a duty to protect individuals from privacy rights abuses by companies, she added.
One key step in this direction is for States to require by law that the businesses meet their human rights responsibilities by becoming more transparent in their design and use of products and by putting in place effective accountability mechanisms.
Better regulation key
Reports also confirm “the urgent need to better regulate the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technologies and ensure strict oversight and authorization.”
Governments should not only immediately stop using surveillance technologies in ways that violate human rights, but also “take concrete actions” to protect against such invasions of privacy by “regulating the distribution, use and export of surveillance technology created by others”, the High Commissioner said.
Without human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks, Ms. Bachelet upheld that there are “simply too many risks” that the tools could be used to intimidate critics and silence dissent.
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