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Biosecurity: Reawakening of new realities

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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.

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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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The ‘Post-Covid-19 World’ Will Never Come

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On May 3rd, the New York Times bannered “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe” and reported that “there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.”

In other words: the ‘news’-sources that were opposing the governments’ taking action against Covid-19 — libertarian ’news’-sites that oppose governmental laws and regulations, regardless of the predominant view by the vast majority of the scientists who specialize in studying the given subject — are looking wronger all the time, as this “novel coronavirus” (which is what it was originally called) becomes less and less “novel,” and more and more understood scientifically.

The “herd immunity” advocates for anti-Covid-19 policies have been saying that governments should just let the virus spread until nature takes its course and such a large proportion of the population have survived the infection as to then greatly reduce the likelihood that an uninfected person will become infected. An uninfected person will increasingly be surrounded by people who have developed a natural immunity to the disease, and by people who don’t and never did become infected by it. The vulnerable people will have become eliminated (died) or else cured, and so they won’t be spreading the disease to others. That’s the libertarian ’solution’, the final solution to the Covid-19 problem, according to libertarians.

For example, on 9 April 2020, Forbes magazine headlined “After Rejecting A Coronavirus Lockdown, Sweden Sees Rise In Deaths” and reported that, “Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has continuously advocated for laid back measures, saying on Swedish TV Sunday that the pandemic could be defeated by herd immunity, or the indirect protection from a large portion of a population being immune to an infection, or a combination of immunity and vaccination. However, critics have argued that with a coronavirus vaccine could be more than a year away, and insufficient evidence that coronavirus patients that recover are immune from becoming infected again, the strategy of relying on herd immunity and vaccinations [is] ineffective.”

The libertarian proposal of relying upon “herd immunity” for producing policies against this disease has continued, nonetheless.

CNN headlined on 28 April 2020, “Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story”, and reported that 

On March 28, a petition signed by 2,000 Swedish researchers, including Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, called for the nation’s government to “immediately take steps to comply with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations.”

The scientists added: “The measures should aim to severely limit contact between people in society and to greatly increase the capacity to test people for Covid-19 infection.”

“These measures must be in place as soon as possible, as is currently the case in our European neighboring countries,” they wrote. “Our country should not be an exception to the work to curb the pandemic.”

The petition said that trying to “create a herd immunity, in the same way that occurs during an influenza epidemic, has low scientific support.”

Swedish authorities have denied having a strategy to create herd immunity, one the UK government was rumored to be working towards earlier on in the pandemic — leading to widespread criticism — before it enforced a strict lockdown.

FORTUNE magazine headlined on 30 July 2020, “How parts of India inadvertently achieved herd immunity”, and reported that, “Around 57% of people across parts of India’s financial hub of Mumbai have coronavirus antibodies, a July study found, indicating that the population may have inadvertently achieved the controversial ‘herd immunity’ protection from the coronavirus.” Furthermore:

Herd immunity is an approach to the coronavirus pandemic where, instead of instituting lockdowns and other restrictions to slow infections, authorities allow daily life to go on as normal, letting the disease spread. In theory, enough people will become infected, recover, and gain immunity that the spread will slow on its own and people who are not immune will be protected by the immunity of those who are. University of Chicago researchers estimated in a paper published in May that achieving herd immunity from COVID-19 would require 67% of people to be immune to the disease. Mayo Clinic estimates 70% of the U.S. population will need to be immune for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity, which can also be achieved by vaccinating that proportion of a population.

On 27 September 2020, Reuters bannered “In Brazil’s Amazon a COVID-19 resurgence dashes herd immunity hopes”, and reported that, “The largest city in Brazil’s Amazon has closed bars and river beaches to contain a fresh surge of coronavirus cases, a trend that may dash theories that Manaus was one of the world’s first places to reach collective, or herd, immunity.”

Right now, the global average of Covid-19 intensity (total cases of the disease thus far) is 19,693 persons per million population. For examples: Botswana is barely below that intensity, at 19,629, and Norway is barely above that intensity, at 20,795. Sweden is at 95,905, which is nearly five times the global average. Brazil is 69,006, which is around 3.5 times worse than average. India is 14,321, which is slightly better than average. USA is 99,754.  

However, the day prior, on May 2nd, America had 30,701 new cases. Brazil had 28,935. Norway had 210. India had 370,059. Sweden’s latest daily count (as-of May 3rd) was 5,937 on April 29th, 15 times Norway’s 385 on that date. Sweden’s population is 1.9 times that of Norway. India’s daily count is soaring. Their population is four times America’s, but the number of new daily cases in India is twelve times America’s. Whereas India has had only one-seventh as much Covid-19 intensity till now, India is soaring upwards to become ultimately, perhaps, even worse than America is on Covid-19 performance. And Brazil is already almost as bad as America, on Covid-19 performance, and will soon surpass America in Covid-19 failure.

There is no “herd immunity” against Covid-19, yet, anywhere. It’s just another libertarian myth. But libertarians still continue to believe it — they refuse to accept the data.

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Application of Cyber Security: A Comparative Analysis of Pakistan and India

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In today’s world, communication is controlled by the internet. The Internet is what links the communication protocol of a state to its cyber domain. Cyber security encompasses techniques, technologies, methods and blueprints made to secure networking systems from potential cyber-attacks. Efficient systems of cyber security therefore mitigate and reduce the danger of network systems being attacked or accessed by unauthorized systems.

Despite the existence of such robust networks and security protocols, the exploit of such systems is always a click away, due to the integration of the internet as a worldwide network, and in times of global outbreaks and crisis, internet activity also inevitably increases. This was particularly observable with the spread of the Covid-19 as a global pandemic, which also saw an increase in over-the-web activity, and gave a new breathing space for cyber-criminals. According to estimates, Covid-19, as a pandemic, can already be classified as the largest ever existing threat to cyber-security across the globe, since the induction of the world wide web as a global chain of networks. Thus, it would be fair to say that the effects of the covid-19 were not selectively felt by developing states only, but also encapsulated great powers of the contemporary era.

While contextualizing Pakistan and India in the cyber-security debate following the events of the covid-19 scenario, the trend in increased virtual cyber-attacks and espionage was no different to the rest of the world. The real question mark lies in the ability of both countries to effectively deal with the overwhelming cyber-activity in the post-pandemic era. The government of Pakistan established the National Center for Cyber Security (NCCS) in June 2018, and continues to strengthen its cyber-security domain, with a dynamic change in policy making, centric to cybersecurity and threats to cybersecurity from its immediate adversary, India. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Imran Khan, also launched ‘Digital Pakistan Vision’, with the primary   objectives of  increasing connectivity, rectifying digital infrastructure, and investing in the awareness of digital skills and promotion of entrepreneurship. Pakistan also approved the first ‘Digital Pakistan Policy’, aiming to focus on investment opportunities by IT companies and building the framework necessary for a digital ecosystem. Although a sustained effort has been made to strengthen the cyber-domain of Pakistan, there are many technicalities and loopholes that must be addressed with high priority. One, the lack of an effective communication method, that is free from external intrusion, and allows for the restriction of unwanted network traffic on its master server. In more recent times, an intrusion occurred during the webinar of Institute of   Strategic Studies (ISSI) due to non-encrypted internet connection, which allowed unspecified individuals access to the digital webinar. Two, the lack of stable internet connectivity, which prevents effective implementation of security protocols and acts as a hindrance to critical data packets, that must be sent between cyber-security officials in an event of a cyber-attack or espionage of any degree. Three, the existence of exploitable source code in key governmental websites and pages that are always prone to cyber-attacks, and must be revisited in the near future.

On the other hand, India saw a 37% in cyber-activity in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic; an eye-opener for state officials, who have prioritized cybersecurity as the next immediate threat to Indian National Security. In recent developments, India has also launched several directives to its cyber-security strategy in the post-pandemic era, including the initiative launched by The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), namely ‘Cyber Surakshit Bharat’ with the coordination and support of the  National E-Governance Division. According to MIETY, 44 training and mock drills are being given to 265 organizations from different states of the world, a landmark achievement in Indian cyber-security history. However, just like its South Asian neighbor Pakistan, India is also equally overwhelmed by the threat and emergence of hostile cyber-activity. With a 45% ratio of internal cyber attacks, and a 38% ratio of external intrusions from proposed adversaries, China and North Korea, India has strengthened its ties with Israel to revamp its cyber-security strategy,  in order to mitigate the immediate threat to its cyber-domain, both internally and externally.

Conclusion and Recommendations

There is an immediate need to extend and further research the cyber capabilities of both Pakistan and India, which would primarily define the different types of technologies and how they are being actively made a part of the National security policy of both Pakistan and India. These efforts must be the immediate need of the hour, with the uncertainty of the Covid-19 and its irregular patterns becoming an inevitable fate of regional and global politics, in the times to come. While India seems to have its primary bases covered, there is no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic did not have a sparing effect on its cyber-domain, either, leaving the door open for Pakistan to make significant improvements to its cyber domain and cyber-security strategy, in order to effectively deter the threat faced from its adversary. Moreover, Pakistan can also seek inspiration from a potential integrated tri-service defense cyber strategy, that is being highly considered by Indian cyber-security and state officials, which would aid in keeping any form of cyber-hostility at bay in upcoming times.

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