Wednesday 24 April 2019, 05:20 PM
WMD Terrorism: Could South Asia be the Next Target?
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 3/23/2016 12:00:00 AM

The terminology WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) terrorism refers to chemical, biological, and nuclear (also radiological) terrorism. This expression is similar to what is also known as CBRN or Mass Causality terrorism. There is a common perception that impact of nuclear blast to cause a far greater amount of damage both to life and property and hence in real sense the nuclear weapons have the real destructive capability. The actual devastation caused by chemical and biological weapons could vary and would greatly dependent on the lethality of the weapon used and the nature of target. Also, the actual destruction to the human life could be more but the destruction of property could be far less in comparison with the nuclear attack. Radiological weapons could be considered more as weapons of mass description. Hence, many a times the term CBRN terrorism is found getting used to denote WMD terrorism. 

In recent times, the world became concerned about the WMD terrorism when it witnessed the Anthrax attacks in the United States (US) killing five people immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Centre (WTC) on September 11, 2001. At the same time the concern raised by WMD got bit when the 2003 US invasion of Iraq on the pretext of that country possessing the stockpiles of WMD. The absence of WMDs in the Iraqi soil did change the global ‘sensitivity’ towards the issues of WMD. However, the disclosure and usage of chemical weapons in Libya and Syria has again brought the focus on WMD issues. 

Libya disclosed in a formal declaration during 2004 that it had produced and stored a vast stockpile of over 20 tons of deadly mustard gas. Libya also did acknowledge that it had made the mustard gas in the Libyan Desert and kept the gas and a variety of chemical precursors intended for nerve agents at two storage facilities. Libya also declared that it had tested the gas as a weapon and made thousands of bombs to deliver the lethal agents as part of its secret chemical weapons program, which began in the 1980''s. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the agency responsible for the destruction of the chemical weapons under the United Nations mandate has successfully destroyed these weapons by 2014. In case of Syria the problem is more severe. In ongoing civil war in Syria it has been confirmed by the United Nations the Chemical Weapons were used and also some reports are indicting the probably they are still getting used (as of April 2015). The first report on the usage of the chemical weapons came during 2013 and also during March 2015 evidence was found towards the usage of chlorine gas.

The case in Syria is very peculiar. There have been claims and counter claims about actually who has used the chemical weapons. The terrorist groups (non-state actors) are claiming that state forces have used these weapons and the state is claiming that it is actually used by the terrorists. Broadly, this issue clearly highlights the dangers of WMD terrorism and also demonstrates that the threat is real. 

The subject of WMD is vast and could be viewed from a variety of viewpoints. The global community understood the nature of damage the nuclear weapons could cause during the Second World War.  Yet, during the early years of Cold War, the danger of nuclear war within the domain of conflicts between two states was much more real.  Consequently, over the years, the bulk of the world seems to have become far more civilized.  There was not much of talk during this period about the chemical and biological weapons. Subsequently, during the last few decades, mainly after the end of the Cold War, many states and individuals in the world have started raising concerns about issues like human rights, global warming and climate change, as well as usage of heinous weapons in wars, like vision damaging lasers, permanent disability causing landmines etc.  It is thus reasonable to expect that no sane nation would resort to the usage of WMDs in future as a form of warfare. However, the possibility of WMD terrorism just cannot be ruled out. There is a growing danger that the usage of CBRNs in some form or other could be made by non-state armed groups, especially terrorist organizations and the recent Syria case goes to prove this point.  There are also claims that ISIS is in a position to produce few chemical weapons in the so called production facilities available with them. In the 21st century terrorist groups may be looking at these weapons not only as ‘weapons for destruction’ but also for ‘mass disruption’ owing to their ‘fear-factor’ and psychosomatic impact. 

Today, the security milieu in South Asian region is more asymmetric in nature. The region hosts two nuclear weapon states. Also, agreement on traditional security concerns is often hampered by conflicting domestic political and foreign policy priorities of South Asian states. There are emerging non-traditional security issues in South Asia that are of common concern to countries across the region. South Asian region today possesses all the ingredients for a “potential” WMD terror act. State failure in any one of the region’s most vulnerable countries could prove potentially devastating for stability in the region as a whole. There are various terrorist outfits which are operational in parts of South Asia. They include dreadful organisations like Afghanistan and Pakistani Taliban, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) etc. For many years in Sri Lanka most dreaded terror outfits like LLTE were operational. States like Bangladesh and Neal also do have terrorism related challenges. In addition there are issues like cross-border terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism. Various acts of terrorism in the region demonstrate that terrorists are using various approaches to spread terrorism and hence, there exists a possibility that acts involving WMD terrorism could also happen in the region. 

Particularly, 9/11 attacks have forced various states facing the dangers of terrorism to rethink about their security policy. Particularly the anthrax attacks in the US immediately after 9/11 did create major panic and caused substantial loss to economy.  Today, in general the terrorist perceptions are found changing rapidly and the use of WMD agents as a terror tool cannot be completely ruled out.  

South and Southern Asia is a region where the security landscape is totally different than rest of the world. In this region, India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states and same is the case with China.  All these nuclear weapons state share the geographical borders too. India and Pakistan have fought four wars during last sixty years and one of these (Kargil) was fought under the shadow of nuclear capacities.  In general, India’s relations with nuclear Pakistan have remained strained for most of the period since their independence. Also, India does have an ongoing border demarcation problem. Since, Pakistan has not got any success with the conventional warfare for last six decades they found engaging in the proxy war for some time now and found supporting terrorism covertly. Hence, the possibility of WMD terrorism exists in the region. 

The political situation is Pakistan is unstable for many years. Pakistan is found using terrorism as tool to resolve their issues with India. Their state sponsored agencies are found assisting the terror groups operational in Kashmir with human, material and monitory resources. At the same time there are terror groups operational in their country which has wedged a war against the state. The Pakistani terror groups have launched multiple attacks against their state infrastructure from airports to military installations to schools. They have demonstrated their capability to launch a major attack and they look comfortable towards using modern technology. The question is that could they have the capability to handle the nuclear technology to carry out an act of nuclear terrorism? 

Radiological weapons are the offshoots of the nuclear weapons. Any usage of such weapons may not lead to a catastrophe as is the case of nuclear weapons.  Radiological material is easily available in any laboratory where X-rays are taken. Such material could be used in preparation of a small bomb or IED etc. Detonation of such bomb could create a moderate damage but would also spread radiation which could have long-term impact on the humans in the nearby vicinity. Such bombs are usually referred as Dirty Bombs and could be preferred by the terrorist as a weapon to crate fear than actually any major damage.   

For many years Asian region has been the sufferer in the world in regards to WMD attacks. And the recent Syrian attacks indicate that trend continues. Japan has been both the victim well as the attackers. The Second World War ended with the dropping of the nuclear bombs over Japan. But in late thirties Japan had also been responsible for using biological weapons in China. During 1995 a Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo had successfully used a chemical agent Sarin in a Tokyo subway, killing 15 people. On another occasion, followers of Osho (Rajneesh) had attempted to poison salad bars in Oregon, US.  Fortunately, no usage of WMD has ever taken place in the South Asian region till date.  However, the absence of such weapons as a terror tool should not be taken as a guarantee for no attacks in the future.  

Pakistan, which is also a signatory to United Nations sponsored Chemical and Biological weapon conventions, has always denied that they have any interest in this field. Also, hard evidence to prove Pakistani interest in biological weapons and chemical weapons programme is scarce. But, certain circumstantial evidence raises doubt about their interest in these weapons. Pakistan has the potential (there is direct evidence about their intentions to do so) to develop chemical, biological and radiological weapons. There are some unconfirmed reports indicating that Pakistan has manufactured weapons for blister, blood choking and nerve agents. It is believed that China could have been a possible supplier of technology and equipment in this regard.  Baloch nationalists have often accused Pakistani security forces of using chemical weapons, namely phosphorus gas against Baloch rebels and civilians. India believes that Pakistan used chemical weapons against its soldiers in Siachen in 1987.  However, on official front there is agreement between India and Pakistan on complete prohibition of chemical weapons, which was signed in 1992.  According to US reports (1996), Pakistan had been conducting research and development with potential biological warfare applications.  However, it is not known whether this potential has since been realized.  

Broadly, it could be argued that there is less possibility of state support (covert) to the terrorist groups operating in South Asia in regards to undertake WMD attacks. Particularly, in regards to chemical and biological weapons there is a less possibility that any state support to be offered in South Asia. However, this does not mean that terrorist groups would able to attempt to indulge into this form of terrorism.  After the US invasion of Afghanistan in the mountains of Tora-Bora various calculations and drawings towards designing a system constituting of weather balloons (helium powered) to deliver Anthrax spores on the pre-designated targets were found. Probably, India’s enemy was keen to take the help of westerly wind flow and send these balloons towards India and burst them over a target to spread the spores.  Such Anthrax spores could have been inhaled by large population creating panic, fear and deaths.

For all these years WMD attacks have not taken place in South Asia. However, owing to the changed nature of terrorism there is a growing concern about the possibility of the usage of these weapons due to various reasons.  First, the world community as a whole is more worried about WMD terrorism because of the phenomenon of new terrorism, which is fundamentally different from the earlier versions of terrorism.  Second, the behavioural patterns of present generation terrorism have shown change.  In South Asia the terrorism is politically motivated and various terrorist groups operating here adopt violent means only to a limited extent.  They are essentially using violence as a tool for bargain.  Today, various terror groups operating in the region are getting support from global terrorist networks like Al Qaeda/ISIS. Many such groups are found to be more interested in mass casualty terrorism and total destruction. Such terrorist groups are expected to be more likely to use WMD (CBRN) tactics. It is also important to note that terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and adjoining region could concern more on military targets (troops) in the region than civilian population.  Also, in Indian scenario it could be argued that now for last couple of decades various terrorist groups have executed few successful attacks however, they have not go much mileage out of it and their ultimate motive is not yet achieved and they actually are getting pushed much away from their objectives. Under such circumstances they could opt for WMD terrorism owing to their frustrations and to demonstrate that they exist and could go to any extent to achieve their motive.            

Broadly, it could be argued that the WMD terror threat for the South Asian region may not be very definitive; however the prospects for any likely attacks should not be ruled out.  

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WMD Terrorism: Could South Asia be the Next Target?

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