Even Pakistan Is Worried About A Dirty Bomb

IS’s threat of nuclear terrorism
Dirty Bomb

With the establishment of Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, and its secret networks and propaganda campaign in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the international community has now focused on the proliferation and smuggling of chemical and biological weapons in the region. The recent debate in Europe-based think tanks suggests that, as the group retrieved nuclear and biological material from the Mosul University in Iraq, it can possibly make nuclear explosive devices with less than eight kilogrammes plutonium. The debate about bioterrorism and bio-defence is not entirely new in the military circles of South Asia; the involvement of IS in using biological weapons against the Kurdish army in Kobane is a lesson for Pakistan and Afghanistan to deeply concentrate on the proliferation of these weapons in the region.

A document from Pakistan’s Internal Security Policy (2014-2018) categorically stated that the country’s security faces the threat of nuclear terrorism. The threat, according to the document’s contents, is in addition to the possibility of chemical and biological terrorism. As the fatal war against terrorism has entered a crucial phase, another powerful extremist militant group (IS) has emerged with a strong and well-trained army in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan to establish an Islamic state. The massacre of 100 innocent civilians, including an Afghan national army soldier in the Ajristan district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan by IS forces, and the brutal killings of children in the army school in Peshawar have raised serious questions about the future of security and stability in South Asia. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility and called it a revenge attack for the Pakistan army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and FATA regions.

As Islamic State (IS) now controls parts of Iraq and Syria and has carried out successful attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the group now wants to expand its terror networks from Afghanistan to Kashmir. According to some confirmed reports, hundreds of Pakistanis have joined the army of IS in Syria and Iraq. In October 2014, six leaders of the TTP announced their allegiance to IS. IS propaganda material has begun to crop up in various parts of Pakistan. Secret networks of IS are in contact with different sectarian and political groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and receive financial assistance from business communities. The TTP commanders of Orakzai Agency, Kurram Agency, Khyber Agency, Peshawar and Hangu district have announced their allegiance to the IS military command.

The problem of nuclear and biological terrorism deserves special attention from the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan because the army of IS can develop a dirty bomb in which explosives can be combined with a radioactive source like those commonly used in hospitals or extractive industries. The use of this weapon might have severe health effects, causing more disruption than destruction. Political and military circles in Pakistan fear that, as IS has already seized chemical weapons in Al Muthanna, in northern Iraq, some disgruntled retired military officers or experts in nuclear explosive devices might help the Pakistan chapter of the group deploy biological and chemical weapons. A letter by the Iraqi government to the UN warned that the militant-captured chemical weapons site contains 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the nerve agent Sarin.

In Europe, there is the general perception that IS has already used some dangerous gases in Iraq. Therefore, it could use biological weapons against civilian populations in Pakistan. If control over these weapons is weak, or if their components are available in the open market, there would be huge destruction in the region. In July 2014, the government of Iraq notified that nuclear material had been seized by the IS army from Mosul University. IS has a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons, and a 26-page religious fatwa that allows the use of weapons of mass destruction. “If Muslims cannot defeat the kafir (non-believers) in a different way, it is permissible to use weapons of mass destruction,” warns the fatwa.

The effects of chemical weapons are worse as they cause death or incapacitation, while biological weapons cause death or disease in humans, animals or plants. We have two international treaties that ban the use of such weapons. Notwithstanding all these preventive measures, the threat of chemical or biological warfare persists. In 2011 and 2013, there were complaints and allegations that some states wanted to target Pakistan with biological weapons. The country has been trying to counter biological attacks but has failed due to limited funds and medical knowledge. As Pakistan noted in its statement to the Meeting of States Parties in December 2013: “Pakistan ratified the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1974 as a non-possessor state and remains fully committed to implementing all provisions of the convention.”

The fatalities of dengue and ebola viruses in Pakistan and West Africa are the worst forms of bioterrorism. In 2011, the Pakistan Medical Association called on the ISI to investigate fears of the deliberate spread of the deadly disease in Punjab. There are speculations that, in future, measles, dengue, polio and the ebola viruses can be used as weapons of bioterrorism in Pakistan. Some states might use drones for the purposes of bio-war against their rival states. In 2013, writing in the Global Policy journal, Amanda M Teckman warned that IS might possibly use ebola as a weapon against the civilian population: “It remains to be seen if a terrorist group like IS, which has demonstrated a willingness to engage in large scale mass murder, including the uninhibited murder of civilians, has the capability to produce a weaponised version of ebola.” The University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report warned that terrorists could also turn remotely piloted aircraft into flying bombs by hooking them up to improvised explosive devices. Sir David, a former British intelligence researcher, warned that drones had gained a reputation as unaccountable killing machines because of their widespread use in the US’s controversial anti-terrorist campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The writer is the author of Punjabi Taliban and can be reached at zai.musakhan222@gmail.com

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