As international media focuses on the looming threat of chemical and biological terrorism in Asia and Europe, IS is seeking nuclear weapons
For more than two decades, the threat of nuclear and biological terrorism has been at the forefront of the international security agenda. Nuclear experts warn that terrorists and extremist organisations operating in South Asia must be prevented from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction and from perpetrating atrocious acts of nuclear terrorism. India and Pakistan have applied professional measures to protecting their nuclear weapons sites but nuclear proliferation still poses a grave threat to the national security of all South Asian states. Military experts and policymakers have also expressed deep concerns that if the two nuclear capable states purvey explosives to their favourite terror groups, it might cause huge destruction and casualties for the civilian populations and military installations. Recent events in Pakistan and India have raised the prospect of extremist and jihadist groups using biological, radiological and chemical attacks against military installations and critical national infrastructure in both states. The two states are vulnerable to such attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State (IS).
The greatest threat to the national security of Pakistan and India stems from nuclear smuggling and terror groups operating in Punjab, Balochistan, Assam and Kashmir. Increasingly sophisticated chemical and biological weapons are accessible to organisations like IS, Mujahideen-e-Hind (MH), and the Taliban and their allies, which is a matter of great concern. These groups can use more sophisticated conventional weapons as well as chemical and biological agents in India and Pakistan in the near future, as they have already experimented in Iraq and Syria. They can disperse chemical, biological and radiological material as well as industrial agents via water or land to target schools, colleges, civilian and military personnel. On June 6, 2015, Pajhwok News reported that dozens of schoolgirls were targeted by unknown terrorists using biological agents in Panj Aab district of Bamyan province. This could also happen in Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Delhi and Mumbai unless the export control regime is tightened.
As international media focuses on the looming threat of chemical and biological terrorism in Asia and Europe, IS is seeking nuclear weapons but retrieving these weapons from the country is not an easy task. Pakistan has established a strong nuclear force to safeguard all nuclear sites 24 hours a day with modern military technology. The crisis is going to get worse as the exponential network of IS and its popularity in Afghanistan creates deep security challenges for Pakistan and its Taliban allies. This group could use chemical and biological weapons once it gains footing in Afghanistan. For this reason, Pakistan is trying to push the Afghan Taliban towards a political settlement in Afghanistan to prevent IS from gaining control of the country. IS and the Taliban are not the only security challenges for Pakistan; the country is also facing many social and economic problems, including electricity shortages.
Pakistan is seeking civilian nuclear technology to meet its electricity needs. For this reason, the country entered its seventh round of strategic dialogue with the US, which ended last week without any result. The US turned down Pakistan’s demand of access to civilian nuclear technology and argued for focus on its non-proliferation credentials because the country always suffers from a negative image due to its tenuous nuclear non-proliferation regime. The possibility of a nuclear technology transfer to Saudi Arabia is still reverberating in the press, although on June 5, 2015, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry ruled out sharing nuclear secrets with Saudi Arabia, insisting that nuclear assets would continue to serve Pakistan alone. The foreign secretary strongly rejected the rumours that Pakistan is about to sell nuclear arms to Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with a local television channel, Dr Abdul Qadir Khan categorically said that nuclear smuggling activities did take place from 1992 to 1998 while both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were in power. However, Mr Chaudhry said his country had significantly cracked down on proliferation in recent years, improving its export controls and providing the United Nations Nuclear Monitors with all the necessary information. Pakistani politicians are confident that the country’s army is capable of preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of the Taliban and IS. The fear that India and Pakistan could use nuclear weapons against each other in case of a major terror attack has not ebbed. Pakistan says it will not use nuclear weapons against its neighbours without any reason but if India were to do so, the country has the right to respond to an Indian attack. According to the nuclear doctrine of Pakistan, nuclear weapons would only be used according to the principles therein.
India’s policymakers are facing a strategic conundrum about how to undermine or respond to the terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2002 and 2008, both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh’s governments faced an unstable situation in India. The issue of the Cold Start doctrine and the possibility of an Indian abrupt nuclear attack in Pakistan has been elucidated in a recently published research paper (George PerKovich and Toby Dalton, 2015): “Today, Indian military analysts also increasingly recognise the risk of even limited ground operation, not withstanding initial excitement over the more finely calibrated plans proffered by proponents of the so called ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, similar to the ground option, with Indian forces limiting the depth of their thrust so as not to cross Pakistan’s nuclear red lines. Yet, even a limited response that puts Indian boots on Pakistani soil could quickly escalate to major operations that would result in more casualties than would have been suffered in the initial terrorist attack. And, the more Indian forces were succeeding on Pakistani territory, the greater the incentive Pakistan leaders would feel to use nuclear weapons to repulse them.”
However, experts say that India does not have the capability to carry out a special operation inside Pakistan with precision air support. Pakistan has a strong air force and has adorned its submarines with nuclear weapons. In February 2012, the country announced that it had started work on the construction of nuclear submarines to better meet the Indian navy’s nuclear threat. The current threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons proliferation signals trouble, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia, which will not be redressed without resolving regional conflicts, which may in turn require internal political changes. India and Pakistan need to implement nuclear risk reduction measures. Terrorists want to buy or steal nuclear material to fabricate a crude bomb or to make or detonate radiological weapons.
The writer is the author of Punjabi Taliban and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biological and Nuclear War in South Asia | Musa Khan Jalalzai