The continuous presence and further development of chemical weapons cast a dark shadow on peace initiatives initiated by the OPCW
During the meeting with Ahmet Uzumcu, Director General (DG) of the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who was on a two-day visit to Pakistan, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz once again reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the objectives of the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons (CWC). He also stated that Pakistan will remain actively engaged with the OPCW.
During the visit, Uzumcu expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s remarkable contribution to the work of OPCW. He also inaugurated the newly established Regional CWC Assistance and Protection Centre. During the 20th session of conference of states party to the CWC, Pakistan was unanimously re-elected as member of the executive council of the OPCW for the term 2016-2018.
Indeed, Pakistan’s efforts for the prohibition of use of chemical weapons are exemplary. As a confidence building measure, it has signed a joint agreement on the complete prohibition of chemical weapons with India in 1992. In response to Syrian chemical weapons issue, the official stance of Pakistani representatives to the OPCW was that “Pakistan remains opposed to the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances, and finds it totally unacceptable.”
Toxic chemicals generally known as chemical weapons, have historically received significantly less attention as compared to nuclear weapons. Yet, these weapons of mass destruction have been massively used not only in battle fields but also in conflict zones. From World War 1 (WW1) to the current crisis in Syria and Iraq, hundreds of thousands people lost their lives or handicapped. During WW1 the massive usage of chemical weapons caused more than 100,000 fatalities and a million casualties. Unfortunately, we don’t have accurate statistical data to prove disastrous consequences of chemical weapons but it is widely believed that the ratio of causalities are far enormous than what is mentioned in publically known documents.
The OPCW has 192 member states and it is the implementing body of chemical weapons convention. The major objectives of OPCW are destruction of existing chemical weapons, monitoring of chemical industries to prevent new weapons, assistance and protection to party states against chemical weapons, and international cooperation for implementation of the convention and promote peaceful use of chemistry.
Since its inception, CWC has demonstrated that chemical weapons can be verifiably prohibited and it has been instrumental in making such weapons illegitimate weapons of warfare. Its struggle for the abolition of these weapons is indeed remarkable. The monitoring of thousands of chemical industries around the world has never been an easy task. It requires continuous attention as well as monitoring of such facilities to avoid any kind of misadventure. In recognition of its tireless efforts, OPCW was awarded with Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for dismantling of chemical weapons in Syria.
In her appraisal for the work of OPCW, Angela Kane, the top United Nations (UN) disarmament official stated, “If he were alive today, Alfred Nobel would be gratified indeed that his committee has once again recognised disarmament for its great benefit to humanity.”
With the emergence of militant organisation like the IS, incidents of chemical terrorism seem more likely to occur. In September 2015, the UN official reported that the IS is making and using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria. The official further stated that the US has identified at least four occasions on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border where IS has used mustard agents. Chaotic regions particularly Syria and Iraq have become safe havens for such terror organisations to operate and use weapons of mass destruction on major scale. Unfortunately, global community has paid less attention to these increasing chemical weapons threats.
Though, IS is a common enemy for entire world community yet, the US and Russia, the two major powers, couldn’t find common grounds in fight against IS. Both Moscow and Washington need cooperation not only in the fight against terror but also to realise their joint potential to save the entire Middle East from further chemical attacks. What lacks is a comprehensive strategy from both eastern and western blocs in dealing with one of the deadliest terror outfits. A number of experts who are capable of manufacturing deadly weapons from raw materials are believed to be among the IS’ new recruits. It will be disastrous if Russia and the US fail to come up with a comprehensive strategy to wipe-out the IS. The spill-over effect will bring more chaos not only in Middle East but in other parts of the world too.
The world we are living in is passing though the phase of unprecedented scientific advancement and technological innovation. Scientific knowledge has brought many benefits to society but has also at times been a source of profound social evils. The continuous presence and further development of chemical weapons cast a dark shadow on peace initiatives particularly initiated by the OPCW. It also puts a question mark on scientific community too. It is the moral obligation of scientists and engineers to use scientific knowledge for the betterment of world community. With collective efforts, we can save millions of lives from the disastrous consequences of chemical weapons.
The writer is a doctoral student in Education at the University of New Mexico