The Chemical and Biological Weapons prohibited under international conventions are slowly and surreptitiously finding their way back into periphery conflicts. The accusations include the Syrian Conflict, ‘Skripal Incident’ in UK, cyber hacking of OPCW offices in Hague, Holland and Indian held Kashmir. India is also being accused of using riot control agents, incendiaries and chemicals against freedom fighters in Indian Held Kashmir. 

Indian chemical industry is well advanced and Bhopal Tragedy is a case in point of India importing and producing dual use chemicals. Indian chemical or front companies are known to be selling dual use chemicals to Iraq, and Syria. Considering seven decades of military dependence, their cooperation with Russia cannot be ruled out. 

In Syria, these weapons have been used by rebel groups supported by USA and its allies. Egged on by Russia and an article published in this daily, Syria quickly moved to invite OPCW to inspect all its facilities. Though a clean chit was obtained, the fact that access was limited in conflict zones leaves doubts. Russia is still trying to hack into OPCW systems, most probably to obtain information on grey areas. As events indicate, something is fishy and a lot is going on. 

Chemical companies in USA France, India, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Malaysia, Italy, Singapore, USSR, Japan, China, North Korea, Germany, Thailand, Netherlands, Austria, and UK had circumvented sanction to keep supplying dual-use chemicals to Iraq, Libya and Syria during the nineties. Even after CWC came into force there is evidence of German, British and Indian companies providing chemicals to Syria used to produce Sarin, a lethal chemical. 

Britain accused Russian intelligence of using two detectives with nerve agents that almost killed a former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal turned double agent and his daughter. Later two British citizens contacted the same nerve agent in mysterious circumstances and are recovering in hospital. Russia was quick to deny allegations but complicated the matter through many twists to the tales it created including a dubious interview of the alleged agents on state media. 

Western intelligence has drawn a detailed narrative about Russian involvement in chemical attacks in Syria and Britain, linked it to confusion created by Russia and repeated attempts by GRU Close Access Unit to hack OPCW Headquarters in Hague, World Anti-Doping Agency and UK Foreign Office. A similar unit was caught red handed in Hague by British and Dutch Joint Intelligence for hacking attempts on OPCW. Following the UK-Dutch pre-emption, Russia’s Defense Ministry on 4 October 2018 accused USA of running a clandestine biological weapons programme in Georgia, posing a direct security threat to Russia. USA rubbished the allegation. 

India has had a long term and historic arms relationship with Russia. Suspicions about their cooperation in chemical weapons always existed. India could have acted as a waypoint on Russian behest. In the late nineties, when the Convention for Prohibition in Use of Chemical Weapons was being intensely debated, India vehemently denied manufacturing or maintaining any chemical facilities. In 1996 India ratified the convention and signed it as a country that never involved in any such activity. At the same time, India curiously kept pushing its closest ally Russia to destroy all its stockpiles and facilities and ratify the treaty. 

As a confidence-building measure, Pakistan and India signed a Joint Declaration on the Complete Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 1992, undertaking not to develop, produce, acquire or use chemical weapons. Both countries signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993. From the Indian side, this was a hoax. Though Pakistan verifiably adhered to its commitments, in 1997, India after ratification as a compliant country declared that it was involved in research, production and trials of chemical weapons and had military stockpiles. In 1997, India declared 1,044 tons of Sulfur Mustard, a basic compound for manufacturing various types of mustard gas agents including Sarin. 

This was a huge quantity by military estimates. The evidence of field testing of this chemical in firing ranges is empirically available in the local population of Maharashtra with high incidence of mysterious sicknesses and cancer. Pakistan decried India's declaration as a breach of the 1992 Joint Declaration, but nonetheless ratified the treaty later that year. Pakistan did not declare any chemical agent production facilities or stockpiles. Pakistan’s compliance with OPCW and Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) is of Good Standing. 

OPCW declared that destruction of Indian chemicals was completed in 2009 making India the third state to completely destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. Pakistan failed to substantially push the verification procedures but held back ratification of the convention till October 1997. In simple words, Pakistan let India off the hook. 

This did not mean that Pakistan’s suspicions about the Indian use of chemical weapons against its forces deployed on LOC and Kashmiri Freedom Fighters were allayed. 

In 1997, India had used a suspicious non persistent agent on the line of control to raid a Pakistani protective detachment. Prior to the raid, the entire post was incapacitated with some unknown chemical. The murder of Pakistani soldiers was brutal. 

Again in 1999, Pakistan accused India of firing chemical shells across the line of Control. These were once again non persistent agents that dissipated quickly. Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts were lukewarm and India did not permit inspectors of United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in the area. Later, these incidents were overshadowed by Kargil War. 

Ever since the escalation of freedom struggle in Indian held Kashmir, there are repeated accusations of Indian security forces using a mix of riot control agents, non-persistent chemicals, white phosphorous, incendiaries and pellet guns against armed and unarmed civilians. Wherever, the resistance is strong, India employs a scorched earth policy using incendiaries.  Being a universally accepted disputed territory under UN Resolutions and a legitimate freedom struggle thereof, India continues to flout international conventions while resorting to such weapons of mass destruction. 

On 4 July 2017, the Indian Army had destroyed houses in South Kashmiri’s Pulwama district and incinerated 3 Kashmiri beyond recognition. Use of white phosphorous to burn wooden houses is common. Soon after, Pakistan called for an international investigation of the incidents. A foreign office handout said, “We call upon the international community, particularly, relevant international organisations to initiate investigations into reports about Indian forces in the Indian Occupied Kashmir, using ammunition containing chemical agents and precursors to kill Kashmiri youth and destroy Kashmiri properties.” But this is where it ended. 

Curiously Pakistan in 1996-99 and 2017 was ruled by PMLN with a reputation for going soft on India. It is hoped that Pakistan’s foreign office and arms control organisations under the PTI government will become more observant and proactive. Chemical and biological weapons are surfacing once again in Pakistan’s proximately and the government should never be caught napping.


The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person