The Corona Tandav – Biological war unleashed?
The Corona virus is causing havoc in every country on this planet, it is literally a dance of death, raging uncontrollably. There is widespread concern that this is an artificially engineered virus, most probably, part of a larger biological warfare program. There is a strong suspicion that the virus was engineered at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute houses a lab with a biosafety rating of 'P4’, the maximum possible, which is determined by the level of danger posed by the pathogens studied there. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, has opined that an accidental outbreak at the Wuhan laboratory might have released the virus. Whether accidental or deliberate, the world is experiencing its first rub with a biological weapon of mass destruction. Many secret laboratories around the world are in fact storehouses of deadly unknown viruses. Future wars are likely to be virus and bacteria wars, about which ordinary doctors, hospitals, and testing laboratories have absolutely no inkling whatsoever. That is how the Corona virus obtained complete sway across the globe. Scientists are toiling in laboratories for a potent antidote, as the virus rapidly mutates. Nobody has any idea how long this pandemic will go on and what are its aftereffects on the coming generations.
The earliest evidence of biological warfare was the suspected usage of small pox infected clothing against Native Americans by British Colonialists in the early 1760s. One of the first recorded uses of biological warfare occurred in 1347, when Mongol forces are reported to have catapulted plague-infested bodies over the walls into the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya, Ukraine). However, use of biological warfare agents date back to antiquity. Scythian archers infected their arrows by dipping them in decomposing bodies or in blood mixed with faeces. Dead animals were used to contaminate wells and other sources of water.
During World War I, the German Army developed anthrax, glanders, cholera, and a wheat fungus specifically for use as biological weapons. They allegedly spread plague in St. Petersburg, Russia. There are many other documented evidences of development of biowarfare agents for use during World War II by different nations. Sensing the danger to humanity, caused by several nations, clandestinely pursuing Bioweapons program, a Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was passed in 1972, and signed by many countries. However, this convention has failed to live up to its expectations, and nations continue to dabble in experimenting with viruses and bacteria of all kinds, in secret and isolated laboratories.
India needs to learn a lot of important lessons from this pandemic, as we are facing aggravated terrorist attacks every day on our borders. Additionally, internal conflicts are being created by Naxalites and Maoists routinely. These outlaws are witnessing and learning the havoc that biological weapons can cause. Many terror organizations will be evaluating the efficacy of a bio-war, when compared to other forms of armed aggression. There will be no need to have terror bases, manpower recruitment,arms & ammunition, risky border incursions and encounters with armed forces. A make-shift lab and a few scientists can create havoc in any country, just a lone carrier wandering in populated cities can kill large number of people, cause unending national lockdowns, cripple health systems, cause economic deprivation, loss of livelihood, and block international travel. The biggest attraction for this type of warfare is the safe preservation of economic assets, while decimating the population.
Almost all nations have been caught off-guard by the pandemic- health systems, stocks of vital medicines, medical oxygen, doctors, nurses, and burial grounds, all are totally inadequate. Whether East or West, there is total breakdown in all sectors. Terror groups and sponsors of terror will be keenly watching and evaluating the success of this weapon. In the not-too-distant future, terror groups will be brandishing bio-weapons to terrorise and blackmail countries into submission.
India needs to formulate a clear-cut strategy to handle future bio-weapon assaults. We have been forewarned, now it is time to be forearmed. The following measures can be considered:
- Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons (CBRN) treatment and safeguards should be made part of MBBS, AYUSH, and all para-medical courses.
- All medical colleges should start P.G. Diploma course in handling CBRN cases and treatment protocols.
- Every NABH certified hospital should have a CBRN unit for treatment. Where feasible, every government district hospital should have a CBRN unit.
- Every airport/seaport/land entry point/foreign post office/major courier hub should have CBRN units in readiness.
- All Central Police Organizations, enforcement agencies should have independent CBRN units. (A few already have).
- Appropriate legislations to be brought in to impose preventive detention and mandatory minimum imprisonment of 10 years for anyone in anyway associating with CBRN related activities, without valid and proper authorisation.
- Constitute a CBRN Offences Board, similar to COFEPOSA Board for quick detention of CBRN related offenders.
- Constitute a permanent CBRN Taskforce that will handle all kinds of pandemics and accidents. (like Chernobyl and Fukushima).
- Constitute a CBRN Tribunal equivalent to High Court, whose orders are appealable only to Supreme Court. No other kind of judicial interference in CBRN cases.
- Set up an independent CBRN Ministry to be manned by scientists, military, police and enforcement agencies.
The suspected adversary is Xi Jinping ruling China, an authoritarian regime, not shackled by any Opposition parties, judiciary, media and international pressures of any kind. Contrast this with India – a raucous democracy, mired in agitations, litigations, and constantly badgered by a biased media. CBRN related offences have to be handled in an authoritarian manner and not pussyfooting, democracies around the world are at a marked disadvantage. But let us be inspired by our past, when the combined British-Indian forces shattered China in the Opium Wars. Time to teach the Dragon another shattering experience.
(The author is former Director General, National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics, Faridabad; Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, Monterey, USA)