Pakistan’s CWC Act 2000, Pakistan Bio Safety Rules 2005 and Pakistan Export Control Act 2004 are the evidence of Pakistan's sincerity to the implementation of CWC and BWC. Because of the dedicated efforts of science and policy leaders in Pakistan, the country is on the road to becoming a regional role model in ensuring biosafety and capacity for biosecurity.
The current trends in the prevailing national and global security environment have multiplied the challenges associated with multilateral arms control, non-proliferation, and international security. Amid this situation, stronger national controls and oversight are the key for any State to address the challenges from emerging threats
The events of chemical weapons use in Syria, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and according to some report in Ukraine has raised the possibility of its use by state and non-state actors in the future. Chemical weapons are proving their efficiency and utility in present-day conflicts. In the continuously volatile environment found in South Asia, the possibility of the threat or use of these agents as weapons cannot be altogether disregarded. Pakistan and India are both signatories of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention. However, the possibility of malevolent use of these dual-use agents cannot be disregarded without the presence of strong national oversight and control.
Pakistan and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:
Pakistan’s strict adherence to international obligations was recognized by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW) as it co-organized a training course for first responders in Islamabad in 2022. The training was carried out in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Organization of Pakistan (DESTO)at the Regional Chemical Weapons Convention Assistance and Protection Centre. Nineteen representatives from 11 OPCW States parties attended the course. This reflects Pakistan’s commitment to furthering the OPCW’s mission to implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention to achieve a world free of chemical weapons and the threat of their use, and in which chemistry is used for peace, progress, and prosperity – to make the world a safer place through sharing its expertise to enhance other member states knowledge, skills, and capacity building of emergency responders.
Non-state actors and chemical weapons
The potential for illegal proliferation of chemicals, safety and security of the chemical industry and chemical terrorism present grave challenges in the prevailing global security environment, especially given the renewed interest of non-state actors in utilizing these weapons for terrorism purposes. A recent OPCW report regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a case in point. During the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, Russia’s state Investigative Committee says it is examining the alleged use of chemical weapons by Ukrainian forces near the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut. Donetsk People’s Republic, one of Russia’s proxies in the territories it has occupied in eastern Ukraine, reported the use of chemical weapons by Ukrainian drones. Earlier, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said that during the special military operation in Ukraine, Russian forces unearthed evidence pointing to an emergency cleanup by the Kiev regime of traces of a military biological program carried out in Ukraine and bankrolled by the US Department of Defense.
These challenges further underscore the importance of OPCW in enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)to prohibit the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. Yet despite this danger, chemical weapons have received less attention from academics, international organizations, and policymaking bodies as compared to nuclear weapons historically. This is also evident from the statement given by Myanmar’s representative that the path to chemical and biological weapons was easier and cheaper than developing a nuclear bomb. History has shown that the use of chemical and biological agents as weapons had even more adverse effects than conventional weapons whenever they were used on the battlefield. In 1915, during World War I, Germany was accused of using cholera in Italy and plague in St. Petersburg. Examples of the use of these weapons against insurgents include Spain (Rif war, 1921-1927), Italy (1935-1936), Egypt (1963-1967), Rhodesia (mid-late 1970s), South Africa(1980s), Libya (1987), Iraq (1988), and Syria (2013-ongoing).
Pakistan’s position on chemical and biological weapons:
Pakistan is a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), two important international treaties aimed at preventing the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons respectively. Pakistan has been in full compliance with the provisions of the CWC since its accreditation and remains committed to full, effective and balanced implementation of these conventions. In 2015, the US State Department confirmed that there was no indication that Pakistan was out of compliance with its BTWC commitments.
Pakistan's National Authority, established under the National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention (NACWC) Act 2013, is responsible for implementing the provisions of the CWC, coordinating with the OPCW - the implementing body of the CWC - and ensuring that all activities related to chemicals are carried out in accordance with the provisions of the convention. Pakistan has demonstrated its commitment to the CWC and BWC and has worked towards fulfilling its obligations under these international treaties.
In addition to the National Authority, Pakistan has established a system of inspection and monitoring to ensure that no chemical weapons are produced or used within the country or anywhere in the world. A system of feedback to OPCW is also in place to ensure that the organization is aware of all activities related to chemicals in Pakistan. Pakistan regularly hosts inspectors from the OPCW for routine inspections of the declared chemical industries. Pakistan has served as a member of the Executive Council on several occasions since the inception of OPCW in 1997, most recently for the term 2022-2024. The country has also been serving as Coordinator of the Asian Group since the establishment of the Organization in 1997.
With continued efforts to curb the production of biological weapons, Pakistan has actively participated in the meetings of the BWC and has taken measures to enforce the provisions of the convention. A National Authority for the Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention (NABWC)was also established to oversee the provisions of the BWC and coordinate with the international community on issues related to NABWC.
Building trust in biosafety
Pakistan’s CWC Act 2000, Pakistan Bio Safety Rules 2005 and Pakistan Export Control Act 2004 are the evidence of Pakistan's sincerity to the implementation of CWC and BWC. Because of the dedicated efforts of science and policy leaders in Pakistan, the country is on the road to becoming a regional role model in ensuring biosafety and capacity for biosecurity. Furthermore, Pakistan was involved in the Complete National Implementation of its Commitments to CWC and Adherence to Export controls in the line of the Australia Group (AG), despite being a non-member.
Pakistan has a principled position regarding such weapons and is fully committed to the objectives of OPCW’s work. Pakistan shares all the information in a very careful and thorough way required in this regard as a responsible state which is evident from the Director General’s recognition of Pakistan’s role as a member of the Executive Council and its contribution to different capacity-building programs. We believe these encouraging developments have managed to sustain a growth trajectory by Pakistan in the domain of BWC and CWC. There remains much more that can be done thus to re-evaluate the efficacy of OPCW to deal with the threats associated with chemical weapons because we have seen many situations where great power politics takes over rationality. Pakistan did well and must continue to support the global cause of peace and ensure that her diplomatic power is sided with those who are in need or at least are bidders of global norms vested in international law. On this matter of OPCW, Pakistan surrounded by regional and international circumstances had always wanted to find an appropriate way forward to protect its national interest and ensure all necessary diplomatic actions to raise its voice at OPCW.
(The author is pursuing an M.Phil degree at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Views are personal. He can be contacted at Usmanalikhan6@gmail.com)