A group of cyber researchers discovered that an “end-to-end” cyber-biological attack can trick scientists into unintentionally creating dangerous viruses in their laboratories.
Cyber security is an increasingly major issue and has become everyone’s problem. While tech teams may be ahead of the game in terms of understanding the risks, nobody had really thought of the situation where hackers can dupe DNA scientists into creating deadly viruses. Recently, a team of researchers poses a frankly wild-sounding question: Could a computer hack result in scientists being tricked into creating a piece of genetic code that’s harmful, or potentially toxic – rather than being helpful?
The answer to the above question probably seems ‘yes’ to a team of Israeli researchers. A group of cyber researchers from the Israel-based Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in a paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, said that as DNA synthesis becomes more widespread, concerns regarding cyberattack intervening with synthetic DNA orders could lead to the synthesis of nucleic acids encoding parts of pathogenic organisms or harmful proteins and toxins.
A group of cyber researchers has discovered that an “end-to-end” cyber-biological attack can trick scientists into unintentionally creating dangerous toxins or viruses in their laboratories. More often it is believed that a criminal need to have physical contact with a dangerous substance to produce and deliver it. But this is not the case in this situation, it is the malware here that could easily replace a short sub-string in the DNA structure on a bioengineer’s computer so that they can unintentionally produce a toxin.
Security flaw could trick scientists:
Medical professionals or bio-scientists use synthetic DNA for a variety of reasons, including the development of immunogens for creating vaccines. This synthesis of DNA helps scientists to design and fabricate biological components and systems that do not already exist in the natural world.
The Israeli researchers recently developed and tested an end-to-end attack that changes data on a bioengineer’s computer in order to replace short DNA sub-strings with malicious code. Traditionally, it was believed that physical access to the laboratory is necessary, but the situation is totally different. If today, terrorists wanted to spread a virus or toxin, they could simply do it by hijacking a reputable lab with the help of malware.
According to the recent study, the researchers claim that a simple trojan horse and a bit of hidden code could turn medicine into malice. The researchers also described a scenario wherein a Trojan horse is used to infect a researcher’s computer. When the researcher is ready to order synthetic DNA, the malware jumbles the DNA order and obfuscate DNA sub-strings that are harmful and toxic.
The most dangerous part of this situation is that the researchers remain clueless about the fact that the DNA structure has been changed by the hackers or bioterrorists in order to create a deadly virus that is highly harmful to the society.
The threat is real:
The threat is obviously very real but is highly dangerous at the same time. With all the advancements in technology, our Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not advanced enough yet to detect these kinds of attacks.
It is important to note that DNA replication services synthesize DNA in numbers thus making it impossible for humans to check each sequence. Therefore, we mostly rely on automation and AI to make sure that everything is in place, but when anomalies show up the machines turn to humans to make a call. In this case, humans likely wouldn’t be able to see through the problems and most of the time remains unaware of the malice in the system.
At a time where scientists worldwide are pushing ahead with the development of potential vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, these researchers believe that scientists could be duped into producing toxins or synthetic viruses on their behalf through targeted cyberattacks.
The probable cyberwarfare:
In the recent study, researchers reveal, how malware is used to infiltrate a biologist’s computer and replace sub-strings in DNA sequencing. The researchers found that accessibility to the synthetic gene engineering workflow, with insufficient cyber security controls, can allow malware to interfere with biological processes within the bio scientist’s lab, making it possible to exploit the DNA molecule.
Researchers said that this DNA injection attack with the help of a malicious code can alter biological processes that could harm the society. Cyber dangers are now spilling over to the physical space, blurring the separation between the digital world and the real world, especially with increasing levels of automation in the biological lab and therefore, best practices and standards must be used into operational biological protocols to combat these threats.
Lessons for Taiwan from the Russia-Ukraine War
There is no doubt about the fact that the recent vicious invasion of Ukraine at the hands of Russia has sent the whole world in a flurry of serious thoughts, stress, anxiety, panic, and shock. Numerous small countries are constantly in a state of fear that the actions akin to the Russians on Ukraine, can be replicated on their soils as well. Seeing the devastations that Russian bombs and missiles have wrought upon once-tranquil Ukrainian cities have made instigated Taiwan to become more alert and vigilant against the potential threat, China. Having a similar motive as that of Putin, the Chinese Communist Party also seeks to annex Taiwan, despite having never ruled it, and eliminate Taiwanese identity. Many Taiwanese, drawing inferences from Ukraine’s current reality as something that could befall their homeland, have resorted to planning to secure citizenship elsewhere while a few of them are determined to stay and fight. This determination and willingness to fight against the mighty China, who for the record hasn’t fought a single war since 1979, has gained robust momentum since the Ukrainian government, civil society and diaspora have responded to Russia’s onslaught with gusto. While the military preparations are at play, Taiwan can learn much more effective lessons in the areas of public diplomacy, representation at the UN, strategic communications, cyber defense, etc.
Public Diplomacy and global representation have played a vital role for Ukraine in keeping its side and presenting its piece to the whole world. The words or dialogue in response to heavy missiles and bombarding may appear to be insignificant but have rather landed huge global support and also laid the foundation for newer strategies and plans. Furthermore, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s entertainment background has also been a key influencer in projecting the serious image of Ukraine’s dire condition to other democratic nations. The regular tweets and Instagram updates of the foreign calls with other democratic counterparts have pressed the big democracies in the world to lend their support and leaders to chalk out defense plans. The idea of putting and publicizing every small update and discussion out on social media in front of domestic as well as global audiences has not only inclined the world towards Ukraine but has also pushed Russia into the palisade.
The Public diplomacy technique has resulted in many welcome visits from several EU and NATO member governments to Ukraine during the invasion to signal support on the international stage. Furthermore, the Ukrainian society has also showcased the ideological conflict as a battle between autocracies and democracies to bind together and build more support with other democratic partners globally. The Ukraine government has also pushed its Twitter stint up a notch by categorically tagging the Chinese administration in their tweets and invariably asking them to clarify their stance on the whole matter between Russia and Ukraine to reflect that upon other democratic states as well. Taiwan therefore, must pursue, adapt and incorporate these creative tangents of public diplomacy via social media to build more goodwill with democratic partners the world over as desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Ukrainian government and its foreign allies didn’t just get hyper-active during the invasion but were exceedingly and remarkably transparent even during the onset of the war. The government did not shy away from using its intelligence agencies in the lead-up to and throughout the invasion, shedding light on Russia’s motives. The news of Russia setting up troops along the boundaries of Ukraine was already out in the open thanks to the United States Intelligence officials. The US while addressing several outlets also actively denied and negated Russia’s false pretexts and claims made in furtherance of justifying the invasion. Under the US’s umbrella shade, Ukraine’s government social media accounts have also worked in pursuance of mobilizing support and international sympathy. This strategic coordination amongst democratic countries in turn resulted in a unified front in terms of security arrangements, sanctions, and export controls. The key aspect here for Taiwan to draw inference from is the way Ukraine has managed to bust its classified top-intelligence agencies’ protocol to put it in its crude form to the outside world. The narrative, though very unusual, can extend to a great deed in the events of hostilities with China and possibly can yield better results. Therefore, Taiwan officials must eye to build international coalitions and foil Chinese intelligence activities.
The only place where Russians could not impose their brute force was the cyber hub. The Ukrainian government and the whole civil society built out several mechanisms to protect critical infrastructure from cyber intrusions carried out by Russian military-affiliated hacking groups and organizations. These groups are not independent but rather well funded by foreign countries and therefore have been able to take down several Russian government websites ever since the invasion began. For instance, one of the ad-hoc mechanisms, the IT (Information Technology) Army now has more than 400,000 members actively working there, which have valiantly taken down the Belarusian railway network, Russian banks, and financial institutions, and even Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB. For Taiwan, it is necessary for the government to encourage and promote ethical hacking and further reach out to Taiwanese hacktivists abroad, to shore up protections for their critical infrastructure and attack Chinese websites in course of a Chinese invasion.
Taiwan’s ongoing preparation
Taiwan has drawn up significant inferences from Ukraine’s colossal damage, especially concerning dealing with human traumas. For instance, a Taiwanese doctor Wang Tzu-Hsuan, a women surgeon in a typically male-dominated field in the state has decided to stay back and further educate medical officials about the incoming threat of hostile events. She has decided to diversify and broaden her medical skills from her usual thyroid, liver, pancreatic and intestinal surgeries to include trauma- namely bullet and shrapnel wounds. Although, gun and bomb violence are almost non-existent in Taiwan now that the Russian-Ukraine war is on the song, the threat from China has concretized even more. Wang has, therefore, approached local groups to devise and design ways to prepare a generation of surgeons who have never experienced war for the realities of conflict.
Along with individual concerns, the Russia-Ukraine war has also set political discourse ablaze. Taiwan politicians are using the war to rationalize their views on China. While the ruling party headed by Tsai Ing-wen justifies its 5 years of buying weapons from the US, the opposition party, on the other hand, has accused the ruling party of its on-and-off frenemy with the Communists over the past century. Furthermore, the former commander of Taiwan’s military has called for the formation of a territorial defense force to deter China’s ambition.
While Taiwan eyes to incorporate significant learnings from Ukraine, China is already learning from the mistakes that Russia committed. The current invasion is reduced to a double disaster for Russian President Putin as he faces serious economic sanctions from global whilst having a poorly performing military resting in the attic. The Chinese Communist Party has also experienced such situations in the past as well and therefore it is very unlikely that Beijing, in today’s time and age would reiterate the Russian footsteps. Therefore, is actively looking and deliberately working to fix many of the problems and minimize the risks currently plaguing Russia in Ukraine. While China’s economy and army both are larger and more diversified than Taiwan’s, overestimating their role in a situation of hostility or ‘war’ would be akin to getting off on the wrong foot. The same kind of unabashed overconfidence is what overweighed on Russia. Russia’s air-ground coordination simply ceased to have any effect as Russian forces showed extremely risk-averse tendencies in the air. Russia also struggled with logistics, especially concerning the military supply in Ukraine.
Given the wave of battles between autocracy and democracy, countries like Russia and China pose a significant threat to smaller democracies like Ukraine and Taiwan. Therefore, to protect, preserve and uphold the essence of democratic sovereignty in smaller and united democratic territories, nations of a common system of governance need to come together and share vital information, strategies, and ideas to keep themselves afloat and often come out victors in course of war and hostilities.
COVID-19 – A Disaster Management baggage or A National Security Concern?
As COVID-19 cases start to intensify again after a short and peaceful interlude, the viral disease again stresses the issue that whether the disease is just a mere health emergency confided to its medical liabilities, or is it a National Security concern at large as it ostensibly affects the decisive decade i.e., 2020-2030. The Covid outbreak has conveniently presented an opportunity to reconsider the current emergency and disaster-response authorities. Not only has the disease threatened the well-being of the nation and its population but also has diverted the attention and resources of the government away from other national security threats. Hence, it is necessary for a country like India to explore and amend the old statutory framework that simply negates the healthcare challenges as national security threats. Furthermore, the geographical challenges which India anticipates with respect to China in terms of war increases manifold ever since the controversy regarding Covid-virus being synthesized in Wuhan’s lab has surfaced. The controversy did not gain major traction with WHO and other global authorities brushing it away by calling it a baseless narrative. However, if at all there is a possibility of the virus being intentionally homegrown or domestically synthesized, India should put its guards up against a major biological war.
It was on March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump invoked the National Emergency Act and the Stafford Act in response to the novel coronavirus. It was the first time that a leader of a State equated a Health crisis to a National Emergency. Needless to say, the risks of Covid were exceedingly high and the casualties caused were also unparalleled. Therefore, as the well-being of the nation was threatened and the attention and resources of the government were diverted into one single crisis as opposed to other major risks, calling it a National Security concern is simply textbook-accurate. However, the current US Federal Law is rusted when it comes to dealing with high-risk virus outbreaks that have catastrophic consequences. While it acknowledges that disease outbreaks as potential threats to national security, the orientation however is statutorily limited in preparation and prevention but has absolutely no strategical way out once the disease spreads domestically. The organization of emergency response in Federal Law presently is unilateral as opposed to the disease in hand which is rather multi-lateral.
Covid-19 has not yet perished and it is highly unlikely that it is the last one of its kind. Future diseases with more serious casualties are likely to occur again as also attested by Bill Gates in one of his Ted Talks Speeches. Hence it is necessary that disaster response and national security should not be branched into two separate paradigms by the policymakers and must be conjoined into one. Acknowledging public health crisis naturally constitutes national security and is, therefore, an important conceptual step. Hence as for the US, the Federal Law must fill up the gaps that Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on. For instance, invoking National Emergency Act was surely a brilliant move but it lacked execution. It was not exactly Congress but the law, in general, that was weak. The nature of the said statute is such that the Federal structure takes a back seat when the provision is invoked and consequently the states are left with a very large leadership vacuum which is an absolute necessity in response to such a crisis., As a result, President Donald Trump and his cabinet were widely criticized for this move as the underlying statutory framework limits the federal government’s involvement in disaster response.
On the other hand, New Zealand under the able leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern garnered lavish global praise for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic exceedingly well. While, thinkers and authorities like Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations believe that the nation has an advantage of a relatively isolated location which invariably means that the country has far fewer visitors from China or other infected areas. In addition, the director also contended that the country is also small and rich with a population widely spread out, and therefore, the success of Kiwis cannot be replicated in a populous country like the US. However, the arguments appear to be mere evasive assumptions, and credit to New Zealand’s administration must be given on all accounts, especially for taking immediate cognizance of the disease, unlike President Donald Trump who completely trivialized the issue when it first surfaced.
India’s imminent need to take cognizance of Bio-Warfare
With a strong sense of ‘We are in this together’ echoing around the world, there has been a fair share of blame game amongst the countries as well. While the infamous ‘virus escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology’ remains at the top of the ‘it’s your fault’ pyramid, the US remains second. And it’s China that has blamed the US Army for bringing the Virus to their country. Chinese diplomacy has simply rested its argument on the fact that the virus was engineered in the US and was deliberately sent to China to halt the country’s progress. The blame game will continue to exist suiting to different political spheres of distinct nations. However, it is imperative for India to consider, collocate and confidently approach the possibility of bioterrorism.
Indian military at large is not as technologically advanced as the militaries of China and the US. Although training programs concerning chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, the programs are on the back burner stewing in their own resourceless gravy. Furthermore, the country has a wide population with health facilities already taking a knee due to this pandemic. Thus, the possibility of a bio-warfare happening is indicative of India already sitting on a virus time-bomb. Japan has already taken cognizance of the matter and has started building its response against a bio-terror attack. For the first time, the country has imported five types of live viruses – Ebola, Marburg, Lass, Crimean-Congo, and South American viruses to study detection and precaution measures. Something, which India does not actively intend to do.
Another reason why India must not dismiss the possibility of a bio-war attack in the near future is simply the rise in the number of Bio-genetics labs in the US, China, and other states. While Iran and North Korea are believed to possess chemical weapons, countries like the US, Europe, Russia, and Australia also have around 50 functioning or under-construction security labs solely for the study of dangerous pathogens and churn out efficient results for their respective countries. In addition, virus sensors are largely ineffective and hence it becomes increasingly easy for a terrorist to simply ferry a contagion to other countries. The said virus can be mixed with powders, and aerosol sprays or can be infected through main, envelopes, or newspapers.
Chemical weapons were recently used in Afghanistan where people were seen suffering from blisters, severe anxiety, etc. Pertinent to mention, China endorsing and recognizing the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the nation experiencing biochemical attack episodes projects a highly probable image of the former vehemently supplying the latter with weapons and armory. Therefore India, on all accounts, must not be an ostrich for biochemical or genetic warfare in the coming future. While the United Nations explicitly bans the use of chemical weapons, the regulations are only bound to the member countries and thus can easily be used by an adversary. Quoting the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, a country like India must be prepared for all kinds of threat.
Dethroning the Queen from the Commonwealth Nations?
Officials in at least six Caribbean countries where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state have indicated that they want to depose the monarch. These countries follow Barbados, which deposed the queen as head of state in November 2021 to become the region’s newest republic.
The appeals came over the course of two months, as members of the British royal family visited the Caribbean on two different occasions this year, provoking protests at each stop. After visiting Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Prince Edward and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, will end their six-day Caribbean tour on Thursday. A scheduled stop in Grenada has been postponed, according to Buckingham Palace. In March, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, travelled to Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.
Local demonstrators in Belize and Jamaica requested a formal apology and restitution from the royal family for their role in the enslavement and brutalization of Africans. According to the Guardian, an official has been recruited to monitor the decoupling process in Jamaica, and Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told Edward and Sophie in a meeting that his country aspired to become a republic “one day.”
Why is the queen the head of state of these countries?
The British colonised all six Caribbean countries, including Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis, who have stated that they intend to remove the queen as their head of state. However, after each country obtained independence from Britain in the second part of the twentieth century, Elizabeth preserved her position as monarch and each country remained a member of the Commonwealth, which is made up of 54 former British colonies.
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tuvalu are among the 14 countries where the queen is head of state. The queen selects a representative—such as a governor-general—who is recommended by the publicly elected leader, such as the prime minister or president, in these Commonwealth territories.
Countries that are Commonwealth members but not Commonwealth kingdoms do not have the queen as their monarch, instead electing a leader from among their own people. Barbados, like all former British colonies that become republics, is still a Commonwealth member. The Commonwealth does not enact laws, but it does provide trade links and, in some situations, a platform for dispute resolution. While the majority of member countries have historical ties to the British Empire, Mozambique and Rwanda, the most recent additions, have never been under British colonial administration.
What do the six Caribbean countries want to happen?
Countries that have called for the queen to be deposed as their sovereign desire exactly that: the opportunity to elect their own head of state to handle domestic and foreign issues without relying on an external body. But the problem is more than a formality: Formerly colonial countries would be making a symbolic break with the empire that enslaved and brutalised their forefathers.
“The movement toward republicanism is based on the belief that it is time for formerly colonised countries to truly live their independence and claim self-determination, rather than being under a monarchical system,” said Verene Shepherd, chair of Jamaica’s National Commission on Reparations and chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Shepherd claims that the British royal family has not accepted responsibility for previous wrongdoings. The royals have made no pledge to openly admit and recognise their family’s slavery background. Although William expressed “deep sadness” in a speech in Jamaica in March, stating slavery “should never have happened,” observers noted that he did not apologise, as activists in Jamaica had requested.
How is the queen removed as head of state?
Like a republic, each country would be entitled to establish its own popularly elected leader, as Barbados did last year.
Removing Elizabeth as head of state would need a constitutional amendment in some nations, including Jamaica and Grenada, which would be a lengthy process that could take two to three years. For example, the governments of Jamaica and Grenada would have to call a referendum, and the motion would need a two-thirds majority vote from the public to pass—unlike in Barbados, where a two-thirds majority vote in the country’s Parliament was all that was required to swear in the country’s first president.
Why are these countries doing this now?
According to Arley Gill, Grenada’s ambassador to the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, a regional grouping of Caribbean countries and territories, several leaders of Caribbean countries signalled intentions to become republics as they met with members of the British monarchy during what was essentially a public relations campaign to “brighten up their image” in the so-called global south.
The royals were confronted with protests and demands for reparations—a formal admission of the history of enslavement and recompense for the damage done to Africans and their ancestors—during two trips in March and April, both designed to commemorate Elizabeth’s 70-year reign. According to Don Rojas, director of communications and international relations for the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, the issue had died down in recent years, but recent revelations in the press exposing how the royal family directly benefited from slavery have thrust it back onto the political agenda.
The Caribbean’s desire to break away from the British monarchy has coincided with a “rising of Black awareness” around the world, including in the Caribbean, partly fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, according to Gill. “In many ways, that has spilt over into matters like a referendum and other things.”
While the concerns of becoming a republic and receiving reparations are distinct, global demonstrations served as an inspiration and source of support for the Caribbean reparations movement. There are rumblings of pro-republicanism in practically all of the Caricom countries.
What is likely to happen next?
It is debatable. Making the decision to become a republic is a highly national one.
A committee has been established in Jamaica to oversee the process of changing the constitution. They are unable to break from the constitution’s modification procedure, but Jamaica is committed to the removal process. The current budget in Belize includes provisions for a constitutional panel to investigate the process of removing the queen. Grenada’s politicians have also called for a referendum on the country’s status as a republic. “Caricom members have a way of tracking each other,” Grenadian journalist Linda Straker stated. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we become a republic like Barbados by 2024.”
Despite this, some governments have voiced an unwillingness to remove Elizabeth. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which hosted the royal trip in April, was not one of the six Caribbean countries to declare independence in the last two months. The government attempted to remove the queen in a referendum vote in 2009, but it failed, and the prime minister has stated that he will not organise another referendum. Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, indicated that while his country aims to become a republic, it is “not now on the cards.”
However, countries have generally displayed unity in their desire to depose the queen. There is a lot of momentum for republicanism in the Caribbean right now, and it’s up to their leaders now to hit the iron while it is hot.
Massacre in Bucha
The tension between Russia and Ukraine is at an all-time high. The war has not just distorted the named states but has been having an adverse effect on the whole globe. While Russia has received a lot of backlash and global uproar for its extensive violation of human rights, Ukraine has been poured with global aid, rehabilitation programs, refugee statuses, and even manpower from the US (retired army soldiers) and many other nearby states. Russia under Putin, a fascist country whose whole intent is to re-group the states which were dismantled during the USSR and NATO breakup has been under extreme scrutiny and microscopic observation for its actions. The US, UK, and even Canada have bombarded Russia with sanctions, restraining trade and business practices with the other superpowers. The countries have also frozen their assets and even seized the resources of those states that have invariably pledged their allegiance to Putin and Russia in its entirety. Not giving much heed to these sanctions, as Russia pushes deep into Ukraine, prominent cities like Kyiv (capital of Ukraine), Kharkiv, and Mariupol are staring down the barrel. One such city which experienced the wrath of the Russian army was Bucha which led to the killings of 412 Ukrainian civilians.
Bucha, a town located about 25km to the northwest of the capital, has witnessed yet another massacre after the second world war wherein almost 412 bodies were reported to have been killed by the Russian troops in March 2022. The photographic evidence of the massacre showed corpses of civilians, lined up with their hands bound behind their banks and shot at point-blank range testifying that summary executions had taken place. The satellite images further showed that the dead bodies were left lying in the street for two weeks in their exact locations until they were found by the Ukrainian forces when they regained control of the town. Corpses were also found in a shallow mass grave in a church compound. Officials have also claimed that the children’s sanatorium was used as a ‘torture chamber’ for killing the civilians.
The shocking and disturbing discoveries have immediately drawn comparisons with the killings during World War II. Documenting the history, the reports reflect the timeline between the first and second battle of Kyiv in 1941 and 1943 respectively, when the Red Army started to push back the Germans from Ukraine, the area around the capital city Kyiv, including Bucha, saw the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ wherein an estimated 1.5 million people were shot dead at close range. The operation was so heinous that even the low-ranking Nazi paramilitaries randomly murdered civilians in homes and streets. The instances mirrored the atrocities that resurfaced 80 years later.
Bucha Residents while documenting their miseries to the Human Rights Watch told that Russian soldiers went from door to door, questioning people and looting their possessions. They further submitted that Russian armed vehicles allegedly fired arbitrarily into buildings. The Human Rights Watch in its report recounted a specific incident that highlighted the summary execution of five people being knelt down and shot in the back of the head.
Bucha Killings – Genocide or War Crime
Both expressions have been used freely with reference to the atrocities and mayhem caused in Bucha, Ukraine. However, a proper distinction must be made between the terms concerning the incidents and their sheer gravity of them to ascertain the international community’s obligation to respond to them. While Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes during the early days of the invasion which saw the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol and a theatre that was used as a shelter for children. Furthermore, President Biden has recapitulated President Putin as a ‘war criminal’ at several public appearances.
Geneva Conventions entails the definition of War Crimes. Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention summarizes war crime as the acts of deliberately targeting civilians and causing serious bodily injury or inhuman torment by way of unlawful confinement or taking up hostages. The International Criminal Court at the Hague has already launched an investigation against the possible crimes committed by Russia. The investigation can even extend to putting Putin under the radar. However, since Russia does not recognize the ICC, it would be very difficult to bring Russian defendants to trial or to even expect them to cooperate with the investigation.
Genocide on the other hand is defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention of December 1948 which includes those acts that are committed with an intent to destroy a national, ethnical, radical, or religious group. Genocide is by far, the gravest and most serious crime against humanity. Gregory Santon, chair of Genocide Watch, has contended that Russia has committed crimes of genocide on various occasions. Stanton remarked that from the definition perspective, President Putin has the intent to destroy a national group (Ukraine), and hence the act of invasion or war and the catastrophe borne by it, is nothing but genocide. However, since genocide is the most serious of all crimes, the international community refrains from using the word as freely as that War Crime, limiting the degree of taking cognizance.
China sides with Russia, calls the photographs a major ‘hoax’
In a surprising unfolding of events, China has rushed to Russia’s defense attesting to the latter’s claims of satellite images released accounting for the horrors at Bucha were a hoax. A Twitter post from a Russian government Twitter handle claimed that its forces withdrew from Bucha on 30th March while the said act of killings and summary executions is believed to have happened on 31st March. Russia has further claimed that the graphics show ‘fake dead bodies’ and was ‘staged’ after the troops left the town. Pro-Russian social media have further circulated a slowed-down version of footage claiming that the said dead bodies showcased minor movements. Another Russian think tank has claimed that the photos do not corroborate with the timings of the troops being in the city. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has further tweeted highlighting the condition of the dead bodies mentioning that the bodies cannot be kept stiffened or tied after four days. Hence the pictures which showcase that the said bodies were left astray ‘tied and stiffened’ for a period of two weeks are highly improbable and unlikely.
It is natural for Russia to rise to its defense against the allegations. It is the conduct of China that has left the world shocked and surprised. Without putting any proof, justification, or clarification forward, Chinese social media accounts and government servers have simply sided with Russia’s claims of the pictures were hoaxed. This campaign by China has not only questioned its credibility regarding the news but has also undercut the country’s effort to present itself as a neutral actor in the war, eager to promote a peaceful resolution. Chinese diplomats have rather become combatants in the informational war, discrediting international concerns and legitimizing Russia’s claims. Though China has had a history of indirectly supporting and parroting President Putin’s claim that he is on a noble cause of fighting a neo-Nazi government in Kyiv. But such sets of sweeping statements in support of Russia has alarmed the whole international community.
Who rules Pakistan – Army, Prime Minister, or Money Lenders like China and USA?
Pakistani military establishment has always been an issue concerning the State’s democratic outlook. While most democracies in the world have a dedicated body of bureaucrats and auditors to handle projects regarding finance and development, Pakistan observes a tad different mechanism. For instance, new legislation was passed in the Pakistan National Assembly in 2020 to create a China Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority that would be controlled by the Pakistan Army rather than the civilian bureaucracy. This creation of an army-run supranational authority mining bilateral relations with that of a nation like China makes it increasingly difficult to ascertain whether the country conforms to an army rule or not. Nations like India that are accustomed to the way of Pakistani Military’s operations in bureaucratic and diplomatic affairs have always shrugged their shoulders and hoped for the best. But now, since China and Pakistan share an exceedingly intimate relationship with the former pouring huge chunk of money and loaning resources to the latter, it would not be wrong to say that Pakistan is fueled by Chinese money which is certainly bad news for India. Since all of the basic operations are believed to be powered by China, needless to say, China just bought an army, with a State attached.
Military involvement in Governance and Bureaucracy
It is no longer a concealed fact that major administerial positions and offices are victims of continuous military dominance. The military dominion has led army men, both serving and retired to have comfortable posts in Pakistan’s bureaucracy. Even democratically elected leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto paved the way for appointing army men to some 83 posts at various levels. The former President Zia-ul-Haq went a step further and gave his assent to creating a Defense Services Selection Board to bring in-service officers into his government. Even under the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf brought in officers at every level, playing on the general presumption that the average military officer is better than his civilian counterpart. v
It was only the Imran Khan cabinet and tenure that dispraised the involvement of military officers in civilian posts. However, mere expressions of displeasure and disappointment lead to no substantial consequences. Excerpts of many government entities controlled by army men are still reported. Incidentally, Pakistan International Airlines is headed by an Air Marshall, heads of the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority include a Major General and a Brigadier, five federal ministers are closely linked to the military including Interior Minister Brigadier Ejaz Shah, the chairman of Port Qasim Authority is a retired Rear Admiral, and the Water and Power Development Authority is led by a retired Lt. Gen. The army forces and their allocations in the bureaucratic and diplomatic circuit are undeterred as of now. Especially since the departments are oiled by the Chinese Funds.
Time and again new legislations have been introduced in Parliament facilitating the military to fill up bureaucratic positions leading to political power erosion. For instance, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) is no longer under the control of the Prime Minster’s office as the government feels that the matter is too trivial for the chair’s attention. Furthermore, the amendment of the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010, ostensibly to satisfy the Financial Action Task Force enabling it to arrest without warrant empowering the investigating agencies manifold, with the sole intent to pressurize the opposition leaders into submission. The new internet censorship laws further elaborate on this narrative. Giving the State, unfettered powers to decide what construes as ‘extremism’ and ‘objectionable’ and later translating these brackets into arrests of major personalities such as Shakil ur Rehman, has ensured that the media stays silent during this power struggle. Ultimately, Parliament virtually caged, usually vocal and durable media tamed, and social media censored. Not much freedom is left in the state to channel the paper-inscribed ‘democracy’ on the ground, conditions akin to China.
Military Involvement in National Level Infrastructure
Dwelling deeper into the fine print, one would find that Pakistan owes almost its entire infrastructure to the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) again commanded and controlled by Major General. The organization is supposed to have an estimated annual income of $3.8 million with 56 companies attached to its name. The FWO is involved in building thermal and hydel power stations, airfields, and even major contributions to building and maintaining the Pakistan railways. Gold and copper mining further adds to the diversified portfolio. The revenues incurred by these are used to aid various corporate houses which are the outsourcers for these projects. Needless to say, these corporate houses are often run by politicians through their tertiary relatives and allies.
Along with infrastructural development, logistics and communications operations form another important parcel of the Army caravan. The National Logistics Cell managed by the Army has 6,500 civilians mostly retired servicemen managing more than 2000 heavy-duty vehicles. Furthermore, the Special Communications Organizations which recently completed the Pakistan-China Optical Fiber Cable project are also entirely run by the army.
Imran Khan’s Sacking a Statement?
The recent ousting of Imran Khan as Prime Minister has also ruffled some feathers as to whether the power really lies at the center. Historically, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was elected the PM in 1973 and launched a brutal army operation in Baluchistan in 1977 which led to major bloodshed in the country, he was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in a coup on the pretext of increased violence. Bhutto was later convicted for the murder of a political opponent and went to the gallows.
Zia assumed the office as a consequence of the coup and passed on some controversial provisions including dissolving the National Assembly and calling Pakistan a Sunni Islamist state. However, he had to call for elections under international pressure and selected Muhammad Khan Junejo as the next Prime Minister. However, the amendments made by Zia naturally weakened the powers of the ones in the cabinet and hence by virtue, the PM as well. Contrasting to what Zia expected from Junejo, the latter refused to accept the Army Chief’s orders like signing the Geneva Accords which later translated to the conflict in Afghanistan.
As a result, Zia again dissolved the parliament and dismissed Junejo from his Prime Ministerial ship. Democracy returned to Pakistan with Benazir Bhutto assuming office but her tenure also saw a brief timeline. It was again in 1997 when Democracy started tracing its steps back to Army rule when Nawaz Sharif appointed General Parwez Musharraf as the Army Chief. Their unified alliance launched many army operations against India including the Kargil war. However, despite their good bond, Sharif executed a failed attempt to oust Musharraf while he was on a flight. The government attesting to Nawaz’s intentions refused to let the Army Chief’s plane land. As a result, the army moved in swiftly, dethroned Sharif’s government and Musharraf assumed office and ruled Pakistan in 2007.
Imran Khan mirrors Nawaz Sharif as the former is also a political creature of the army. The then army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and his close relation with Imran Khan-led to the latter’s instatement as the Prime Minister. However, the bond between the two led to deterioration in 2021 because of Khan’s shambolic governance, rampant inflation, and unemployment as the accusations undermined the army’s own standing. Furthermore, Khan’s visit to Russia during the Russia-Ukraine war was the final nail in the coffin which led to the opposition submitting the no-confidence motion, and Imran Khan was finally ousted on April 10. This, again affirms that Pakistan and its leaders in the Union are mere puppets at the hands of the army.
In addition to the aforementioned revenue sources and associated projects, the Pakistan Army has some 50 large businesses including sugar mills and stud farms, all forming a nice packet of money for the boys in uniform. With Pakistan slowly conforming to army rule, Beijing and even the US are delighted as firstly, it is easier to deal with one man in uniform rather than a squabbling mess of politicians. Secondly, China already has huge monetary investments in Pakistan and therefore, strong relations with the army would only mean more territorial nexus and manpower at the time of war. Thirdly, the US and its sharp sense of realism and a firm belief that the army is the guardian of national interest would make up for the better influence of Pakistan in the international circuit.
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