In early July, Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Nafees Zakaria claimed that Indian security forces were using deadly chemical weapons to kill Kashmiris and destroy their properties in Indian-Occupied Kashmir (IOK). The accusation was based on the charred bodies of Kashmiri youth found in the debris of five houses destroyed by Indian forces at Bahmnoo and Kakapora in Pulwama. The bodies were extensively burnt and beyond visual recognition. Such a severe level of burning could only be possible when some chemicals were used by the occupation forces to destroy the houses. More similar attacks had been committed by the Indian Army at different places.
It is noteworthy that this is the second time Pakistan has brought up this issue. Earlier in June 1999, the International Herald Tribune quoted Pakistan’s government broaching the issue that India was using chemical shells against Kashmiris. This allegation was vigorously denied by India, which called it “totally absurd”. Interesting to note that in 1989, in reply to a note verbale of the UN Secretary General on the subject of chemical weapons, India declared that it did not possess chemical weapons.
Pakistan and India are signatories to the Chemical Weapon Convention (CWC), signed by 192 states and coming into force in 1997. The convention comprehensively prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons. Any chemical used for warfare is considered a chemical weapon by the convention. The CWC prohibits the use of chemical weapons not only in international armed conflicts but also non-international armed conflicts in all circumstances. The use of chemical weapons in a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population is a crime against humanity. If done with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, it is genocide which itself is an international crime.
Islamabad has a policy decision to subscribe to treaties banning Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBWs). It has been steadfast in its commitments not to develop, stockpile or use these weapons, and Pakistan has never been found in violation of its obligations and has been successful in avoiding censure and opprobrium of the monitoring agencies. Pakistan’s CWC Implementation Ordinance (2000) states, “Prohibition on development, etc, of chemical weapons (1) No person shall (a) develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain a chemical weapon, or transfer, directly or indirectly, a chemical weapon to anyone; (b) use a chemical weapon; (c) engage in any military preparations to use a chemical weapon; (d) assist, encourage or induce, in any way, any other person to engage in any activity prohibited under the convention; or (e) use a riot control agent as a method of warfare.” At the 1986 session of the conference on disarmament, Pakistan declared that it “neither possesses chemical weapons nor desires to acquire them.” In 1987, during a debate in the first committee of the UN General Assembly, Islamabad stated it was committed to a global ban on chemical weapons.
Despite comprehensive international treaties banning CBWs there has been documented use of these weapons in recent times. Similar to the reports on IOK, a noteworthy example is the use of chemicals by Israel against Palestinians. The 71-page report ‘Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza’ by Human Rights Watch, states that Israel forces frequently air-burst white phosphorus in 155mm artillery shells in and near populated areas. Each air-burst shell spreads 116 burning white phosphorus wedges in a radius extending up to 125m from the blast point. White phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen, and continues burning at up to 816 degrees Celsius until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns. When used properly in open areas, white phosphorus munitions are not illegal because militaries use it primarily to obscure their operations on the ground by creating thick smoke. It can also be used as an incendiary weapon. But using it over populated neighbourhoods, killing and wounding civilians and damaging civilian structures like a school, market, warehouse and hospital is illegal.
The CBWs are easy to manufacture and deliver, and cause maximum casualties to the opposite side. No high technology is required. Thus those states like India and Israel who has acute security concerns go for these easy to manufacture weapons. For example, white phosphorus has limited use and is legal but has devastating effects.
Over the years, numerous leading human rights groups like Amnesty International have been highly critical of India’s policy in Kashmir. But despite many requests, Delhi has not allowed a number of international human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Mission, to visit IOK, although a top UN official has said that they continue receiving reports of Indian forces using excessive force against the civilian population under its administration. Denial of access to the area actually means that serious violations are going on. However, the deteriorating situation in IOK has now made it crucial to establish an independent, impartial and international mission to assess the situation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2017.