Biowarfare can now be considered 5th generation warfare and is becoming lethal day by day. This is a voiceless menace, more dangerous than nuclear warfare as the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, insects, and fungi with the intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants is an act of war. Biological weapons are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses, which are not universally considered “alive”). Biological weapons may be employed in various ways to gain a strategic or tactical advantage over the enemy, either by threats or by actual deployments. This virus may be lethal or non-lethal and may be targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population but unfortunately, it paralyses society. They may be developed, acquired, stockpiled or deployed by nation-states or by non-national groups. In the latter case, or if a nation-state uses it clandestinely, it may also be considered bioterrorism. This biowarfare is undoubtedly a weapon of war that acts mercilessly and even its creator does not come out unscathed.

We are experiencing this today, with the coronavirus which comes from a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). It acts fast and multiplies its victims very fast. It is a live virus and is now proving to be very dangerous for people and even states are seen to be helpless in its face. The big question is about where it came from, where patient zero is, is this difficult to trace and most importantly, was it reported from China, Italy or Iran first? The blame game between China and the USA has already started as both sides have strong points and if it is not investigated then this blame will not come to an end. I have no doubt in my mind that it is either man-made or naturally grown and hence we need to delve into the details to clear this matter out completely. The world wants to know the facts and I propose that a high powered commission is constituted through the UN and the WHO to investigate with TORs. These should include, the exact bioanalysis of Coronavirus (COVID-19), its origin and find the first victim, which is very important to trace the origin of this virus. Another factor that needs to be investigated is regarding the biological changes that take place when the virus enters the human body. Additionally, does the coronavirus bring the same biological changes or vary from human to human? The bird flu was detected in time and an antidote was found; let us see if there was any previous research available with some states as this is reported to be from the family of viral flu.

The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans which are built in the immune system in the human body. I think the help from veterinary experts may be able to help with this issue. Let us discuss some man-made biological weapons based on the deadly virus.

Biological warfare agents differ greatly in the type of toxin or organism used in a weapons system, lethality, contagiousness, length of incubation, infectiousness, stability, and ability to be treated with current vaccines and medicines and the antidote is prepared before the biowarfare weapons are finally made. There are five different categories of biological agents that could be weaponised and used in warfare or terrorism. Bacteria – single-cell organisms that cause diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, tularaemia, and plague are man-made viruses. Rickettsia – microorganisms that resemble bacteria but differ in that they are intracellular parasites that reproduce inside cells. Typhus and Q fever are examples of diseases caused by rickettsia organisms. Viruses – intracellular parasites, about 1/100 the size of bacteria, can be weaponised to cause diseases such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis. Fungi – pathogens that can be weaponised for use against crops to cause such diseases as rice blast, cereal rust, wheat smut, and potato blight. Toxins – poisons that can be weaponised after extraction from snakes, insects, spiders, marine organisms, plants, bacteria, fungi, and animals. An example of a toxin is ricin, which is derived from the seed of the castor bean. Coronavirus looks to be quite close to toxins. Hence it is possible someone has played dirty in the creation of this virus.

If we examine the difference between chemical weapons and biological weapons, we see biological weapons are most dangerous. Chemical weapons according to international treaties are defined as a chemical that inflicts casualties through its toxic effects including instant burns. These include incendiaries (flame throwers, napalm), smoke (concealing and singling smoke), and war gases (nerve gas, blistering gas, etc).

Biological weapons are diseases deliberately deployed (and often engineered) by one party against another. They are usually used to cause either casualty or to force the enemy to divert resources to counter the outbreak.

There are a number of conspiracy theories that spread regarding the virus. Now that many people are recovering from the disease, a new theory is floating around that coronavirus was created to sell vaccines. The theory that got the widest acceptance from all over the world is that perhaps some anti-China group created it. China got a big setback because of this virus and has suffered the most, hence China can not be blamed for the creation of this virus. It is a fact that China has been receiving threats of non-specific attacks. The timing was convenient as the time of the lunar new year is huge in China, probably the best time of year for such an action. The world knows that there is a cold war between the US and China and this happened at the peak of their blame games, leaving many questions unanswered.

If this theory were to be true, it would have been the best way to see China’s booming economy take a massive toll. People can’t show up to work, travel bans, stocks plummeting and new year’s festivities were also practically cancelled. On top of that, massive costs of dealing with the virus and travel ban on Chinese has also done a lot of damage. Another theory suspects the involvement of religious cult which is outrightly rejected in the creation of coronavirus. The counter blame games will continue between China and USA which will be counterproductive.

There is further fear that this virus can be used as a dangerous war tool if not listed in banned list for not to be used in biowarfare weapons and all members state or any other group should sign it. If it is used in weapons then it is going to emerge as a tool of bioterrorism and it will be too lethal for the future.

Let us see who brings the vaccine and who monopolises it. This move will indirectly imply the end of this ‘play’, whether man-made or natural; in both cases it’s anti-human and is pushing the world towards irreversible loss. UNSC should call an emergency session to discuss it and also order a high-powered commission to investigate the origin and make the findings public.

A reminder – wash your hands for 30 seconds time and again, do not shake hands and in case of doubt, have your test done.

The writer is former Interior Minister of Pakistan, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Chairman of Think Tank “Global Eye”. He can be reached at: rmalik1212@gmail.com, Twitter: @Senrehmanmalik