By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: Pakistan and China, two of India’s arch rivals, have reached a secret three-year deal to jointly expand potential biological warfare capabilities, including running several research projects related to the deadly agent Anthrax, people familiar with the development said.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has signed the covert deal with Pakistan military’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DESTO) to collaborate on research in “emerging infectious diseases” and advance studies on the biological control of transmitted diseases, they said.
The programme is being entirely funded by China and is formally titled the “Collaboration for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Studies on Biological Control of Vector Transmitting Diseases”.
China is testing biological agents outside its borders, in Pakistan, in an apparent bid to minimise the “risk of drawing condemnation from the international community”, after its Wuhan leak and spread of the Coronavirus in 2019.
DESTO has been engaged in various dual-use research projects related to anthrax under a covert biological weapons programme, the people mentioned above said.
The covert China-Pakistan project has conducted “successful soil sampling tests” to isolate Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), which has a “striking similarity” to Bacillus Anthracis – or Anthrax.
The Wuhan lab was providing “extensive training on manipulation of pathogens and bio-informatics” to Pakistani scientists “to help Pakistan develop its own virus collection database,” they said
The secret project was “detached from supervision of civilian universities or government health departments in Pakistan” and was structured so as to allow “unspecified” future operations.
China’s keen interest in the project is driven chiefly by its agenda to engage Pakistan against India and to conduct potentially dangerous experiments on foreign soil, without subjecting its own land and people to risk
The plan was part of a move by Beijing to designate Pakistan a destination for hazardous bio chemical research, while evading use of its own territory for such activities, as it stands the risk of drawing criticism and condemnation from the international community”
The China-Pakistan biological project had already undertaken experiments on the Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever Virus (CCHFV). CCHFV is a rapid-onset fever virus that causes death in about 25 per cent of the cases and is similar to the Ebola virus. CCHFV is categorised as a “class-4” microorganism – the highest possible risk category.
Pakistan is allegedly carrying out tests on CCHFV in laboratories, which are not equipped to handle Bio-Safety Level-4 diseases.
There were concerns the Kunming facility, which is controlled by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, was also handling class-4 diseases without proper protections.