A 20-month long investigation by the Conflict Armament Research (CAR) in its key findings had concluded that 50 commercial entities from 20 countries, including 07 companies from India were “involved in the supply chain of components used by IS [Islamic State] forces, to construct IEDs [Improvised explosive devices].” The EU mandated report: “Tracing the Supplies of Components Used in Islamic State IEDs”, was published in 2016, but in the wake of recent revelations that the mastermind of the ‘Easter Bombings’ in Sri Lanka, was indoctrinated and trained by the ISIS network based in India, these findings assume greater significance.
The entities identified in CAR report that were supplying equipment and material to the ISIS had “produced, sold, or received critical material, such as chemical precursors, detonating cord, detonators, cables, wires and other electronic components.” All of these items require an export license and End User Certificate (EUC) from the recipient state to ensure that it is not used for malicious purposes, but this practice seems not to have been followed by the supplier states. Interestingly, some of the items recovered in Iraq and Syria had a relatively short supply chain and was received by the ISIS within 1-6 months of its production, which indicates that the ISIS has an efficient procurement network linked to the supplier countries identified in the report.
The CAR report also suggests that more work needs to be done to track the flow of chemical precursors. Since the ISIS has demonstrated interest in developing chemical weapons, therefore it is crucial to investigate the details of unaccounted or missing material to analyse the level of threat. One of the three Indian entities identified in the CAR report is ‘Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals‘, which possibly produces chemical precursors besides other items that were sold to the ISIS. It is however not known whether the ISIS was able to acquire material for its chemical weapons program from the same entity or one of the many other companies identified in the CAR report.
The findings of the report, nevertheless, are disturbing since it indicates that ISIS has an easy access to several commercial entities that are willing to supply equipment and material to the terrorist outfits. According to another recent report by ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), there are at least three private Indian entities involved in developing nuclear capable ‘Prithvi’ and ‘Agni’ missile systems. Private entities in other countries, especially the U.S. do get contracts for developing nuclear-capable missile systems, but keeping in view the findings of CAR report and India’s lax export controls, the WMD equipment produced by Indian entities could also possibly end up in the hands of ISIS or its relatively new affiliate, ‘IS-India.’
In 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1540 that makes it mandatory for all member states to strengthen their national export control laws and regulations, to prevent sensitive and dual-use technologies falling into the wrong hands. The UNSC resolution also makes it obligatory for states to “[D]evelop and maintain appropriate border controls and law enforcement efforts to detect, deter, prevent and combat, including through international cooperation when necessary, the illicit trafficking and brokering in such items in accordance with their national legal authorities and legislation and consistent with international law.”
The findings of the CAR report suggest that these obligations were not honoured by countries whose entities were found involved in supplying the ‘controlled’ material and items to the ISIS. In view of the reports that the mastermind of the Sri Lanka bombings was trained and indoctrinated by the ‘IS-India,’ and that some of the Indian entities were involved in the proliferation of dual-use items and material, the possibility of a WMD related terrorist attack originating from India cannot be completely ruled out.
India claims to have an ‘impeccable’ nonproliferation credentials. Based on this assumption, the U.S. together with several other countries pushed India’s membership request in the four main export control regimes that regulate the trade of sensitive technologies and material. These regimes include the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for civil nuclear trade; the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) for missile-related dual-use trade; the Australia Group for dual-use items that could also be used in chemical and biological weapons; and the Wassenaar Arrangement for dual-use items that could be used in conventional as well as other weapons of mass destruction.
After hectic lobbying, India was allowed to join the three regimes but has not been able to join the NSG since India has not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), which is a pre-requisite for becoming a member of the NSG. After the recent revelations about the Indian entities involved in supplying dual-use items to the ISIS, the members of the Wassenaar Arrangement and also the Australia Group should be asking some serious questions on India’s commitment towards nonproliferation regime.
India’s track record on nonproliferation has not been satisfactory. It was allowed to join the MTCR to benefit from peaceful applications of space technology; instead, the membership helped India to build and test its anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems. The NSG that came into existence because of India’s misuse of civilian nuclear technology provided by the U.S. and Canada, subsequently, was coerced by the U.S. to grant an exemption to India in 2008 from its export control guidelines. India may have used this exemption to improve its nuclear weapons program and produced what PM Modi claims to be the ‘mother of nuclear bombs’ (Thermonuclear bombs). If India is granted formal membership of the NSG, it is quite possible that it may embark on another round of nuclear tests to validate its thermonuclear weapons that are required for India’s inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capability.
Preventing terrorists from gaining access to sensitive material and technologies is an international obligation. States that do not honour their commitments must be held accountable and encouraged to provide more transparency to their export control laws. While the global focus remains focussed on few specific countries, albeit for political reasons; there are countries like India that continue to flaunt international export control regimes to its own advantage and with no reciprocal commitments to strengthen their domestic export controls.
India, which is a non-NPT state and refuses to accept any legally binding nonproliferation obligation was integrated into the three main export control regimes and was granted exemption from the NSG export control guidelines with a ‘stated’ objective that it would help strengthen the nonproliferation norms. Instead, these measures have proven to be counterproductive, as is evident from the recent reports of the proliferation of sensitive technology and the statements by India’s leadership of building thermonuclear bombs.
The rise of ‘militant nationalism’ and the emergence of both Hindu, and now the Islamic radical organisations in the form of ‘IS-India’, poses a ‘clear and present’ danger to the regional as well as international security. Those who continue to support and advocate India’s membership in the export control regimes must also assess the negative fallout of these unilateral concessions afforded to India. It has not only discredited the international nonproliferation regime but has reduced the incentive for India to strengthen its national export control measures, thus making it relatively easy for the non-state actors to acquire and build WMD capabilities and threaten India’s immediate neighbours.
Dr Adil Sultan is a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London.