WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange will get into trouble, potentially a 35-year sentence in the United States, if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which he says he would to mend his health and catch some healing sunlight. Regardless of what he might have done to offend powerful countries with his treasure trove of revelations, South Asians should be grateful to him for shining the light on key issues that are as relevant today as they will be in the future.
He exposed, for example, senior Indian leaders for their fawning connections with American diplomats contrary to public postures of aloofness. Everyone from journalists to BJP leaders to Rahul Gandhi bared their hearts to US interlocutors. Assange also traversed issues that threaten the security and prosperity of India.
Let’s consider two. Prime Minister Modi last week alerted his military commanders about future threats his country faces. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has never been in any agreeable position to brief the military on vital issues, found an audience in former US ambassador Timothy Roemer during the latter’s tenure in Delhi. It took WikiLeaks to tell us how the worried Congress leader shared his perceptions of what threatens India.
The Congress scion, according to WikiLeaks, told Roemer that his fear for India came from right-wing Hindu groups. They posed an emerging challenge to India’s survival as a secular democracy. This is a view shared by other mainstream parties, for better or worse, chiefly the left.

According to WikiLeaks, an Indian diplomat told the US as early as in 2006 that concerns about biological weapons were ‘no longer academic’.

Mr Modi’s unexplained reference to an “invisible” challenge, on the other hand, has been interpreted to mean various things — from Pakistan to China, from cross-border terror groups to home-grown challenges he might have had in mind. Be that as it may, it should be strongly hoped that the ‘invisible’ threat the prime minister spoke of took into account an ‘invisible’ threat that has sent the US and President Barack Obama into a tailspin. We have already written about the incalculable threat South Asia faces from the intractable Ebola outbreak in western Africa, not by accident alone, which is the usual route of transmission, but by design.
Julian Assange’s findings give a direr context to the threat. US diplomats were concerned, as their cables revealed in December 2010, that India could be the target of a biological terror attack.
In an unanticipated variation of the WikiLeaks revelations the Ebola virus, focus of military research for several decades in many countries, seems to have wormed its way into the United States, in fact, more worryingly than has been reported in our patch. Last week, the Chinese military reportedly sent vials of its purported antidote, which no one claims to know much about, to its citizens potentially exposed in western Africa.
According to WikiLeaks, a senior Indian diplomat told the US as early as in 2006 that concerns about biological weapons were “no longer academic”, adding that intelligence suggested terror groups were increasingly discussing bio-warfare. WikiLeaks cables confirmed this.
A recent link between Muslim terror groups eyeing the Ebola virus as a weapon unfolded cannily along the lines that WikiLeaks cables etched out. The Islamic State terrorists in Iraq have demanded that the US release a suspected Al Qaeda conduit who was arrested in Afghanistan with alleged plans to weaponise Ebola. IS links up with Al Qaeda which links up with Ebola in one stroke.
The Indian intelligence picked up chatter “indicating jihadi groups are interested in bioterrorism, for example seeking out likeminded PhDs in biology and biotechnology”, a cable presciently sent to Washington was quoted as saying in the 2010 trawl.
The WikiLeaks report quoted first by The Guardian said terrorists could easily find the material they need for bioterrorism in India and use the country as a base for launching an international campaign involving the spread of fatal diseases.
“Release in an Indian city could facilitate international spread ... Delhi airport alone sees planes depart daily to numerous European, Asian, Middle Eastern and African destinations, as well as non-stop flights to Chicago and Newark.”
The dispatch was quoted by The Guardian. It was one of many dealing with the threat of terrorism in India sent by diplomats in New Delhi both before and after the attacks on Mumbai, which were carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba group in November 2008. Earlier cables focused more on the radicalisation of Muslims within India.
As the Indian prime minister nudges the country towards cleanliness and hygiene, here is an agenda he might add to his efforts, a word of caution from the person who first identified the Ebola virus. Even bereft of the terror link, India faces potentially the biggest risk from the African outbreak, Peter Piot, the Belgian virologist the first to identify Ebola in 1976 told The Guardian last week.
“There will certainly be Ebola patients from Africa who come to us in the hopes of receiving treatment. And they might even infect a few people here who may then die,” Piot said.
“But an outbreak in Europe or North America would quickly be brought under control. I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in West Africa. It would only take one of them to become infected, travel to India to visit relatives during the virus’s incubation period, and then, once he becomes sick, go to a public hospital there. Doctors and nurses in India, too, often don’t wear protective gloves. They would immediately become infected and spread the virus.”
Barring a few editorials written on the subject, the threat hasn’t yet enthused the intelligentsia.
Rahul Gandhi’s threat perceptions to his country, though compelling, will have to wait for an opportune moment. To add to the confusion though, was he not the one who used to say that the BJP is a joke, and that its main agenda was to torment his family members?
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.