Nuclear fears over Pakistan revealed
AMERICAN AND British diplomats fear Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India.
The latest cache of US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks contains warnings that Pakistan is rapidly building its nuclear stockpile, despite the country’s growing instability and “pending economic catastrophe”.
Mariot Leslie, a senior British Foreign Office official, told US diplomats in September 2009: “The UK has deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,” according to one cable classified “secret/noforn [no foreign nationals]”.
Seven months earlier the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, cabled to Washington: “Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.” The leaks expose in detail the deep tensions between Washington and Islamabad over a broad range of issues, including counter-terrorism, Afghanistan and finance, as well as the nuclear question.
The cables also revealed that:
* Small teams of US special forces have been operating secretly inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, with Pakistani government approval, while senior ministers have privately supported US drone attacks.
* The ambassador starkly informed Washington that “no amount of money” from the US would stop the Pakistani army backing Islamist militants and the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
* The US concluded Pakistani troops were responsible for a spate of extrajudicial killings in the Swat Valley and tribal belt but did comment publicly to allow the army to take action on its own.
* Diplomats in Islamabad were asked by the Pentagon to survey refugee camps on the Afghan border, possibly for air strike targeting information.
* The president, Asif Ali Zardari – whose wife, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated – has made extensive preparations in case he too is killed, and once told US vice-president Joe Biden he feared the military “might take me out”.
– ( Guardianservice)