U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns yesterday that Pakistan's choice to deploy its nuclear weapons in multiple locations could make it easier for extremists to acquire a bomb, the Washington Times reported (see GSN, April 22).
Clinton testified before a House Appropriations panel, one day after she warned the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the growing threat posed to Pakistan by the Taliban and other groups. Taliban fighters this week came within 60 miles of the capital city of Islamabad.
"Why are we so concerned about this? One of the reasons is nuclear weapons," Clinton said yesterday. "We spend a lot of time worrying about Iran. Pakistan already has them, and they are widely dispersed in the country -- they are not at a central location."
Pakistan is believed to possess about 60 nuclear weapons.
Clinton's warning came amid indications that Pakistan is augmenting its atomic capabilities, according to U.S. officials. It has been years since there were any significant talks on the matter between Islamabad and Washington, they said.
Satellite images from late January indicate that Pakistan has made significant progress in construction of its Khushab plutonium-production complex, according to the Institute for Science and International Security.
"The imagery shows that major construction of the buildings associated with the second Khushab reactor is likely finished and that the roof beams are being placed on top of the third Khushab reactor hall," according to an ISIS analysis released yesterday. "The operational status of the second reactor is unknown, but it could start in the near future."
"This suggests that Pakistan is increasing its plutonium capacity, and went from one reactor several years ago to having three," with the third yet to be completed, said ISIS senior research analyst Paul Brannan. There has also been "enormous growth" in the last few years in the Pakistani uranium-based nuclear effort, he said.
Pakistani authorities consistently argue there is no danger that terrorists could access the nation's nuclear weapons.
"What we are sure of is that there is no likelihood of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or extremists," one high-level official told the Times.
The nuclear arsenal is "as safe as anything in the Pakistani military," which "is the institutional backbone of the Pakistani state," said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (Kralev/Slavin, Washington Times, April 24).
Nuclear-weapon material in Pakistan is stored separately from the warheads, preventing terrorists from acquiring a weapon in one fell swoop, Time magazine reported. The means of delivering weapons are also kept away from the warheads themselves.
Pakistan has roughly 10,000 troops guarding its arsenal and has received $100 million in recent years from the United States for training and equipment to further bolster security.
Observers in Washington worry less that the Taliban or al-Qaeda might actually acquire a weapon and more that younger extremists might make their way into the nation's military or research establishments, where they could become involved in nuclear-weapon work.
Islamabad plays down that threat, but U.S. officials say there could be major repercussions from a sleeper cell (Mark Thompson, Time, April 24).