U.S. Acknowledges Possible Threats to Pakistani Nukes

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad on Monday acknowledged the existence of "potential threats" to Pakistan's nuclear warheads from local extremists and said the Pakistani government could do more to enhance its ability to defend its arsenal, the Press Trust of India reported (see GSN, Nov. 7).

The Atlantic and National Journal jointly reported last week that the Pakistani army had taken to transporting nuclear warheads around the country via unmarked civilian-style vans on congested roadways in an attempt to keep their whereabouts away from prying U.S. intelligence efforts.

The U.S. media report said Islamabad's longstanding belief that the United States is scheming to seize its nuclear weapons has only been heightened by the successful early May incursion by U.S. commandos into Abbottabad to kill al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Islamabad has dismissed the report's assertions.

U.S. security experts routinely raise concerns about the potential for Pakistani nuclear weapons and related materials to be stolen by criminals or extremists; however, Washington's official posture has largely been to echo the Pakistani security establishment's insistence that it is capable of defending its nuclear deterrent.

"The U.S. government's views have not changed regarding nuclear security in Pakistan," the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said in a statement. "We have confidence that the government of Pakistan is well aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal and has accordingly given very high priority to securing its nuclear weapons and materials effectively."

The statement also praised Pakistan's security force as "professional, highly motivated and dedicated" (Press Trust of India I/Times of India, Nov. 8).

A senior officer in the the Pakistani army division in charge of safeguarding the nation's nuclear deterrent vowed in a statement to do whatever it takes to protect the warheads, the Press Trust of India reported.

Strategic Plans Division Director General Maj. Gen. Muhammad Tahrir "reiterated that extensive resources have been made available to train, equip, deploy and sustain an independent and potent security force to meet any and every threat emanating from any quarter," the statement said.

Tahrir said everything possible would be done to ensure that security surrounding Pakistan's nuclear facilities and materials was as strong as possible.

Last month, the army announced plans to train 8,000 new nuclear security personnel by 2013.

These new recruits would comprise "handpicked officers and men, who are physically robust, mentally sharp and equipped with modern weapons and equipment, trained in technical skills to the best international standards and practices," Tahrir said (Press Trust of India II/Indian Express, Nov. 7).

November 8, 2011
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The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad on Monday acknowledged the existence of "potential threats" to Pakistan's nuclear warheads from local extremists and said the Pakistani government could do more to enhance its ability to defend its arsenal, the Press Trust of India reported (see GSN, Nov. 7).

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