Pak `fastest producer` of nukes
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 01, 2010, 12:08
London: The latest cache of WikiLeaks lays bare the deep concern of the US over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and the fact that Islamabad is producing them at a "faster rate than any other country in the world".

Painting a damning picture of its "ally", American officials expressed serious misgivings about the possibility of elements within the Pakistan establishment smuggling enough material out to eventually make a rogue nuclear weapon.

The Pakistan-focussed cache of US embassy cables published by The Guardian reveal American and British diplomats fear that Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India.

The cables contain 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 cables revealing serious tension between the US and Pakistan reveal that small teams of US special forces have been operating secretly inside Pakistan's tribal areas, with the approval of the Pakistani government while senior ministers have privately supported American drone attacks.

The US 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, according to the cables.

The Guardian reported the US' conclusion that Pakistani troops were responsible for a spate of extra-judicial killings in the Swat Valley and tribal belt but decided not to comment publicly to allow the army to take action on its own.

Pakistan's rulers are so sensitive about their much- prized nuclear weapons that in July 2009 they stalled on a previously agreed plan for the US to recover and dispose of highly enriched uranium spent fuel from a nuclear research reactor, in the interests of preventing proliferation and theft.

US concern over Pakistan's bomb programme was spelled out in an intelligence briefing in 2008.

"Despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world," the secret cable said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Wednesday, December 01, 2010, 12:08

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