Obama administration fears misuse of Pak nukes: Report

The incoming Obama administration's biggest fear from Pakistan is its nuclear arsenal falling into wrong hands,say media reports.

Written by Agencies | New York | Published:January 10, 2009 3:43 pm

The incoming Obama Administration’s biggest fear from Pakistan is its nuclear arsenal falling into wrong hands,including through some groups which may try to provoke an Indo-Pak confrontation hoping that it would help them seize Islamabad’s atomic arms,a media report said on Saturday.

By now Barack Obama has almost surely been briefed about an alarming stream of intelligence that began circulating early last year to the top tier of George W Bush’s national-security leadership in Washington,’The New York Times’ says in an article based on a new book dealing with the challenges before the President-elect.

The highly restricted reports described how foreign- trained Pakistani scientists,including some suspected of harbouring sympathy for radical Islamic causes,were returning to Pakistan to seek jobs within the country’s nuclear infrastructure,presumably trying to burrow in among the 2,000 or so people who have “critical knowledge” of the Pakistani nuclear infrastructure,it says.

One of the most senior officials in Bush administration,who had read all of the intelligence with care,is quoted as saying that he had a worry — what happens “when they move the weapons.”

He explained that the US feared that some groups could try to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India in the hope that Pakistani military would transport tactical nuclear weapons closer to the front lines,where they would be more vulnerable to seizure.

“Indeed,when the deadly terror attacks occurred in Mumbai in late November,officials told me they feared that one of the attackers’ motives might have been to trigger exactly that series of events,” says the author of the book,David E Sarger,the paper’s Chief Washington correspondent.

Another worry,the official said,”is what I believe are steadfast efforts of different extremist groups to infiltrate the labs and put sleepers and so on in there.

As Obama’s team of nuclear experts has discovered in their recent briefings,the article said,it is Pakistan’s laboratories,one of which still bears A Q Khan’s name,that still pose the greatest worries for American intelligence officials.

“When you map WMD and terrorism,all roads intersect in Pakistan,” Graham Allison,a Harvard professor and a leading nuclear expert on the commission,told the author of the book titled ‘The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and Challenges to American Power’.

The Strategic Plans Division,the branch of Pakistani government charged with keeping country’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons,is located in Chaklala,an enclave for the country’s military and intelligence services,the report says. Khalid Kidwai,58,keeps the country’s nuclear keys,it says.

Kidwai told the author,when he went to visit him in his office,that even if the country’s leadership were to be incapacitated,Pakistan’s protections are so strong that the arsenal could never slip from the hands of the country’s National Command Authority.

“Please grant to Pakistan that if we can make nuclear weapons and the delivery systems,” Kidwai is quoted as saying,gesturing to the models and a photo of Pakistan’s first nuclear test,a decade ago,”we can also make them safe. Our security systems are foolproof.”

Kidwai is quoted as saying that he has not received any specific intelligence from the United States about “sleeper” scientists trying to infiltrate Pakistan’s facilities.

Kidwai,the article says,estimated that there are roughly 70,000 people who work in the nuclear complex in Pakistan,including 7,000 to 8,000 scientists and the 2,000 or so with “critical knowledge.”

But back in Washington,military and nuclear experts told the author that the bottom line is that if a real-life crisis broke out,it is unlikely that anyone would be able to assure an American president,with confidence,that he knew where all of Pakistan’s weapons were,or that none were in the hands of Islamic extremists.

Soon after Kidwai took office,he faced the case of the eccentric nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood,who helped build gas centrifuges for the Pakistani nuclear programme,using blueprints A Q Khan had stolen from the Netherlands,the report says.

Mahmood,the author says,then moved on to the country’s next huge project: designing the reactor at Khushab that was to produce the fuel Pakistan needed to move to the next level,a plutonium bomb.

While Khan appeared to be in the nuclear-proliferation business chiefly for the money,Mahmood made it clear to friends that his interest was religious: Pakistan’s bomb,he told associates,was “the property of a whole Ummah,” referring to the worldwide Muslim community,the report says.

In 1999,just as Kidwai was beginning to examine the staff of the nuclear enterprise,Mahmood was forced to take an early retirement. At a loss for what to do,Mahmood set up a non-profit charity,Ummah Tameer-e-Nau,which was ostensibly designed to send relief to fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.

In August 2001,as the September 11 plotters were making their last preparations in the US,Mahmood and one of his colleagues at the charity met with Osama bin Laden and his deputy,Ayman al-Zawahiri,over the course of several days in Afghanistan,the report says.

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