January 27, 2008 in Nation/World

Pakistan official insists its nuclear arsenal is safe

Matthew Pennington Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier stands alert on the rooftop of a mosque in Dara Adam Khel, a hideout for militants, near Peshawar, Pakistan on Saturday. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

U.S. seeks broader role

» WASHINGTON – The top two U.S. intelligence officials made a secret visit to Pakistan in early January to seek permission from President Pervez Musharraf for greater involvement of American forces in trying to ferret out al-Qaida and other militant groups active in the tribal regions along the Afghanistan border, a senior U.S. official said.

» The New York Times – which first reported on the secret visit by CIA Director Michael Hayden and Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence – said Musharraf rebuffed an expansion of an American presence in Pakistan at the meeting, either through overt CIA. missions or by joint operations with Pakistani security forces.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are safe from Taliban and al-Qaida militants because of the military’s stringent security system and a political climate that precludes a takeover by religious extremists, a top official said Saturday.

Seeking to dispel international concerns amid increased violence, Khalid Kidwai, head of the Strategic Plans Division which handles Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, said Pakistan uses 10,000 soldiers to keep the weapons safe and has received up to $10 million in U.S. assistance to that end.

“There’s no conceivable scenario, political or violent, in which Pakistan will fall to extremists of the al-Qaida or Taliban type,” Kidwai told foreign journalists at a briefing. “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, fissile material and infrastructure are absolutely safe and secure.”

Kidwai, a retired general, said his division was prepared for any contingency and had reassessed the militant threat in light of escalating attacks on security forces and intelligence personnel.

Media reports have said the Pentagon has contingency plans for seizing Pakistan’s nuclear facilities if they ever fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Kidwai called it “irresponsible talk” and said the United States would not succeed in such an operation.

Kidwai spoke as residents in northwestern Pakistan fled their homes a day after security forces there began pounding militants’ hideouts, killing 30 suspected militants, officials and residents said Saturday.

The fighting marked the first time the violence has spread to Dara Adam Khel, a town on a key road linking Peshawar with the battlefields of Waziristan, a lawless region regarded as a stronghold for Taliban and al-Qaida.

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