Wednesday, May 20, 2009

PAKISTAN DENIES NUCLEAR EXPANSION

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistan tests a Ghauri nuclear-capable long range missile (May 1998)
Pakistan began testing weapons in response to India's nuclear programme

Pakistan has denied that it is expanding its nuclear arsenal after the US said that it has unearthed new evidence that it has done so.

The denial was issued by Pakistan's information minister a week after US Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the disclosure.

The response comes amid fears that the country's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of the Taleban.

There are also concerns about Islamabad's weak proliferation record.

Pakistan, along with neighbour India, joined the club of declared nuclear weapons states in 1998.

"Pakistan does not need to expand its nuclear arsenal," Qamaruz Zaman Kaira, Pakistan's information minister, told the Associated Press on Monday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
Pakistan's nuclear assets are safe and will remain safe
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

"But we want to make it clear that we will maintain a minimum nuclear deterrence that is essential for our defence and stability.

"We will not make any compromise."

The comments came in the wake of a statement by Adm Mullen in front of a congressional committee last week.

He had replied with a simple "Yes", when asked if Pakistan was expanding its nuclear arsenal.

The statement came as international concerns were voiced over the security of Pakistani nuclear weapons.

Western countries, especially the US, have expressed fears that the weapons could fall into the hands of Taleban militants as they expand their control across northern Pakistan.

But government and military officials have rubbished these statements.

They say Pakistan's nuclear assets are well-guarded and beyond the reach of the militants.

In a recent statement, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also tried to scotch these fears.

"I want to tell the world in categorical terms that, with the blessing of God, Pakistan's nuclear assets are safe and will remain safe.

"No one, no matter how powerful and influential, [who is] eyeing our national assets will succeed."

Meanwhile, the US state department has denied that Pakistan is using US aid in its goal to expand its nuclear arsenal.

"We shouldn't connect these dots, we shouldn't make this connection because this assistance package is for very specific purposes and we're going to work very closely with the government of Pakistan to meet our joint goals," Ian Kelly, spokesman for the US state department, said at a news briefing in Washington on Monday.

"We have complete faith in the command and control structure of Pakistan's nuclear programme."

Mr Kelly said that "one of the highest priorities" of the government in Islamabad was to make sure that the weapons "do not fall into the wrong hands".

His comments follow a report in the New York Times which said that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal.

The report says this was despite an expanding insurgency which could threaten the security of the weapons.

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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