WikiLeaks: Diplomats fear Pakistan’s nukes may fall into terrorist hands

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WASHINGTON - American and British diplomats fear Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India, the latest cache of US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks suggest.

The leaked cables contain warnings that Pakistan is rapidly building its nuclear stockpile despite the country’s growing instability and “pending economic catastrophe”, according to various media reports citing the leaked documents.

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]“.

A Chinese foreign minister, He Yafei, sought to explain to the Americans why Pakistan was blocking fissile material control talks, the British daily Guardian reported.

At a London meeting in 2009, he said: “The underlying problem . is that India and Pakistan view each other as enemies. Nuclear weapons are crucial to Pakistan. Indeed, a Pakistani military leader said his army was no match for the Indian army.”

US diplomats in Islamabad were told Pakistan was working on producing smaller, tactical nuclear weapons that could be used on the battlefield against Indian troops.

“The result of this trend is the need for greater stocks of fissile material . Strategic considerations point Pakistan in the direction of a larger nuclear force that requires a greater amount of fissile material, Pakistani officials argue.”

The US conducted its own secret analysis of India’s military contingency plans, which are codenamed Cold Start. India has said that if sufficiently provoked, it would mount a rapid invasion of Pakistan, the Guardian said.

The US said in a cable that it doubted the Indian army was capable of doing so: “It is the collective judgment of the mission that India would likely encounter very mixed results. Indian forces could have significant problems consolidating initial gains due to logistical difficulties and slow reinforcement.”

But the US ambassador to India, Tim Roemer, warned in February that for India to launch Cold Start, would be to “roll the nuclear dice”. It could trigger the world’s first use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Indian leaders no doubt realise that, although Cold Start is designed to punish Pakistan in a limited manner without triggering a nuclear response, they cannot be sure whether Pakistani leaders will in fact refrain from such a response.”

In May 27, 2009, less than a month after President Barack Obama assured reporters that Pakistan’s nuclear materials “will remain out of militant hands,” US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson sent a secret message to Washington suggesting that she remained deeply worried, the New York Times reported.

“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,”

she wrote.

The Pakistani government, she reported was yet again dragging its feet on an agreement reached two years earlier to have the United States remove a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, sitting for years near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan.

Her concern was that there was enough to build several “dirty bombs” or, in skilled hands, possibly enough for an actual nuclear bomb, the Times said noting: “The fuel is still there.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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