Pakistan nukes may fall into terrorist hands, fear US diplomats

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India, reveals the latest WikiLeaks cache of US embassy cables that also portray “scepticism that Pakistan will ever cooperate fully in fighting extremist groups” as an insurance against New Delhi.

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. Guardian was one of the newspapers that was given access to the Wikileaks disclosures.

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.”

US diplomats’ have a “deep scepticism that Pakistan will ever cooperate fully in fighting the full panoply of extremist groups” as an insurance against India, according to the New York Times.

“This is partly because Pakistan sees some of the strongest militant groups as insurance for the inevitable day that the United States military withdraws from Afghanistan - and Pakistan wants to exert maximum influence inside Afghanistan and against Indian intervention,” the US daily said in a report from Islamabad.

In one cable, US ambassador Anne W. Patterson, who left Islamabad in October after a three-year stint, wrote: “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India.”

Patterson said Pakistan would only dig in deeper if America continued to improve ties with India, which she said “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups”.

The groups Patterson referred to were almost certainly the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group financed by Pakistan in the 1990s to fight India in Kashmir that is accused of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, the US daily said.

In a briefing to FBI director Robert Mueller ahead of a visit to Pakistan, US embassy officials in Pakistan sketched out a difficult relationship, said media reports.

Turning to the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, it said: “Pakistan’s prosecution of the seven suspects it arrested in the Mumbai case-i.e., XXXXXXXXXXXX and terrorism financiers XXXXXXXXXXXX-is proceeding, though at a slow pace.”

“The government has continually reassured us that the prosecutors will win convictions against all the defendants after a trial lasting several months, though it has a stronger case against the five LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) operatives than against the two terrorism financers.”

Noting that in October 2009, a Pakistani court had quashed all remaining cases against Hafiz Saeed, the head of LeT alias Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), US officials told Mueller: “The government has repeatedly told us that it would need much more evidence of Saeed’s direct involvement in the Mumbai attacks to move forward with Mumbai-related charges against him.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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