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January 26, 2008

Musharraf: What, We Worry?

Pervez Musharraf wants you to know that he has Pakistan's nukes under control. He doesn't need American or other international troops to keep the weapons from falling into the hands of resurgent Islamist radicals. He wouldn't mind keeping our money, however:

Pakistan is increasingly alert to the possible threat of Islamic extremists seeking control of its nuclear weapons, but its security system is fail-safe despite the rising militancy in the country, a top official said Saturday.

Some 10,000 soldiers have been deployed to secure the U.S.-ally's nuclear facilities as part of a command and control system headed by President Pervez Musharraf and other top officials, said Khalid Kidwai, head of the Strategic Plans Division which handles Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

Kidwai said there was concern that Pakistan's weapons would fall into the hands of al Qaeda or Taliban-style militant groups. "Pakistan's nuclear weapons, fissile material and infrastructure are absolutely safe and secure," he told journalists.

The US and other nations worry that infiltration of the radicals into the military and intelligence services could eventually give them access to the nukes. Some have speculated that Pakistan and the US have worked out a plan for American seizure of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if the situation spins out of control, but that seems unlikely, given the size of the country. It would take a full-scale invasion of a nation of over 150 million people, since Musharraf is unlikely to have them all stored in one spot. The Pakistanis call this "irresponsible talk", and they're right.

Despite their other assurances, the situation hardly gives anyone confidence in the stability of nuclear security. This is the same nation who managed to proliferate the technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya through the AQ Khan network. Khan remains in his villa under house arrest, but other Khans may exist within their program.

Right now, we have no way of knowing. We gave Musharraf millions of dollars to improve nuclear security after 9/11, but it doesn't allow us to verify that effective safeguards have been put in place. The money came after we agreed that no Americans could set foot in Pakistan to inspect the application of the funds. All we can do is accept Musharraf's what-me-worry platitudes and hope for the best.


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