Pakistan says security tightened around nuclear facilities
Monday, 28 January 2008

Agence France-Presse . Rawalpindi

Pakistan said Saturday it had tightened security around all its nuclear facilities amid a surge in militant attacks in the country, but no specific threat had been made against the sites.

In a rare briefing to foreign media, retired Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai rejected international fears Pakistan's weapons could fall into the wrong hands and warned against any foreign intervention over the issue.

'The state of alertness has gone up,' Kidwai, director general of Pakistan's strategic plan division which controls the country's nuclear programme, said in response to a question on whether growing violence had impacted security around nuclear facilities. Kidwai did not give details on how security had been bolstered.

But, 'there is no terrorist threat as yet' against the nuclear sites, he added. The United States and other Western allies have showed mounting concern about the security of Islamabad's estimated 50 warheads, with Pakistani forces battling a growing insurgency by al-Qaeda-linked militants.

'There is no conceivable scenario, political or violent, in which Pakistan will fall to the extremists of the al-Qaeda or Taliban type,' Kidwai said. 'The fears are based on a lack of objective understanding of Pakistan's ground situation and lack of information.'

Kidwai's comments come one day after the chief of Pakistan's powerful army, General Ashfaq Kiyani, dismissed 'unrealistic' fears that al-Qaeda could seize the country's nuclear weapons.

The normally reclusive Kiyani rejected speculation that Pakistan's warheads could be at risk amid the turmoil sparked by the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in December. Kidwai said Pakistan had adopted a command and control system based on international guidelines and those of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency.

Meanwhile, paramilitary forces clashed with militants Saturday to wrest control of a key road tunnel in the northwest and recover arms-laden trucks seized by rebels, the army said. Militants have occupied the Japanese-built tunnel in the lawless town of Darra Adam Khel which connects the main city of Peshawar in North West frontier Province to the city of Kohat.

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