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Time to Worry About Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons

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The first reaction from the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, after Saturday's audacious attack on the Pakistani army headquarters was that the country's nuclear weapons were safe. She said that 'despite the increase in acts of terrorism in Pakistan, there is no danger that the country's nuclear weapons will fall into the wrong hands.'

It reminded me the time when the militants first appeared in the tribal areas a few years back and the officials adopted the same rhetoric: 'there is no danger that the areas will fall into the wrong hands.' The militants by then were just few in number and operated only in remote areas during night times. Then they started torching schools and killing and terrorizing people who opposed their activities. The people asked the government for help and action and the response was, 'they are just few astray young men, we will control them.'

As a result, the disgruntled tribal people became Taliban because they had no other option. By the end of the first year of their emergence, the militants had recruited and armed hundreds of young people and extended their network to the settled areas. Swat was the first victim in the settled areas where a mullah (Fazlullah) with one FM radio started preaching for jihad. The peaceful people of Swat complained to the government, but the answer was the same: 'there is no danger.' The militancy grew and their activities increased but neither Gen. Musharraf worried nor did Condoleezza Rice care.

And then came the time when the militants took control of Waziristan, Bajaur Agency, Orakzai Agency, Swat, and Buner. Hundreds of people were killed, thousands were wounded, millions were displaced and the threat of terrorism is yet growing and growing. They have now turned the tribal areas and the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan into a terrorist hub which is increasingly becoming a global security problem.

When the Swat operation was ended, the government said it had defeated the militants. But now intelligence reports say the militants have a very strong presence in many districts of southern Punjab. When Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA drone attack, the government celebrated the victory, but his successor was able to enter the most secure area and strike the most powerful institution of the country.

When the interior minister, Rehman Malik, warned the militants of military operations, they responded by killing 52 people in Peshawar, 41 in Swat (Shangla), and five in Islamabad (in the attack on the UN office). They are fighting the government forces in Waziristan and Bajaur Agency and have asked their networks in all parts of the country to mobilize. The Punjabi part of this network is very dangerous because the Punjabi Taliban Network is formed of the jihadi groups that were once trained and equipped by the army but are banned now.

One clear example of that danger is the attack on the army general headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and the second similar attack on police and FIA in Lahore.

These groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangwi, Harkatul Mujahedeen, and others, were an informal part of the army. Even many of them were once army soldiers (Dr. Usman, the only surviving militant in the GHQ attack was a doctor in army). They are familiar with all the government and military installations and possess important information about them. That is why they targeted the GHQ so easily.

So the world should not just close its eyes and say: 'there is no danger, everything is safe.' Of course, it is not that the militants will just drive into the nuclear facilities as they did in army general headquarters. But there are officials who sympathize with the militants and think on the same lines and they can help them to take control of the nuclear weapons. That is indeed a dangerous vulnerability. So this is the right time for the world to worry about this threat.