Shaila’s Weblog

Taliban – A Nuclear Threat?

Posted on: April 27, 2009

Taliban militants have extended their grip in northwestern Pakistan, pushing out from a valley where the government has agreed to impose Islamic law and patrolling villages as close as 60 miles from the capital.

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Police and officials appear to have fled as armed militants also broadcast radio sermons and spread fear in Buner district, just 60 miles from Islamabad, officials and witnesses said Wednesday.

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The fall of the district, Buner, did not mean that the Taliban could imminently threaten Islamabad. But it was another indication of the gathering strength of the insurgency and it raised new alarm about the ability of the government to fend off an unrelenting Taliban advance toward the heart of Pakistan.

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In recent days, the Swat militants have set their sights on Buner, a district just south of the valley, sparking at least one major clash with residents. The moves indicate the militants want to expand their presence beyond Swat to other parts of Malakand at the very least, under the guise of enforcing Islamic law.

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Many in Buner are now too frightened to speak to reporters. However, a lawmaker from the area told The Associated Press that the militants had entered the district in “large numbers” and started setting up checkpoints at main roads and strategic positions.

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Critics, including in Washington, have warned that the valley could become an officially sanctioned base for allies of al-Qaida — and that it may be just the first domino in nuclear-armed Pakistan to fall to the Taliban.

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Pakistan Nuclear Missiles Beging Guarded by PAK Army

The U.S. has been keeping a watchful eye on Pakistan’s nukes since it first detonated a series of devices a decade ago.

“Pakistan has taken important steps to safeguard its nuclear weapons, although vulnerabilities still exist,” Army General Michael Maples, chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. Then, he immediately turned to the threat posed by al-Qaeda, which, along with the Taliban, is sowing unrest in Pakistan.

“Al-Qaeda continues efforts to acquire chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials,” he said, “and would not hesitate to use such weapons if the group develops sufficient capabilities.”

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Nowhere in the world is the gap between would-be terror-martyrs and the nuclear weapons they crave as small as it is in Pakistan.

Nor is their much comfort in the fact that Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal who was recently ordered freed from house arrest by the country’s supreme court, was the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear proliferation, dispatching the atomic genie to Iran, Libya and North Korea. But U.S. and Pakistani officials insist it is important to separate Pakistan’s poor proliferation record with what is, by all accounts, a modern and multilayered system designed to protect its nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

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