London, Dec 1 (ANI): United States and British diplomats fear that Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India, according to whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
The latest cache of US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks contains warnings that Pakistan is rapidly building its nuclear stockpile despite the country's growing instability and "pending economic catastrophe", the Guardian reports.
In September 2009, a senior British Foreign Office official, Mariot Leslie, told US diplomats, "The UK has deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons," according to one cable classified as "secret/noforn (no foreign nationals)".
Seven months earlier, the then US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, had cabled to Washington, "Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon."
Pakistan's rulers are so sensitive about their much-prized nuclear weapons that in July 2009, they stalled on a previously agreed plan for the US to recover and dispose of highly enriched uranium spent fuel from a nuclear research reactor, in the interests of preventing proliferation and theft.
They told the US embassy, "If the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the US taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons".
US fears over Pakistan were also spelled out in an intelligence briefing in 2008. "Despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world," the secret cable said.
Leslie, Director General of Defence and Intelligence at the Foreign Office, made it clear that the UK shared these anxieties, when she spoke to US diplomats at a London arms control meeting in September 2009.
According to the cable, Leslie thought that nuclear proliferation was the greater danger to the world, but it "ranks lower than terrorism on the public's list of perceived threats".
Another senior British official at the meeting, Jon Day, the Ministry of Defence's director general for security policy, said that recent intelligence indicated that Pakistan was "not going in a good direction".
The Russians also shared concerns that Pakistan was "highly unstable", with Yuri Korolev from the Russian Foreign Ministry telling US officials, "Islamists are not only seeking power in Pakistan but are also trying to get their hands on nuclear materials."
Speaking in February in Washington, he called for the problem of Pakistani nuclear sites to be addressed in ongoing missile control talks, claiming, "Over the last few years extremists have attacked vehicles that carry staff to and from these facilities. Some were killed and a number were abducted and there has been no trace seen of them."
"There are 120,000-130,000 people directly involved in Pakistan's nuclear and missile programmes ... There is no way to guarantee that all are 100% loyal and reliable," Korolev said.
He claimed that extremists were now recruiting more easily, and warned that "Pakistan has had to hire people to protect nuclear facilities that have especially strict religious beliefs, and recently the general educational and cultural levels in Pakistan has been falling."
These fears are expressed in the secret state department files against a backdrop of Pakistani determination to build more nuclear warheads.
However, a Chinese foreign minister, He Yafei, sought to explain to the US why Pakistan was blocking fissile material control talks.
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." (ANI)