Washington, Feb 01(ANI): The new US intelligence assessment that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal, and is on a path to overtake Britain as the world's fifth largest nuclear weapons power, poses a direct challenge to a central element of US President Barack Obama's national security strategy- the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world.
Pakistan goes to great lengths to hide both the number and location of its weapons, and is particularly wary of the United States, which the Pakistan military fears has plans to seize the arsenal if it was judged to be at risk of falling into the hands of extremists, The New York Times reports.
Though such secrecy makes accurate estimates difficult, according to officials and outsiders familiar with the American assessments, the most recent estimates suggest that the number of deployed weapons now ranges from the mid-90s to over 110.
"We've seen a consistent, constant build-up in their inventory, but it hasn't been a sudden rapid rise," a senior American military official said. "We're very, very well aware of what they're doing."
White House officials share the assessment that the increase in actual weapons has been what one termed as "slow and steady."
But, the report said, the bigger worry is the production of nuclear materials. Based on the latest estimates of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, experts say Pakistan has now produced enough material for 40 to 100 additional weapons, including a new class of plutonium bombs, and if these estimates are correct, it would put Pakistan on a par with long-established nuclear powers, it added.
While the US has spent over a hundred million dollars helping Pakistan build fences, install sensor systems and train personnel to handle the weapons, senior officials remain deeply concerned that weapon-usable fuel, which is kept in laboratories and storage centres, is more vulnerable and could be diverted by insiders in Pakistan's vast nuclear complex, the report said.
Also, it remains unclear how Pakistan is financing the new weapons production at a time when the country is facing extraordinary financial stress.
"What does Pakistan need with that many nuclear weapons, especially given the state of the country's economy?" wondered one foreign official, who is familiar with Pakistan's plans, but agreed to discuss the classified program on the condition of anonymity.
"The country already has more than enough weapons for an effective deterrent against India," the official said. "This is just for the generals to say they have more than India." (ANI)