Daily brief: Pakistan dismisses Wikileaks nuclear fears
Awkward alliances Diplomatic cables released by the web site Wikileaks about Pakistan’s nuclear program reveal that U.S. officials are concerned not that an "Islamic militant [could] steal an entire weapon but rather [with] the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon" (Guardian, NYT, ...
Diplomatic cables released by the web site Wikileaks about Pakistan’s nuclear program reveal that U.S. officials are concerned not that an "Islamic militant [could] steal an entire weapon but rather [with] the chance someone working in government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon" (Guardian, NYT, AP, Times, Hindu, ET, LAT, Le Monde). British and Russian officials are said to have similar worries, and a Russian Foreign Ministry official expressed his concern about Pakistani nuclear facility workers who had been kidnapped and not heard from again (LAT). Pakistani officials have dismissed these concerns and asserted that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have a "foolproof control and command system" (AFP, BBC).
Other disclosures in the cables include former U.S. ambassador to Islamabad Anne Patterson’s assessment that there is "no amount of money" that will change Pakistan’s support for some militant groups, which it views a counterweight to Indian influence (Times, Guardian, NYT); that the Obama administration had credible evidence of the Pakistani military’s involvement in extrajudicial killings of prisoners, which cables attributed in part to a "culture of revenge" in the Pakistani Army, a year before the issue came to light in the press but did not want to offend the Pakistani military with public criticism (Guardian, NYT); and that a dozen American Special Forces soldiers deployed with the Pakistani military in Bajaur, South Waziristan, and North Waziristan to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support (NYT, Guardian).
Political revelations include that Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, was concerned that the military might "take me out," and has extensive preparations in case of his own assassination, and that Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen. Ashfar Parvez Kayani, told Patterson in March 2009 that he might, "however reluctantly," pressure Zardari to resign (Guardian, NYT, AFP, The News). Gen. Kayani suggested that he might support Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan as a replacement, making clear that "regardless how much he disliked Zardari he distrusted Nawaz [Sharif] even more." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to one of the 2010 cables, found it "astonishing" that Zardari has remained in power (ET).
And Pakistan’s political leadership, in spite of public protests, is privately supportive of the U.S. drone strikes program in the country’s northwest (ET, Dawn). Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani commented in August 2008, "I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it" (Guardian).
Karachi authorities arrested four alleged members of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan who said they were dispatched to the southern port city at the direction of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud with plans to attack shrines, police stations, and tombs (AFP, The News, Geo/AFP). The News reports, however, that the group’s leader told investigators that the TTP’s "internal wrangling" over its leadership has "finally been resolved during a grand gathering" in North Waziristan, with Wali ur-Rehman formally succeeding Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by a suspected U.S. drone strike in August 2009, and Hakimullah as his deputy.
Yesterday, the Baluchistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to kill the governor of the province with a remote controlled roadside bomb in Kalat, and one suspect was arrested (Dawn). Two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed earlier today in a bicycle bomb and a shootout in Kalat and Kuchh, along the Iranian border, respectively (Dawn).
Kidnappings and airstrikes and elections
Taliban fighters kidnapped 16 deminers in an ambush in Nangarhar near the Pakistani border earlier today, but have reportedly released up to 12 of the men (AP, Tolo). The men were working for an Afghan humanitarian NGO aiming to dismantle homemade bombs.
The coalition in Afghanistan has ramped up the use of air power since the summer, with a 20 percent increase in sorties over last year and 4,615 bombs and Hellfire missiles dropped so far in 2010, compared with 2009’s 4,184 (AP). Coalition figures indicate that although the air war is up, civilian fatalities are down about five percent over the same period in 2009. Top NATO and U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus praised a recent "precision strike" operation run by a Parachute Regiment in Ghazni that killed 15 Taliban but left two civilians unharmed (Tel).
Afghan authorities have released the final results from the final province in the country’s September 18 presidential contests — the results for Ghazni had been delayed because of technical difficulties and irregularities (Reuters, Pajhwok, AFP). There were also concerns about Pashtun reaction to the vote because the province’s 11 seats went to Hazara candidates even though it is about half Pashtun.
Reuters reports that Afghan officials, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, have been requesting the release of certain Taliban detainees for political or financial motives (Reuters). The Taliban are said to have a "freedom committee" dedicated to getting their fighters out of prison.
Several of Pakistan’s national mammal, the suleman markhor, have been spotted living in the wilds of the Khalifat mountains of Baluchistan (APP). Six females and one male of the large wild goats, which are considered an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, were tracked.
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