The expansion of Taliban reach in Pakistan, the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons, has alarmed much of Washington and is likely to be occupy much of President Barack Obama’s conversations today with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. In an interview, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn said the danger is that — when it comes to Pakistani nuclear weapons — the U.S. doesn’t know the true state of that country’s security measures, or the state of its military. Below are extended excerpts:
Insider: When we talked last year, I asked you what posed the greater threat to the United States — Iraq or Afghanistan? Your answer was Pakistan. Is this the scenario you’ve been worried about?
Nunn: Yes, I think it is. The worse combination is a nation that has nuclear weapons and nuclear material and nuclear know-how, and has a very unstable political environment. That’s where Pakistan is right now.
Insider: Should we be worried? In the Boston Globe, I see the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying he’s “comfortable” that no nuclear weapons can be stolen. Do you agree with that?
Nunn: I wish that I had the confidence that we really know. And I’m glad that some of our top officials believe that the Pakistan military is dedicated to protecting those weapons. And I have no doubt that the top levels of the Pakistan military are.
That’s where our officials get their information. We’re not doing our own on-the-ground assessment. We don’t have access. So what you’re hearing in the statements of confidence is that top U.S. officials are confident that top Pakistani officials fully intend to protect their nuclear weapons.
The real question is, the generals aren’t guarding those weapons. The privates are — the young people are. And Pakistan has become more radicalized. Weapons security depends on personnel security. And that’s one that’s a big question mark, as the country becomes more subject to revolutionary-type zealots...
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