New Delhi: Defence Minister AK Antony voiced India's apprehension about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal on Wednesday and said it was a matter of global concern. "Naturally, it is a concern not only for us but for everybody," Antony said in response to reporters' questions on whether the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was under threat in the wake of terror strikes such as the one at the Mehran naval air base in Karachi on Sunday night. (Watch - India's new worry: Are Pak's N-weapons safe?)
US cables, accessed exclusively by NDTV through WikiLeaks, show that this concern is indeed a global one and has been voiced by several countries since the present government took over in 2008. Several cables between US embassies and Washington during a year-long period between mid 2008 and mid 2009 reveal that the US had raised concerns about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal with Pakistan and China and had sought to reassure a worried Russia. (Pakistan Cable: US takes up proliferation concerns with China)
At the end of June 2008, a visiting delegation of US lawmakers, led by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, brought the issue up at a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The cable from a US embassy official reads, "Gilani responded emphatically to Rep. McIntrye's question about nuclear security and stated that he wanted to 'dispel any image of perceived problems.' He further elaborated, 'We have control of the resources. These are not controlled by any one person and the political party process does not have any impact on nuclear security." (Pakistan Cable: PM Gilani assures a US Congressional delegation that Pak nuclear arsenal is safe)
A few months later, a cable sent from the US embassy in Moscow recorded a meeting with senior Russian officials, who voiced concern "over the security implications of political instability in Pakistan." The US officials "stressed that Musharraf's resignation did not affect the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which remain under military control."
Russia was worried that after Pervez Musharraf's resignation, while Asif Ali Zardari's election as President would bring temporary calm in Pakistan, "...by the end of the year, tensions between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, would cause the current government to collapse." (Pakistan Cable: Russia remains concerned by Pakistan's instability)
In May 2009, the US embassy in Pakistan quoted Kamran Akhtar, the Disarmament Director in Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying that "the recent spate of media attention on Pakistan's nuclear security has led the GOP (Government of Pakistan) to delay an important non-proliferation effort, the removal of U.S.-origin highly-enriched uranium spent fuel from a Pakistani nuclear research reactor." The cable noted that the Pakistan government had "agreed in principle to the fuel removal in 2007, but has been slow in scheduling a visit by U.S. technical experts to discuss logistical and other issues." (Pakistan Cable: US removal of fuel from Pakistani nuclear reactor put on hold)
It also quoted Akhtar as saying that "the 'sensational' international and local media coverage of the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time. If the local media got word of the fuel removal, 'they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons, he argued."
Soon after, in July 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern at a lack of response from China to US communication on "cases of missile-related proliferation." The cable from Washington said, "Over the past year as well as in the context of our non-proliferation dialogue, we have raised numerous cases of proliferation concern involving Chinese entities. However, we remain concerned as we have not received any substantive response from you on your efforts to investigate these activities."
Clinton asked Beijing to take action against nine firms, including some that were in various stages of supplying material that the US believed could be used for Pakistan's nuclear weapons and missile programmes.