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Pakistani Military Assures Nuclear Stockpile Remains Secure


Pakistan's military says, despite massive chaos and turmoil in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the country's nuclear weapons are safe and secure. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

The assassination of Ms. Bhutto sparked massive protests in Pakistan, and renewed questions as to whether the country's halting movement toward democracy will endure.

Pakistani military officials insist that one thing Pakistanis and the international community need not worry about, however, is the country's nuclear stockpile. An army spokesman, Wahid Arshad, spoke on CNN's Late Edition program.

"Pakistan's nuclear assets are very secure," said Wahid Arshad. "We have a very robust command and control system. Our security measures are among the best in the world. So, I think all these fears are basically unfounded and nonsense [as far as] reports about nuclear assets falling into [the hands of] Islamic radicals."

Yet concerns about Pakistan's nuclear weapons remain, according to former U.S. Senator William Cohen, who served as defense secretary in the late 1990s, when Pakistan conducted its first test of an atomic bomb. Cohen also spoke on Late Edition.

"I hope it is 100 percent secure," said William Cohen. "We do not know that. It is always an area of concern whenever you have any country that has nuclear weapons, and you have the kind of chaotic situation you have now in Pakistan."

Another former U.S. senator, Sam Nunn, says those concerns will be greatly alleviated if and when political unrest subsides in Pakistan. Nunn says, for that to occur, President Pervez Musharraf will have to embrace democracy, and the United States and the international community will have to take steps to ensure that all Pakistani political factions have confidence in the country's electoral process.

"He [Musharraf] has a real problem of legitimacy," said Sam Nunn. "And, I think we ought to make sure that we are on the side of all the parties coming together to set the election date, and not really indicate we are for one candidate or another. We ought to be neutral in this process. Our interest is in making sure that some legitimate government emerges that can bring about stability in that crucial nation."

The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last week threw the country into political turmoil ahead of elections scheduled for January 8.

The unrest in Pakistan has become an issue among U.S. presidential contenders, many of whom seem eager to demonstrate their understanding of foreign affairs. On the Democratic Party side, New York Senator Hillary Clinton is calling for an international investigation of the killing of Ms. Bhutto, while Illinois Senator Barack Obama says elections in Pakistan may have to be postponed but should not be canceled. Among Republicans, Arizona Senator John McCain says Pakistan and its president remain critical U.S. allies in the war on terror, while former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee says he would like Pakistan to give the United States a freer hand in pursuing terrorists on Pakistani territory.

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