Monday, 20 July 2009

'Armageddon' alarm bell rings over Pakistan

All is not well in Pakistan.

The north western region of Buner is only 65 miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, yet it has become a stronghold of the Taliban after locals allowed them operate with impunity in exchange for the local implimentation of Sharia Law.

This underlines the growing concern that the Taliban are a significant threat to the Pakistani state - something echoed by former CIA Middle East expert Bruce Riedel - who is now warning about "Armageddon in Islamabad".

In February, President Barack Obama appointed him chair of an inter-agency overhaul of US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. His latest assessment says, "A jihadist victory in Pakistan ... would create the greatest threat the United States has yet to face in its war on terror ... [and] is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future." It would bolster al Qaeda's capabilities tenfold, Mr. Riedel concludes.

It would also give terrorists a nuclear capability.

"A jihadist, nuclear-armed Pakistan," says Riedel, "is a scenario we need to avoid at all costs."

Back in May, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif claimed Pakistan’s nuclear command and control system was "safe and more secure than that of any other country in the world", yet the Taliban insurgency in the north of the country has only heightened the fear of the US and its allies that, unless stopped, the militants could conceiveably gain access to nuclear weapons. Assurances that their missiles could be scuttled in the event of a Taliban victory have done nothing to allay fears, as even basic nuclear material could be engineered into so-called 'dirty bombs' that require no delivery system more complex than a van.

It has long been assumed by Pakistan and others that the main threat to its security was the long-standing emnity with its regional rival, India, and its first nuclear test 11 years ago sparked fears of a serious local nuclear arms race between the rwo - the flashpoint assumed to be the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan now has between 35 and 120 warheads, all within the 25-36 kiloton range, and they also possess the means to deliver them - their Shaheen-II missiles have a range of 3,500km.

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