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Pak nukes '200 per cent safe': Malik

Rezaul H Laskar, Press Trust of India
Islamabad, Jun 5 - Asserting that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are "200 per cent safe" despite a series of terror attacks on military installations, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said the country has strong monitoring and control mechanisms in place to protect its atomic programme.

Though the recent attack on the PNS Mehran naval airbase in Karachi and detection of Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad triggered fears that there could be rogue elements in Pakistani military, Malik told Newsweek magazine that the country's "nuclear weapons are 200 per cent safe."

"The assets are well protected and tightly monitored. The (International Atomic Energy Agency) agrees with us. We should be wary of the disinformation being spread against our nuclear programme, including the suggestion that the US may move to denuclearise Pakistan," he said.

Top US Senator John Kerry, during a recent visit to Pakistan, addressed this "misperception and categorically denied any intention on the part of the US" to take any step against the country's nuclear assets, Malik said.

"We have strong monitoring and control mechanisms in place to ensure that no harm can be done to our nuclear programme," he said.

Malik also said that some retired military officers or relatives of armed forces personnel may have been involved in the May 22 terrorist raid on the Naval airbase in Karachi that killed 10 people and destroyed two surveillance aircraft.

"The way it was done, I suspect some retired officers or some soldier's relatives may have been involved," Malik said about the attack on the PNS Mehran naval airbase.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out to avenge the killing of bin Laden in a US raid last month.

Malik claimed the Haqqanis, who lead their own militant faction and target US forces in Afghanistan, "are not in Pakistan."

Pakistan will continue to cooperate with the US "in sorting out the terrorists" but it has a "problem with drone strikes, which violate our sovereignty," he said.

The Taliban and other militant groups make money from "kidnappings, through protection money and toll taxes," he said.

"They are also receiving funds from the Middle East through non-banking channels. But their largest source of income is drugs. The drug trade at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is around five billion dollars annually, and 96 per cent of the drugs are cultivated across the border," he said.

"Imagine what even five per cent of that can buy. What worries me is that the terrorists have rocket launchers, mines, anti-aircraft guns. This heavy weaponry cannot be obtained so easily, it has to have been provided to them by a state."

Malik contended he was not bothered "that the terrorists have put a bounty on my head."

He claimed that at a recent meeting in Waziristan tribal region, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and al-Qaeda "nominated me as their No. 1 enemy."

"We have information they've made arrangements to attack me. As a Muslim, I don't care. I know I'm not going to stop going after them," Malik said.

Malik admitted that "things have heated up" in Pakistan since bin Laden's killing in a US raid in Abbottabad on May 2 and the country "must brace for the worst."

"After Abbottabad, there's been a surge of emotions on all sides and we're living the fallout from that. The militants are now avenging bin Laden's death and what we're up against now is terrorism-plus. They've threatened to take out key installations and civilian and military officials," he said.

The police force and intelligence agencies are "underfunded and overstretched" and Pakistan's "installations, airports, defence and government assets are so spread out that it's impossible to monitor every single inch," Malik said.

Pakistan's allies have "been unable to fully deliver on their promise of helping us build capacity," he added.

"We've suffered tremendously and we'll fight until the last terrorist is killed. It is our resolve to eliminate the militants not only for the sake of Pakistan but also the world," Malik contended.

Replying to a question about the people arrested from bin Laden's compound after the US raid on May 2, Malik said: "We have three of his wives and some children.

"We're obtaining information from them and this is being shared with our friends. After this process is completed, we'll see if their home countries want them back."

One of bin Laden's sons was killed in the US raid and reports about the escape of another son are "pure conjecture," he said.

Asked what would happen if al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar are found in Pakistan, Malik replied: "They're wanted in Pakistan so if we find them, we will take them on here.

"We've also decided to act jointly with the Americans against any high-value targets pinpointed in Pakistan."

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