The assassination of Pakistan’s opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is creating great concern around the world over the country’s sizeable nuclear arsenal.
Pakistan is the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons, and the fear is that with the country falling into political disarray following Bhutto’s death, Islamic extremists will seek to take advantage of the situation and get their hands on some of the weapons.
Pakistan reportedly has as many as 30 nuclear weapons.
Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide attack that also killed at least 20 others at the end of a campaign rally, aides said. Even before her death, tensions were high in Pakistan, with many calling for the ouster of President Pervez Musharraf, who imposed emergency rule on the nation.
In November, Bhutto had said discontent was rising and the country resembled a “pressure cooker.”
Pakistan has already been implicated in the spread of nuclear technology. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, described as an “Islamic extremist” and “the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program,” in 2004 admitted that he had sold nuclear technology to a number of foreign countries, including North Korea and Libya.
Former FBI consultant Paul L. Williams wrote that year that evidence found in Afghanistan in 2001 indicated a link between Khan and al-Qaida as well.
The U.S. recently admitted that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, it has been helping Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons and the materials used to make them. Pakistan has welcomed this assistance.
The New York Times reported in November that over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly classified program to help Musharraf secure his nation’s weapons.
But there is a growing armed insurgency in the areas bordering Afghanistan that has been spreading into Pakistan’s major cities. And with Bhutto’s death, turmoil in Pakistan is bound to increase.
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