Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Thursday that Pakistan has dispersed its nuclear weapons throughout the country, increasing the risk they could fall into terrorist hands as Taliban fighters move closer to the capital.
Her comments came as new satellite images suggested Pakistan is increasing its capacity to produce plutonium, a fuel for atomic bombs.
Mrs. Clinton, testifying on Capitol Hill for the second day in a row, had earlier accused Pakistan’s government of abdicating to the Taliban. She was referring to a truce finalized this month that gave Taliban fighters control of a scenic valley just 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad, after two years of fighting.
“Why are we so concerned about this? One of the reasons is nuclear weapons,” she told a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday when asked about the truce. “We spend a lot of time worrying about Iran. Pakistan already has them, and they are widely dispersed in the country — they are not at a central location.”
The imposition of Islamic law was part of the truce that gave the Taliban control of the Swat Valley. Within days of the agreement, the Taliban used Swat as a base from which to take control of another valley just 60 miles away from Islamabad.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office defended the Swat peace deal even as it deployed about 100 paramilitary troops in an attempt to reverse the Taliban’s latest conquest.
“Pakistan continues to play a positive and constructive role in the war against terror. It is victim of terrorism and with its inherent national resilience and strength, the country will succeed both against internal and external threats,” Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told reporters.
Gunmen attacked the Pakistani force, killing one officer as local officials made an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate yet another truce with the Taliban.
On the nuclear front, U.S. officials said that Pakistan continues to expand and improve its nuclear capabilities, but they conceded that Washington has not discussed the issue with the Pakistanis in depth for several years.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, declined to be more specific.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released images Thursday from Pakistan’s Khushab plutonium-production facility that appear to support the U.S. assessment.
The organization said the images show that “major construction of the buildings associated with the second Khushab reactor is likely finished and that the roof beams are being placed on top of the third Khushab reactor hall.”
“This suggests that Pakistan is increasing its plutonium capacity, and went from one reactor several years ago to having three,” with the third yet to be completed, said Paul Brannan, senior research analyst at ISIS who co-authored an analysis released with the satellite photos. The institute is led by former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright.
Another think tank, the Arms Control Association, says on its Web site that Pakistan has about 60 nuclear warheads.